So a new era begins in Doctor Who as Patrick Troughton takes over from William Hartnell.
Unfortunately, only a few of his stories exist in full in 2011. Indeed, for the first two of his three series, only one story remains intact. It’s a crying shame, but the question that has to be asked before I begin my look back on his time in the role is whether or not that has worked in his favour?
You see, a lot of people – myself included – consider Troughton to be one of the best Doctors. How can we make that assumption if so few of his stories exist (and one, maybe two of those are duds)? Well, that could be down to received wisdom, or perhaps its because he stole the show in his three guest appearances in the Two, Three & Five Doctors.
But the thing is, the character of ‘The Second Doctor’ that Troughton plays in those stories is not the one he plays while he’s the lead actor. He’s not really much of a clown and he only plays the recorder a handful of times.
In truth, Troughton’s Doctor probably isn’t what most people assume him to be. But going in to watching his stories (most of which will sadly be in reconstructed form), I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
First up for the new man in the job is The Power of the Daleks. That not even one episode of this story survives is ridiculous. If the BBC decided to keep Episode 3 of the Underwater Menace because of the significance of the Ballet of the Fish People scene, then surely Troughton’s very first story deserved to be kept as well.
Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks Review: What’s This One About?
There are three main plot threads to this story.
- First there’s the Doctor. While episode 1 deals with his change in detail, it’s really just accepted that he’s the Doctor for the rest of the story. Unlike subsequent ‘Debut’ stories, he’s not erratic in his behavior. Ben & Polly are confused/suspicious, but that’s about it.
- Then there’s the civil war going on in the Earth Colony on the planet Vulcan.
- And finally there’s the Daleks, who – having been discovered dormant in a capsule in the Mercury swamps outside the Colony – pretend to be nice and subservient to the Colonists, and then say they’ll fight alongside the rebels in the civil war. But really, they are just doing this while they use the Colony’s power supply to build a new Dalek Army. Once it’s completed, they plan on killing everyone.
Thoughts – The Doctor
Usually the debut of a new Doctor is seen as a big event, with the new man adjusting to his altered appearance, picking out a new outfit and generally acting a bit weird.
But Power of the Daleks is different. It’s not a relaunch, because it’s the third story of the fourth series. It’s a case of ‘as you were’. The show is still Doctor Who, it’s just got a new lead actor.
I quite like that. I like that this story is not just about the new Doctor. It’s a Dalek story first and foremost (which is a good idea to keep people watching the show and to help them get over what must have been a startling change from the point of view of the audience).
Yes, there’s still an element of mystery about what’s happened to the Doctor, and the self-referential way they have him pretend to be the Earth Examiner while Ben & Polly wonder whether or not he’s pretending to be the Doctor is a nice touch.
As for his portrayal of the Doctor, Troughton and the powers that be clearly (and thankfully) decided to play the character differently to William Hartnell. He’s a younger man and so from a behavioural point of view he has to be different. Having said that, at this point I don’t think they have decided exactly how to portray the Doctor yet, and his character requires a bit of fine tuning. For parts of the story he plays it straight while in other scenes he clowns around. This is the story where the recorder gets most use – beyond this it’s barely used – and he also has ‘The Hat’ (you’ll know what one I’m talking about) which disappears after the Underwater Menace.
The writers also try to give him a catchphrase – “I Would Like a Hat Like That” – and thankfully this falls by the wayside as well.
But those criticisms are relatively minor. Troughton does a good job of becoming the new Doctor and over the course of the six episodes he becomes increasingly established in the part. As the story progresses, Ben & Polly become less sceptical about him and by the end have accepted him as the same man.
For all that goes on with the Doctor, this – as I said above – is a story more about the Daleks. And while I argued that the Tenth Planet could have been the Cybermen at their best, I would also argue that ‘Power’ really showcases the Daleks well.
The idea that they are the nice servants that they claim to be is of course ridiculous. But only the Doctor and the viewers know that. On the face of it, there’s no reason for the colonists to mistrust them, and so when the Doctor demands that they be destroyed, he’s rightfully told to shove it.
