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For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Curse Of David Whitaker's Daleks


It is generally accepted that two of the best adventures to feature Terry Nation's metal monsters are the two Patrick Troughton stories, 'The Power of the Daleks' and 'The Evil of the Daleks'. Both of these were scripted by David Whitaker, former story editor to Doctor Who, and at the time he wrote them, a freelance writer.

Whitaker may have overseen the genesis of Terry Nation's creations on television, but by the time he came to write these scripts for television, he had already cut his teeth by writing the first ever Doctor Who stage play in 1965.

Produced by John Gale Productions Ltd, directed by Gillian Howell and designed by Hutchinson Scott, The Curse of the Daleks opened on Tuesday 21 December 1965 at Wyndham's Theatre in London's Charing Cross Road and ran for two weeks over the Christmas holiday period. While the script had been written by Whitaker alone, it was credited to both Whitaker and Terry Nation. Nation, after completing his episodes of the TV story 'The Daleks' Master Plan', had taken a break from Doctor Who work, giving permission for Whitaker to write much of the Dalek spin-off material of this era.

In constructing the stage play, Whitaker decided to revolve the action firmly around the Daleks. As a result, the Doctor did not appear and there were no overt references to Doctor Who in the script.

Some of the elements of Doctor Who favoured by Whitaker were strongly recognisable. There was the romance; in this case between Marion and Rocket echoing the themes of 'The Aztecs', 'The Sensorites' and even 'The Daleks'. There was the whodunit aspect, with the audience unsure of who the traitor is until the end, used on TV in 'The Sensorites' and Whitaker's own 'Inside the Spaceship'. And there were the Daleks: intelligent and manipulative, fully capable of holding their own against the human cast, as proven in almost all their sixties TV appearances.

Recognising that The Curse of the Daleks had to appeal to the thousands of children who had been writing into the Doctor Who production office concerning the Daleks, Whitaker aimed the play at them. It has a fairly straightforward plot. A spaceship, Starfinder, en route to Earth makes an emergency landing on Skaro where the Daleks are lying dormant in their city. It transpires that the ship has been sabotaged by a member of the human party, who subsequently reactivates the Daleks in the hope that they will help him to become 'king of the universe'. Instead, they exterminate him. Fortunately, the other humans have joined forces with two Thals, and together they are able to cut off the Daleks' power and return them to a state of inertia.

The script contains a number of wordy scenes intended to illustrate the burgeoning love interest between two of the crew members, Marion (Hilary Tindall) and Rocket (Edward Gardener). A further romantic subplot is introduced between a prisoner being transported on the Starfinder, Ladiver (John Line), and the Thal woman, Ijayna (Suzanne Mockler). These aspects reflect the best of Whitaker's writing. He is not afraid to use his characters realistically, giving them emotions and making full use of the 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl' scenario.

Although some of the plot threads are perhaps a little difficult to swallow whole, The Curse of the Daleks is a tightly constructed whodunit. Suspicion is thrown first on Ladiver, then on Captain Redway (Nicholas Hawtrey–who later appeared in Doctor Who playing Quinn, deputy governor of the human colony in 'The Power of the Daleks') and then on Professor Vanderlyn (John Moore) until, in best Agatha Christie tradition, the traitor is revealed as the first victim, Bob Slater (David Ashford), who had merely feigned death.

Unsurprisingly, the Daleks featured in this show were very similar in appearance to those seen on TV, as they were the fourth and final batch constructed by Shawcraft Models (Uxbridge) Ltd, who had previously supplied the props for the series itself.

The Curse of the Daleks was originally scheduled to play in London's Strand Theatre, where John Gale Productions were based, but for reasons unknown was switched to the nearby Wyndham's Theatre some two weeks before opening. Despite this disruption, which could not have helped the pre-publicity, it still did reasonably good business, often getting a full house. After its initial run, it was not remounted to go on tour and has not been performed since.

One further contribution made by Whitaker to the stage production, was to write a short article for the theatre programme. In it he explains how and from where all these new stories about the Daleks have come from, and the piece remains a fascinating insight into the marketing of Doctor Who as 'real events happening today, somewhere'.

David J Howe

The Daleks
by David Whitaker

As you know, Terry Nation discovered and translated the Dalek Chronicles. The story of how those Chronicles came to light is interesting in itself. This is how it was.

About two years ago, I was at home writing when Terry telephoned me and asked if he could talk over something. I was delighted to hear from him and agreed at once. An hour later we settled down in chairs with a tray of coffee and sandwiches between us. Terry took a small cube from his pocket and handed it to me, asking for my opinion of it.

I examined it curiously. It was twice the size of a lump of sugar, entirely made of glass except for a small collection of little compartments at its centre. I shook my head in bewilderment and returned it to him, confessing myself baffled.

'I found it in my garden,' he said, 'and, out of curiosity, I drilled a hole through to its centre. A number of slivers of metal fell into the palm of my hand. I magnified them and found them to be microfilms.'

It was then that he told me of the planet called Skaro, set in the next Universe but one and of the races inhabiting it, the kindly, graceful and peace-loving people called the Thals. I learned of dead forests and a lake of mutations, a brilliant city rising out of a desert. And I heard of the other race on that planet, the inhuman, terrifying creatures called Daleks - sworn enemies of all humanity.

If you wonder why it is that all the adventures and stories of the Daleks are set well into the future, you must realise that what Terry discovered are capsules containing histories of the future. What curve of Time is responsible for this, neither of us can tell you. Are the glass cubes sent down by some friendly planet deliberately, as a warning to us? Or has some Dalek History museum exploded violently in space, showering the stream of time by accident with information the Daleks must want to keep secret? Who can say? Perhaps it is enough that we do know, and can prepare ourselves.

Since that day, more of the little cubes have come to light and Terry and I have sometimes worked together, so anxious has our world become to know as much about the alien race as it can. This play you are to see, for example, is the result of our collaboration - a translation we have worked on from a cube discovered in Kensington Gardens. We both believe there are other glass cubes in existence, hidden, perhaps, in a clump of grass or lying at the base of a tree. When you are out in your garden or in the park, do remember to keep your eyes open, won't you?