“There is only one form of life that matters – Dalek life!” – Dalek
With a rather jarring shift in gears, we jump straight into the next story. (It was rather kind of these villains to wait until the last adventure was totally wrapped up before starting their scheme!) Though in today’s series it’s not uncommon, there is definitely something new and bizarre here in having a group of people watching and manipulating the Doctor—how do they know who he is, much less understand him enough to predict his moves and string him along so easily? Then we’re suddenly introduced to an odd character—a gentleman in modern day London who dresses and speaks like someone from the last century, ostensibly to “play the part of the Victorian grandfather” and help his antique shop, but then he keeps using old phrases and not understanding modern terminologies. We soon suspect he is not in his own time—even Jamie does this right away too—and this becomes our entry into an odd and convoluted plot stretching from London 1966 to an 1866 country manor to Skaro itself where we find the Daleks lurking behind it all.
Though it seems a bit much, I appreciate that this story tries to do something interesting with time travel by moving us from location to location as the story progresses. Moreover, the plot takes some pretty good and unexpected twists. Most notably, when the Daleks ‘test’ Jamie to understand and record the factor that makes humanity human, the Doctor steers the test of human nature towards “the better part – courage, pity, chivalry, friendship, even compassion”. It seems obvious that the Dalek plan will backfire in the end as the good aspects of human will influence the Daleks. It’s thus quite a surprise when the Daleks reveal that they have been manipulating the Doctor all along, not to isolate the human factor in and of itself, but rather to use it by contrast to determine the ‘Dalek factor’, the essence that makes Daleks the conquerors they are. (“To obey, to fight, to destroy, to exterminate.”) They can then use this to spread themselves throughout all earth (and beyond). The Emporer Dalek which we meet for the first time here—a rarely used creation, supposedly far into the Dalek’s future, that the Doctor knows of but never expected to meet–is obviously not as short-sighted as your average Dalek.
That said, the Doctor is still able–more from his differing biology than anything else—to resist being converted and foments the uprising that he had predicted by just encouraging the Daleks to ask reasons for their purpose. It’s almost funny to see the Dalek leadership panic at the thought of one of their own daring to ask “why?”. It’s obviously an unwritten theme to this story that blind following of orders is how evil spreads and wins. By undermining this, the Doctor creates a civil war. This leads to the final spectacular battle that was intended to be the ultimate end of the Daleks as characters in the show.
As their first adventure alone, Jamie and the Doctor get to solidify some of the funny aspects of their relationship here, especially in their highly amusing coffee bar scenes. But it seems almost every companion has to go through a period of disgust with the Doctor at the stakes of his games and the sacrifices he has to make. This one is Jamie’s story for that as his trust in the Doctor is challenged when he is subjected to the test and the Doctor seems to ignore Victoria. “Look, I’m telling you this: you and me – we’re finished. You’re just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board – anything at all.” Admittedly, the Doctor does seem overly uncaring about the danger Jamie faces as he dispassionately analyzes his performance in the test. Perhaps we can assume he’s acting and keeping his fear for Jamie hidden from the Daleks, something he seems to imply later. Jamie eventually regains his trust in the Doctor, and demonstrates it in his willingness to follow him on Skaro, and their relationship is stronger for it.
The other characters in this story also offer some surprises. Waterfield seems highly suspicious and dark at first, but we soon learn he is simply a tortured father desperate to save his captive daughter. In the end, he sacrifices himself for the Doctor whom he recognizes as the key to saving both the world and particularly his daughter. (“You saved my life, didn’t you?” “Yes. Good life to save.”) Karl Marx look-alike Maxtible, on the other hand, seems to be a colleague of Waterfield and just as much under the thumb of the Daleks, until we begin to see his true character revealed more and more by his actions and we fully understand that he has willingly sold out his whole race for blinding greed. He gets his comeuppance in the end—but not before killing the gentle giant Kemel, sadly after the victory is already won. And while the character Arthur Terrall ultimately doesn’t play a huge role in the plot, he adds lots of atmosphere to the story with his off-balance menace that terrifies his wife and servant, some great scenes with the Doctor dropping hints that he’s figured out his secret, and what seems to have been a very good sword fight with Jamie. (I also love that he compares the inquisitive Doctor to a “devotee of Edgar Allen Poe.”)
And of course we are introduced to new companion Victoria Waterfield. Highlighting her as something special, our first glimpse of her is a close-up in her grand Victorian dress in an almost Cinderella-like scene where she wistfully looks out the window using her own food to feed the birds as lovely music plays. This is suddenly undercut by a Dalek barging in and telling her to quit feeding the “flying pests” (ha) and handling her roughly as she looks in fright. It’s a nice way of showing us what kind of person she is (tender-hearted, privileged) and the dreadful situation that she is in without needing a lot of exposition.
The Doctor also gets some great quotes throughout the course of the story:
- “I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy, of which human nature is merely a part. All forms of life interest me.”
- “The day of the Daleks is coming to an end…somewhere in the Dalek race there are three Daleks with the ‘Human Factor’. Gradually, they will come to question. They will persuade other Daleks to question. You will have a rebellion on your planet!”
- “I’ve never held that the end justifies the means…I care about life. I care about human beings. Do you think I let you go through that Dalek test lightly?”
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
Maxtible’s scream (before we know the reason) is quite an uncomfortable moment in the story. I also like the tension that Arthur Terrall brings in his almost abusive hard edge that suddenly breaks into fright as he fights the control of the Daleks.
- The Emporer Dalek
- A human-Dalek hybrid of sorts
- A single story weaving together multiple timelines (not counting chases across time)
Even before the Daleks came, what kind of man must Maxtible have been that he has a house full of deadly traps and seems to “own” a big black African Turk? It’s great that Kemel is such a sympathetic character, but it seems a bit wrong that his slave-like role is just accepted by everyone. On a lesser note, there’s a great scene in the coffee bar which I already know would be cut for licensing if the show is ever released because of it having a Beatles song in the background. That just makes me angry about the scene in “The Chase” being cut all over again!