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Posts Tagged ‘David Whitaker’

Honestly, you wait twenty years for a ‘lost’ Doctor Who from the sixties to turn up, complete and intact, and when one does it’s The Enemy of the World. Tomb of the Cybermen excepted, it’s never the ones you want, is it? (I am sadly aware that the chances of either of the David Whitaker Dalek serials having survived are virtually zero.)

My reading of the mood music surrounding the return of Enemy of the World is that most people have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story: though quite why this should be the case, given that it’s written by David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts – both long-term members of Doctor Who‘s roll of honour – I’m not entirely sure. Nevertheless, this is a story which had – well, not so much a bad reputation as no reputation at all. I expect people expressed a mild curiosity to see Patrick Troughton’s dual performance, but that’s about it – it’s impossible to imagine fandom choosing to see this one again, if Fury from the Deep or – ha! – The Web of Fear were also options.

Enemy_of_the_World

Nevertheless, here it is again. The TARDIS lands on the coast of Australia in the year 2018*, by which time the world has become a unified, federal body divided into Zones run by Controllers. Accompanied by the kilted duo of Jamie and Victoria, the Doctor enjoys a quick dip – is this the only scene in fifty years where we are treated to a view of our hero’s undergarments? I’m not aware of another – before finding himself under apparently unprovoked attack by a squad of gunmen. Luckily, he and his friends are rescued by special agent Astrid, who cunningly deploys stock footage from From Russia With Love to rescue them.

Astrid and her boss Giles have a proposition for the Doctor: he is the spit of pre-eminent world leader Salamander, who some people believe to secretly be a wrong ‘un – hence the attempt on the Doctor’s life at the start of the story. However, they have no evidence to back up their suspicions. If the Doctor were to impersonate Salamander and infiltrate his headquarters, that could change…

So, the one line pitch for The Enemy of the World would run something like ‘the Doctor meets his evil double’. However, one of the slightly frustrating things about this story – which I have to say I find myself rather less inclined to praise than many – is that this premise rather gets forgotten about until the last couple of episodes. There’s a lot of equivocating by the Doctor before he finally decides to go along with the idea – his first instinct is to say a polite ‘no’ and clear off – which really reduces him to a passive figure on the sidelines. This is hardly ever a good move for a Doctor Who story.

On the other hand, one gets a very definite sense that the production demands of a dual-role story were a real limitation on this story. I must confess to not being entirely conversant with the technicalities of how it was made, but it does seem to be very carefully structured so that Patrick Troughton only has to get in or out of his Salamander make-up and costume once an episode, and the two characters he plays only meet once, in a slightly peculiar coda to the main action.

Salamander doesn’t seem remotely nonplussed at learning his lookalike emanates from something as utterly alien and exotic as the TARDIS, which strikes me as a real missed opportunity – then again, the story is down to its last handful of minutes by this point. Prior to this bit, Salamander has been shown to be ruthless and resourceful, but hardly an opponent in the Doctor’s class, so it would have been nice to see him crack and lose it upon realising just who he’s been up against – but not to be. Troughton’s performance is, of course, very good, although one wonders quite why they decided to go with that through-gritted teeth ‘Eyy, gringo!’ Mexican accent. Fun for Troughton, though, I expect.

With the twin-double storyline on hold for most of the story, what else is going on? Well, there’s the idea of the people down the bomb shelter believing there to have been a nuclear war, which is pretty much a cliche of late-20th century SF, but then again it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in what seems to me to be the main donor of ideas for this story – which would be the late-60s spy-fi genre. By this I mean things like James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, The Avengers and Danger Man, and you can discern elements in The Enemy of the World that it shares with all of these other films and programmes – whether that be the globetrotting nature of the story, or the evil double gimmick, or the idea of the fake nuclear shelter, or even Salamander’s rather implausible earthquake-manufacturing machine (come to think of it, isn’t there a joke about an earthquake or volcano machine in one of the Austin Powers films?).

