Doctor Who Reviews/ The Power of the Daleks

The Second Doctors first adventure. The Power of the Daleks not only reinvented the character of the Doctor, but also his mortal enemies.

Written by David Whitaker, someone who had helped to create Doctor Who itself. Though it is sadly missing from the archives, Power of the Daleks remains one of the most acclaimed and influential Doctor Who stories of all time.

Plot

The Doctor regenerates into his second incarnation before a confused Ben and Polly. Neither are sure what to make of this strange new man who has seemingly appeared in the Doctors place and who neither conforms nor denies that he is the Doctor.

Polly thinks it is the Doctor, but Ben is confused as this stranger doesn’t even act like the Doctor they knew.

The TARDIS takes the three time travellers to the planet Vulcan in the far future. The Doctor witnesses a murder of a man sent from Earth to check the human colony located on the planet. The Doctor discovers a badge on the man’s corpse that he uses to bluff his way into the colony by pretending to be the examiner, with Ben and Polly as his team.

The examiner was summoned by the deputy governor of the colony Quinn to deal with a group of rebels, though despite this the governor does not consider the rebels to be that dangerous.

Lesterson the colony’s leading scientist meanwhile discovers a crashed space capsule within the Mercury swamps of the planet. The following night the Doctor discovers much to his horror that it contains two deactivated Daleks with a third one missing.

Lesterson soon finds the time travellers in his lab and demands to know what they are doing here. The Doctor says that his badge (the examiners badge) allows him to go anywhere on the colony. The Doctor deduces that Lesterson is hiding the third Dalek and believes that he might be trying to reactivate it.

Sure enough Lesterson after the Doctor leaves manages to successfully reactivate the third Dalek with the help of his two assistants Resno and Janley. Unfortunately the Dalek instantly shoots Resno dead. Janley assures Lesterson that Resno will be fine, but Lesterson still afraid removes the monsters gun stick.

Quinn meanwhile after being accused of sabotaging the communication console and summoning the examiner is replaced by Bragen in his role as deputy governor by the Governor himself. Little does he know Bragen is in fact in league with the rebels to take control of the colony. It was also Bragen who not only smashed the communication console but also killed the real examiner too.

Quinn is put on trial and the Doctor, Ben and Polly attend his trial. There they are confronted by the Dalek that Lesterson has reactivated. The Dalek claims to be the colony’s servant. The Dalek subsequently proves its worth to the colonists by creating a computer that can detect metorites. The Doctor of course knows the truth, and when he confronts the Dalek it instantly recognizes him which finally convinces Ben who he is.

Lesterson subsequently reactivates the other two Daleks, though he also removes their guns too. The Doctor soon notices that there are more than 3 Daleks and warns everyone that they are breeding. This is met with ridicule by the colonists who believe the Daleks to be machines.

Janley meanwhile who is also in league with the rebels and Bragen believe that they can use the Daleks to help stage a takeover of the colony. The Doctor, Ben and Polly’s cover is also broken, but the three are nevertheless able to escape.

Lesterson meanwhile comes to realize that not only are the Daleks reproducing by themselves but that they are evil and begins to have a mental breakdown. The Daleks manage to create a production line that creates hundreds of Daleks.

These Daleks soon begin to slaughter everyone in sight including Janley and Lesterson. Bragen meanwhile is killed by Valmaar whilst attempting to kill Quinn who is made Governor.

Before the Daleks can exterminate everyone on the colony the Doctor is able to destroy the Daleks by giving them a power overload.

With the Dalek army destroyed the Doctor, Ben and Polly slip away in the TARDIS, unaware that one of the Daleks has survived.

Quotes

Dalek/ Why do human beings kill other human beings?

Dalek/ We understand the human mind.

Dalek/ We are to wait here until the human beings fight among themselves.

Dalek 1/ Exterminate all humans.

Dalek 2/ Exterminate all humans

Dalek 1/ Exterminate! Annihilate! Destroy! Daleks conquer and destroy, Daleks conquer and destroy!

All Daleks in Unison as they leave their ship one after another/  DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY, DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY!!!!

Dalek/ We are not ready yet to teach these human beings the law of the Daleks!

The Doctor/ Ben, Polly come in and meet the Daleks

Polly/ Who?

The Doctor/ The Daleks.

The Doctor/ But the thing it does most effectively is kill human beings.

Dalek/ (shouting over the Doctor) I AM YOUR SERVANT! I AM YOUR SERVANT! I AM YOUR SERVANT! I AM YOUR SERVANT!