The use of the phrase “I am your servant” is terrific throughout the story. It starts off in a way that is quite believable, but as the episodes pass, it becomes clear that the Daleks don’t really mean it, and by the fourth and fifth episodes they are saying it in a very knowing and calculating way, as if to say to the viewer “These guys are idiots if they think we are their servants”.
Cliffhangers & Pacing
One thing that this story really excels at is the way its paced. This is best showcased with the cliffhangers.
Episode 1: The Daleks are discovered dormant
Episode 2: A Dalek declares that it is the servant of the humans repeatedly, while the Doctor earnestly tries to get the colonists to listen to him
Episode 3: The Daleks first show sign of their true intentions by declaring that they will get their power, while a concerned Lesterson watches on.
Episode 4: Lesterson finds that the Daleks have set up a production plant in their capsule (which – although never confirmed in the script – must be bigger on the inside)
Episode 5: The Daleks declare war on the humans
It’s a classic example of how to do the slow build. Every cliffhanger is important, and advances the story, rather than it just being a case of ‘How will the Doctor get out of this one?’. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many other stories of that length with no cliffhangers that
present a member of the regular cast in danger.
And in Professor Lesterson, the writer has a character that works marvellously with the pace the story takes. At first he’s an arrogant scientist who presses ahead with reactivating the Daleks for his own glory. He doesn’t believe they are even remotely dangerous. But as the Daleks begin to let their masks slip, it slowly dawns on him that the Doctor was right. Indeed, he uses those very words – “The Examiner was right. They ARE evil” – before slipping into insanity and eventually being exterminated. Excellent stuff.
When you compare this story to the most recent Dalek effort in Matt Smith’s first series – Victory of the Daleks – it puts it to shame. In that story the Daleks just admitted that they were lying about their intentions after about 27 seconds. It was a serious disappointment, when you consider how well Power was done, and indeed how easy it would have been to borrow from it.
- It’s interesting to see the Doctor valuing human life so little. He comes to the conclusion that the best way to distract the Daleks is to ‘Use Bragan’s Guards’ – which basically means ‘Send them to their deaths’. Very un-Doctor-like.
- Sad as it is, this is the last time the show will use the wonderfully atmospheric musical score used in the original Dalek story (as well as this, The Rescue & The Ark).
- It’s never really explained how the Daleks recognise the Doctor. On the one hand that’s a good thing because it allows the show to go on as normal, but on the other hand it would have been nice to have it dealt with a little bit.
- The weakest part of the story is the civil war aspect. I haven’t said much about it because I just don’t think too much needs to be said. Ultimately it was just a way of padding out the episodes a little while giving the Daleks a means to go out and slaughter people at the end.
- Neither Ben nor Polly get up to much in this story, other than to wonder about the new Doctor. Polly quickly comes to the conclusion that it’s the same man as they previously travelled with, while Ben takes a lot longer to convince.
- It’s nice to hear that they have dogs on the Vulcan colony, but surely dog lovers (which I certainly am not) wouldn’t be too happy about them being kept outside the walls of the colony, alongside the mercury swamps?
- But speaking of Ben & Polly, they can’t have been travelling with the Doctor for more than a few days in real time, yet Ben comes out with the line “Of course, the real Doctor was always going on about the Daleks”. When exactly? He gets separated from them fairly quickly in the Smugglers and doesn’t meet up with them until near the end, then it’s straight to the South Pole where he ends up collapsing in short order, and then he regenerates.
Doctor Who -The Power of the Daleks Review: Final Thoughts
It’s a strong start to the Troughton era with one of the best Dalek stories ever written. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again that it’s ridiculous that a story like this could be missing from the archives when – for example – The Dominators and Planet of the Giants survive.
Still, even with just some audio and pictures, you can tell that this is one of the strongest stories in the show’s history.
Well worth taking the time to watch/listen to.