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”).

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.