However, what most 60s spy-fi has in its favour is either a brisk 50-minute running time, or a big budget (and the gloss that inevitably accompanies it). The protracted low-budget ramblings of The Enemy of the World do not, therefore, really resemble the things it is arguably attempting to pastiche, and rather unfortunately it doesn’t much look like the rest of Doctor Who from the rest of this period either. It’s always nice to see the show taking a running jump and having a go at something new and completely different – but you can see why this is one particular style that they never really revisited. There are some lovely moments in The Enemy of the World – most of them courtesy of Troughton as the Doctor, such as the wonderful ‘Whose law? Which philosophy? scene – but this story is a weird oddity more than anything else.

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*The Semi-Obligatory When’s-It-Set Dissertation

The Enemy of the World is awkwardly easy to settle on a date for – very early on we see a licence which is due to expire at the end of 2018, while later in the story there’s a newspaper clipping from ‘last year’ which is dated 2017. Even the most hardened contrarian would struggle to find evidence against the conclusion that 2018 is when this story is set.

This places the story in a noble tradition of the 20th century show, where ‘futuristic’ stories end up being conveniently set a nice round number of years in the future, counting from the year of first broadcast – whether that be 20 years (The Tenth Planet), 50 years (this story), 100 years (Warriors of the Deep), or 1000 years (Terror of the Vervoids). I suppose this was done partly to form a convenient hook for the audience (‘Tonight, Doctor Who lands fifty years in the future!’) but it is a little bit hokey, which may explain why it’s something the modern show has abandoned (plus, as mentioned previously, the modern show’s notion of when the present day actually is has become a little chaotic).

Of course, the problem with putting a specific date on near-future stories is that you instantly create a hostage to fortune – here we are in 2013, just five years away from the events of the story (and parts of the backstory to it actually happen in 2013), with no sign of a World Zoning Authority or any of the other parts of this story’s background.

This is a problem here in a way that it isn’t for The Tenth Planet, because The Enemy of the World has that political angle and global scope which most Doctor Who stories don’t. In short, the gap between the fictional reality of the story and that of the real world is wider and deeper than is usually the case.

It’s a reasonably safe bet that they will still be making Doctor Who stories with a present day setting when 2018 rolls around, but it’s an absolutely watertight certainty that the production regime at the time will make no effort whatsoever to ensure that continuity with this ‘earlier’ 2018 is maintained. Explaining the difference will be left to continuity cops, and loath as I usually am to say it, I think there’s very little option but to conclude that this story is set in one of those peculiar timelines which got overwritten by the Time War or the reboot of the universe.

(Though I suppose you could equally well argue that this story is set at some point in a much more distant future where the calendar has been reset, but where contemporary names and weapons are still in vogue – Earth in 2018, just not the 2018 we think it is. That might even explain Benik’s haircut.)

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It would be misleading to suggest that the original producers of Doctor Who did not intend to make any Dalek stories other than the first one. The original producers of Doctor Who did not intend to make any Dalek stories at all, and only ended up using Terry Nation’s original scripts because there was literally nothing else available to fill that particular slot. This did not sit well with Doctor Who‘s godfather, Sydney Newman, one of whose founding principles was ‘No bug-eyed monsters’.

However, to be fair to Nation, on their first appearance the Daleks are hardly that: these are not really the familiar liquidate-all-opposition space conquerors, but an alien race specifically written to suit the particular story the writer had in mind. It’s still not particularly well-known that in the very first script outline for the story which will forever be known to us as The Daleks, The Dead Planet, The Mutants, Dr Who and the Daleks and/or Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, the Daleks are not an immutable force for evil who are soundly defeated in the final episode.

The original scripts make the point that neither the Daleks or the Thals are entirely sure who started the war that devastated Skaro all those years ago, and in the final episode the mystery is solved: a third group of aliens appear and reveal it was all their fault – sorry! The Daleks and Thals resolve to live in peace and rebuild the planet.

Would Doctor Who have lasted half a century if the scripts for The Masters of Luxor not fallen through and The Dead Planet gone unmade? Would it still be here if Nation’s original outline had made it to the screen intact? (I seem to recall that it was only the paucity of the budget, which wouldn’t run to a third set of aliens, that forced Nation to rewrite his ideas.) Well, Doctor Who isn’t here now solely because of the popularity of the Daleks, but I strongly doubt it would have made it through its first six years without the rocket boost of Dalekmania and the associated media attention.

And things were never the same again.

And things were never the same again.

