Dystoporama Review: Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks   January 19th, 2017

“The Daleks are your servants…”

The Daleks with their simple pepper pot construction and modulated voices are probably the most-iconic monsters of the Doctor Who British television series. They could be argued to be one of the best villains, even given that it took them thirty some years to learn how to navigate a simple set of stairs. Even so, they have always been my favorites. It doesn’t matter that one of their mechanical appendages is a toilet plunger, the rotating dome with its single eye stock and the laser weapon always fill me with equal parts excitement and dread,

The Daleks are a wonderful metaphor for the ultimate fascists in their unceasing efforts to exterminate what they consider all inferior races. “Genesis of the Daleks,” a Tom Baker story from 1975 built upon this. It featured the science team and Davros’ secret police, decked out in black SS style uniforms, toiling away in a secret bunker to win an unending war. The World War Two allusions were obvious but they were backed up with a tight story, giving an interesting bit of retroactive-continuity to the cyborg menace.

“The Power of the Daleks” from 1966 was another episode which used them quite well. Tapes of the story were destroyed, but some film negatives and audio existed, and the BBC was able to recreate the story in animated format. The animation is low budget and character design of the humans is kind of unsettling, but the rendering of the sets and the Daleks is better. Simple cell shading is used, both in color and recreating the black-and-white look of the original story, and comparing the animated story with photos from the original sets, they did a nice job.

The story suffers from slow pacing, where 4 episodes might have worked better than 6, and somewhat simplistic story-telling, both of these issues due to being a kids’ show, but there are some interesting political angles to the story.

“Power of the Daleks” is also notable for being the first episode with Patrick Troughton, where they came up with the of regeneration, though they called it a renewal, as they still figuring things out. The idea of the post-regeneration confusion and personality change started here though, as the Doctor is not acting like himself and seems to have bouts of memory loss.

Companions Ben and Polly do not know what it going on, since he does not look or act at all like the Doctor they are used to. They are both wary of him at first, Ben especially. It’s two or three episodes in before Polly finally says that he acted like the Doctor would, and they start warming up to him. This story shows Troughton starting to play the recorder at odd times, to the chagrin of his confused companions. The use of the musical instrument becomes a trademark for the second incarnation of the Doctor.

The story starts with the Doctor regenerating, as the Tardis has arrived on the outskirts of a human colony on the planet Vulcan, sometime in the unspecified future where Earth has obtained space flight and colonization. While the Doctor is wandering around the mercury swamps, he stumbles upon a man who has just been shot by an unseen foe, and as he dies, the man hands the Doctor a badge which proclaims “Earth Examiner.”

The companions never seen the body of the examiner, so when they catch up to the Doctor and he arrives at the colony, they are surprised to hear him take on that role. The colony Governor and his staff are insistent they be told why an examiner has shown up unscheduled, but the Doctor is cagey. His behavior vacillates between clever and confused, as he’s still recovering from the effects of regeneration.

While touring the colony, the Doctor discovers the lab of Lesterson, a scientist who has discovered an alien capsule in the mercury swamp. After some work they manage to open up the capsule and it turns out to be a space ship of some sort. Inside they find three Daleks, all of them thankfully deactivated and covered with dust. The Doctor tries to warn everyone that the Daleks are evil and they should be melted down and destroyed, but nobody listens to him. Nobody seems to question how an Earth Examiner would know about them.

Lesterson wants to experiment with the Daleks and is soon excited to find he can reanimate one of them using external power connections. He believes they are simple robots and does not heed the Doctor’s warnings. The Daleks convince him they are servants, and when they suggest they can be useful to help improve the meteor-detection computer to keep the colony safe, Lesterson gives them more materials and power, unwittingly setting plans in motion for the colony’s potential demise. There is a scene later where a hidden section of the alien ship is revealed and a Dalek assembly line is discovered. Lesterson is driven mad by this revelation that they are creating more of their kind and perhaps the warnings were true.

Meanwhile, it is uncovered that a revolution is brewing in the colony. The radio to communicate with Earth has been destroyed, and various turncoats are slowly revealed. As the plot progresses, the violent revolutionaries end up using the Daleks to help them take control of the colony, as they believe they can control them, only learning too late of the Dalek’s true nature.

The use of the three factions, the loyalists, the revolutionaries and the Daleks was a nice choice, and it made for a more complex plot than I was expecting. The political metaphors were obvious, but also creative and entertaining, seeing the factions play off one another. It was also fun to see the Dalek’s masquerading as simple servants, while they plotted in secret to destroy the colony.

The writing, pacing and styling of the episode are certainly dated and aimed at a younger audience. The animation also isn’t perfect, but for fans of the show, it’s a story worth checking out and it’s nice that the BBC has restored it allow it to be seen once again. There are other such restored storylines available as well.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2017 at 4:02 am and is filed under Dystoporama, Movies and TV, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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