Reviewed: The Black Archive #11 – The Evil of the Daleks

When you’ve been a Doctor Who fan as long as I have (eases feet into furry slippers, settles into leather armchair, and puffs on pipe), you get to know a lot about it. I know I do. [Get on with it – Ed.] So, I tend to prefer books and articles that tell me stuff I didn’t already know. I’m more of a Nothing at the End of the Lane man than a Doctor Who Adventures man; I’m genuinely interested by such things as the fact that the junkyard set from An Unearthly Child was positioned two feet further away from the studio wall in the remount than it was in the pilot, so that the backdrop looked more effective. Not for me watching classic Who on 1.5 speed because it’s well boring and like really slow and lacks a wumpa-wumpa music track. Oh no.

And as such, Simon Guerrier’s new book on The Evil of the Daleks for The Black Archive is excellent and I commend it to you hugely. A great deal of new research has gone into it and it has to be the fullest guide to one of the best classic Who stories.

The sad thing is, we’re likely never to see The Evil of the Daleks again. All the overseas TV stations who bought it have been scoured, every shed on every continent has been inspected, every attic in both hemispheres has been ransacked, and nothing’s turned up. We could get lucky but it seems very doubtful. This is an enormous shame, of course: despite its padding, The Evil of the Daleks is a superb story: quintessential Doctor Who which shows how it should be done, without recourse to silly comedy, smart-alec dialogue, or spectacle overriding storytelling. The Daleks are at their best: sneaky, nasty, and manipulative. And it stars Patrick Troughton, the definitive Doctor.

As we know, it was designed to be the last Dalek story. Terrance Dicks has commented that the Daleks work best in Doctor Who and don’t really function very well when you take them out of that context. This was not the view of Terry Nation, who thought they should have their own series. (Guerrier explores the pitch and planning for this spin-off series in depth.)

Nation was not in any way thinking of his bank balance when he reached this view, of course. He regarded the Daleks solely as his creations, even though that wasn’t the case, despite his protestations. Any successful phenomenon on television is the product of the work of a team; Nation wrote the script but the Daleks could have been totally forgettable without Raymond Cusick, Christopher Barry, the Radiophonic Workshop, and Peter Hawkins. Nation wasn’t really the creator of the Daleks; the creators of the Daleks were Cusick, the Radiophonic Workshop, Hawkins, Nation, and Barry, in that order.

Moreover, Nation’s proposed Dalek TV series sounds ghastly. Nation had some try-outs for it in the ’60s Dalek books (The Dalek Book and World, and The Dalek Outer Space Book); he revisited the concepts, long after the series had been lost in development hell, in the 1970s Dalek annuals. Essentially, it was macho rubbish: a bunch of human desperadoes, brought together in a military alliance, bravely fought against Skaro’s finest. The stories in the books give you the flavour of the proposed series; you get things like this:

Space Agent Dag Testosterone was a man with a mission: to destroy the Daleks! Dag had a square jaw, a six pack, mighty pecs, and a five o’clock shadow. Dag hated the Daleks; they had killed his wife during their raid on Crapulous Six. Dag was always accompanied by his faithful robot friend, Agent Seven Up. Seven Up was a rocket pilot and had been given a square jaw, five o’clock shadow, and mighty pecs by his designer, the eccentric Professor Dodgyforeignjohnny. Their pretty assistant Jen was serving them tea. Dag’s jaw set in anger as he read the computer printout Seven Up had just given him. The Daleks were preparing a raid on Phallic Six, one of the Earth’s newer colonies.  It was inhabited by square jawed, hard men like Dag – and he knew they just didn’t stand a chance against the Daleks.

The series would also have featured Sara Kingdom; again, the Sixties annual stories which feature her give the flavour:

Space Agent Sara Kingdom was a pretty girl who used to look like Jean Marsh before she was recast. Despite being a girl, she was strong and capable; she had the strength of ten men, for no very good reason, and had busted the nose of a burglar who had broken into her apartment. Unlike all other girls, she had a square jaw and bulging biceps. She hated the Daleks for killing her brother Brett, who had fought the cruel invaders during their raid on Arse Six. Sara had narrowly escaped with her life; Brett had died defending a bunch of cute chicks who were sheltering behind his mighty pecs. Shielded by his massive frame, they had escaped the deadly blast of blaster fire the Daleks had blasted at Brett…

(This stuff writes itself, really.)

So, we were spared Nation’s Dalek series, just as we were spared a Fox-BBC series of Doctor Who, and the Daleks returned to fight Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in the 22nd Century.

I rather meander off topic. It’s hard to review Guerrier’s excellent book without giving away lots of the things that make it worth reading.

As I said, there’s some fascinating new material produced by his research and his interviews with the team behind the story. I’m not going to give any of this away; you need to read the book (and it won’t disappoint).

He has some interesting digressions on the ’60s fad for Victoriana, which had become trendy on The King’s Road, and on the use of suspense in Doctor Who. There are sections on how telerecordings differ from the original transmitted versions; on the discovery of the telesnaps and of the soundtrack recordings. (I wasn’t aware before I read this that the cassette and the CD versions of the story were actually sourced from different tapes, which is why the CD is better. It seems a particularly apt time to go over this in such extraordinary detail. Interesting stuff, too, on how the discovery of the telesnaps informed the writing of the narrative voiceovers for the CD.)

The stage play, starring Nick Scovell, is mentioned but not dwelt upon; a fuller treatment would probably have been beyond the book’s remit: it is, after all, about the TV version rather than later incarnations. (I didn’t see The Evil of the Daleks on stage but I did see the same team’s version of The Daleks’ Master Plan and it was superb.)

So: The Black Archive on The Evil of the Daleks is a fine book and an exhaustive guide. If you’re a fan of Andrew Pixley-style analysis, or a reader of Nothing at the End of the Lane, you’ll enjoy this. It’s one of the best Doctor Who books I’ve read in the last few years (and I read a lot of Doctor Who books). Congratulations to Simon Guerrier and thanks to him, and to Obverse Books, for continuing to enrich our knowledge of and appreciation for Doctor Who.

The Black Archive #11: The Evil of the Daleks is out now, priced between £3.99 and £7.99. A physical copy costs just £4.99. You can check out an exclusive sample on the DWC.