Tony does the happy dance.
The Power of the Daleks has a place in the highest echelons of Doctor Who stories for many, many reasons. In Episode 1, the focus was mostly on the new Doctor, and his occasionally dark, almost purposeful whimsy compared to that of the white-haired old man he was before. But there are reasons why the story’s not called The New Doctor. The Daleks in The Power of the Daleks are scary in a whole new way that had seldom been really exploited up to that point – after all, the very reason a Dalek was scary was because it was moving, thinking, boiling with hate and twitchy to exterminate everything non-Dalek in the universe. The Power of the Daleks waits until halfway through Episode 2 to show us a ‘live’ Dalek, and what you get from that is the fundamental sense of nervousness prolonged. It had never really been realised that a static Dalek could be almost as scary, or even more scary, than a ‘live’ one, because the design is so unusual, it holds a fascination in and of itself (thank you, Raymond Cusick, for a work of blistering genius), and we know enough about the Daleks by the time this story comes along to understand just how dangerous they can be. David Whittaker plays a devious but terrifyingly effective game with us in Episode 2, using our own learned fear of the Daleks against us, to imbue the static Dalek with a menace beyond its natural possession. That’s where half the shivers in The Power of the Daleks come from – knowing, as the Doctor knows, the true nature of the Daleks, and running ahead in our minds to a terrible, blood-soaked conclusion, whatever form it takes. The other half come from the somehow obscene shouting match that ends this episode, the Doctor describing everything we know about the Daleks – that they exterminate human beings, that they’re utterly ruthless, that they should never be trusted or empowered – while the Dalek itself continues to insist, in its almost mocking monotone, that it is the servant of the Vulcan colonists. What makes that so terrifying is that it’s a truly new direction for the Daleks. Usually they don’t need to be cunning, they don’t need to deceive, they can trundle up, do a bit of screeching and kill everything that stands in their way. This is the story that introduces us to the Daleks’ true cunning, and it introduces us to it right here in Episode 2.
In terms of the animated release, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Some of the slightly quirky walking that was in Episode 1 has been smoothed out of Episode 2, so we barely notice any such quirks here, and the facial animation seems to get even better – matching faces to audio, replicating muscle movements, and giving the people who give The Power of the Daleks its stakes some real life. The Troughton animation is especially glorious here, allowing this new Doctor to be central to driving on the drama – a task to which the audio makes it clear Troughton is more that suited. So soon after taking the biggest gamble in TV history and taking over from Hartnell, he’s in complete control of his performance and his Doctor’s faculties, however new and quirky those faculties may be. The animation serves one of TV’s best and most assured performances well, revealing for any of us who still may not be clear on the point exactly why Patrick Troughton is so well-regarded as both a Doctor and an actor in his own right.
There’s a delicious quality to the backgrounds here, and an obviously nerdy amount of attention paid to them – would you believe someone took the time and the attention to animate the action of some lava lamps in the background of a scene that’s mostly the Doctor looking worried? They did. You’re going to love them for that – especially, we’re guessing, when the coloured version of the story is released.
And then there’s the thing. The big thing.
In case you missed the memo, Daleks are central to The Power of the Daleks – in a very real way, it’s the Daleks recognising the Doctor irrespective of his physical change that lets Ben finally do the same, and us with him. But more than that, there’s seldom been a Dalek story so fundamentally tied in to the form, the motion, the long close-up visual of the Daleks. The animation serves the Daleks better than it serves any human, and that feels right here, almost adding another layer of subtext to an already excellent story. Right from shot one of Episode 2, the Daleks are there, centre stage and ‘real,’ not by virtue of any photo-realism, but by the combination of fitting absolutely into the world of the animation, and still managing to be entirely alien to it, their sharp lines, their rigid inflexibility by no means a product of human imagination it seems. The Daleks rule this episode, even though they do very little in it. What they do is meaningful and slithers a cold hand across the back of your neck – the slow coming to life of a sucker arm, the powering up and focus through a Dalek eye-stalk, the slow, slow, deliberate turn of the head, implying malice in the movement as it turns to look at one person in particular. And that final speech, seeming to subordinate everything we know about the Dalek nature to these human fleshy fools, the demand that it is their servant, like an olive branch to the gullible that gives the scene the feel of a dark fairy tale, a Pied Piper of Hamelin note that can only lead to tragedy if it’s believed.
Bottom line – if there were a handful of nits to be picked in Episode 1, they’re squashed under the rolling bulk of the Dalek in this episode, and the story’s strong enough both in terms of plotting and the animation that serves it to get you well and truly hooked, excited, and (and this is speaking as a fan with many decades on the clock) more than a little inclined to watch from behind a pillow, if not a sofa.
If you’ve only ever heard The Power of the Daleks before, get ready to understand it in a whole new way, as the bulk, the slow malevolence and the cunning of the Daleks is rendered for you in a version that will let you in on the story’s core dynamics like no audio version has been able to. Watch episode 2 and understand why everyone has always raved about this story.
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