A final-act redemption of the Daleks (how long before a story called Redemption of the Daleks actually hits our screens? It couldn’t be any worse than Asylum of the Daleks) would be almost impossible to pull off in any other story, but in The Dead Planet you can just about imagine it working: if these Daleks are intent upon killing everyone else in the story, it’s because they are in a literally them-or-us situation. These Daleks are dependent on a heavily irradiated environment to survive, something which is toxic to the Thals and the other characters. For the first part of the story, at least, it’s surely easier to identify with the Daleks, who are doing their damnedest to stay alive, no matter what, than the Thals, who seem quite prepared to roll over and die rather than breach their own principles. Sure, a few Thals get exterminated along the way, but this should by no means rule out an eventual rapprochement – there are other equally implausible accounts of warring parties putting hostilities behind them with improbable speed elsewhere in Doctor Who.

In short, the Daleks of The Dead Planet are fundamentally different creatures from the ones we are familiar with today. There’s no real sign of the over-riding Dalek imperative to kill all other life on sight, and they are physically very different too: limited in their mobility by the need for an external power supply, and dependent on a radiation-saturated environment for their survival. Neither of these latter things is ever the case again, although there is a sort of hand-wave concerning the former in their next appearance. Simply from a continuity cop’s point of view, it is very difficult to explain exactly why these Daleks should be so unique – the Doctor later suggests that these are members of some sort of degenerate, relict population in the distant future, but Planet of the Daleks appears to indicate it is set considerably before the mid-26th century, as the events of the story have become Thal legend by this point. This is only compounded by the origin story given for the Daleks on their first appearance, which involves a war lasting a single day and a neutron bomb attack. The Daleks’ on-screen origin story, when it arrives 12 years later, actually features a thousand-year war and a distronic missile attack (whatever one of those is). For a long time it was customary to assume that everyone on Skaro is just very bad at history, and the two wars and attacks are the same – but given the conundrum of the physical distinctness of the Dead Planet Daleks, continuity-wise it really does look like two separate groups of Daleks originated on the same planet, sharing only the same basic appearance.

But what an appearance. It’s an odd fact that any Dalek story, no matter how plodding or repetitive or silly, is somehow lifted when the Daleks themselves are on screen and in action. Both the design and the voice are arresting and compelling, and it is very obvious why the makers of the series chose to bring them back in late 1964 for The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Having said that, it’s pretty much just the design and the voice that get brought back, because nearly everything else about the creatures has been tweaked, wholly rewritten, or invented from scratch to suit the story.

Rather than crippled survivors of an apocalyptic war on a devastated planet, the Daleks of this appearance are much more recognisably the ambitious would-be universal overlords with whom we have become so familiar: they are much more mobile (there’s a small-but-sufficient explanation given for this), appear to have no particular environmental requirements, and are clearly extremely capable technicians and engineers. Is this, then, our first sighting of the True Dalek characterisation?

Well – I would argue not. There’s a brief but illuminating bit of dialogue which is often overlooked, wherein the Doctor and his soon-to-be grandson-in-law discuss just why the Daleks have conquered Earth. According to the Doctor, the existence of humanity is a matter of supreme indifference to the Daleks – man is a work machine to be exploited, nothing more, and one they would ignore if it weren’t necessary to their plan. This does not sound very much like the Dalek characterisation we are familiar with today – modern Daleks don’t seem to be supremely indifferent to anything, except possibly the quality of the scripts they appear in, and the series makes a point of showing them going out of their way to terrorise and kill innocent life-forms. One is of course inclined to wonder just where the Doctor’s getting his insights into the Dalek mind from, but nothing on-screen in the story contradicts his analysis. No explanation is given as to why the Daleks want to spread their presence throughout the universe, either.

The Chase gets round the problem of explaining the motivation of the Daleks (another possible future story in the offing: ‘Now on BBC3, it’s Motivation of the Daleks, and terror ensues as the evil pepper-pots capture Constantin Stanislavski and force him to give them acting lessons’) by being a revenge-oriented plot, albeit one that does interesting (I am being very charitable) things with the concept of the Daleks as a diverse race – so we get such experiments as a stupid Dalek, and a speech-impedimented Dalek. The Daleks’ Master Plan puts them back in the position of space conquerors again, this time willingly teaming up with a bunch of other aliens to take on Earth and the rest of the Solar System. Once again, the story is in no way interested in why the Daleks are behaving as they do, or how their culture functions – it just trusts to the reliable magic of the Dalek design to hang together.

