Skip to main content

Life depends on change. And renewal.


Doctor Who
The Power of the Daleks: Episode One


There’s so much “business” in the early Troughtons that the audios (and reconstructions) can’t hope to approximate them. You can only assume that, however good some of them are, the addition of the mighty Trout on screen would increase the respect for them. Apparently the messing around of early stories resulted in a request to rein things in a bit (a chair remaining attached to Pat when he got up to walk across the room inciting the directive). Even on audio, the energy Troughton infuses his early episodes is palpable, and that’s with his assuming a rather oblique Doctor role. He doesn’t provide clear answers to questions, messes about with his recorder and messes about generally.


Ben and Polly are very much positioned to reflect the concerns of the viewer with this new face on an old character. And they do so by expressing diametrically opposed takes on him. Ben carries over his antagonistic attitude from previous stories, but there’s an added aggressiveness now that wasn’t present with Hartnell. This new character acts the fool and deserves to be treated with suspicion and disdain. Polly, in contrast, is as instantly taken with the spritely new Doctor, his mischievousness and sense of fun.

Polly: Do you remember what he said in the tracking room? Something about this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.
Ben: So he gets himself a new one?
Polly: Well. Yes.
Ben: Do me a favour.

Ben is very literal in his response to the new Doctor while Polly is content to react intuitively.

Polly: It is the Doctor. I know it is. I think.
Whereas:
Ben: It’s not only his face that’s changed. He doesn’t even act like him.


From the perspective of Ben’s peace of mind, the Doctor doesn’t exactly make things easy for him. He refers to “himself” in the third person on brandishing a dagger and proceeds to speak this way well into the story.

The Doctor: The crusades, Saladin. The Doctor was a great collector, wasn’t he?


There’s curious production ticks in the first third of this episode (TARDIS-bound, something that would only become a regeneration template during the JNT era), which preludes the experimentation with form and style during the early days of this era. At least, there appears to be, in the absence of definitive evidence. Point of view is used to establish the Doctor’s recovery (he needs to concentrate on one thing, the mirror shows Hartnell when he looks in it), and – curiously – the same thing will be used later for the Daleks. Or, as much as we can discern from what exists is that POV is being used. We are encouraged to associate with both the story’s protagonists and antagonists. But the Daleks are the old hands here, the oldest consistent element in the series apart from the TARDIS.


The Doctor’s reference to “extermination” is curious too, and it is reinforced later by the piece of metal he pockets. It represents a foreshadowing of the Doctor’s enemy and is further indication (after the card reading in The Smugglers and the knowledge of Mondas in The Tenth Planet) of granting the Doctor a grain of unexamined omniscience regarding events.

Ben seizes on “evidence” such as the Doctor’s ring not fitting to support his argument that this is not the Doctor.

The Doctor: I’d like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after its spread its wings.
Polly: Then you did change.
The Doctor: Life depends on change. And renewal.
Ben: Oh, so that’s it. You’ve been renewed, ‘av’ you?
The Doctor: I’ve been renewed, have I? That’s it. I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it I couldn’t survive.

Again, the lack of over-explanation of the mysteries of the Doctor’s regeneration is refreshing. And it’s interesting to see that the production team are happy to embrace the suspicion over the new Doctor so fully. The use of Ben and Polly as audience surrogates in this way won’t be replicated as fully until Colin Baker arrives on the scene, and there the effect ends up being much less innocuous.

It’s nice to see the surviving nuggets of this episode, a couple of seconds at a time, in the recons; I’d gladly surrender the seven minutes of Galaxy 4 Episode One, for the first seven minutes of this, as so much of it is reliant on Trout’s visual presence and Ben and Polly’s reaction to the same.

The Doctor: I think it’s time we went for a stroll.


And just like that, we are propelled into the story proper. It’s still reliant on Trout’s physical dexterity, though, and we can at best get a gist of what he’s up to. Tootling on his recorder and effortlessly not stepping into swamp. And then stepping in. Leap-frogging a boulder. The sense is that the opening stretch of the story is all Dennis Spooner playfulness. Whitaker likely doesn’t make his authorial presence felt until the bullet that kills the real Earth Examiner.


The setting up of a mystery – who killed the Examiner and why – along with the case of mistaken identity of the Doctor is evidence of a script that knows how to unfold surely and deliberately. We have a murderer with the foresight to plan misdirection (the torn button placed in the Doctor’s palm) and a scene that finishes with the TARDIS trio unconscious. They’re rescued by Bragen (Head of Security on the Vulcan colony) and Quinn (the Deputy Governor). Bernard Archard is typically imposing as Bragen, even if it’s not quite the classic role that Marcus Scarman would be later.


