THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE TV STORY
"THE TENTH PLANET"
AND PRIOR TO THE
NOVEL "INVASION OF
'THE POWER OF THE
DALEKS' MP3-CD (ISBN
RELEASED IN JUNE 2005.
Before the astonished
eyes of his
companions Ben and
Polly, the Doctor’s
whole body HAS
they are confronted
by a stranger who
claims to be their old
friend – but how can
they know whether to
The TARDIS’s arrival
on the planet Vulcan
brings its own
has discovered a
group of inert
which the Doctor
identifies as Daleks.
By the time the Doctor
and his friends
discover the Daleks’
true plan for the
colony, it looks as if
it might already be
too late to stop
ALL SIX EPISODES ARE
of the Daleks
5TH NOVEMBER 1966 - 10TH DECEMBER 1966
Of all the ‘lost’ Doctor Who serials, The Power of the Daleks is the one that I am most familiar with. After reading John Peel’s thrilling novelisation, I went straight out and bought the BBC Radio Collection soundtrack (narrated by Anneke Wills) which I was almost as pleased with – for some reason no matter which way around I do things (book then movie / movie then book / book then original television soundtrack...) I’m always fonder of which-ever version I read / saw / listened to first, and this was certainly the case with The Power of the Daleks… Well, at least until I decided to fork out yet another £13.99 for BBC Audio Books’ ‘Reconstructed’ MP3-CD release, that is.
I deliberated for a long while before finally purchasing this release - I really wanted to see an ‘official’ reconstruction of the story, but didn’t like the idea of an MP3-CD. Who wants a CD that they can only watch on their computer? Why not release it on DVD? After all, they are charging DVD prices.
When the MP3-CD arrived, at first I regretted my decision. To even get the damned thing to work, I had to lower my web browser security settings and turn off my pop-up blocker – something that I’m not really comfortable doing. When I finally managed to bring up the episode selection menu, I was horrified to see that there was no ‘Play All’’ feature which meant that every twenty-something minutes I had to haul my lazy arse up and select the next episode. Worse still, when the first episode did actually begin, I was disappointed to see
that everything had been, for want of a better word, ‘telesnapped’ – even the main titles are presented as a series of telesnaps. As for the existing clips – nada! “Soundtrack with Pictures” is what it says on the box and “Soundtrack with Pictures” is exactly what you get; nothing more. In an online interview BBC Audio Books’ Michael Stevens claimed that the inclusion of the surviving clips would have been “…too jarring” because “…your brain gets into a particular frame of processing, and if you suddenly switch to five seconds of moving footage it’s actually more distracting than beneficial”. Loose Cannon reconstructions would certainly disagree with him on that point, and me too for that matter.
However, I do have to begrudgingly admit that this MP3-CD reconstruction has one enormous pro which outweighs all of its cons and sets it up above any of the other reconstructions of this story – the narration of Anneke Wills. Her linking narration fits in beautifully with the telesnaps to give the viewer a fully rounded picture of what is going on – at times it’s easy to forget that one is watching a reconstruction and not the real thing! As a fan, this annoys the hell out of me because on the one hand, we have Loose Cannon who painstakingly reconstruct the lost episodes using everything available to them, but sadly they are forced to make do with scrolling text rather than actual narration. On the other hand, we have the BBC who have the power and resources to make the most brilliant, flawless reconstructions with linking narration, integrated clips etc on DVD, but instead they are happy to milk the fans just that little bit more for an MP3-CD before undoubtedly, one day, releasing such a DVD – a DVD that will probably have optional subtitles, optional narration and optional integrated clips just to please the few who actually do find moving images too jarring.
And speaking of power, despite my cynical observations on the BBC’s marketing of Doctor Who and my technical complaints about the MP3-CD, there is actually a glowing review of a classic story bursting to get out here… A story all about life, change, renewal… and - that word again - power.
Spearhead From Space, Robot, Castrovalva, The Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani, the
TV Movie; even Rose – none of these ‘regeneration’ stories are a patch on Patrick Troughton’s original baptism of fire. The ingenious idea of regeneration turned a successful television show nearing the end of its natural life into a phenomenon which is still turning
over great wads of cash for the BBC today and, more importantly, it turned a humble television show into the longest-running and best science-fiction series of all time. Whilst certain parts of the William Hartnell era were wonderful, for the most part I find myself rather indifferent towards the exploits of the crotchety old man and his travels through time and
space, and so for me,The Power of the Daleks is where Doctor Who really begins.
The regeneration (or “renewal” as it is called here) is handled superbly by the serial’s writer, David Whitaker, who manages to create a tremendous sense of intrigue around the new Doctor. I am not sure how well publicised Hartnell’s departure was prior to the broadcast of this serial, but I am certain that there will have been some viewers watching the first episode of The Power of the Daleks and actually believing that the real Doctor was off somewhere being held prisoner and that the strange cosmic hobo in his place was some sort of outrageous villain!
