DW: The Power of the Daleks Review

DW The Power of the Daleks

I’ve experienced Power of the Daleks, which is entirely lost, four different ways now. I first listened to the soundtrack CD, then I watched a photo recon before watching the animated version after it came out two years ago. For this review I watched the blu-ray colourised version of the animated edition… I wonder what will happen when I watch it a fifth time! Anyway, Patrick Troughton’s debut story is a great one, it doesn’t actually hang on the idea of a new Doctor very long and instead tells a tense Dalek story where for five episodes the viewers watch on, waiting for the Daleks to turn on the humans, and when they do: yikes! Modern Who wishes it could have Daleks this threatening… Let’s take a closer look, then!

Synopsis:

Following the Doctor’s regeneration into a new, younger body, the TARDIS lands at an Earth colony on the planet Vulcan in the far future. Mistaken for an official Earth Examiner, the Doctor discovers that a scientist called Lesterson is attempting to reactivate three inanimate Daleks found in a crashed space rocket. The colonists refuse to heed the Doctor’s dire warnings that the Daleks are dangerous. Once reactivated, the Daleks secretly begin to reproduce themselves in a bid to seize control of the Earth colony.

Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!

Cast of Characters:

DW The Power of the Daleks 2

One of photos that still exists of the story, showing The Doctor, Polly and Ben finding the Daleks!

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) – The Doctor has been renewed for the first time, and he’s excited to take his new body for a test run… it’s a shame a murder is one of the first things he sees with his new eyes…

Polly Wright (Anneke Wills) – Polly knows it’s impossible, but she saw it with for herself: The Doctor changed from an old grey-haired man to a younger, black flat-topped man…and that’s just the start of her day!

Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) – Ben refuses to believe what he saw, this new younger man can’t be the same Doctor he and Polly knew… and even if it is, he certainly isn’t acting like him…

Lesterson (Robert James) – Lesterson is the chief scientist on Vulcan who has recently found a crashed pod on the planet containing three mysterious alien tank-like objects… What harm could come from giving them a little power?

Bragen (Bernard Archard) – Bragen has his eyes on controlling the Vulcan colony for himself, and to do so he’s willing to lead a band of rebels against their leader… of course, when he becomes leader he’ll have to deal with the rebels as well…

Quinn (Nicholas Hawtrey) – Quinn is the Deputy Governor of Vulcan who is only a few years away from assuming control… that is unless the rebels have their way…

Janley (Pamela Ann Davy) – Janley is a member of Lesterson’s research team, as well as a member of the rebels. She believes putting Bragen in control is the best thing for the colony, and Lesterton’s newest discovery may be the key…

Hensell (Peter Bathurst) – Hansell is the current Governor of Vulcan who has received harsh criticism from many for his less-than-delicate ways of handling the problems that have surfaced. Can he overcome the rebels as well? Then there’s Lesterton’s latest discovery…

Valmar (Richard Kane) – Valmar was once a top engineer on Vulcan until Hensell made him the scapegoat when industrial accident claimed several lives. Valmar didn’t take his demotion well, and now he’s joined the rebels…

The Daleks (Peter Hawkins) – The Daleks are soulless killing machines inside actual killing machines. They wish to exterminate all non-Dalek life, and will patiently wait until the best time to do so…

and more!

The Good:

DW The Power of the Daleks 4

An example of the original black and white animated version. Note it’s 16:9 for modern TVs, rather than the 4:3 the actual story would have been in…

A good half of the first episode is dedicated to Ben and Polly trying to work out what the hell has happened to their friend The Doctor, while he himself is trying out his new body for the first time. It has some fun bits, The Doctor looking through a trunk of his old stuff and talking about “The Doctor was quite the collector, wasn’t he?”, further confusing his companions (and retroactively tying in to the eventually introduced idea of a “post regeneration crisis”, though a comparatively minor one…) The Doctor eventually dons a stovepipe hat and goes for a wander on the surface of Vulcan while Ben and Polly argue whether he really is The Doctor or not. It’s a nice, quiet scene establishing the mystery of this first time event, but it doesn’t dwell on it too long…

The Doctor sees an examiner from Earth get shot dead and decides to assume his identity, leading us to the Vulcan colony itself. This is where the story should get a lot of credit, because at six epiosdes long it could drag, or just have The Doctor and pals running around from a Dalek attack, but instead it spends most of its runtime creating a mystery with the human characters, showing them as often deceitful and merciless, while the Daleks pretend to be subservient to them until they can get their needed power to create more Daleks and overrun the place. At one point a Dalek flatly asks “why do human beings kill other human beings?”, almost as if this quiet time of observation has actually peaked their interest.

