DVD Review: Power of the Daleks

Power of the Daleks is one of the Doctor Who stories that has been lost. The BBC had destroyed all copies of the episode due to royalty issues and in order to re-use the video tapes, and none of the copies that were shipped overseas were found. Thus, the story only lived on through bootleg recordings made by fans off of over-the-air broadcasts, which in turn were made available to the BBC, who had re-released the story with cleaned-up versions of the audio recordings paired with tele-snaps and continuity photos of the show, with bridging narration by Tom Baker.

This past year, the BBC released an animated reconstruction of the story, giving viewers their first opportunity to see this in motion, and I’ve seen it.

Narratively, in the grand scheme of Doctor Who, this story is kind of a big deal. It’s Patrick Troughton’s first story, and the first post-regenerations story in Doctor Who. Further, coming off the heels of the first Cybermen Story, we have Troughton’s first Dalek story. From a performance standpoint, it makes the story very interesting, as we can hear Troughton feeling out what his doctor will be.

While the Regeneration process is much more smooth than it would be for later Doctors (especially Peter Davison and Colin Baker), it sets up the concept of The Doctor recovering from the regeneration in the early part of the story – and being in a bit of a transition from the old incarnation of the character and the new. In turn, by the end of the story, the Doctor has fully taken on what their new personality will be, and the Doctor’s companions have come to terms with it.

Unfortunately, this is where the reconstruction runs into issues. The animation in this show is not great – on par with mid-to-late ’90s Flash web animation. If this wasn’t coming from someone who watches animation a lot, I wouldn’t exactly mind, but, well, I watch animation. The characters are missing a lot of expression, which is especially a big deal with Troughton’s doctor.

That said, this sets up a lot of elements of sort of the (comparatively) modern Dalek story. We have the Daleks engaging in subterfuge throughout the first act of the story, making their presence known in the mid to late second act of the story, with the transitions between the two being accompanied by a catastrophic body count which escalates throughout the third act, where the Doctor implements a plan that stops the Daleks.

The plot has The Doctor and his two companions, Ben and Polly, having arrived on the planet Vulcan after the Doctor’s regeneration. An Examiner from Earth has arrived to investigate some mysterious goings on at the planet, which the Doctor finds out about by stumbling into the Examiner who is then killed by an off-camera assailant. The Doctor takes the badge and uses that to get into the outpost.

The scientists at the outpost have discovered a wrecked spacecraft, which contains a trio of Daleks. They ingratiate themselves with the rank and file of the colony, while secretly producing more of themselves. Further, a faction within the colony seeks to rebel against the colonial government – and sees the Daleks, with their nye invulnerable armor and their powerful weapons, as a way to seize control. Meanwhile, The Doctor recognizes the danger and tries to warn everyone else, but like Cassandra, his warnings are ignored.

The story ends with the the rebels launching a Dalek assisted uprising, with a very dramatic body count, which is followed by the Daleks turning on the rebels, which basically ups the body count to “JSDF Assault on NERV in End of Evangelion” levels. While the violence is never graphic (Doctor Who is meant for kids after all), it is incredibly dark, with Daleks maneuvering through the bodies littering the corridors, and an ending which leaves exactly one person left alive on the station outside of the Doctor and his companions.

This leads to the other issue I have with this story aside from the animation – Ben and Polly are not great companions. They’re basically meant to work more or less the same way as Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith would later – to be proxies for the target audience of the show (or the older siblings of the target audience). However, Rose and Mickey are, frankly, better written. They’re not as entertaining as companions as Ian, Barbara, and Susan were for the first doctor, or how Jamie and Zoe would become for the Second Doctor.

That said, this story is really worth watching, and when the story hits its climax, it’s tremendously engrossing. I just wish the animation, at the very least, was better.

The story is available from Amazon.com.