The Power of the Daleks

Written by:
David Whitaker
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1966
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

"Come all without,
Come all within,
You'll not see nuthin'
Like the Mighty Trout's Quim!"

There's been new added excitement over this one lately as the BBC found scant seconds of footage in the form of an original trailer and put it up on their website. While I'll be watching it via a reconstruction only, this brief snatch of episode one proved to be, if anything, even better than I had imagined it would be. Dark. Scary. Staggeringly well shot. I nearly stained my pants looking at the downloaded clip, and even though parts certainly aren't as good - such as the Dalek production line in episode five, consisting of four Daleks running round and round trying to pretend they're an army - I have little doubt that if discovered, Power of the Daleks would be the classic we'd all love it be.

Without moving images we are deprived of nuance - David J Howe describes the Doctor getting up with a chair stuck to his backside in this episode, though I guess we'll never know if that was the result of a faulty memory now. David also cites the fact that we know what the Daleks are up to the whole time makes it dull, which seems to completely miss the point. The fact that only the Doctor and we, the viewers, are aware of the inevitable and can do nothing to prevent makes it all the more horrifying, particularly the second episode cliffhanger. It's this simple psychological premise that makes the whole thing work so well, particularly when twinned with the bonus of the Doctor's first regeneration. Despite claims to the contrary, The Mighty Trout is in control right from the outset, his new, more internalised take on the role at the forefront. We no longer get the Doctor speaking his thoughts aloud to include the audience, instead we're left to guess at what they could be.

It's a guessing game that we're left alone with, probably a hard thing to the somewhat spoon-fed audience of the time. "Who are we?" "Don't you know?" He's rocking like a Daddy from the get-go, and no amount of tired "crazy Pat until he settled down" myths can dilute his majesty. Okay, the Troughton era was rarely the most sophisticated Doctor Who ever made, but then neither were the first two seasons of Philip Hinchcliffe. There's at least an attempt at a greater psychological impetus here, with TMT openly studying body language and facial nuance to complete his mission.
* * * * ½

One of the most overlooked things about this story is the incidental music. I'd say it dips "below the radar" as it functions as incidental music should do - almost on an unconscious level. With sinister hums, eerie shifting sounds and an almost Dawn of the Dead style clash to conclude scenes, it's a subtle creation that perfectly aids mood. In fact, it wasn't until I heard the reprise of his most foreboding theme from The Daleks (and The Rescue) that I realised it was the ever-reliable Tristram Cary.

Partway into this episode, the Doctor reveals that he is, in fact, the same Doctor, and that he's spoken nonsense because he knew they were being bugged. I've never seen an actor so on top of his game as The Mighty Trout is in this one - just look at the surviving brief clips and the look in his eyes, and listen to the scene where the Doctor interrogates Lesterson, putting all the pieces together. It's sensational, and his "compartment" fluff is not only a testament to the fact that everyone was doing it in the 60s, but it also sounds more natural than Billy's. This is a man so excited he gabbles his words, rather than some old bugger who forgets his. But yeah, I'm glad they got rid of the hat.

Here's a name drop: I was once asked to write an article for the fanzine Circus, and wrote up what I saw as the five "Scariest Moments" of the Troughton era, which got published in Issue #9. We had the usual suspects: Oak and Quill, a Yeti from The Web of Fear, an insane Cybermen from The Invasion and a faceless one breathing heavily on a bed. The cliffhanger to this episode came fifth, and was actually the only one of the five to directly involve the Doctor in it. By mixing with the uncanny with the familiar Whitaker creates something far scarier than the usual monster threats - and "I - AM - YOUR - SERVVVVVV- ANT" makes this one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time.
* * * * *

While I'd previously put Power in my top ten and have no doubt I will do so again when I get to the end of it, I've never suggested it's not without flaws. I'm glad it is a six-parter as it allows build-up, but there are points where it naturally drags, and this is one of them. Then there's Ben - as much as like him, particularly with Billy, playing against the depth and intelligence of TMT he comes over as a bit shallow and a bit thick. There's also a jar in acting styles, with Anneke Wills being able to tap into the subtler thesping on offer, Craze seeming a little stagy, perhaps uneasy with the new lead. Still a cracking episode though…
* * * * ½

I'm sure this has been said before, but whereas the regeneration is said to have been inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (God knows how, but there you go…) there's also allusions to it here with Lesterson controlling their resurrection via levers, switches and a supply of electricity.

