Colour Tony unconvinced.
Sometimes, more isn’t better. Sometimes, it’s just more.
As geeks, that’s not a sentiment with which we usually find ourselves in sympathy. The cry of the geek is usually ‘More, more, more!’
But sometimes, for instance, taking all the scratches off an old vinyl album and presenting it in high definition MP3 steals the soul from the original. Sometimes, the blu-ray of a classic black and white movie shows up the imperfections of painted sets and dodgy effects, and push us out of the narrative, stopping us from enjoying the movie we’ve always fondly remembered. And sometimes, adding colour to classic black and white movies or TV shows sets up a discord in our minds between the nostalgic acceptance we have of black and white content and the standards we have for more modern work. Colourising classic movies sometimes shifts them out of the space they’ve always occupied in our minds, and leaves them homeless, despite in every other respect being the same story, the same directing and the same performances.
The Power of the Daleks is an interesting, positive proposition to colourise. Firstly, we think of it as a classic of the black and white era of Doctor Who, and yet, nobody’s seen it complete for decades in that black and white form, so you’d think it would be relatively immune from the grip of monochrome nostalgia.
Secondly, because no-one’s seen it complete in live action in those decades, there’s a sense of trepidation when criticising anything about the sudden ability to have it in as many forms as possible, black and white and colour and hell, why not go 3D too if possible.
And thirdly, if you’re going to do all the painstaking work to create an entirely animated version, matching it to the existing sound recording, then the question of why you wouldn’t go that extra mile and develop a colourised version is valid – if people are going to accept the replacement of live action with animation, if you can make it that effective, then getting the colourised version as an additional alternative, and of course an additional revenue stream to make the whole project economically viable makes perfectly good sense.
But does it work?
Honestly, not for me, no.
The Power of the Daleks remains to this day an absolutely first-rate story – it’s the first post-regeneration Doctor we ever get to see, and Troughton, despite the weight of the series falling suddenly on his shoulders, refuses to pander to any need for instant likeability. He’s brusque, off-hand, sometimes silent, sometimes pouting and throughout the whole story notably more alien than William Hartnell’s Doctor had become by the end of his run. In fact he’s more like the way Hartnell’s Doctor started out, and even as a voice-only performance, The Power of the Daleks would be hypnotic Who. Add to that the Daleks doing something they’d never really had to do by that point in the show’s history, being servile, being devious rather than simply going in gun-sticks blazing to exterminate everything they hate, and you take them back at least to their very first outing, when the Daleks were in their own element. The animation in and of itself is a blend of the brilliant and the…slightly troublesome. The backgrounds are rich and detailed, and close-up facework has been given a lot of attention, so performances, particularly from Troughton, really add a lot to your enjoyment of the story. And the Daleks themselves for the most part come across in this animated version as thoroughly creepy, their movements often more controlled than they were on-screen with men shuffling along inside them, allowing for a precision and a uniformity of motion that gives these 1960s Daleks a very exact and modern feel.
Where the animation is less successful is in character motion – walking convincingly seems a particular problem for many of the characters. And the script itself suffers from one or two ‘Sixties Glitches’ – moments of seemingly dead air, or of actors pausing, uncertain, waiting for the next line.
And it’s really in these moments that the colourisation process begins to be ‘just more.’ In the black and white version, we’re carried into the nostalgia of the thing, because the shading feels right, feels the same as other black and white Who with which we’re familiar. It ‘fits’ with our other experience, despite the fact that we haven’t seen Power as a complete story in decades. When you add the colourisation in, it sets up a discord that won’t allow, for instance, the jerky walking the same nostalgic latitude as we’d allow dodgy planet-sets in the black and white era. If anything, it makes us notice it more, because it makes us stop and think that the team behind the creation of this new version of the story have mastered so many hurdles – they’ve matched animation to sound for a whole story, they’ve rendered the Sixties Daleks in a scary animated way, they’ve given us the story that we wanted most in the world to see…and then the walking’s wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, we notice the walking, the movement, and the original-to-the-story blunders in the black and white version too – but we forgive them more readily in that version because they seem intrinsic, integral to the magic-on-tuppence-ha’penny ethos of the show in that decade. Adding the colour takes us consciously out of that decade, and so loses the latitude we give stories of that era.
It’s also noticeable that this is the first colour Sixties animation, and – well, here’s the thing: when the first episode of Invasion of the Dinosaurs was first available, it was in black and white, and that just looked inherently wrong for the Third Doctor. Similarly it feels wrong, however perverse that feeling may be, to be watching the first Second Doctor story in colour. Again, it’s mostly tricks of the brain that are responsible for this, rather than failings of the production, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the colour version of The Power of the Daleks feels less engaging and right, specifically because it’s in colour, than it did in the earlier-released black and white version. With the vaguely Hanna-Barbera walking, being in colour somehow stops this feeling like a great Sixties, Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story, and lends it an air of Scooby Doo and the Daleks.
That’s not to say some areas don’t gain from the colourisation – there are sequences which simply boggle the brain more because you can see them in colour, certainly, and the Daleks are frequently at the heart of that sensation. Especially when it comes to group shots like the ‘Dalek factory’ and the always-slightly-odd ‘cupboard full of ranting Daleks waiting for the extermination kick-off,’ the colour version is a great thing to be alive to see, because those moments succeed in dragging you in to the narrative utterly, and suddenly you don’t have to make allowances either for the quirkiness of ‘men in suits’ movement or the black and white of Sixties TV, it’s all just there for you, absorbing you in to the chill of the moment. The colour is also useful is delineating some of the early characters, skin tones allowing you to tell characters more distinctly one from another while wearing masks than the black and white version allowed.
But overall, the colourised Power of the Daleks really does draw you out of the story too often and make you look at the things you let slide more easily in the black and white version, and as such, it feels like a less effective telling of the story. It feels not better, but just more.
There’s no real way of getting around this – you need to see the colour version of The Power of the Daleks, because Rule 1 of Geek Club is any two geeks can hold any three opinions about exactly the same piece of geekdom at the same time, and you might experience it as the answer to all your geeky, animated prayers, and because there are sequences that will genuinely improve your life by virtue of being seen in their full colour version.
For me, the black and white version of the animated Power will always be the one I go back to, the one I look forward to watching, the one that makes the most ‘sense’ in my brain. The colour version will always be ‘just more,’ always an added extra, an Easter Egg I turn to only for those particular scenes where the colour adds something new.
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