Skip to main content

So they’ve given you the run of the colony, have they?


Doctor Who
The Power of the Daleks: Episode Four


It’s quite a surprise that, after three episodes of increasing blinkeredness and self-deception, Lesterson makes such a volte-face in the fourth part. James plays the character with the same nervy consistency, but now with an increasingly cracked aspect. The doors of Lesterson’s perception buckle as the truth begins to break in on his reality.

This is very much his episode, as the inevitable Doctor Who standby of locking up the central character(s) is called upon to mark time. Ben and the Doctor are captured/arrested and there’s no sign of Polly (Wills on holiday). It’s a testament to the scripting that it doesn’t feel obviously like the story is sagging here. Nothing much is really happening, other than slow progression (of the Daleks’ plan, of certain characters’ realisation of truths). But that in itself is of a piece with the approach to this story; bangs and whistles are very much a secondary requirement.


Lesterson’s arc seems him recover almost forcefully from being unsettled at the cliffhanger to being aghast at the next one (notable to have him central to two consecutive ones). Dizzy Daleks; if only they’d reined in the ranting, Lesterson might have been unalerted for longer. As it is, he rallies himself by doing to the Daleks what the Doctor attempted; he cuts the power supply.

Lesterson: I want you to remember that I control you.

But the Daleks are less willing to take shit by this point, and the episode suggests this with subtle dialogue and unsettling pauses.  They aren’t yet up to strength, but their numbers are growing. Much is made throughout of the mystery of the fourth Dalek, and it’s a compelling hook that finds its answer at the end of the episode.

Dalek: We obey.
Lesterson: I’m glad we understand each other.
Dalek: We under-stand the human mind.

A fantastic line, all the more resonant for what is left unsaid. With the seeds of doubt firmly planted in Lesterson’s mind, the deft reintroduction of a thread from the second episode is required to keep advancement of the plot in check.


Lesterson confides his concerns in Janley. Why do the Daleks need all these raw materials?

Lesterson: I don’t want them to do anything without consulting me. What is it they do inside there?

Janley tells him he’s worrying too much.

Lesterson: I’m beginning to believe the Examiner is right about the Daleks. Their original thinking terrifies me. If I cannot control them, I will have them destroyed.

Pointedly, Janley’s threat of revealing what happened to Resner highlights Lesterson’s essential values. Just as realisation of the Daleks brings his mind back into focus (for now), so Janley’s manipulation resolves his moral outlook. On learning that Resner is dead, he tells Janley, “You’ve done a terrible thing”. There’s no room for movement there, and his code informs him that “Experiments are not more important than human life”.

Nevertheless, the Doctor’s revelation that the Daleks are reproducing is too much for Lesterson, who passes out. His next scene is at the climax of the episode as he observes the truth of the Daleks’ activities in increasing horror.

Lesterson: They’re conspiring together. Why didn’t I realise? They are evil!


His almost delirious terror recalls Poul’s robophobia in The Robots of Death, and the climax of the episode takes its time, allowing Lesterson to silently explore the ship and observe the Dalek manufacturing process. It’s difficult to judge how effective this sequence would have been; the photos of the mutants being deposited in cases look rather good, but then there are the cardboard cut-outs...


Until the climax, the Daleks are all impending threat. This is best illustrated with the Dalek with drinks attachment (“Do I bring liquid for your visitors?”), all the more disturbing for acting like a butler.

Dalek: Have you finished your liquid?
Bragen: No, no. I haven’t.

Bragen, who believes he has mastery of the situation, is visibly (I say visibly, although this is a recon) unsettled by their imposing presence. The Daleks are now gliding about the colony unimpeded. Not until Revelation of the Daleks would a story again pick up on how effectively the tension of Daleks interacting with humans without displaying direct aggression can be sustained.