Is Bernard Archard too calm and staid to be the lethal killer Bragen? Also stretching credulity somewhat is the growing supply of Daleks… okay, I can accept the Doctor's explanation that there may have been more in the capsule than they at first thought, but even if they could build new Dalek machines, where would they get the extra mutants? And how do they build with no hands? Okay, let's not analyse it too closely, in case it falls apart…

The Doctor discovering where the rebel's meeting is held by use of anagram is rushed for the period, the Doctor's explanation almost coming faster than you can keep up. Having said that, there is of course the possibility that this would have been clearer with the images, and a point of note is Robert James's breakdown performance, which is commendably well done.
* * * * ½

I'm doubtful about those cardboard Daleks, but I reckon they get away with the toy production line because of the way its shot. This one contains an early stinger with the Daleks revealing they can store power - so when they were switched off last episode they were just faking? Oh, and on the subject of Frankenstein, Lesterson gets a falsetto "It's alive!" in this one.

Even though the Daleks rule the show (so much so that the newly-created BBC trailer showcased them without mentioning the change of lead actor) when you've watched it a couple of times you do become more aware of the humans involved. Other than Lesterson, they're a fairly nondescript bunch, and I'm not altogether sure what their rebellion is supposed to be about - maybe I just wasn't playing attention? It's no good saying they're a satire of 60s counterculture, they have to have a purpose within the fiction too.

One thing I will U-turn on is my earlier claim that this one drags in parts… on reflection I don't really think it does, it's fast-paced by 60s standards and has a constant narrative drive. Minor quibbles here involve Polly's explanation of why the Daleks hate, which seems twee (and how would she know anyway?) and always the mild irritation of a regular on holiday - so Ben's locked up, unconscious and unseen. A larger quibble is that I forgot you do get to see the cardboard Daleks as existing footage - even Barry's direction can't disguise the fact that one of them wobbles dramatically. However, a nice bit of relatively understated commentary is ushered in with the Dalek that asks "Why do human beings kill human beings?" (See, Ben Aaronovitch, it can be done). Incidentally, as I mention in my review of Evil (which I did first) the Dalek voices at this stage hit their greatest peak.
* * * * ½

"Daleks conquer and destroy!! Daleks conquer and destroy!" Okay, they may be relying on a tape loop to convince there's more than four of them, but the Daleks have spent five episodes playing the ropes - now they're ready to open up a six pack of whup ass.

As a matter of fact, I now remember this was the episode that I thought dragged, simply because it doesn't work without moving images. An almost non-stop battle sequence, with even the Doctor apparently involved in physical conflict at one stage, this is the sort of thing that even the reconstructions can't hope to allude to. I do like the Daleks' plan, though, telling rebels that they are "friends" and that they can only help by being taken right to the centre of the colony. "Marvellous creatures…" says Lesterson, "you have to admire them." Don't you just, though?

There are notable parallels with the inferior Genesis here, as the Daleks gradually rise among a group of politically conflicting humans and turn on their "creator". While Genesis uses melodrama to create more memorable human characters, it does lower the target audience range further still, and you can't help but feel that this one out of all the stories was used as a template. Well, maybe for Robert Holmes's rewrites anyway - Terry Nation wasn't keen, was he?

The resolution is a little deux et machina, compounded by the Doctor asking for what he did, so viewers can get the explanation. What I'd taken as a nice pay-off where Polly suspects that he deliberately didn't argue forcefully so that events would unfold they way they did is possibly incorrect. Her "wasn't very convincing" line in hindsight probably refers to his explanation of how he defeated the Daleks, whereas I'd always taken it that he put up a lame fight right from episode two just so they would come to life, in order to be destroyed en masse. I'm sure you'll agree that this second possibility is better, as it means the Doctor allowed the colony to be virtually wiped-out in order to satisfy his own blood lust for the Daleks - the sadistic bugger.
* * * *

I'm not suggesting that it was downhill from this point on, but The Power of the Daleks happens to be my favourite Troughton story. An exceptional lead performance, the initial worth of which is still underrated, and a psychological impetus for the Daleks that they never previously had. The era ushered in a more streamlined Who, so this may lack the sophistication and narrative complexity of classic Hartnells (such as Marco Polo), but as a taut monster thriller this one is first-rate.
* * * * *