Tony’s eyestalk is wobbling.
Throughout the first four episodes, there’s been a theme in the animated version of The Power of the Daleks – the Daleks themselves have been improved from the Sixties by the specific qualities that modern animation can bring. There’s been a lack of clunkiness when they move, even when in the original live action version, that clunkiness was unavoidable – going up and down ramps, moving along conveyor belts, manoeuvring in tight spaces and suchlike.
Which makes it slightly saddening to get to Episode 5 and find a very distinct difference. Here, for the most part, the Daleks have been rendered absolutely faithfully. That means two things – firstly, and positively, those who remember the story from its original broadcast will get a lovely warm feeling of nostalgia as Dalek bodies jolt at the bottom of ramps and their eyestalks bounce. But on the other hand, it feels like a stylistic departure from the previous four episodes which have worked to establish the Daleks on a whole new level through the coolness and precision of the animation.
Does that make Episode 5 a disappointment? Mmmmsort of, but only really because of what’s come before. If all the episodes had been faithfully clunky, we’d still be praising the animation gods for the spot-on faithfulness of its delivery of an absolute classic. But because the first four episodes have delivered smooth, controlled cunning malevolence, devoid of any of the inevitable fun that ensues when you put real humans in a Sixties Dalek costume and then involve them in going up and down ramps, the fact that Episode 5 restores that nostalgic reality, while it doesn’t undo the excellent work of those first four episodes, it does establish a break with them that makes the air-punching a little less emphatic, the praise to the animation gods a little more mumbled.
While we’re having a grumble, the animation here seems to take a backward step with humans too – Lesterson’s movements in particular look jerky, and at one point, his arm seems to be attached in a way that’s not…right, somehow, for human beings, as though it’s been dislocated at the elbow. Hensell’s death by Dalek too is, while probably authentic, somewhat disappointing, a kind of Mexican wave of fairly silent expiration that robs the moment of some of its power.
In all fairness, Episode 5 doesn’t enormously help itself either – Hensell’s death, judging by the audio, was always that uninspiring. The confrontation between Hensell and Bragen that leads to that death feels heavily acted and full of unnecessary pauses. Lesterson’s descent into mad Cassandra, warning everyone about the danger of the Daleks, is a finely balanced thing that probably jusssst about gets away with it, rather than falling entirely into hysterical overacting. And the Daleks, for all their cunning, for all the barely constrained hatred of ‘I am your servant,’ have a plan that makes very little sense (or if it makes sense, is announced without the necessary backstory). Instead of reckoning ‘There are enough of us now, let’s exterminate these presumptuous human fleshbags,’ they decide to ‘wait here, shouting for a bit, till the humans start fighting among themselves. THEN we go and kill these idiots.’
What’s more, there seems to be very little in the way of plot development between ‘Let’s wait here for a bit,’ and the sudden announcement that ‘the orders are in – let’s get out there and kill some humans!’ The conflict between the humans doesn’t actually seem to escalate as much as it should between those two points, whereas earlier in the episode, the Deputy Governor kills the Governor with a Dalek, prompting the question ‘Why do humans kill humans?’ This philosophical moment from a Dalek is interesting, in that come Evil of the Daleks, they’ll discover for themselves the reasons for violence that come with individual opinion, and that division dogs them all the way through the rest of their Classic Who lives. But placed in the storytelling where it is, it feels like a moment missed, and as if the news of Bragen’s coup only gets broadcast to the waiting Daleks after some sort of delay to the signal. In other words, Episode 5 could have done with one more script edit, but in all likelihood there just wasn’t time.
Of all the episodes so far, Episode 5 is the one with the least by way of thrills to recommend it – but that’s not to say it’s a bad episode in its own right. It certainly isn’t – quite apart from anything else, it shows the Second Doctor, imprisoned, and gives us another example of how the man we now have is different to the white-haired old chuckling, snappy Doctor we knew. Troughton’s Doctor, locked up, is quiet and yet insidious, insular but focused as a laser beam, his voice low and not exactly coaxing of his fellow prisoner, Quinn, but ‘the most intelligent person in the room’ in a whole new, less boastful, more conniving way. In the animated version, as in real life, when Troughton turns his ‘Doctorishness’ on, he’s absolutely unstoppable, a hurricane in a bottle, blazing by the simple, intense act of doing only the very necessary with his voice and face, and throwing shadows of buffoonery to trick the bad guys into underestimating him. Looked at fifty years on, and even in an animated version, it’s a master class in who the Second Doctor was and would become, and it’s a whole new way of being the Doctor, while still undeniably being him. In a way, the Hartnell-Troughton duality would be repeated time and time again throughout the history of the show – Hartnell striding around, telling everyone he’s this, that and the other, Troughton almost ambling – go ahead, give it a go, you can more or less divide the Classic Doctors into Striders and Amblers. And more or less, that all begins in Power of the Daleks, and is very vividly shown in Episode 5.
Other strong moments here centre on Anneke Wills’ Polly, showing up again after a whole episode’s absence. She’s a frequently overlooked companion, but the animated version here helps show the modern audience why she worked (both in unity with Ben and almost moreso on her own). Without even knowing what the Doctor’s up to, she’s working to a playbook that he’s devised here, sowing discontent and doubt among her captors, planting the seed that the Daleks aren’t everything they claim to be. Without needing much more than ‘the Doctor says they’re evil’ as an inspiration, she’s willing and able to jump into events, and essentially play the Daleks at their own game, as a wedge to force open cracks of dissension.
Episode 5 is probably the weakest episode of The Power of the Daleks overall, and the sudden verisimilitude of the Daleks within it feels disappointing after four episodes of having them subtly improve on the reality of Sixties actors in costumes. But as an object lesson in the difference of the Second Doctor, it’s absolutely white-hot.
Oh and then there’s the ending. Most of the episodes of this story have great, Dalek-centred endings. But this one – ohhh boy. Having done their ‘sit around and wait’ routine, the Daleks are off, ready and eager to exterminate the bejesus out of the Vulcan colonists. If you had to wait a week between episodes 5 and 6 in 1966, you’d be bouncing off the walls and pretending to be a Dalek on every playground you could find for the whole seven days between them.
Rejoice, o Who-fans! You live in a world where the animated version of The Power of the Daleks is available to you at single-day episode intervals. Where it’s available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download, and where, soon enough, it will even be available in colour (at which point, we can have the debate over whether that’s an awesome new option or a heretical sacrilege for which people need to be burned at stakes). Even though Episode 5 is probably the weakest of them all, The Power of the Daleks is so strong a story that even its weakest link has something amazing to show you, and the animated version is still probably the best version of this story you’ll ever see.
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