The scene of the rebels testing out a “controlled” Dalek with its gun stick attached is less compelling. It reveals that the rebels are planning to take over by actually utilising the Daleks, and the trap of believing that they can manipulate the creatures, but it doesn’t add much new to the mix with the Daleks themselves. Indeed, repeating the “Dalek gets angry with the Doctor but can’t shoot him” from earlier in the story is a bit unnecessary (I wasn’t clear if the Dalek threatening the Doctor in this scene had its gun removed at the end of the rebels’ test; if it did I don’t see how it would be that worrying anyway).

Put it in the tum-ble dryer!

A big question here is how are the Daleks reproducing? I suppose it must come down to a relatively simple answer like gene banks. It seems unlikely that they’ve got a batch of frozen mutants on the ship. The script never broaches this, though. Only the nuts and bolts of their casings are addressed.

The Doctor: There’s only one explanation. The Daleks are reproducing themselves.
Janley: These things are machines. How could they reproduce?
The Doctor: Machines? The Daleks are brilliant engineers. Nothing is beyond them, given the right materials.

This story takes pains to position the Daleks as worthy adversaries of the Doctor. He acknowledges their intelligence and fortitude throughout; equal parts horror and respect.


But the Doctor doesn’t have much to do this week, other than react. He’s in the position of recognising that any influence he had under his assumed identity has floundered, and that the Daleks have gained the upper hand (“So they’ve given you the run of the colony, have they?”) There’s still the opportunity for flippancy, such as his reaction to Bragen’s promotion.

The Doctor: Oh, what a nice new uniform. Very smart, very smart. I would like a hat like that.

He succeeds in impressing his concern over the fourth Dalek trundling around on Lesterson, but any further action is blocked by Janley. Then he confronts Bragen.

Bragen: I am the leader of the Daleks.
The Doctor: Well, See if you can stop this one from killing me.

His main meat is being locked up with Quinn, who proves quite scathing. He blames the “Examiner” for events reaching this stage but, while he knew Bragen was up to no good, he didn’t realise he was leader of the rebels. It’s curious that the device of concealing Bragen’s identity at the meeting of the rebels is used initially, as it can’t come as much surprise to any viewer who saw him conspiring with Janley the week before. Quinn seems to think the Governor can count on mine workers for support (they’d never strike, presumably). There’s a nice touch where a dog barks in response to the Doctor attempting to pick a sonic lock through whistling.


Bragen’s first seen in the episode having a set-to with Valmar, who is probably wisely suspicious of one authority figure replacing another authority figure. I’m still not finding the rebel plot entirely convincing, because they seem to be rebelling for the sake of the plot alone. But I rather like that Hensell is so unaware of the dangers around him that he’s happy to swan off on a tour of the perimeter for a day or two.


Janley shows herself to be more than up to the challenge of Bragen’s calculated manipulation; not only does she threaten Lesterson and  lie that the Doctor attacked him, but she volunteers to have the Dalek with gun re-attached tested on her. If Bragen at least shows a bit of wit, Janley reveals only cold conniving.


This is Lesterson’s episode, and a great performance from James. The drinks-holder Dalek is inspired, and it’s remarkable how well-sustained the subdued presence of the Daleks is. They don’t go on the rampage until the final episode. I’m not sure any other story exploits their status so economically. 

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…

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…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

Yes sir, that is how it is happening, all times.

The Owl Service
Episode Two
Huw tells the story of the Mabinogion (“Yes sir, that is how it is happening, all times”). Roger takes on both an investigatory position and a reluctant one (he conceals Alison’s scratch with a plaster, perhaps embarrassed by the carnal passions it implies). And no one seems all that concerned about the vanishing plate designs (although the others think Alison must have done it).

The tensions between the trio have started to mount up. Most effective is the scene where Gwyn confronts Alison. Clad in a bikini, she lies on a sun lounger reading the Mabinogion. As Gwyn angrily sends the book flying, we see quick cuts of her painted face (“You shouldn’t have done that!”) and the sound of fluttering pages/birds as he flees, apparently pursued by something. And then they make up, as if all is fine and it was just a lover’s tiff. Now Roger, wearing, Alison’s sunglasses and with an impassive expression suggesting subdued jealousy, observes them. Roger gets many of the …