The Power of the Daleks
On the distant planet Vulcan, civil unrest threatens the peace of the Earth colony. While the Governor struggles to maintain control amidst rumors of rebel factions , Professor Lesterson has made an amazing discovery. After cheating death through a kind of renewal, the Doctor encounters his deadliest of enemies, but he is as unsure of his capabilities as his companions are. Can he realize his personality in time to put a stop to the Daleks setting a foothold on Vulcan in their quest to universal conquest?
After three successful years as the leading actor in Doctor Who, William Hartnell was ushered from his post and replaced. There were many sore feelings from Hartnell who had grown proud of his part in developing the program, but we can take some solace in the fact that he cited Patrick Troughton as the only person capable of taking over from him. Sydney Wilson took some convincing, however, and even Troughton was unsure of taking on such a high profile role.
After several talks with Innes Lloyd, Troughton had many outlandish ideas on how he should play the Doctor. Being a character actor, he approached the challenge by offering up one weird concept after another (a wind jammer or an Arab… if his later statement was not in jest which I suspect it was). Being the first major change in the character that we now take for granted, it was a decision rapidly becoming muddled by committee-style discussions. In the end, Lloyd and Troughton crafted the identity between the two of them as a Charlie Chaplin-like cosmic hobo.
Much to Troughton’s reluctance, large parts of his characterization came from his own personality (something that became more common in later actors who were cast as The Doctor). A deeply private man, he preferred to keep his professional and home life separate, but in this case they become closely related as his acting as the Doctor was less of a performance and his cast members became like a second family.
The first regeneration was traumatic for the viewers as well as the characters of the Doctor and his companions. Ben and Polly had seen their friend deteriorate before their eyes, even admitting to them that ‘this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.’ In his place was a stranger, experiencing intense pain and confusion as thoughts flooded through his newly made brain.
The concept of regeneration was more fully explained as we understand it now much much later in the program’s history. In this instance, the Doctor implies that it is a renewal and that it was accomplished with the help of the TARDIS. The Doctor’s personality is not the only that had changed. His body had changed and his abilities had grown, including a kind of telepathy. This is where many of the Doctor’s later abilities were born and his alien physicality developed.
Previously, the Doctor was more or less a human-like being with alien origins. He required food, rest and even had one heart (as established in the Sensorites). The second Doctor is a whole new kettle of fish and a more fantastical character than his predecessor, adding the ‘pixie’ qualities of a children’s literature hero to the Doctor as he had been known.
The Doctor doesn’t even seem to have retained the knowledge of his previous self, referring to himself in the third person, often needing to reference his diary to check his memory. This was a very clever way of mirroring the audience’s reluctance to accept Troughton by making him off-center and apparently deranged. The refined dress of the First Doctor was replaced with a battered parody two sizes too big. The Doctor’s signet ring fell from his fingers and the new Doctor took up a recorder, much to the chagrin of his companions.
Who was this Doctor? Even he didn’t know.
Traipsing along the planet surface, the Doctor attempts a few hops and jumps and soon meets another person who seems overjoyed to see a friendly face, then he is shot in the back and promptly dies. Looking for clues, the Doctor finds a forgotten button torn from someone’s clothing and a badge declaring the victim as ‘Chief Examiner’ affording him ‘every access.’ Thus does the Doctor becomes involved in the conspiracy for control in the colony. Taking on the identity of Chief Examiner, someone no one was expecting and someone no one can identify, the Doctor is allowed the run of the place and treated with near immunity and respect.
Soon, the Doctor meets Lesterson who is greedily examining a strange capsule found embedded in the planet’s crust. Aided by the beautiful but cunning Janley, Lesterson has tunnel vision regarding his discovery of the Dalek capsule. He cannot accept the warnings of the Doctor or the manipulations of Janley and her rebel faction friends.
The script for Power of the Daleks was written by David Whitaker without any understanding of who the new Doctor was going to be and what he would act like. Terry Nation was busy with other projects including the beginnings of ‘The Destroyers,’ a spin-off using the Daleks outside of Doctor Who. As the production proceeded, it became clear that much revision was needed, but script editor Gerry Davis was unable to take on the work on Whitaker’s scripts. Dennis Spooner (who had worked on many previous stories including parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) was called in to polish it up, fleshing out the Doctor, supporting characters and adding lots of humor.