Lesterson/ It will be the end of the Colony’s problems

The Doctor/ Yes it will be the end of the Colony’s problems because it will be the end of the colony.

Review

The Power of the Daleks is easily one of the greatest Dalek stories ever made.

Sadly as all of its episodes are missing its impossible for me as a modern viewer to truly appreciate its value. Recons do take about twice as much concentration to watch as actual episodes do, whilst obviously simply listening to the audio of the story doesn’t give you a full idea of the serial either.

Still even with that I would nevertheless rank Power as one of the all time classic Doctor Who stories. Even as a Recon and at 6 episodes long, Power of the Daleks never drags for even a second.

There is so much going on in this story from the mystery surrounding the examiners murder, to the problems with the rebels on the colony, to Quinn’s trial and that’s before we get to the Doctor and the Daleks both of whom are completely reinvented for this story.

I think this adventure really benefits from having strong guest characters such as Lesterson who in contrast to the likes of Bragen and Mavic Chen from the previous Dalek story actually believes he can harness their power for good and pays a heavy price for it.

Lesterson’s death at the Daleks hands is a classic Frankenstein being destroyed by his own creation moment as Lesterson in his madness reminds the Daleks that he brought them back to life which they acknowledge only to gun him down instantly. This scene more than any other save their murder of their own creator Davros in Genesis of the Daleks years later demonstrates how utterly beyond reason and compassion the Daleks truly are. In many ways this scene could be seen as a precursor to Davros’s death as both involve someone who was completely unaware of what they have unleashed in creating/bringing the Daleks back coming to the awful realization just seconds before they too are exterminated.

Janley also serves as quite an interesting antagonist as she is presented in a much more sympathetic light than Bragen, but is still nevertheless shown to be willing to cover up a murder and even blackmail Lesterson for her own ends.

Bragen on the other hand is presented as totally villainous character. Indeed he is arguably presented as being more evil than the Daleks themselves as in one scene a Dalek genuinely questions why human beings kill other human beings after Bragen murders a fellow colonist in cold blood. Its quite a nice twist to show how in some ways human beings can actually be more evil than the Daleks as the humans of this story like Bragen slaughter each other for their own ends, whilst the Daleks all work together for the good of their race.

Of course whilst the story benefits from having strong supporting characters what makes it truly stand out is the way it manages to reinvent the Time Lord and his greatest enemies and indeed the show itself.

Everybody bangs on about wanting to find The Tenth Planet episode 4 and I don’t know why. Well obviously I want to find all the missing Doctor Who’s, but in terms of wanting to find an episode that deals with the first regeneration then Power of the Daleks episode 1 I think should be the most sought after episode.

Its the episode where we really get to see the first regeneration dealt with properly. The Tenth Planet episode 4 simply has the Doctor change at the end, but its here we get to see how the changeover from Hartnell to Troughton is handled.

Interestingly enough the story does not try and reassure people that Troughton is still the Doctor right away. In fact it could be argued it does the reverse as Troughton regularly refers to the Doctor in the third person and acts nothing like Hartnell, something which is at one point commented on by Polly.

This might seem a bit of an odd thing to do, but in hindsight you can see that it was actually a very clever way of letting people know that Troughton’s Doctor wouldn’t just look different, but would have a completely different personality to Hartnell as well which ultimately is what allowed the show to survive as this allowed Troughton as well as all his successors to stamp their own interpretation on the character and reinvent him for new audiences.

Later on the story the audience is assured that despite the vast differences in the way he acts that Troughton is the same man when the Daleks recognize the Doctor. The inclusion of the Daleks in this story was a very smart move as the Daleks were obviously  the most iconic thing about the series and having them basically say this is still the Doctor would have instantly eased all doubts.

Simply by including the Daleks the writers were able to have their cake and eat it too. They were able to make viewers wonder if this is the Doctor and then say yes it is simply by having the Doctors oldest enemies recognize him.

Troughton is on top form here. He is instantly able to inject his trademark humor into the character of the Doctor yet he is also able to add a more mysterious edge to the character than Hartnell was. In this story the Second Doctor is a very secretive character who is two steps ahead of everyone and never lets anyone even his companions in on what he is planning. At times his somewhat more light hearted Doctor can seem ironically somewhat more sinister than the cantankerous Hartnell ever did such as when he is casually playing his recorder whilst Ben screams at him that a man has just been murdered.

What about the Daleks however isn’t that the reason we are here? Well the Daleks it could be argued change just as much as the Doctor himself!

