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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

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.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…