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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

The world is a dangerous place, Elliot, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on, and do nothing.

Mr. Robot Season One
(SPOILERS) With all the accolades proclaiming Mr. Robot the best new show of the year, the tale of a self-styled “vigilante hacker by night and regular cyber security worker by day”, intent on bringing down E/Evil Corp, the largest conglomerate in the world (as opposed to multinational Comcast, the 2014 “worst company in America” which owns the USA Network, home of Mr. Robot), I expected something a little more substantial than a refitted Fight Club, “refreshed” with trendy (well, a few years old) references to Occupy, Anonymous/hacking incidents and a melange of pop cultural signposts from the last fifteen years. There are times when the show feels entirely suffused with its abundant derivations, rather than developing into its own thing, its lead character’s pervasive alienation a direct substitute for Edward Norton’s Narrator. And yet, it has a lot going for it, and the season concludes at a point (creator Sam Esmail’s end of first act) where it has the potential…