However, Dalek characterisation takes a quantum leap forward in The Power of the Daleks, which I recently wrote about at some length. This is a story in which characters interact with the Daleks on a number of levels, rather than simply running away or hiding from them, and it genuinely seems interested in the idea of what it means to be a Dalek and how they view the rest of the universe – it’s here, for the first time, and not in a Terry Nation script, that we get the first proper glimpse of the Dalek characterisation that has since become so dominant – while rabid xenophobia had been part of the Daleks’ psychological make-up from The Dead Planet onward, here it is coupled to the pathological homicidal mania that gets its most powerful expression in the ‘Law of the Daleks’ and ‘Daleks conquer and destroy’ sequences.

The standard stays high for Evil of the Daleks, even though this is a story I’m rather less impressed with – again, this is a story about the essential natures of things (specifically Humans and Daleks) and what it is that makes them different. Whitaker’s treatment of this idea is just a bit too allegorical-fantastical for me, and the story makes a few too many demands of the audience’s credulity, but it does introduce a concept which has echoed down through the series for much of the intervening period – that of the Daleks at war with themselves. For a race which (the standard characterisation tells us) is fundamentally driven by hatred, it always feels oddly appropriate to have that hate turn in upon itself and destroy them. I’m still not sure this story would live up to its legend if it were found, though.

Five years on and we find ourselves in the wilderness years of the Daleks – the magic and specialness of their sixties heyday over, they appear in a number of bland and repetitive stories with the third Doctor. Probably the most interesting of these is the first, Day of the Daleks, which at least does novel things with the notion of time travel and the ethics of terrorism. Unfortunately these are the two elements of the story which involve the Daleks least. The makers of the story have admitted the Daleks are just there as a big hook for the audience, and narratively it’s not especially about them – any old alien invader or authoritarian bloc could be swapped in for them and it would not make very much difference. The other two stories are both generic B-movie SF tales, but it appears that Terry Nation did perceive the need to come up with some kind of gimmick to make the Daleks fresh – invisible Daleks in Planet of the Daleks and disarmed Daleks in Death to the Daleks. However, on both occasions the gimmick is briefly toyed with but rapidly abandoned in favour of more of the same old stuff in sandpits and corridors – the Daleks as an unquestionably malign force whose motives, methods, and morality are so simplistic as to need no explanation. (Although, for our purposes here, it’s interesting that in Death to the Daleks the Daleks have infected the galaxy with a lethal plague, not to wipe out the other races as you might expect, but to give them some leverage over them and force them to comply with the Daleks’ demands – but we never find out what these are.)

Given the relative sophistication of the treatment of morality in the third Doctor’s era, it’s not surprising that the old-school villainy of the Daleks makes for some of the least interesting stories of this period, nor that the makers of the show were reluctant to keep using them. In 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks we finally get another properly intelligent and thoughtful look at them, and if the price of that is a story in which the Daleks themselves barely make an appearance, it’s surely worth paying in the long run. Here the elements of the classic Dalek characterisation finally get articulated as a cohesive whole, not to mention explained – the progeny of a madman, himself mutilated by a devastating race-war, the Daleks are depicted as being genetically programmed to have a fundamental belief in their own supremacy – the desire to wipe out all other forms of life seems a logical consequence of this. Genesis‘ morality is complex and ambiguous, however, extending beyond this – despite the Time Lords having predicted the ultimate triumph of the Daleks, the Doctor famously rejects the option of destroying them in their infancy on ethical grounds, while elsewhere the story makes no bones about how successful Davros is as a strategist – the Doctor and his friends can do nothing to impede his plans beyond destroying a single tape (and this is a subplot, anyway), it’s Davros’ own overreaching ambition that results in his ultimate downfall.

