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

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.