It’s difficult to tell what parts of the produced story are from Whitaker’s pen and what is from Spooner’s, but it’s a marvelous tale. Because of the importance of Power of the Daleks as the ‘first regeneration story,’ it is often over-looked for any other qualities. The fact that almost all material remains lost of this six parter (only short sequences are viewable at this time) only makes the story more obscure. John Peel novelized the story but that book has gone out of print. An audio CD with linking narration by Aneke Wills is also hard to find at a reasonable price. All that said, there is an incredibly small group of fans who have had a chance to experience this story in any way.
When it becomes clear that the capsule is a Dalek escape craft, the Doctor starts to worry, but is not sure how to proceed. He is reluctant to act directly, but knows that he must stop anyone from attempting to harness their power and that is surely just what Lesterson plans to do.
There are several angles to this story that strike me as interesting, including the anarchist forces of the rebel faction and the threat that even a peaceful Dalek poses to the laborers. I’m not sure how much was included on purpose and how much seeped its way into the script, but it strikes me as one of the only poignant Dalek stories with something to say in addition to entertain and scare the pants off of the viewers at home.
Security chief Bragen is making a bid for power and with Janley’s help, hopes to use Lesterson to mobilize and arm the Daleks as weapons in their acts of violence. Overworked and paranoid, Lesterson is easily manipulated, but the Daleks are shown at their most manipulative and devious. Playing the role of eager servant, they wait for the key moment to act. There is a wonderful moment as a Dalek watches the rebels firing on the other colonists as they move against the Governor’s forces and asks why humans would kill other humans.
The Daleks were chosen to accompany the arrival of a new Doctor to reassure the audience that while Hartnell had left, the program was still the same. There are several iconic moments in this story, starting with the Dalek identifying the Doctor as he screams to warn the colonists. Troughton’s horrified expression in the Dalek’s tunnel point of view was frozen in the viewers’ minds for quite some time, as was another scene in which the Daleks are seen working an assembly line, dropping weird alien beings into the Dalek casings.
Troughton is absolutely stunning in this premier story, earning his place as the finest actor to play the role to date. His performance runs the gamut from playful child to courageous hero and brilliant scientist as well as a truly weird and alien being. Confined to a room, the Doctor wonders if he can get Lesterson to listen then gleefully realizes that ‘Lesterson listen’ is a great tongue-twister. To Ben’s anguish, Polly joins in and the pair become giddy. The introduction of the recorder, a musical instrument that the Doctor seems to rely on to focus his thoughts while causing frustration for everyone else, is another nice touch. In a short amount of time, Troughton has the new Doctor’s many facets explored on screen, showing the audience that there is so much more to the Doctor than had previously been thought possible.
Power of the Daleks is a very intelligent and gripping adventure that touches on the deviousness of the human mind and the mistrust in society. By the time the Daleks start firing on the humans, there’s hardly anyone left that could be viewed as acceptably appealing. There are a few things that are confusing continuity-wise, such as how or why the Daleks have become forgotten by humans or what time period this story is meant to be set in. The fact that the Dalek identifies the Doctor on sight without any prior knowledge is also interesting and means that the Daleks are viewing their subjects in more ways than just visually.
There are several missing stories from Doctor Who in the 1960’s and everyone has their own choice for which story they’d like to see in its entirety; the grandeur of Marco Polo? The creepiness of The Web of Fear or the simple massive wealth of the Daleks’ Master Plan? It really doesn’t matter what you choose, but personally I’d love to see this story as it deserves more attention and respect than just being the first story of the second Doctor.
Power of the Daleks is an examination of the human soul and the evil inherent in modern society. For that reason alone it is one of the best Dalek stories ever made and remains lost in so many ways that very few fans can possibly know this.
Fan-made prequel animation using Nicholas Briggs’ The Dalek Conquests