The series’ treatment of the Daleks after 1975 is interesting. There seems to have been no legal reason for the creatures to be unavailable to appear in stories, as was the case for several years following 1967, yet four years pass between Genesis of the Daleks and Destiny of the Daleks, and another four between Destiny and their next proper outing in Resurrection of the Daleks (we appear to have reached the point at which story titles have crossed the line from portentousness into actual absurdity) – although, inevitably, they were initially scheduled to appear in the closing story of season 20 a year earlier. Terry Nation was actively talked out of contributing a second Dalek story in 1975, eventually submitting The Android Invasion instead (and I’m tempted to say that, without the brilliance of other people’s Dalek designs to grab the attention, it’s The Keys of Marinus and The Android Invasion that give the fairest impression of the general standard of Terry Nation’s scripting for Doctor Who). It’s tempting to draw the conclusion that the makers of the series had concluded that there were no especially interesting stories left to tell using the Daleks, and they were only rolled out when a producer felt the need for a comforting hit of publicity. Even then, the stories are always about Davros rather than the Daleks.

It’s not really surprising that the series should return to Davros time after time in subsequent stories – he gives the Daleks a voice and a face, and allows the Doctor to engage with their philosophy on a deeper and more narratively interesting level. The ongoing story of the Dalek civil war instigated by Davros also serves as a useful hook to hang the various stories on, although Destiny of the Daleks has the interesting concept of the computer stalemate between the Daleks and the Movellans. (Here again Nation appears to either have forgotten the original nature of the Daleks or be attempting to casually revise it: there’s virtually nothing in the broadcast version of Destiny to indicate the Daleks aren’t a totally robotic race.) Ultimately, though, we’re left with a situation where the Daleks are routinely a support act for someone else, with accordingly limited screen-time, or more interested in killing each other rather than threatening anyone the audience might care about. The best of the post-1975 stories, to my mind, is Remembrance of the Daleks (possibly a candidate for most-misspelled story title in the original run), which at least explicitly addresses the standard conception of the Daleks as Nazi-analogues (through their alliance with a group of Fascist humans, for example).

As I’ve said before, the real change in emphasis between the original run of the series and the one starting in 2005 is that one is a plot-oriented undertaking and the other is character-oriented, and one would expect that the presentation of the Daleks might benefit from this. The 21st century series’ approach of assimilating the original series and producing a synthesis of the best of it seems to have been in effect, and the Daleks benefit from this – their characterisation is both deeper and more broadly consistent than in most of their earlier appearances. Bearing in mind my suggestion that the basic Dalek casing design is essentially the only real constant across their many stories, it’s interesting that the meeting of creative types to discuss the revamp of the creatures (apparently known as ‘Resemblance of the Daleks’, according to Rusty Davies) rapidly concluded that there really wasn’t very much to be done beyond reinventing the wheel.

Most of these 21st century stories do adhere to the ‘classic’ characterisation of the Daleks as pathologically homicidal where other races are concerned, and driven to kill members of their own species (even themselves) should they become contaminated with alien genetic material. The Parting of the Ways, though it ducks this issue a tiny bit, interestingly has a go at conflating the Daleks with religious fundamentalists, which actually works quite well as a concept – the Daleks were turning themselves into suicide bombers as far back as Destiny of the Daleks, so it’s not a completely new idea.

Another novelty: mix 'n' match Daleks.

Another novelty: mix ‘n’ match Daleks.

One of the characteristics of Moffat era Doctor Who is its willingness to tinker with the established format and structure of the show, and comment on things which previous regimes wouldn’t really have engaged with. In this vein, Victory of the Daleks isn’t the first time a new Dalek design has been introduced (leaving aside colour variants and one-off individuals, there have been at least five previous Dalek designs), but it’s the first time the revamp has been addressed in the actual story itself – in fact, the story is largely about the revamp. Quite why the new Daleks are so reviled by many fans is a bit of a moot point (for me it’s a combination of the garish colour scheme and the distortion of the traditional Dalek silhouette), but at least their personalities seem to have remained unchanged.

There’s another departure in Asylum of the Daleks when more than one model of Dalek casing appears on screen, with designs from across the history of the series appearing (if you squint at the background, anyway). Possibly this is intended to indicate the Daleks are a diverse culture where groups with different levels of technology work in concert – but this does go rather against the generally monolithic and conformist nature of the classic characterisation.

