Tony’s reproducing himself!
The Power of the Daleks is a story absolutely crammed full of what might be called ‘money shots’ – images that burn themselves into your memory and make you want to see the whole story over and over and over again. Episode 4 is where you’ll find a lot of those moments.
Beginning with the screechy chorus of ‘We will get our power,’ Episode 4 comes after a lot of tension-building between all the parties on Vulcan – the faction of authority, the rebels, the entirely self-interested playing both sides for their own gain, the Daleks themselves, and the Doctor, Ben and Polly. The Daleks, despite being mostly disarmed until this episode, nevertheless carry their insidious ‘power’ with them – their capacity to cause dissent and faction simply by their existence makes them boulders around which events have to flow. There is never, once you’ve discovered them, any point trying to ignore the Daleks or go through them. They simply won’t let you.
From the screechy chorus though, Episode 4 covers a lot of ground, mostly, though not exclusively, charting the lessons learned by Lesterson, the blinkered scientist who first re-energised the Daleks on Vulcan. He begins the episode by giving both the Daleks and us a lesson in his self-delusion that he’s their master, that he controls them by virtue of access to the power they need to function. Throughout the course of the episode, Lesterson gains more and more understanding of what the Daleks are capable of entirely on their own, from independent thought and engineering genius through reproduction to mass production, rather leaping to the conclusion that their self-determination makes them ‘evil,’ for all we know they are, and the Doctor maintains they are. It’s the progression and the scale of their self-determination that boggles his mind, his helpful robot slaves being redefined as self-governing creatures with their own agenda, possibly one that’s inimical to human life and progress on Vulcan. More than anything, it’s the lies they’ve told him about being his servant that seem to give credence to his growing suspicions. But along Lesterson’s path in this episode, there are some genuinely classic Dalek moments – close-ups of swivelling domes, matched with darkly comic dialogue, Daleks slickly travelling up ramps, and Daleks building Daleks, delivering them to life along a conveyor belt.
There’s great Dalek work too in the other main story-thread of this episode – Janley and Bragen and their involvement with the rebels. Much of this feels so good that it was re-used in a different form by Dalek Supreme Terry Nation for their Genesis story: clustered groups of scientists wondering how to turn the Daleks to their best advantage, especially how to seize power from corrupted politicians; a dark-uniformed ‘leader’ of the Daleks, saying little but observing everything, and planning to achieve supreme authority himself; the fitting of a Dalek gun and its instinct to destroy on sight; the testing of the creature’s capability and the illusion of submission to the will of its ‘masters.’ Janley’s demonstration of the notion that they still control the Daleks is particularly effective in this episode, both in terms of the twitchy, frightening, will-it, won’t-it writing from David Whittaker and the detailed animation of both facial expressions and body language which stretch the moment out into a battle that’s still being used on-screen in Dalek stories to this day – the conflict between the innate desire to exterminate other life forms and the need to keep them alive for some strategic purpose, as seen in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.
In terms of the animation, there’s quality baked right in to Episode 4. Not only do those ‘money shots’ give the animators phenomenal images to capture, but as in previous episodes, whenever the Daleks are on screen, they actually work much more smoothly in 21st century animation than they did in 1960s live action – there’s no evidence of Dalek operators scuttling along on their feet (uphill, wearing Dalek costumes, you cruel BBC directors!). The down-ramp glide feels like it’s made by a creature under control, not a human fighting the forces of planar gravity and inevitability. And in the Daleks making Daleks, and most especially the Daleks on conveyor belts, the real advantage of modern animation is clear as day. Uniformity – every Dalek that comes to life performs the same action, at precisely the same moment in its forward motion, and it adds materially to the buy-in you feel to the reality of the situation because it feels like a uniform process. Likewise in the final Dalek sequence, with eight, nine, ten Daleks and more, they all look like they’ve been created the same way – there are no Dalek stand-ins, no almost-Daleks to account for shortfalls in budget. They’re Daleks – you’ve just seen them built and filled, and there they are, all shiny, new and ready to conquer and destroy.
There’s more than simply Dalek quality to recommend the animation here though – the backgrounds have been consistently stand-out excellent throughout, and again in this episode you actually notice how detailed and realistic they are. But aside from that, there are extra little touches that replicate the live action reality – occasional loss of screen lock on a video conference between the governor and his deputy is faithfully delivered here, and when Lesterson is peering through a viewing window, the complex reflections of working Daleks are a joy to behold. The Doctor and Ben are rendered extremely well too – including at least a couple of Troughton’s most famous ‘Second Doctor’ poses, and as we mentioned, Janley’s test of the Dalek’s obedience is a heart-pounder, the sweaty uncertainty of the moment delivered through the animation of her character.
You could make a compelling argument for The Power of the Daleks never having looked this good – not even on its first broadcast – because what the animated version brings was impossible to achieve in the real world on Sixties BBC budgets and with heavy costumes filled with real human beings. The powerful but controlled intent of the Daleks, the depth of detail, the smoothness of the Dalek motion and the clarity of the images throughout the animated version all allow us to say that The Power of the Daleks’ animated version is – perhaps perversely – the definitive version of this absolute classic, on which fifty years of Doctor Who stories rest.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk