Magic Bullet Productions

 

The Power of the Daleks
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

Machines? What makes you think they're just machines?

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 311

 

"The Power of the Daleks" is one of those stories which has, in the past, acquired a "classic"status which is somewhat out of keeping with the reality. Although very little survives of the episodes as filmed, the recent release of the story on audio CD reveals that, while it does have some positive elements, it is let down by characterisation, plot and its overall attitude to politics.

'Um, lads? I seem to be stuck... Lads? Lads?'Terry Nation, who had first refusal on all Dalek stories, was too busy working on ITC's The Baron to do another Doctor Who at this time, and so David Whitaker took on the task, reworking elements from his stage play "The Curse of the Daleks", in which a crewman from a space ship forced to land on Skaro revives the dormant Daleks in their city, intending to use them as his servants (the Daleks, of course, have other ideas). Whether intentionally or not, "Power" also recalls the classic serial Quatermass and the Pit. The Head of the BBC Television Department, Sydney Newman, however, was unhappy with some aspects of the Doctor's characterisation and, as story editor Gerry Davis was himself too busy with "The Tenth Planet" and "The Highlanders" to do the rewrites, the task fell to Dennis Spooner. This he did uncredited and literally at the last minute, with the crew holding back recording for him to finish. Spooner also found himself having to trim the script to a reasonable length as Whitaker had a tendency to overwrite.

As a consequence, although the story seems to be very good in production terms, it is fragmented, disconnected and poorly structured. Tristram Cary's excellent score from "The Daleks" is reused to great effect, what we can see of the design looks good, and the surviving sequences are well-directed. We also get some iconic imagery, with the Doctor regenerating, Lesterson putting the Dalek through its paces, the Dalek production line and the final shootout; the fact that similar elements recur in the later serial "Genesis of the Daleks" proves the point that all that these images needed to make up a truly impressive story was for them to be combined with a powerful script. Here, however, the story needs at least an extra draft; although episodes 1, 2 and 6 are well-paced, the middle three are less so, and the whole narrative could have been told in four episodes.

The new cleaned-up version of the audio is also good, revealing certain things which were not audible on the earlier cassette release, for instance that, after the Doctor's failed attempts at opening the sonic lock with a dog whistle, we hear a dog barking faintly in the distance. The writer of the narration also makes a problematic decision to go with the Camera Script above what is shown in the telesnaps, for instance referring to a "brightly-lit chamber" in the Dalek ship which the telesnaps show as dark and gloomy, and also stating that when Resno is exterminated, the camera he is operating crashes down on top of him, while the telesnaps again reveal this was not the case. It also says that it is the Dalek's eyestalk which lifts in the final scene (where other sources claim that it was its sucker-arm which moved, a dramatic image more in keeping with the fact that, when the Daleks are first seen in the ship, it's a sucker-arm which falls down). "Power"'s main problems, however, are in terms of the story itself.

'Your name is Cecilweed you goddamn animal! Oh man, I am really tripping out here... Get off the shed! Get off the shed! For the love of God, get off the shed! I think my hands are made of wood! Have a feel, Dalek me lad!'It does have to be said, in the serial's defence, that the regulars are well-characterised, with Troughton giving the Doctor an almost psychotic quality which would unfortunately be toned down a few stories into the season. The regeneration (which is not named as such) is never explained, much to the story's benefit. The Doctor says that this is "part of the Tardis" without which he couldn't survive; he refers to it as a renewal, comparing himself to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis (scotching the theory that he has rejuvenated). One curious thing is that his clothes regenerate too (the only item he gets out of the chest later on is his coat). Earlier drafts of the script imply that he has changed appearance several times before, and contain references toSusan (considering the questions this raises, and continuity problems it creates, it's just as well that they were excised). The only really problematic notes come at the end of the story, when the Doctor first suggests using Bragen's interior guards to delay the Daleks, and then ignores Ben's suggestion to simply switch off the power to defeat the Daleks, with the result that a lot of  innocent people are unnecessarily killed, to say nothing of the colony's power supply being destroyed. These, unfortunately, make the new Doctor seem like an uncaring, bloodthirsty obsessive (why doesn't he, for instance, have the colonists evacuate the area, cut the power off, smash the junction boxes and wait for the Daleks to run down?), which is at odds with his portrayal as a shrewd but generally benign figure elsewhere in the story.

'I've got some bad news, lads: it seems some of us are cardboard cutouts.'The Daleks, by contrast, are less well-served. They are rather unsubtle compared to earlier Dalek stories, as when one says "The Daleks are bet-(pause) are different to human beings, " giving it a slightly pantomime-villainesque quality. Somewhat problematically, also, the inert Daleks are described (and also seen in the telesnaps) as covered in "dust and cobwebs," making one wonder how they managed this while crashed in a mercury swamp. Cor, look at the tentacles on that one!The fact that the Dalek mutants have survived for an unknown length of time (possibly more than 200 years) without power, and that they are relatively easily revived, further suggests that the Daleks which were left for dead at the end of "The Daleks" are in fact only dormant (and therefore that the Doctor's assumption that the Daleks of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" are an earlier group could well be wrong). Although the Doctor feels sure that the first Dalek recognises him, this is not necessarily the case; the fact that the Dalek also acts suspiciously towards Resno suggests not an active recognition of an old enemy, but simply that the Dalek is picking up on the Doctor's hostility towards it and acting to protect itself. Another interesting fact is that, although the narration and dialogue allude to "clawed creatures" like those seen in "The Daleks", the appearance of the Dalek mutants themselves on surviving film and telesnaps seems more in line with the creatures depicted in the Dalek stories from the 1980s.

The one-off characters are, for the most part, poorly realised. Janley in particular is rather schizophrenic: in episode 3, she is complicit in Bragen's plan to use the rebels in his bid for power and then get rid of them, but by episode 5, she does not know about this plan and is shocked at the idea. While it is nice to see a strong female character, she is the only woman in the story with a speaking role aside from Polly. Bragen, furthermore, implies in the same conversation with Janley in episode 3 that he is not directly involved with the rebels, using her as his contact, but one episode later he is the rebels' Mr Big, attending meetings openly. When Valmar is repairing the communication desk in episode 4, Bragen, by then deputy governor, is quite aggressive to him, which is unusual behaviour towards one's allies; Bragen's ruse with the gun later on is also a bit careless, as it suggests to Janley that he is not to be trusted. Although Lesterson fares better (and the fact that he apparently keeps late hours is a nice touch), the scene where he (quite understandably) goes mad when he discovers that the Dalek ship is dimensionally transcendental and includes a manufacturing operation is quite OTT, reminiscent of  Kenneth Williams in the near-contemporary film Carry On Screaming, albeit less subtle. One might also ask why, when Janley threatens to blackmail him over Resno's death, it does not occur to him to counter-blackmail her over her involvement with the rebels.

Bragen: the original badly drawn boy.The culture of the colony is also badly drawn. Although it is said to be a well-established mining colony rather than a military operation, it seems odd that no one misses Resno when he is killed; surely, in such a community, he would have had friends and/or family looking for him (one might also ask why, when Resno collapses and Lesterson goes to get help, he evidently does not return with the promised assistance, as Lesterson remains unaware that Resno is dead). For that matter, nobody seems to have a family or any sort of life outside of their work and/or political activities. It is unclear when the story takes place, although it evidently predates the Dalek invasion of Earth (as the colonists are unfamiliar with the creatures): while the Radio Times gives the date as 2020 (which would, of course, have seemed more credible in the 1960s), none is given in the dialogue itself. Although Hensell says that the Dalek capsule predates the colony by centuries, and Lesterson suggests an age of 200 years (or more) for it, there is no indication of how he came up with this date. The name "Vulcan" is clearly meant as a reference to the name of the planet once believed to lie inside the orbit of Mercury.

She's pretty, but she's barking.The rebellion, furthermore, is largely unexplained. Although Janley vaguely remarks that the colony is "run-down" and that the rebels will bring in better facilities and more money, people generally need more substantial reasons than grotty rec-rooms to start plotting the armed overthrow of the government (in any case, Resno later contradicts Janley's statement, saying the colony is doing well). Lesterson describes the rebels as a "pressure group," which again does not sound like the kind of organisation which goes about planning bloody revolts. Hensell does not seem to be a despot, and indeed is said to be popular; Bragen, in fact, is the only one with any sort of grievance. Everyone bar Hensell also seems to know who the rebels are, which surely is counterproductive. One might also ask why the rebels are cooperating with Bragen at all, as he is Head of Security, and consequently their association seems a bit like Donald Rumsfeld approaching Al-Quaeda and offering an alliance on the grounds that he wants Bush out of office. It is also somewhat perplexing why the rebels need the Daleks as a weapon, as Bragen, not Hensell, has control over the security forces: similarly, one might ask why Janley is anxious about the meeting being overheard by guards, as they would again be answerable to Bragen and therefore not about to go against him (in any case, the rebels are well-armed to begin with, such that the presence or absence of the Daleks will not make much difference to their success). The idea of having a Dalek kill Hensell, then declaring martial law, is fair enough, but then one wonders why Bragen involves the rebels, let alone bothers with having the test firing in Rocket Room P, and does not just go ahead on his own.

