The Power of the Daleks

A newly-renewed Doctor arrives at a divided human colony on the inhospitable planet of Vulcan with Ben and Polly. A scientist there has unearthed a Dalek space capsule, which has lain in a mercury swamp for two centuries.

 

Following immediately from the events of The Tenth Planet, this new animated version of The Power of the Daleks shows the Doctor’s first regeneration as a pre-title sequence. The process is presented as something the TARDIS does to help her pilot. The Doctor says, “I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it I couldn’t survive.” This is the last time he makes reference to this, and manages to regenerate ‘outside the spaceship’ on a couple of occasions in the future. The other difference, unique to this first change, is that the Doctor’s clothes along with his face. Only many years later are we presented with the Time Lord technology responsible for clothing: the holographic suit in The Time of the Doctor. It raises the distinct possibility that the First Doctor was testing this by running around Antarctica naked. Billy bollocks, as it were.

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The TARDIS crew’s arrival on Vulcan coincides with the opening of a crashed spaceship containing three, seemingly dead, Daleks. The poor human (and, this being set in 2020, presumably Zygon) colonists have no idea that the Daleks are evil, having quit the Earth before their invasion of it in around 2164. The Dalek attack in The Stolen Earth was also lost in the universal reboot from The Big Bang (Amy had no recollection of it in Victory of the Daleks). This allows the metal monsters to present themselves as allies of the colonists, while pursuing their own usual agenda. The idea of apparently friendly Daleks, creating more problems for the Doctor, is so good it crops again in Revelation of the Daleks, Victory of the Daleks, the novel The Dalek Generation and Big Finish’s Dark Eyes.

The BBC have had missing episodes animated before, to complete stories with just a couple of extant parts, but this is their most ambitious, and successful, effort. All six episodes are lovingly recreated here, allowing fans the closest experience to watching the original. Up until now we could enjoy the soundtrack on cassette or CD (with commentary from Anneke Wills), the tele-snap stills, reconstructions that marry those two together and John Peel’s 1993 novelisation.

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In 2013 the Doctor Who Magazine released The Missing Episodes: The Second Doctor Volume One, a bookazine featuring all of the The Power of the Daleks tele-snaps and accompanying text by Jonathan Morris. You begin to realise how little the animators had to go on for some scenes. As Morris explains in his Under Three Hundred blog, it’s by no means clear from the tele-snaps and camera scripts where Lesterson is in episode four when he discovers the Dalek nursery. This is perhaps one of the most eagerly-anticipated scenes of The Power of the Daleks. Having convinced himself that there is only the trio of Daleks, who are genuinely servile to the humans, he comes across the production line where new Dalek mutants are being fitted into their casings. There are just a handful of snaps from this scene available.

Both Wills’ and Peel’s accounts have lurid descriptions of the process. They have it that: “Probes extend from the casing and pierce the body of the creature;” and “Several needle-like probes emerge from the interior of the Dalek base and inject into the blob,” respectively. This is unseen in this adaptation, but a new detail is one Dalek jolting the mutant to life with an electric shock, before placing them in the travel machines. It’s a suitably Frankensteinian touch as the creatures start replicating themselves. This scene seems more packed with detail and movement than most of the others, as befits such a pivotal and iconic moment.

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The Daleks work particularly well as cartoons, perhaps made more threatening by the animated form: their movements more precisely choreographed, their domes more firmly fixed and their gliding around more accurate than their live action counterparts. The human characters don’t fare quite as well. You particularly feel you’re missing a lot of Patrick Troughton’s performance; he’s always doing something interesting so that he’s the focus of any scene when you’re watching the actor. Here his is facial expression does not change when the Examiner is gunned down in front of him. His vocal performance still comes through strongly though, and steals the scenes he’s in.

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The sultry Janley is an strong character, one of the first to see the potential of the Daleks, and manipulating those around her. Ben comes across better than Polly in this one; she is far wilier and more practical in their next adventure, The Highlanders. Animated Ben has a permanent frown, and the script fleshes out his backstory with anecdotes about growing up opposite a brewery and his fare-dodging headmaster. Polly isn’t even granted a surname. Robert James as Lesterson and Bernard Archard as Bragen both make great characterisation of very interesting character arcs in the first of two Doctor Who appearances each (they would show further huge discernment by going to star in The Masque of Mandragora and The Pyramids of Mars, respectively).

The viewer very quickly gets used to the animated medium, as the story and performances are so strong. The mystery over who is orchestrating the rebel coup, and murdered the Examiner, remains unknown for much longer than is often unintentionally the case in Doctor Who. The blankness of the faces may help to keep their identity secret until the reveal as well. The wider colony, unseen, is effectively painted by the dialogue. A dog barking as the Doctor blows his dog whistle suggests unseen domesticity, and Hensell’s visit to the mine workers at the Perimeter creates a sense of wider scale. Finally, the music creates an incredibly eerie atmosphere and makes the Daleks feel more alien than the more militaristic scores that accompany some of their other appearances.

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Order Power of the Daleks on DVD:

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2 thoughts on “The Power of the Daleks

  1. Saw this in the theater tonight. Even cut down into movie format, it was a stupendous viewing experience. I agree with you about the lack of Troughton facial expression in certain scenes, but he was fairly well animated at most other times. They didn’t quite capture Michael Craze’s face, though.

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