Skip to main content

I am your ser-vant.


Doctor Who 
The Power of the Daleks: Episode Two


Episode Two maintains the high quality of the first installment, and it also continues to present us with a Doctor who is by turns indulgently playful and insightful and deadly serious. I particularly like Troughton’s performances  in these early stories; his whackiness doesn’t undermine the seriousness of the story, or his character. On the contrary. And his behaviour doesn’t come across as whimsical, rather it seems to present us with a character whose mind is so quick that any given moment’s preoccupation is just that; a moment later his focus will shift elsewhere, without any loss of concentration on the preeminent problem he faces.

While he far from dangles his thoughts on a stick before Ben and Polly, he doesn’t ignore his companions either. For example, the debate on where the missing Dalek went and whether Lesterson was responsible.

Polly: But he hadn’t opened the capsule.
Ben: No, he said he hadn’t opened it. Let’s get our facts straight.
The Doctor: Ha-ha. Excellent! Good thinking, good thinking.

And he’s deadly serious when it comes to discussing his old adversaries.

The Doctor: But all is not well with this colony. And add to that one Dalek... All that is needed to wipe out this entire colony.

I expect this line was the inspiration for Dalek. At least, it’s difficult to believe it didn’t enter the discussion somewhere along the line. And later:

The Doctor: I know the misery they cause. The destruction. But there’s something more terrible. Something I can only half remember.


I’m not sure we ever come back to this, but it adds resonance to the character amidst the japery. Later, Ben will suggest leaving (he’s clearly not picked up on the way the Doctor adventures, as he suggested the same thing in The Smugglers).

Ben: I’ve had enough of this dump.
The Doctor: Have you? What about the Daleks?
Ben: Well, they’re dead.
Polly: And what about that thing in the capsule? That was alive alright.
Ben: Ah well, I can’t explain that.
The Doctor: I can, and that’s why we have to stay.


There’s an underlining here that the Doctor’s moral bearings are unchanged (although this will be an area to debate in a later episode), and it’s a position he has and will frequently take; that he must take action because he’s the only one equipped to deal with a situation.
But the quirkiness of character on display in Episode One is not diminished; there are still the references to himself in the third person.

The Doctor: Of course, the real Doctor was always going on about the Daleks.

And Ben remains unaccepting of his regeneration (not referred to as such). Perhaps as a seaman he can’t accept the apparent mixture of authority and anarchy. Polly has no such problems. Indeed, her delight in the Doctor’s behaviour is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this episode.

Ben: You know, its little things like this that make it difficult to believe that you’re the Doctor. The other one. I mean, the proper one. Oh, nuts! You know what I mean.
The Doctor: Nuts. Yes, certainly. Crackers. Here we are.
Ben: You, my old china, are an out and out phoney.
The Doctor: China? Hmmm, yes. I went there once, I believe. I met Marco Polo.
Polly: Don’t listen to him, Doctor. I know who you are.


The business with the Doctor handing out fruit to everyone (including an askance Bragen) was – at least to some extent – a subterfuge to hide his suspicion that there was a listening device hidden inside them. Just what sort of surveillance expert would put a bug in some fruit is questionable. And how the Doctor picked up that it was planted in the fruit is baffling too (more of his semi-clairvoyance?), so much so that it feels like a bit of comic business worked backwards to make sense as a plot point. Nevertheless, it’s this sort of thing that makes the Doctor in this story so distinctive.

Ben: So that’s why you were messing about and talking nonsense.
The Doctor: I never talk nonsense. Well, hardly never. At first I thought there might be more than one.

Ben and Polly both start laughing after he says this. Was that due to something visual (and lost), or was it intended to mean that if there was more than one, one of them might have eaten a bug?


Another bit of comedic interaction I enjoyed was Polly being tutored in verbal gymnastics while – again – the visual and verbal displays sandwich a serious point being made by Ben.

Polly: Will Lesterson listen?
The Doctor: Lesterson listen. Lesterson listen. Lesterson listen. Exercise the tongue. Try it. Lesterson listen. Lesterson listen.
Ben: They think you’re the Examiner. Order them to destroy the Daleks. Chuck your weight about.
Polly: Lesterson listen. Lesterson listen. Lesterson listen.