This story is written by David Whitaker who keeps up their hatred for other life forms which is their defining trait as well as their ruthlessness, but changes them in other drastic ways.

Nation always made a point of demonstrating how alien the Daleks were. His Daleks were shown to be unable to understand human concepts and referred to our children as our descendents. The Daleks in Power meanwhile are shown to be able to manipulate human beings with spectacular ease. They play on both our strengths like Lestersons desire to help his fellow colonists and our weaknesses like Bragen’s greed and desire for power and manage to pit the humans against one another all the while getting what they want from both of them. At one point a Dalek even comments on how they know exactly how the human mind works which is about as far away from Nations Daleks who didn’t even know what our children were as you can get.

The fact that the Daleks are now much more manipulative makes them the perfect adversaries for the more manipulative Second Doctor. I have always said that the Second Doctor worked the best against the Daleks as here the Daleks actually seem like more of a match for the Doctor than ever before. Both are beings of immense power who are pretending to be something they are not, the Doctor, the hapless examiner, the Daleks, friendly sweet little robots and are playing everyone around them including the Doctors own companions like pieces on a chest board against each other, trying to stay ahead of each other and expose the others lies.

Nations Daleks though effective villains for how alien they were, and the perfect villain for Hartnell to get outraged at, would not have worked in this story as well against Troughton’s Doctor.

Nation’s Daleks were also depicted as being more weaker physically. In their first story they cannot even leave their own city whilst in the Dalek Invasion of Earth they have to launch plague missiles hidden in metiorites before they can invade the earth and even then they are only able to rule a devastated earth through Robomen slaves. Nations Daleks were still a threat because of how advanced they were, but in terms of actual physical power they were quite weak and Nation did this on purpose as it was a wonderful irony that these ridiculous looking, frail creatures despised others for being supposedly inferior, and as I have commented on in the past this made them the perfect allegory for men like Klaus Barbie, Herman Goerring and even today Nick Griffen.

The Daleks in this story meanwhile are shown to be truly formidable creatures. The Second Doctor at one point warns that one Dalek is capable of destroying the entire earth colony of Vulcan by itself. At the end when the Daleks begin slaughtering the people of the colony its like a scene from the new series where the Daleks are more like a force of nature just destroying everything in their path.

I actually think that this story was very influential on how the new series would portray the Daleks as the new series would tend to portray the Daleks as being more manipulative and more powerful like in this story.

Dalek features the Dalek playing on Rose’s compassion and tricking her like the Daleks do to Lesterson in this story, whilst The Parting of the Ways features the monsters manipulating all of human society from behind the scenes and Victory of the Daleks similarly features docile Daleks who pretend to be our servants in order to get what they want, at the same time of course the likes of Dalek and Doomsday also show us how much damage one or a few Daleks can inflict.

Overall the Power of the Daleks is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever made. Its such a shame that I will most likely never be able to watch it in all its glory, but still even as just a recon it holds up and I would encourage all Whovians to give it a go as it is arguably the most important serial in the shows history after the first Dalek story itself and is fantastic, atmospheric adventure in its own right.

Final Rating

5 out of 5 stars

Notes and Trivia

  • In his first draft of this story David Whitaker revealed that the Doctor was the last of his kind who had all been wiped out by the Daleks in an intergalactic war. He also revealed that William Hartnell had not been the first Doctor with the Doctor removing certain trinkets and pieces of clothing from his previous incarnations. These were ultimately cut from the final drafts by Dennis Spooner though it is still somewhat hinted that the Daleks destroyed the Doctors home planet within the story itself. Whitaker was very unhappy with these changes though its interesting to note that all of these ideas would emerge in later stories by different writers. In The Brain of Morbius it is revealed that there were 8 Doctors before William Hartnell. It would later be established that Hartnell was the original Doctor however, but still the idea of an unseen Doctor before the first was played with in the revival in some way with the War Doctor an unseen Doctor who came before the first of the revival Doctors, the ninth Doctor. Finally the idea of the Doctor being the last of his kind, who had been destroyed in a war with the Daleks would obviously be used as the Doctors backstory in the 2005 revival too.
  • Dennis Spooner wrote the final drafts of this story but was uncredited.
  • This was the first Dalek story not to be written or co-written by Terry Nation. Apparently Nation disliked how the Daleks were used in this story though he said that he did not think that it was a bad story at all.
  • According to the trailer, this story is set in 2020.
  • Ben later mentions the Daleks in another story hoping he doesn’t meet them again.

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