Random Musings: “The Power of the Daleks”, a key part of Doctor Who history

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Power of the Daleks

In November 1966, during the fourth season of the original run of Doctor Who, the BBC aired “The Power of the Daleks.” This episode did more than bring back those popular villainous antagonists, last seen in late 1965/early 1966; it gave us Daleks who were cunning and devious, rather than direct about their intentions. In this story, a Dalek proclaims, “I am your servant” rather than the usual “hello” of “Exterminate.”

Discovered in an ancient space capsule that had crashed on the Earth colony planet of Vulcan (no, not that Vulcan), the Daleks are revived by an ambitious scientist named Lesterson (Robert James), who convinces the governor (Peter Bathurst) that these self-proclaimed servants can be useful in the colony’s mining operations. All these “servants” need to fulfill their duties are access to power supplies and some technology.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, argues a new arrival to Vulcan, a man carrying the credentials of the Earth examiner and calling himself the Doctor. He offers no proof to substantiate his warnings about these “Daleks”, and his own companions, Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze), seem uneasy around him.

Encountering the Daleks

The Doctor introduces Polly and Ben to the Daleks.

Amid all this, a group of rebels is active within the colony and a killer— the murderer of the real examiner— lurks somewhere about. The killer also knows that should the real examiner’s body be found, the Doctor would be the prime suspect.

In addition to presenting viewers with “friendly” Daleks, a murder mystery and political intrigue, “The Power of the Daleks” also gave them another twist— a new Doctor. “The Power of the Daleks” was Doctor Who’s first post-regeneration story (though the term “regeneration” wouldn’t be used for several more years). It marked the debut of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, taking over for the ailing William Hartnell.

In later years regeneration would become an established part of the program, but in 1966 replacing the popular Hartnell was a risk. Keep in mind, also, that viewers still knew almost nothing about the Doctor at this point. The terms “Time Lords” and “Gallifrey” wouldn’t even be coined until 1969 and 1974, respectively, and there had been no on screen evidence that the Doctor wasn’t a human being. There was nothing to suggest the Doctor could change his appearance, but the production team decided to make that risky move.

“What a reckless and brilliant piece of television inventiveness that was,” current producer Steven Moffat said about the Doctor’s first regeneration in the 2013 documentary The Doctors revisited: The Second Doctor. “It would have been so easy, if you think about it, for them [the producers] to say ‘his face will change slightly. We’ll put another bloke in a white wig and we’ll have explained his slightly different features and he’ll carry on playing it roughly the same way.’ They didn’t do that at all. And I still don’t know how they came to this conclusion and how they knew it would work to say ‘we’ll make him completely different.’”

Moffat is right. It would have been more “sensible” to replace Hartnell with an actor who looked somewhat like him and keep on going (and maybe future generations would have made comparisons with Darrin Stevens), but the producers avoided the “safe” choice.

In interviews, Troughton said he was initially reluctant to accept the part, believing Doctor Who wouldn’t last more than six weeks with him. He was wrong, of course, but it might only have lasted that long with a Hartnell look-alike.

It certainly wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has. “The Power of the Daleks” didn’t just introduce Patrick Troughton as the Doctor; it introduced Doctor Who as the series is presently understood.

“I think Patrick Troughton created the Doctor as he is now,” David Tennant (the 10th Doctor) said in that same documentary. “William Hartnell created something that was unique and brilliant, but actually, the Doctor we recognize today is much more Patrick Troughton’s Doctor… If Patrick Troughton hadn’t done what he did so confidently and with such charm and so brilliantly, then I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

The Hartnell era gave us the Doctor, the TARDIS and travels through time and space with companions. Every other significant aspect of Doctor Who can be traced— directly or indirectly— to Troughton.

A few years ago, Doctor Who Magazine featured a debate regarding whether Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker was more influential. When you think about it, the obvious answer is Troughton. Yes, Baker, who played the part for seven years (the longest on-screen tenure), brought Doctor Who into the U.S. market (through PBS), but if Troughton hadn’t succeeded in making the part his own, Doctor Who might have been a little-remembered television curiosity.

Despite its historic significance, “The Power of the Daleks” was once only available for viewing by those who happened to have access to a time machine. It only aired once and was one of the many programs the BBC wiped from its videotape archives in the early 1970s.

Fortunately, the audio survives. That, along with images from the broadcast, allowed a team of animators to revive this 50-year-old classic on DVD.

“The Power of the Daleks” is a worthwhile addition to your video library; not just because of its historic significance, but also because it’s an engaging story of mystery and suspense.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A look back at Doctor Who season 27/series 1, a decade later.

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Doctor Who logo series one

In 2005, Doctor Who returned to TV screens after 16 years (save a one-off TV movie in 1996). Starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose Tyler, it proved to be a massive hit for the BBC.

The debut episode, “Rose”, was broadcast on the BBC on March 26, 2005 and much later in the year on the (then) Sci-Fi Channel. Luckily, I was able to pick up the CBC over the air and saw it beginning in April.

Rose Tyler meets the Doctor

“Run.” Rose Tyler meets the Doctor.

In “Rose”— and indeed for that first season— Rose Tyler is very much the viewpoint character. Executive Producer and head writer Russell T. Davies knew that for the show to be a success, it had to appeal to a broad audience, as Doctor Who did in the 60s and 70s. By the time the series left the air in 1989, it had become too self-referential. Many of the scripts were good and it was starting to have a bit of a renaissance under then-script editor Andrew Cartmel, but there were also a lot of references that casual viewers wouldn’t understand.

