Doctor Who script editor Helen Raynor first got our attention with Ghost Machine, a standout episode from Torchwood’s first season. The episode so impressed Russell T Davies that he signed her up for a two-part story for Season Three of Doctor Who, Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks. Set in Depression era New York, the story found Dalek Sec and his Cult of Skaro conducting horrific genetic experiments on Humans, and planning the next step of their race’s evolution.
What was your starting point for the story in terms of ideas?
Each time you revisit a Dalek story you do have to answer the conundrum of, ‘How come if they are the most powerful and aggressive race in the universe, they aren’t ruling it?’ That was the dilemma we wanted to present – where are they going wrong?
It’s almost a genesis story – the genesis of a new type of Dalek, and how they come to decide the direction they need to take. The idea of purity and the complete lack of compromise is a Dalek thing, but what happens if the need to survive means you have to evolve, and as part of that evolution you have to compromise your purity? It’s a very race thing – which, of course, the Daleks have always been about.
What’s it like writing for The Cult of Skaro?
You’re very lucky with the Cult of Skaro because they were formed to think and imagine, which already gives you an advantage in terms of a Dalek story because they are more intelligent. Russell was very keen on the idea of Daleks arguing among themselves. Almost every Dalek story I can think of basically involves a supreme controlling intelligence and then foot soldiers. It just gives you a bit more dramatic room to play with.
Did you try to avoid repeating ideas that we’d seen before in 44 years of Daleks stories?
It wasn’t a case of looking at a Dalek story and thinking, ‘God what are we going to do now that’s different?’ Where they are in this story is logically where they’ve ended up in the history of Doctor Who. Dalek Sec does pose the question, when he’s trying to convince the others, ‘If we’re so brilliant and Humans are so rubbish, how come there are millions of them and four of us’. Obviously he said it more eloquently than that!
It’s a brutal logic to start the whole process from. And I think it’s a question you ask as a viewer of the series. ‘Oh here come the mighty Daleks again, but they might lose again.’ It’s a way of acknowledging what the intelligent viewer questions.
Were there any ideas that you dropped during early drafts of the script?
In my first outline we tried to get the Daleks in the water at the docks and have their lights moving under the surface, and build a sense of menace that way. In the end that never happened – it would have been a nice thing, but once there, it was hard to achieve in terms of geography. I’m disappointed we couldn’t use the docks, in a way, because they were such a great setting and very identifiably of the period.
by David Richardson