'Yes, of course I've always kept a diary, why?' Ben and Polly suspect the new Doctor of being an imposter.The plot, also, is riddled with problems. While one might excuse the continuity error early on, when the Doctor alludes to meeting Saladin (which he didn't do) and describes his former self as "a great collector" (which he wasn't) and suddenly reveals that he kept a diary (these breaches are probably down to Spooner, as Whitaker had written "The Crusade"; in fact, the latter breach seems to be a retcon on the part of the production team, introducing the idea of the Doctor consulting previous entries in his diary), on the grounds that attitudes to series continuity at the time were fairly haphazard, it is less easy to forgive the fact that the plot reasons given for Polly's kidnapping are utterly spurious (showing up the fact that Anneke Wills was on holiday during the recording of episode 4; Michael Craze's absence in episode 5 is only slightly more subtly handled). It also appears strange that, if Lesterson had removed a Dalek to experiment on, he didn't put it back for the Doctor to find and thereby avoid suspicion. Finally, although it becomes clear later in the story that Bragen killed the Examiner (particularly in the scene where he accuses the Doctor of this crime), it is unclear how he got hold of the button off Quinn's suit, as they were both in protective gear at the time.

Lesterson tries not to imagine what Dalek reproduction must be like.Another problem with the narrative is the fact that Janley and her allies don't seem to think their actions vis-à-vis the Daleks through. While the story does have a strong theme running through it about the extent to which people can ignore the obvious when it contradicts something that they really want to believe, it starts to approach the unrealistic in a number of places. Janley drugs Lesterson so that he doesn't realise that they've taken the Dalek, knows that the Daleks are capable of intelligent thought, and clearly doesn't trust it (as she ensures that it has an external constraint placed upon its firing capabilities), and yet it doesn't seem to worry her that the Dalek might go back to Lesterson and tell him that an armed rebellion is being planned. She also doesn't seem to wonder why the Dalek complies with them at all; its repeated claim that it is humanity's servant should not lull her into complacency if she is supposed to be duplicitous enough to be leading the rebels on.

Janley also behaves quite peculiarly with regard to the information that the Daleks are reproducing; when Lesterson wants to talk to the Examiner about the suspicious amounts of material the Daleks are using, Janley blackmails him into silence, and again when the Doctor implies that the Daleks are not just machines and are reproducing themselves, Janley has the Doctor and Ben thrown out. In both cases, Janley has no reason to conceal the Daleks' activities, and indeed, it could be to her advantage (in terms of sheer self-preservation) to investigate what the Daleks are up to. Later, when Lesterson confirms that the Daleks are reproducing, she pretends that he is mad, even though she has had earlier hints which back up his allegations; why she is not concerned about this report seems totally counterintuitive.

On a more positive note, the story does have some interesting themes. In particular, whereas earlier Dalek stories had gradually built up the creatures' capabilities to the point where, in "TheDaleks' Master Plan", they are capable of literally taking over the known universe, "Power" focuses on the community level, with a small number of Daleks in a weakened state gradually reaching the point where they can take over the colony, reviving the sense of drama by changing the focus. In fact, the story seems to be "Master Plan" writ small, with Bragen as Mavic Chen and Janley in the Karlton role. There is also a rather nice bit of parallelism between the regenerated Doctor and the newly-revived Daleks, even to the point where the Dalek point-of-view shot following its revival echoes the similar scene earlier on when we see Ben andPolly from the still-unsteady Doctor's point of view.

Friday evening on the M25. However, the story lacks the subtlety of the best of the earlier Dalek stories, and also the political allegories that Nation wove into  "The Daleks", "Invasion of Earth" and "Master Plan". Where the former stories are subtle reworkings of postwar German politics (undying Nazis versus pacified Aryans), life under enemy occupation and cold-war geopolitics respectively, "Power" is not anything like as subtle, and it pulls its political punches. Had the story followed along the lines of "Master Plan", the final episode would have ended with Bragen dead but Janley in charge of the colony, with no one suspecting her duplicitous nature, whereas here the morally ambiguous characters are cleanly removed and the virtuous Valmar and Quinn are left at the conclusion. It also lacks the grim note which ended "Master Plan", with the Doctor and Steven left plainly shaken by their experiences and the recent deaths of their friends; here, although Polly becomes a bit tearful during the battle, she seems to have recovered by the final scene, and the travellers saunter off in search of adventure with barely an acknowledgement that wholesale slaughter has taken place.

Often, when a new production team takes over a series, they want to distance themselves from the previous regime, particularly one which had gained a reputation for being "too adult": hence, in this case, the avoidance of the realistic politics and dark edges of "The Daleks' Master Plan". Unfortunately, this fact ultimately undermines what could have been a genuinely good story, leaving it a flawed serial with a few good moments and themes, and setting the tone for much of the Troughton era.


Image effects by Fiona Moore

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