The true nature of Dalek society and culture is, perhaps sadly, something the TV show has never really concerned itself with – we don’t even really know where little Daleks come from. Are they a clone species like the Sontarans? Are the Daleks still in fact a gendered race? Do they occasionally slip out of those uncomfortable casings for a little intimate time together? (Asylum of the Daleks presents us with the somewhat-awkward revelation that the Daleks occasionally ‘convert’ humans if they have useful skills, something which is hard to reconcile with the standard xenophobic characterisation, but then if you made a list of all the things in Asylum that are hard to make sense of…)

Culturally, the Daleks of the original story still have sculptures in their city, but apart from this they are presented as a supremely utilitarian race. Just assuming they had won the Last Great Time War and gone on to eradicate all other life forms in the universe, what would they have done then? Freed from the pathological fear and hatred which (it seems a fair guess) has motivated most of their actions, what direction would their civilisation follow? Gareth Roberts, in his novel I Am A Dalek, actually has someone ask a Dalek this question, and the answer is that they would devote themselves to art and science and philosophy (which is apparently all they really want to do anyway). It’s a curious concept and one you could imagine them getting a story out of, somehow.

On the other hand, stories exploring the nature of Dalek culture and society could prove problematic – fundamentally, the Daleks aren’t an alien race to be examined, but monsters whose job is to be a threat and scare the audience. One of the brilliant things about the Daleks – perhaps the single most brilliant thing about them – is the fact that they are so visually and verbally iconic, unmistakable as anything else, and this iconic status means not only that we don’t actually need to know very much about their background as a species for them to work as an adversary, but that their goals and methodology and – occasionally – their very nature can radically shift from story to story without it impinging too much on the audience’s attention. It is the very weakness of the Daleks’ characterisation that makes them such a brilliant all-purpose recurring monster and the undisputed leaders of the Doctor Who adversary pack.

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It is, obviously, quite difficult to come up with an informed opinion about Patrick Troughton’s tenure in Doctor Who, or even one concerning most of his individual stories, quite simply because the majority of his work isn’t there any more. As a result, the consensus is that the actor was brilliant and hugely influential – Colin Baker and Matt Smith, actors whose performances are wildly different, have both cited Troughton as the man they’re looking to emulate – but people are less willing to talk definitively about the stories – certainly the missing ones.

It wasn’t always thus, with heartfelt declarations that Tomb of the Cybermen was one of the all-time classics being widely made – right up until 1992 when the story was miraculously rediscovered in Asia. Watching it again now, however, one gets a strong sense of a story where the production values and plot ephemera are actively fighting against the effectiveness of the narrative’s core: the creepiness of the Cybermen and their tomb are vastly undermined when they spend much of their (limited) screen-time looking after their peculiar little pets and quacking like ducks.

Anyway, I’m not here to write about Tomb of the Cybermen, but a Troughton story I’ve always really liked. The problem here is – well, as I say, there are only really a handful of intact Troughtons, mostly from his final year, and those are a really mixed bag. The Seeds of Death rivals Asylum of the Daleks in terms of plot incoherence, The Dominators is very dreary, and The Mind Robber is jarringly weird and atypical. I really like The Invasion and The War Games, but this is something that’s crept up on me rather than being there from the first time I saw them. Outside of Season 6, the only intact story is Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve already explained my issues concerning.

So it’s going to be another missing story, and if this current series of reviews is going to be properly representative of Doctor Who, I’m going to have to do a full-blooded Dalek story at some point – and, as it happens, one of my favourite Dalek stories is a Troughton – not Evil of the Daleks, for which we at least possess one episode, but The Power of the Daleks, Troughton’s debut, and the only Dalek story for which only scant remnants are available.

power

The story opens with a lengthy TARDIS sequence introducing the new Doctor: his companions Ben and Polly are understandably dubious about this odd new individual. The story proper begins when the TARDIS arrives on the planet Vulcan (this story predates the debut of Star Trek, in case you were wondering), a hostile planet partly covered with mercury swamps.

