Doctor Who Reviews: The Power Of The Daleks

With Jodie Whitaker about to take on the mantle of the new Doctor, it’s easy to take this regeneration lark for granted in Doctor Who. In the halcyon days of 1966, though, the concept of change was a lot more shocking.

After nearly three years of 'grumpy old man' larks from Hartnell, we now have Patrick Troughton taking on the role of The Doctor. It’s funny: even in polls today to find the most popular Doctor, Troughton always seems to figure in the upper echelons. All this despite half of his episodes missing from the archives: episodes that are now over 50 years old.

But then looking at any Troughton episode, I’m not surprised. Troughton’s Doctor is a lot more accessible, funny and fun-loving than his predecessor. In fact, out of all the Doctors, Troughton’s is possibly the one that has the most fun: not only revelling in his adventures but also enjoying the company of all his companions. While Tom Baker’s Doctor is also a lot of fun, sometimes the Fourth Doctor is prone to bouts of grumpiness and aloof frostiness. Add to that, Troughton’s pitch-perfect performance as The Doctor with a light-hearted unassuming outside persona that actually masks a fiendishly clever mind and nerves of steel. Troughton has frequently been cited as one of the most important Doctor actors in that he proved that Doctor Who could carry on after Hartnell’s departure.

The Second Doctor is somewhat different though, in the first episode of The Power Of The Daleks. Ben and Polly can’t believe their eyes: In the spot where the familiar old man was is now a younger man with a Beatles bowl-cut and completely different clothes. Maybe The Doctor got a special deal on his first regeneration in that he got a free set of clothes to help ease the pain of transition. The new Doctor, however, doesn’t even try to convince Ben and Polly that he’s still the genuine article. Instead, he slyly teases them by referring to himself in the third person and shuffling about in a strange, mysterious manner. It’s only about a third of the way through the story that Ben and Polly start to regard the new Doctor as the real deal.

However, the Second Doctor rapidly makes his mark on the series with a high degree of clowning and recorder-tootling. Despite the initial mystery, the new Doctor rapidly settles into the lovable clown/hobo persona that became such a huge hit. One of the things I like most about Troughton’s Doctor is his gently unassuming manner. At the end of the story, after he’s managed to defeat the Daleks and overthrow Bragen’s evil regime, he simply looks around and says: “Did I do all that?” I think that he knows very well that he’s performed a miracle, but doesn’t want to brag about his achievement. Patrick Troughton achieved the seemingly impossible and proved that Doctor Who could successfully continue without its familiar predecessor. No wonder Matt Smith has cited Troughton’s Doctor as one of his favourites.

Troughton’s début story is no slouch either. What better way to launch a new Doctor than to see how he fares up against his most evil adversaries? The Daleks are back, and are more cunning and dangerous than ever before. The interesting thing about this story is how low key it is. Compare it to the all-encompassing behemoth of The Daleks’ Master Plan or the pot-pourri of The Chase: The Power Of The Daleks comes across as small scale by comparison.

However, this is what makes The Power Of The Daleks so effective. The Vulcan base setting is perfect and makes for a claustrophobic, unsettling environment. Good thing that the story didn’t take place on that other familiar planet of Vulcan, or otherwise the natives wouldn’t have stood a chance with their wet logic as the only armoury.

The Vulcan base is made even more oppressive in that at least 75% of the staff are not the sort of people you’d want to make friends with. In fact, most of the staff are too busy back-stabbing each other and planning their own gains. As mentioned by other commentators, power isn’t the exclusive goal of the Daleks. Lesterson wants the power from his brand new discovery. Janley wants power by siding with anyone that she thinks has the ability to reach the top. Bragen is prepared to murder and bully his way to the top. While Hensell merely uses power to maintain the status quo and hold on to the old order.

David Whitaker’s characterisation is first class. The aforementioned characters are all fascinating in their own ways. Hensell, for example, is the typical politician figure, a man who’s wrapped up in so much red tape that he can’t actually see where he’s going. In fact, his blindness to Bragen’s treachery and the threat of the Daleks is his own downfall. Even when he’s threatened by the Daleks’ gun, he obstinately refuses to co-operate with Bragen’s ultimatum – naturally he’s toast in a matter of seconds. Janley (and her 1960s hairdo) is so double-crossing that she could deceive her own reflection in the mirror. Whether she’s flirting with Valmar, massaging Lesterson’s ego or toadying up to Bragen, Janley only sees the other inhabitants of the Vulcan base as stepping stones to her own power. It’s almost gratifying when she inevitably gets exterminated.

The two principal characters, though, are Bragen and Lesterson. Bragen is another case of “I Can’t Believe He’s Not The Bad Guy”, given that he’s always in opposition to everything that everyone else suggests. A case of megalomania taken too far, Bragen cheats, cons and murders his way to the top. It’s telling that he’s actually killed, not by the Daleks, but by one of the colonists that he set out to rule. Bernard Archard is normally remembered for his outstanding portrayal of Marcus Scarman in Pyramids Of Mars, but his villainous performance as Bragen is just as strong.

Robert James, however, steals the acting honours out of the guest performers in Power Of The Daleks for his portrayal of the mad Lesterson. Initially a nervy, twitchy scientist who’s as pleased as punch with his exciting new discovery, he is slowly driven mad by his own ambitions. Not only is his hapless assistant Resno murdered as a result of his actions, the final straw is when he sees not a couple but a whole army of Daleks in their craft. Lesterson’s madness reaches a point where by Episode Six, he’s a babbling, vacant shell of a man who mentally 'popped' some time ago, before he’s gunned down by the Daleks. James’ portrayal of the deranged genius is fantastic and worryingly convincing, especially when he’s reduced to wailing like a kid at the powers that be in Episode Five after he’s made his terrible discovery.

At least the Daleks are back to their duplicitous best. They try to convince the Vulcan personnel that they are there to serve, but of course, this is all a con. Good thing The Doctor turned up, eh? The Daleks in this story are scheming, double crossing and apparently totally unstoppable. A slow-burning presence, they plot their dastardly plan of takeover, rule by conquer and mass extermination gradually, until by the last episode, they are responsible for a massive bloodbath.

All of which combines to form an excellent début for Troughton’s Doctor. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze provide able support in their last chance to steal the companion limelight. Director Christopher Barry does a sterling job in creating a claustrophobic, dark atmosphere, and again uses the Tristram Cary stock music to great effect. Like in the first Dalek adventure, he manages to make the tinpots a formidable presence with effective camera angles and subjective POV inlay shots.

Even though all six episodes no longer remain in the archive, The Power Of The Daleks is still well regarded to this day (the recent animation of the episodes was a nice surprise and introduced a new generation of fans to this classic). A high showing in the recent DWM poll to find the best Doctor Who story of all time was a pleasant surprise, considering its absence in the vaults. But then when you take into account that both 2005’s Dalek and Victory Of The Daleks take inspiration from this classic, it becomes obvious that this is the godfather of all Dalek claustrophobia.

* Read about the Dandy and the Bohemian Doctors in my ebook guides: available at Amazon!