It’s a nice varied cast of characters too. Lesterton is the curious scientist who brings the Daleks back to life, despite The Doctor’s warnings, and then marvels at their thinking ability (as he assumed they were just robots). As the story progresses he becomes more and more convinced that The Doctor was right, and then is flat out driven mad when he sees that they’re creating new Daleks on their ship. Lesterton’s panicked rambling and possibly over-the-top “woah is me, why won’t you listen to me!” speeches are great.

Then we get the old political struggle. Current colony leader Hensell is too harsh and unpleasant so he has caused a small rebellion on Vulcan, Bragen is power hungry enough to run the rebels solely to get himself in power, and Quinn is the nice politician who would actually take over from Hensell if things were left as they were. Throw in Janley, a rebel who is following Bragen loyally, and willing to do some pretty nasty things, and you’ve got a well written back and forth political situation going on alongside The Doctor’s first post regeneration story and a Dalek tale.

Janley is probably the most interesting of the four, she seemed so nice at first, but later its revealed that when Lesterton’s lab assistant was killed by the Dalek that she and the head scientist were reactivating she lied to Lesterton, saying his assistant was just unconscious rather than dead. She then dumped the body in the “mercury swamp”, all so it could be handy leverage if Lesterton ever felt compelled to stop the Dalek project that could give the rebels their best weapon to fight back.

It all comes down to Episode 6, where Bragen has taken control just as the Daleks have built up enough of a force and enough power to wipe out all the humans, and boy… they do a good job! There is an actual slow panning camera shot of just piles of corpses left behind in their wake, it’s quite brutal how after five episodes of The Doctor telling everyone that just one Dalek was dangerous enough to take out 100s of men, that we see how dangerous they truly are. Of course, The Doctor stops them, in this case over-charging their power and causing them all to explode, but there are still plenty of casualties.

I really enjoyed the animated version. The colourised edition is a little weird, seeing the second Doctor is colour just seems wrong, especially given I know it was originally a black and white serial, but either way the animation is good, not amazing (certainly there are still problems with movement, especially realistic walking animation) but more than good enough to make it feel like you’ve watched it, rather than just heard the sound recorded off of a TV with some pictures, like the recons.

The Bad:

DW The Power of the Daleks 3

A photo of someone’s TV screen from its first airing, showing Lesterton pleading with Hansell and Bragen.

To be frank, not much! It manages to hold your interest for the whole six parts. At most the sort-of cliffhanger at the end of the story, where the TARDIS dematerialises and a Dalek eye stalk moves to imply “maybe they’re not dead after all!” is a little cheesy and slightly undermines the great ending, but that’s such a small thing overall…

The Continuity:

DW The Power of the Daleks 1

Finally, an example of the colourised version of the animated edition.

Beyond it being the first post-regeneration story, we have the Daleks, specifically Daleks that rely on static electricity to move around, putting them as being from the same time period as the original Daleks from… well, TV story “The Daleks”, as well as its first sequel “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”.

The Eleventh Doctor TV story “Victory of the Daleks” is very nearly a remake of this serial, with subservient Daleks, The Doctor trying to warn everyone, a scientist who thinks he’s responsible for something great, and a pod that has a Dalek factory inside it able to create new Daleks en masse.

The Doctor and his sort-of companion Klein mention a visit to the “mercury swamps of Vulcan” during the seventh Doctor audio story “Survival of the Fittest”.

Overall Thoughts:

The Power of the Daleks had a reputation around it as one of the truly tragic (within Doctor Who fandom, not in general!) losses. When I listened to the soundtrack and watched the Recon, it seemed good, but it had a lot of talking and only so many tele-snaps of the cast, so it was a bit on the dull side. The animated version however really brought it to life, showed it to be a great story in of itself, let alone a fun first regeneration story and a great Dalek story on top of it. It is a shame it has been lost to time, but the animated version at least has brought it to life for me. It comes highly, highly recommended!

5 Star Watch

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