There is, however, an Earth colony on Vulcan. In terms of the wider Doctor Who universe we are given no clue as to exactly when the story is set, and as a result there has been much speculation and debate about this – but it doesn’t really have much bearing on the plot, so I don’t think we need to get into that*. Almost at once the new Doctor finds himself caught up in the murder of a visiting official from Earth, whose identity he adopts. The colony is riven by conflict between its governor and a group of rebels (this was not such a cliche at the time the story was made, nor is this element of the plot as hackneyed as it sounds).

However, the Doctor’s attention is more immediately grabbed by the activities of the colony’s chief scientist, Lesterson. Lesterson has discovered an alien capsule in one of the mercury swamps and is keen to exploit what he has found within: apparently robotic entities who declare their only objective is to serve the humans of the colony. But the Doctor knows better, because these creatures are the Daleks, and they are only being so helpful because this will give them access to the resources they need to rebuild their strength. Once they have achieved this, the prospects of the colony look set to take a sharp downturn…

The first thing that strikes one about Power of the Daleks is the extremely pragmatic approach it takes to handling the regeneration – this isn’t really a story about the aftermath of the regeneration itself, and after the first few minutes the Doctor is notably less prone to post-regenerative trauma (amnesia, coma, sudden mood swings and mania)  than he is on almost any other occasion. The main plot of the story is nothing to do with the change in the Doctor or his altered relationships with his companions.

That said, even the Moff has praised Power for its supposed bravery in (briefly) toying with the idea that the new Doctor may not in fact be the Doctor at all – the reasoning being that on this crucial occasion, you would have expected the production team to go all out not to unsettle the audience too much. I’m not so sure; I think the approach the story takes is the obvious way to go in this kind of situation. Once you’ve established that regeneration is a fact of life (so to speak), you lose the option of playing this kind of game with it forever after, so it’s possibly a shame the story doesn’t go a lot further down this route.

On the other hand, given that what we get instead is arguably one of the really great Doctor Who stories, and surely one of the best two or three Dalek stories of all time, it’s difficult to argue this with great force. It’s possible to say this of a story for which only a tiny amount of material survives because its strength doesn’t necessarily lie in the production values or the direction, it’s all there in the script.

Most people would say that author David Whitaker’s big idea is to depict the Daleks as devious and manipulative, rather than the squawking maniacs of many another script. (You could argue that you can see everything that makes David Whitaker a remarkable writer and Terry Nation a fairly pedestrian one in the way they handle a story in which the Daleks can’t use their ray guns: Whitaker gives us three episodes of the Daleks plotting and scheming to achieve their ends through other means, while Nation just has them bolting machine-guns onto themselves after about fifteen minutes.) This is true, but – as Victory of the Daleks, something of an heir to Power, demonstrates – this in itself isn’t enough to make a story really great.

For a while I was wondering quite what it was that I liked so much about Power of the Daleks, and what made it so special, then I came across something that threw the story into sharp relief – another version of it.

Power of the Daleks Reimagined is a fan-made adaptation of the original scripts, written and directed by and starring Nick Scovell as the Doctor. On many levels this is a highly impressive production, with production values at least as good as those on many stories from the 63-89 run, huge numbers of Dalek props – more than the original story – and some top-end CGI in places. Scovell’s Doctor – a rumpled, Donnish figure – is definitely more old-school than any of the 21st century TV Doctors, but his performance is very engaging. This production is easy to track down and I would recommend it to fans of old-school Doctor Who.

Couldn't find a photo of the Scovell Doctor with the Daleks. Sorry.

Couldn’t find a photo of the Scovell Doctor with the Daleks. Sorry.

However, it falls a long way short of the original story, and the reasons for this were, I thought, indicative. This is despite Reimagined retaining many of the character names and some of the most memorable dialogue from the original story, along with the general thrust of the story. The key thing is that, in Reimagined, everyone is fascinated by the Daleks, pretty much as an end in itself: they’re the primary focus of everyone’s story. In the original, on the other hand, everyone has other things on their minds, other objectives, and if they’re interested in the Daleks then it’s only as a means to an end. Lesterson believes they can teach him new science, the Governor can only see the economic benefits of a new robot labour force, the rebels see them as a weapon to help them take over, and so on.

Whitaker spends a lot of time and effort developing the human characters and their various conflicts, and this is crucial to the story, because what both his Dalek scripts – this, and the (to my mind) somewhat overpraised Evil of the Daleks – are fundamentally about is the difference between Daleks and human beings. Humans are innately chaotic, riven, factionalised, pursuing individual objectives. The Daleks think and act as one: their unity is part of their strength. It’s almost amusing that, in the story, the Daleks seem more curious about the nature of human beings than vice versa: one of them is clearly baffled by the human tendency to kill each other.

At the risk of treading on my own toes, I think this is the story where the characterisation of the Daleks that we are most familiar with really starts to come into focus. We are so often told that their primary objective is the extermination of all non-Dalek life (here this is usefully summarised as ‘the Law of the Daleks’), but – for sound dramatic reasons – this is something we hardly ever see them trying to put into practice.

Part of the pleasure of Power of the Daleks is waiting for the moment – and it’s obvious this is going to come – when the Daleks drop their pretence of servility, move in force, and start killing everyone in sight. And it’s a sign of how brilliantly the story is structured that the Daleks’ rise to ascendancy is deftly summarised across the story’s five cliffhangers. The first has the Dalek shells immobilised and literally powerless, the creatures within having been forced to emerge (or so it’s implied). The second has a lone, unarmed Dalek ingratiating itself with the colonists, and the third a trio of Daleks making their plans for the future clear. Episode Four concludes with Lesterson stumbling upon a Dalek production line – a tremendous image – and the swelling host of new Daleks, while the final cliffhanger is the point at which the Daleks start to make their move on the colony.

Whitaker’s Daleks are clearly psychotic, but rationally so, quite capable of dissembling when it suits their purposes. When they gather en masse within their capsule, however, it’s as if some kind of mob frenzy grips them: they endlessly repeat each other in a sort of twisted chorus, as if they can barely restrain their killer impulses. They are genuinely disturbing as in few other stories.

And, needless to say, it’s only the Doctor who saves the day – even so, it’s clear that much of the colony has been laid waste by the conclusion. Nevertheless, it shows that the new Doctor is still the Doctor, even if he is clearly a very different individual from in previous stories – he has already begun to acquire the slippery, mercurial qualities that ultimately came to define Troughton’s characterisation, while there’s little sign of the autocrat, usually so secure in his own authority, that William Hartnell brought to the screen.

So, a turning point for the Doctor, and a real high point for the Daleks: I can’t think of another story which has used them so intelligently. Will we ever get to see this story properly again? We can only hope: I can’t believe it could do less than live up to expectations.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

* Oh, If You Insist…

There’s no on-screen date given at any point during The Power of the Daleks. Trailers at the time suggested the story was set in 2020, but publicity isn’t what I’d call a primary source. It seems very unlikely that Vulcan is a solar planet, which would appear to place the story no earlier than the late 21st century, which is when the human race made its first FTL flights (according to The Waters of Mars). The level of technology in use on the colony seems to be quite low – projectile weapons rather than ray guns, and so on – so it doesn’t look like it’s too far into the future.

No-one in the story recognises the Daleks – this is a crucial plot point – which would seem to preclude it taking place after the Dalek invasion of the solar system round about the 2160s (one of the few in-universe events of the 60s that other stories routinely refer to). Personally, my instinct is to place it very late in the 21st century or early in the 22nd: I find myself somewhat whimsically inclined to plump for 2120, given the popularity of the 2020 date elsewhere.

However, if we’re talking about people not recognising the Daleks, recently-made stories made it retrospectively strange that no-one on a space colony is aware of an alien race which spectacularly attacked Earth twice in the early 21st century (in 2007 and 2009). Possibly mindful of this, the current writers of the series have established that Amy Pond – and by extension the rest of the planet – have had their memories of the Battle of Canary Wharf and the stealing of Earth erased, the implication being that this is a result of the cracked universe which is such a feature of Season Thirty-One.

Exactly how this happened is difficult to work out – other consequences of the Battle of Canary Wharf, such as the Tyler clan relocating to a parallel universe and the collapse of Torchwood One, still seem to be in effect. One must also imagine strange things occurring in Van Staten’s vault in the late 2000s, as everyone suddenly forgets what the Dalek incarcerated there is called. But we’re in danger of seriously digressing here, and at least this oddity means that dating Power of the Daleks is not made unduly challenging.

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