And no time is wasted in arranging the elements of plot that will come into play, with the next scene introducing us to the scientist Lesterson (Robert James, superbly essaying a nerdish fervour) and his assistant Janley. Lesterson displays all the clichéd disinterest to the world outside his studies that we’ve come to expect from boffins, but James’ nervy performance renders his more blinkered aspects believable. The scene introduces us to both the Dalek craft and to his assistant’s involvement with a rebel group. We’re told that the ship has been in the swamp for 200 years, and it’s open to debate when The Power of the Daleks is set, and how it fits with Dalek chronology. It has been suggested that this may be a Dalek time machine. It does seem to have unusual properties, not least internal dimensions that appear to exceed the exterior ones.


Having the Doctor pose as the Examiner is a clever touch, underlining his status as an “imposter” Doctor. Indeed, while he has become no more acceptable to Ben (“Look, why don’t you stop blowing that thing and talk to us properly?”), his quirky interaction with Governor Hensell indicates someone with a fierce intellect beneath the clowning. Hensell wants to know why the Examiner has arrived now (he isn’t due for two years).

The Doctor: If Earth didn’t warn you we were coming there must have been a very good reason.

Hensell presses the point.

Hensell: What is your brief?
The Doctor: I am the Examiner.
Hensell: Why are you here?
The Doctor: To examine!

Which is recognisably classic Troughton (or even Tom), but not something you’d readily expect Hartnell to come out with. Then there’s his studying of Bragen while being addressed by Hensell. This is telling, as Bragen will be later revealed as the murderer of the actual Examiner. The new Doctor has instantly honed in on the likely suspect.


The closing sections of the episode concentrate on the capsule itself, and those eerie sound “whips” that have been used for the Daleks since their first appearance (and make their last here) return. It’s such an unsettling, sinister effect that I’m baffled that it hasn’t been put to good use since; the sort of aural device you could imagine underlying a stroboscopic scary sequence in even a modern sci-fi/horror movie.

The Doctor: These two pieces of metal are identical. The Doctor got one of them from the Daleks himself.
Ben: Why do you keep saying the Doctor if you mean you?


Whether the Doctor “directed himself” on some astral level (à la The Two Doctors) as a warning of what he would encounter on Vulcan, or it is intended to represent a lucky coincidence, it’s enough for him to cut short investigations of the capsule until morning. Basically so that he can sneak in and have a look-see himself at night. It might be asked why, if he already suspects the Daleks, are there, he doesn’t instruct that the vessel is redeposited in the swamp. The answer is probably a mixture of knowing that human curiosity will overcome any wisdom he can impart (see also The Tomb of the Cybermen) and that he already has an inkling that Lesterson has accessed the capsule.


This whole sequence is highly effective, underlined by the sound whips, as Ben and Polly join him (“Come in and meet the Daleks”). The Doctor knows for certain at this point that something is amiss.

The Doctor: There were three Daleks in here. What happened to the other one?

I’m unsure how we’re supposed to read the mutant scuttling across the floor at the episode’s end. Is it moseying about as a result of being revitalised when Lesterson first entered? Presumably, as it’s difficult to believe it was fully compos mentis for 200 years.


This repositioning of the Daleks as an ancient threat that has been rediscovered is a theme that would feature a number of times in the Troughton era, and it would also gain regular currency during Tom’s tenure. We have already seen the idea to some extent with the return of Mondas in the previous story. The likes of The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear would all draw on the idea of the resurfacing of evils from the history to some extent, but this is the first time that the show has unearthed its internal history in this way. There’s probably some inspiration from Quatermass and the Pit here (a recovered ancient spaceship, composed of a metal that proves resistant to scratching or penetration), but it is also distinct from the later Tomb in that the colonists have no apparent knowledge of the Doctor’s enemy.


An episode that unfolds with deceptive confidence, as surely everyone was winging it a bit. Yes, the Daleks are there to make a potentially bitter pill easier to swallow but they do not move or speak until well into the following episode. And the while the Doctor becomes involved in the main story very quickly, once we get to Vulcan, no one is rushing to make him seamlessly accepted by the companions or to have him behave in an expected fashion. Yet he still hits all the important notes where he needs to; unruffled by others’ apparent authority and keenly observant where they seem not to be. Also, the groundwork is carefully and unhurriedly laid for the rest of the story. Masterfully done.
Oh, and with regard to Ben’s ongoing affection for alcohol, apparently he grew up opposite a brewery (“You could take a walk and get tipsy all in one go”).

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

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.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism