Episode One — “The Power of the Daleks, Part I”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. The Power of the Daleks is a fantastic project developed by the BBC to bring back an entire (important) storyline lost in time. Or, more accurately, lost in a studio purge, as no one could have suspected way back then that Doctor Who would hold its relevance and fan fervor for over fifty years.
So what do you do when all known copies of a series have been long destroyed and your main actor has since passed away? You hire a talented artistic team and regenerate them with a new face, of course. In theory, this is a brilliant maneuver to breathe life into a missing narrative. In practice, however, the stagey, slowly exchanged lines of a 1960s serial don’t quite translate to what feels like a deflated, animated puppet show. More recent Who converts might find it particularly hard to remain engaged when they are used to enjoying a laugh-a-minute, slapstick-with-eyebrows sort of affair.
There is still magic in finally being able to view something that has been lost. We may be used to The Doctor shuffling his faces around, but it’s (almost) always a brand new experience for the companions. In this instance, it was new for the audience as well. The Power of the Daleks begins with William Hartell’s First Doctor dying of old age on the floor of the TARDIS, regenerating (or renewing, as they called it at this point) into Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor. The companions, Ben and Polly, do not take well to this experience, and their protestations and disbelief go on for much of the first half of the show.
Remember, the companions are here to guide the audience through this wacky transformation, to make death and perpetual regeneration somehow seem like a perfectly logical thing for a TV show to do. In this way, The Doctor’s general lack of explanation or involvement can be forgiven, as everyone just needed a little time for things to sink in.
Still, there’s a boatload of petulance and demands coming from the two companions, and Ben in particular is a hard one to love. Between his constant challenging of The Doctor and insistence on answers, it’s hard to tell whether his anger stems from having his perception of reality challenged, or if he’s just the sort of guy who feels threatened by a new alpha male in the room. And little Polly just sits by, happy to accept, straddling the line between Open-minded and Dumb. Whatever the mercury swamp on planet Vulcan has in store for The Doctor, you can bet he’s not going to get much help from these two, at least not until their human insecurities have been catered to.
And that’s the moral of the story — as The Doctor flits laconically between the humans on Vulcan’s scientific colony, carefully piecing together a murder mystery as he goes, we see a theme well familiar to Doctor Who. Humans all have something to hide, and will invariably put their own egos above the safety and well-being of those around them. The Doctor is there to trick them into showing their hands so he can circumvent the disaster of having a handful of sleeping Daleks in a room full of peevish people.
A recognizable theme from a timeless source. We haven’t tired of it, even 53 years later.
Benjamin: “But that’s impossible!” Polly: “Yeah, but we’ve been saying that about a lot of things.”
Ben: “Who are we?!” Doctor: “Don’t you know?”
“Polly, Ben… come in and meet the Daleks.” – The Doctor.
“There were three Daleks in here. What’s happened to the other one?” – The Doctor.
BEST MOMENT: Despite his many regenerations, The Doctor remains very… Doctory. It is delightful to see that, while our current Doctor is but a copy of a copy of a copy, etc., his core quirks have been retained. As Troughton’s animated self sits in a corner, idly playing the recorder and ignoring the frantic humans at his side, we recognize the man who always fights for what is just, but can’t be bothered with the minutiae of polite society. It’s a pity we can’t see Patrick Troughton’s distinctive face go through the pangs, twitches and expressions of regeneration, but his props serve him well — he blasts out nonsensical tweets through a recorder instead of opting for more traditional verbal communication.
EPISODE’S MVP: For all most of us know, there could be some excellent acting within The Power of the Daleks, but our visual cues were erased long ago. The only character whose personality shines through the animation is The Doctor himself, whose silences seem not to fall quite as dully as those who share the screen. Even his quietude somehow fosters suspense, as Troughton’s excellent timing is apparent despite his cartoon mask. With an outburst here and an emphatic note there, we can almost see the side-eyes through the scribbles.
– I do wonder about the primary objective of this exercise. Is it to give Whovians something to enjoy in this interminable stretch between Clara’s death and our introduction to Bill? Or does The Power of the Daleks story hold secrets that will pop up in near-future timelines?
– Clearly there are time and budget limitations imposed that prevent realistic portrayals of the characters, but the completely staid artwork of Polly’s face in particular rendered her painfully vapid.
– I haven’t felt so incompatible with the pace of an animation since watching Fantastic Planet (which is wonderful, but whose gait leaves you almost itching in discomfort). With so much time spent on people arguing and sulking around, very little action actually occurred in “Part I”. Here’s to hoping we jump straight into some Dalek Drama next week.
6 out of 10
Next: “The Power of the Daleks, Part II,” soon.