Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 173: The Evil of the Daleks, Episode Four
How do you type that noise you make when you suck air in through your teeth? I’m genuinely not sure how to type this one today. All I’ve got written in my notes is ‘Jamie fights Kemel for the first five minutes’. After that, there just wasn’t really anything else that I felt compelled to write about. I’m so disappointed – this was supposed to be the great one! The big send off for the Daleks!
I think the thing that annoyed me the most was the cliffhanger. I spent every episode of The Power of the Daleks absolutely singing the praises of the episode endings. Every singe one felt new and fresh, taking the Daleks and making them scary in a way completely unlike anything we’d ever seen from them. Today’s cliffhanger involves Jamie reaching a door, while two Daleks trundle up behind him, guns at the ready.
At the end of Doctor Who’s fourth year, this just doesn’t hold up as a Dalek cliffhanger. We’ve seen them approaching people ready to kill in various forms ever since the fifth episode - and there we only see the plunger and Barbara from the Daleks point-of-view. Take away the thrill of not knowing what this strange thing could be, it’s still framed more interestingly than this one, at least judging from the tele snaps.
I think I was just expecting there to me a bit more to The Evil of the Daleks. Now, I’m not completely in the Dark, I know that at some stage the action will switch to Skaro, and we get a big destruction of the pepperpots, with (so I hear) pretty good integration of model work and studio footage – not that I can actually see it…. I know we’ve got a huge Dalek Emperor on the way, and I can only assume that this is what sets this story on such a high pedestal. It’s just that… I thought from reputation that we’d be getting a brilliant story from start to finish. Ah well, you can’t win them all, I guess.
I’ve always been more intrigued by the proposed notion of a Daleks vs Cybermen story from the 1960s. I know we eventually got one during the Tenth Doctor’s era, but there’s something about the idea of the 1960s versions of these creatures dueling it out that really appeals to me, and I can’t help but feel that I’d be enjoying it more than I currently am this one. I don’t think it’s helping that I know The Tomb of the Cybermen is coming up, and I’ve always thought of it as my favourite Doctor Who story, so this one just feels like a bit of an obstacle in my way!
Hm? Sorry? What do you mean you can feel a tenuous link on the way? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
…Knowing that this story was on the way, with its big old Dalek Emperor, I decided to pick up my (slightly battered) copy of The Dalek Chronicles on my last trip home. It’s a 1994 Doctor Who Magazine special, which reprints all of the Dalek comic strips from TV Century 21, in order from the start. I managed to grab a copy on Ebay years and years ago, but I’ve never actually read it. Always meant to, just don’t think I ever found the time. I’ve been reading it in chunks alongside this story, and I’m somewhat dismayed to find that I’m enjoying it more than The Evil of the Daleks.
I’d imagine that a number of people reading The 50 Year Diary will have at least a vague idea of what these comics are, but for the uninitiated: Tv Century 21 was a comic produced in the 1960s, and for 104 issues they ran a single-page comic titled The Daleks. It told the story of the Dalek’s creation on Skaro – there’s no Davros, but they’re still created by a scientist, and there’s still a great big war – and then follows them as they spread out across the stars. They fight the Mechanoids a bit, too. The final strip in the series ends with the Emperor Dalek declaring that the Daleks will conquer Earth, which leads quite neatly into the second of the Peter Cushing Dalek films, and tellingly, the later strips see the design of the creatures morph to look more like their movie counterparts.
I think it’s probably fair to say that it’s not any great literary feat, and it doesn’t stand up to a great deal of scrutiny, but taken at face value as a weekly adventure strip featuring the Daleks, it’s really rather good. It has the feel of a comic strip from The Eagle (perhaps unsurprisingly, as the first artist on the strip, Richard E Jennings, had contributed to The Eagle for a long time, and Eric Eden who filled in for a few issues in the middle of the run had worked on Dan Dare), full of that wonderful breed of what we tend to call ‘retro futurism’ these days. The design of the Daleks’ city is fantastic, and there’s plenty of little touches to the strip that can’t help to make me smile.
Quite early on in the story, only about five or six issues in, a spacecraft lands on Skaro for the first time, and the Daleks plot to capture it. The thing that I enjoy about it is the way they hide themselves to prepare their attack: the emperor orders the Magnetic Sand to be switched on, and it covers the city in a perfect disguise. It’s the kind of fantastic futuristic thing that you’d expect to find in a children’s ‘space’ comic of the age, as is the invention of things like the ‘Astrodalek’ later on in the story (A Dalek with his eyestalk plugged into the end of an enormous telescope), and the Daleks’ flying Hover Discs, which have become quite iconic withing Doctor Who - there’s even a new Dalek toy set available now that comes with one.
The strip is mostly written by David Whittaker, but it’s far more traditional than some of the things he tries with the Daleks on TV. That doesn’t mean that things are rendered to being dull, though, as it has a kind of simplistic charm to the story. Whittaker even still takes old favourite ideas from Terry Nation and does something new and different with them – there’s a wonderful moment on the planet Alvega with some living plants (haven’t seen any of those in a while!). While it could be reduced to being a rubbish retread of the kind of things we’ve seen in stories from The Keys Of Marinus, to The Chase and The Daleks’ Master Plan, Whittaker depicts the plants as plotting against the Daleks, and there’s a fantastic panel at the end of one strip where the plants have worked their way inside a Dalek’s casing and grown out, bursting out from every seam. It’s a bizarre image, and it looks stunning. Pleasingly, it’s given plenty of room to breathe.
The first three strips, and a few from later in the run (once Ron Turner had taken over art duties for the latter half of the run, a style which, sadly, down’t appeal to me half as much as the earlier one does), have recently been reprinted in the Doctor Who Magazine Dalek spacial, reprinted from the original art which makes them look gorgeous – certainly much better than the versions in my 19-year-old version! Here’s hoping that they’ll see a full reprint in the near future, because the series as a whole is certainly worth a read, if only to see an alternate (and much more 1950s/60s sci fi) version of the Daleks’ early years…
I think I’ll be giving the strip as a whole an 8/10 – wish I could say the same for The Evil of the Daleks!