From the dialogue it is easy to infer, as Ben does, that this man is not the Doctor. He says thinks like “…the Doctor was quite a collector, wasn’t he?” implying that he is a completely different person - and in a sense, he is. The second Doctor is the same man as the first (hence the lower case ‘second’), but both his body and his personality have been through a radical change. Quite obvious clues (like the first Doctor’s brief reflection in the mirror) hint to the audience that this man is the Doctor, but his companions – especially Ben – remain unconvinced, something that can be sympathised with considering that this new Doctor
often tends to communicate through his recorder by playing notes of differing pitch instead
of speaking, and that he seems to have quite a penchant for his disguise – two things his predecessor would never have gone in for. Within the first ten minutes of the first episode, the Doctor has stolen the identity of the murdered Earth Examiner, and is back to doing what the Doctor does best – meddling! Once this ‘proper’ story kicks in, it does not take long for the audience (and even Polly to a certain degree) to get behind this chirpy, instantly likeable individual, leaving only Ben to be convinced.
“I am your ser-vant.”
The main story itself is brilliant – the two Dalek serials penned by Whitaker are undoubtedly the best Dalek stories pre-Genesis of the Daleks. In The Power of the Daleks, although the Daleks are the coiled threat ready to spring forth and destroy the colony, Whitaker’s clever writing makes the audience hate certain human characters far more than they actually hate the Daleks. Take Whitaker’s main antagonists, for example. Firstly we have Lesterson, the scientist who has discovered the Dalek capsule and wants to reanimate the Daleks for his own selfish reasons - he wants to be the man to solve all the colony’s problems by providing cheap labour; he wants to have Daleks laying power cables and serving drinks from trays;
he wants recognition. Secondly we have Bragen, the man in charge of security with ideas far above his station. He wants to use the Daleks as weapons to overthrow the Governor and then wipe out the very insurrectionists that support him, giving him complete and utter control over the colony. He wants power.
When Bragen uses a Dalek to exterminate the Governor, the Dalek asks him, almost with disdain, “why do human beings kill human beings?” Quite a profound question, and one that illustrates the difference between the humans and the Daleks in this story. Daleks are genetically engineered to kill; they cannot aspire to be anything more than they are –
“Daleks conquer and destroy!” is the Dalek army’s battle cry at the end of the fifth
episode, and it sums up everything that they can ever be. Bragen and Lesterson, on the other hand, have the potential to be so much better. At the end of the day, just like the Daleks, both of them get their comeuppance. For Bragen, it is death at the hands of the Daleks he tried to manipulate for his own ends. And for Lesterston, it is being on the receiving end of Whitaker’s poetic justice as he realises that the Daleks are indeed evil; that they are reproducing and planning to annihilate the colony, and that no-one will believe him. His descent into madness is superbly portrayed by Robert James who somehow manages to evoke audience sympathy for Lesterson as he meets his surprisingly redeeming end.
The Daleks themselves are at their absolute best in the story. They begin the story weak and powerless, and through only their sheer cunning and their manipulation of Lesterson are they able to obtain their power and reproduce themselves. One of the story’s surviving clips is of the Daleks' mass-producing themselves; it certainly makes for a great build up to the cliff-hanger. Moreover, in another extant clip we see a veritable army of Daleks massing yelling “Daleks conquer and destroy!” and, quite incredibly, the cardboard cut-out Daleks in the
back ground actually look pretty damn good.
And then we come to the Doctor. Patrick Troughton. His first appearance.
Personally, I think he’s fantastic. He plays the role quite differently in these first few stories to how he would later in his tenure, but the qualities that make him such a popular Doctor are still there for all to see. The impish charm, the mischievous grin, the impression he gives that he doesn’t know what on Earth he’s doing! Here he has a daft pipe hat, a recorder and he runs around pretending to be the Examiner from Earth, desperately trying to find who bumped off the real Examiner. In Lesterson he has a great foil - a scientist who is as pig-headed as he is; a man he cannot beat into submission with his arguments. It’s up against the Daleks, however, where Troughton is at his absolute best; he does a magnificent job of conveying not only the Doctor’s fear but also his uncertainty. His brain has been through the meat grinder, and although he knows the Daleks are evil and must be destroyed there are certain memories he cannot quite place… It truly is a wonderful performance.
The ending of the story is very dark, but it also has something of a nursery rhyme feel. The final episode flashes past in a tumult of sound and fury leaving every Dalek, every human baddie, and every ‘shade of grey’ dead. The Daleks slaughter most of the colonists. The Doctor finds the Daleks’ power source and turns the power of the Daleks against them.
The Power of the Daleks is a cautionary tale for those who will not listen; for those who hunger for power and glory. The rather predictable “I told you so” ending is saved by the comedy of the surviving colonists being really annoyed with the Doctor for blowing up their entire power grid, prompting Ben, Polly and the Doctor – yes, the Doctor! – to skulk away…
The serial’s final scene is exquisite. The TARDIS stands beside the smoking remnants of a Dalek on the plains of Vulcan, and as it begins to dematerialise, the Dalek raises its eye-stalk…
And so at the end of the day, Troughton’s first Doctor Who story is one of – if not the very best of – his reign and, if you want to enjoy the serial as fully as possible, then I have to reluctantly recommend the BBC’s money-spinning MP3-CD. It may not be the perfect way to enjoy this historic serial, but regrettably it is the best there is (at the moment...)
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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