Ben’s question is fair enough; in his confrontation with Lesterson the Doctor demands the destruction of the Daleks, and follows it up by pressing the urgency of dealing with them on Bragen.

The Doctor: If there was a bomb under this floor, timed to go off in five minutes, would you ask my permission before you ripped up the floorboards?

At least at this stage, any progress in ridding the colony of the Daleks is buried under having to make an appointment with Hensell to discuss this.


I praised Robert James’ performance as Lesterson in the first episode, and he deserves more credit here, overcoming a characterisation that doesn’t do an enormous amount for his scientific credibility. Sure, blinkered viewpoints are nothing new in mad scientists, but he doesn’t seem overly observant either. The Doctor quickly exposes his shortcomings in terms deviousness.

The Doctor: You didn’t even give them a glance. Why? Because you’d already been in there and seen them. Where is the third Dalek?

And we have a reiteration of his naivety in believing his discipline can be immune from external influences, when talking to Janley.

Lesterson: This is a scientific laboratory. Kindly keep your politics out of it.


Which is all no doubt part of a learned man’s zeal to discover everything he can about the contents of the spacecraft. Right? Well, no. On occasion he doesn’t seem capable of the most basic logical deductions.

Lesterson: I can’t think what this short, stubby arm is for.

The one that looks a bit like a gun barrel? He dismisses Resno’s concern that the Dalek is sentient.

Lesterson: You can’t use the phrase, “watching us”. You’ll have us believe the thing has an intelligence next.


But he has already concluded that it may have a “simplified positronic brain”. It’s also rather convenient (for the purposes of the story) that he is unable to lift the lid to look inside (since this has not proved impossible in previous stories). So he powers the Dalek up without having fully examined it, and then the short, stubby arm he had couldn’t account for shoots Resno dead. Given his blinkeredness I’m more inclined to buy into his belief that the Dalek can benefit the colony (he removes the gun arm), but at what point did he reach this conclusion? After giving it a cursory glance?

Lesterson: I have just completed an experiment that could revolutionise the whole colony.
The Doctor: Lesterson, what have you done? What have you done?
Then:
Lesterson: Yes, it will end the colony’s problems.
The Doctor: Because it will end the colony.

I wasn’t too sure about his rushing off to get help after Resno is shot, either. Janley lies that he is still alive in order to manipulate him later. But he then asks Janley how he is (we later learn that she stuffed him in the swamp) and she says he’s received medical attention. So where did he go to get this help?


The other significant thread in the episode is Quinn falling under suspicion when the radio room is sabotaged (something that brought to mind John Carpenter’s The Thingremake) and the radio operator has been rendered unconscious. Quinn’s discovered in the corner of the room holding wire cutters and Bragen identifies his button, which pretty much stacks the evidence against him. As with the regenerated Doctor, it’s Polly who allows intuition to be her guide while Ben is quick to conclude that he is guilty (he thinks Quinn wants to be Governor). Polly protests Quinn’s innocence.

Polly: There are some people you just know are all right.


Then there’s the cliffhanger, justifiably held up as one of the series’ most unsettling and iconic. And stolen wholesale by Victory of the Fatleks. The reactivated Dalek’s repeated refrain of “I am your ser-vant” is chilling, and it undercuts the frenzy that the Doctor has worked himself up into. It’s completely unexpected and an indication that the story isn’t going to devolve into a straightforward Dalek shoot’em up. In some ways it might have been better not to have Resno shot, as it signals to the audience that, whatever they say otherwise, the Daleks are as bad as ever. On the other hand, it could be argued that it works well for precisely that reason; we have them presented as calculated manipulators, with only the Doctor convinced of their true motives. How will that play out?


While there’s a few holes developing, and slightly questionable characterisation, this again gets full marks. The story is unfolding at a measured pace, very much a mystery that happens to feature Daleks rather than the action romp that one would expect of them at that point. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.