Saturday, July 6, 2013

"The Power of the Daleks"

Aired Nov 5 – Dec 10, 1966

6 Episodes

Story 30

Written by David Whitaker

Directed by Christopher Barry


The man who sits up on the floor of the console room is a completely different man from before. He is much younger, with an unruly mop of black hair and dressed in completely different clothes more in the style of a down at the heels hobo. Ben and Polly are amazed, and initially are not sure whether or not this man even is still the Doctor. It's a situation not helped by the man's initial confusion and bizarre behaviour, referring to the Doctor in the third person. He tells them he's been renewed, and while Polly seems to believe this new man is the Doctor, Ben remains unconvinced and is particularly frustrated at the man's refusal to come out and say whether or not he is the Doctor.

The TARDIS brings this new Doctor, Polly and Ben to the Earth colony planet Vulcan where the Doctor finds a murdered man. Investigating the body, he finds credentials identifying the man as an Earth Examiner, with unrestricted access to the colony. Assuming the dead man’s identity, the Doctor learns the Examiner was secretly summoned by Deputy Governor Quinn to investigate the activities of a group of rebels threatening the security of the colony. However,  Colonial Governor Hensell is not concerned by the rebels. 

Meanwhile a scientist named Lesterson has unearthed a crashed space ship, inside of which are inert Daleks, which he is now attempting to revive. Horrified, the Doctor attempts to explain the danger, but his warnings fall on deaf ears once the revived Daleks claim to only wish to be the colonists'  servants.

The rebels, meanwhile, secretly led by Head of Security Bragen, are growing more and more bold. The Daleks, deftly manipulating Lesterson, arrange to siphon the colony's power to create a Dalek production line, increasing their numbers with incredible speed. Bragen's  rebels ally themselves with the Daleks, and they begin a full-scale effort to take over the colony. The Doctor manages to defeat the Daleks and destroy them by turning the colony's power supply back upon them, creating an overload.

The defeat of the Daleks also means the defeat of the rebels, and order is restored to the colony. Though the Doctor believes this to be the final end of his foes, a crushed Dalek stands by the TARDIS as the ship dematerializes, its eyestalk slowly rising...

From the moment Patrick Troughton speaks his first lines to the final eerie image of the Dalek eye stalk rising into the sky, The Power of the Daleks is a triumph. It had an almost unimaginably difficult task. To the audience of the time William Hartnell simply was Doctor Who. To replace him was a monumental challenge, let alone to do so with an actor so entirely different.

The casting of Troughton was a stroke of genius, as he may well have been the most talented actor to ever play the part. He immediately impresses, creating a radically different version of the character. His Doctor is warmer, more vibrant and dynamic, but no less eccentric. There's a charm here that is more inclusive that Hartnell, embodied in his scene with Polly where they each repeat "Lesterson listen" like a tongue twister. There's a playful spirit that is immediately captivating and endearing, but this is not to say there isn't an edge to the performance. He's more secretive, less upfront. He's sneaky and evasive, preferring to lurk in the background and think, which is a marked contrast to Hartnell's imposing presence. While his performance will continue to evolve over his era, Troughton immediately takes hold of the show with both hands to such a degree that by the conclusion, it's kind of amazing that this is only his first story. By the end of this story, it's impossible not to feel excited to follow this cosmic hobo onto his next port of call. And yet, this is still the Doctor, the same man in every way that matters.

As for the story itself, it's remarkably well done, undoubtedly the finest Dalek serial since The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  Former story editor David Whitaker really understood what made the Daleks so compelling. The Daleks are always most interesting when they are using cunning and intelligence to manipulate events to their advantage, rather than simply being rampaging monsters. The creepy way that they chant "I am your servANT" never stops being chilling, and the fact that only the Doctor and the audience are aware of how dangerous they are immediately has the effect of pitching us in with him. They know who to manipulate, and alter their tactics depending on the audience. They are actually living beings here, with a point of view and plans and desires. And when they pour out of the capsule and start butchering colonists, it's genuinely scary.

The human characters are also well drawn, starting with the wonderful character of Lesterson, so well played by Robert James. But he is only one of the great guest turns here. All of the characters are well played and with distinct points of view. While the rebels could have been faceless nobodies, we are given varying motivations, aims and viewpoints for each. Bragen lusts for power, Janley wants to be on the winning side, Valmar is in love with Janley and Kebble is a cruel thug. Hensell is shown to be a good man, if a little ineffectual and too comfortable in his position. Quinn is the least well-defined, but he's still well-played and easy to get behind. In future and in past stories, we'd often get basic archetypes as opposed to well-drawn characters, and Whitaker's scripts prove it's possible to create better realised supporting roles that hugely add to the story's overall success.

Aside from the padding that befalls pretty much every six part story, The Power of the Daleks stands tall as one of the great stories of 1960s Doctor Who, and is a strong contender for the best Dalek story ever.

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