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

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…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…