Therefore, Davies (himself a fan of the original incarnation of the series) set out to draw in as many viewers as possible. And one way he did that was to have recurring appearances by Rose’s mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri) and boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). He also didn’t inundate the viewer with details about the original run of the series. In fact, it wasn’t until David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor— after the show had been well established— that explicit references to the original run began appearing.

Jackie and Mickey

Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith.

Every episode in season 27/series 1 also took place either on Earth or a space station above it. We met alien creatures, but never visited other planets.

I call it season 27, by the way, because the 2005-present incarnation is a continuation of the 1963-1989 series, not a start-from-scratch re-launch.

Yes, Davies did bring back an old adversary— the Autons— but he said in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (May 2015, page 40), that he’d have used the Autons had he brought back the show in the 90s; and that they were the best monster.

He also pointed out that “the grammar for [science fiction] barely existed, and certainly not on Saturday night prime time BBC One. So I was being careful. The monsters were dummies. Simple as that.”

Autons

The Autons advance on Rose.

As to the Doctor himself, neither we nor Rose (in her researches about him) are given the slightest hint that he’s ever had other faces. Another wise choice. Depicting images of the Doctor’s other incarnations (or even mentioning them) in the first episode would only confuse new viewers.

By the way, there’s a scene in “Rose” where the Doctor regards his ears in a mirror. Davies revealed in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 42), that it was not meant to indicate the Doctor had only recently regenerated.

“He doesn’t act very post-regeneration, does he? He appears in command, waving a bomb. This is a man who knows himself, and has known himself for a while.”

Throughout the season, Davies and his fellow writers provide information about the Doctor and his background piecemeal. In the second episode, “The End of the World”, the Doctor tells Rose that he’s a Time Lord; that his world was destroyed in a war and that he’s the last of his people. In the third episode, “The Unquiet Dead”, by Mark Gatiss, we learn from gaseous creatures called the Gelth that there was a time war. It’s not until the sixth episode, “Dalek”, by Robert Shearman, that we learn the Time War took place between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Viewers also learn the Doctor has two hearts.

( And in the fourth episode, “Aliens of London”, the Doctor reveals to Rose that he’s more than 900-year-old.)

In “Dalek” , the Doctor tells the damaged, lone Dalek who somehow survived the Time War that he made their destruction happen. He also angrily screams at it “Why don’t you just die?”

Ninth Doctor and a Dalek

Old enemies: the Ninth Doctor and a Dalek.

Brief aside: Actually, the Doctor didn’t destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, as we learned in the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

In that episode, The War Doctor (John Hurt), the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) decide to change history so that the War Doctor does not activate a sentient weapon called the Moment and destroy both Gallifrey and the Daleks.

The Doctors and the Moment

The Doctors decide to disarm the Moment.

Or so they think. I believe their actions (hiding Gallifrey away in a pocket universe, leaving the Daleks surrounding the planet to destroy each other in their own crossfire) are what always happened.

At the end of the episode, the War Doctor says, “I won’t remember this, will I?”

“The time streams are out of sync,” the Eleventh Doctor replies. “You can’t retain it. No.”

“So I won’t remember that I tried to save Gallifrey rather than burn it.”

(the Tenth Doctor also acknowledges that he won’t remember the events, either).

As soon as he’s departed in his TARDIS, the War Doctor begins to regenerate into the Ninth. It’s been established in the past that the Doctor suffers from a bit of post-regenerative amnesia. So, the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor not only won’t remember the events of “The Day of the Doctor”, his last clear memory might well have been stealing The Moment with the intention of using it.

Because both the Daleks and Gallifrey are gone, the Ninth Doctor reaches the logical conclusion that he did activate the Moment. Thus, when he tells the Dalek in “Dalek”, “I made it happen”, he’s making an assumption; he’s not recalling a specific memory.

This belief that he killed his own people (and the accompanying guilt) carries over into the Tenth Doctor and most of the life span of the Eleventh. It’s only after the Doctors act to preserve Gallifrey does the Eleventh learn what really happened: he’d always hidden  Gallifrey away in safety.

Throughout the season, Eccleston plays the Doctor as a man haunted by his past, one rushing ever forward in order to avoid having to stop and look back.

The family drama aspect of the series really comes into play with episodes four and five, the two-part story “Aliens of London” and “World War III.” In the former, the Doctor returns Rose (who has seen the end of the world in the far future and met Charles Dickens in 1869 Cardiff) home 12 hours after she left.

Or so he thinks. Turns out it’s 12 months later and Jackie has had “missing” posters of Rose posted everywhere in the interim. Jackie has a very hard time dealing with truth about Rose’s adventures, reacting with panic when she first sees the interior of the TARDIS.

Rose missing poster

After Rose disappeared, Jackie started putting up these posters.

Another “family” episode is “Father’s Day”, by Paul Cornell, one of the best of the season. Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time so she can see her father, Pete (Shaun Dingwall), who was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was a baby.

She tells the Doctor that Pete died alone and wants to be there with him. However, she impulsively saves him, instead, creating a wound in time. Pete, who has come to realize he was meant to die, deliberately throws himself in front of the car, putting everything back to normal. Rose rushes to his side and holds his hand.

At the start of the episode, in a flashback scene, we see Jackie telling young Rose about her father (which is how Rose knew he died alone). At the end, because the adult Rose had been there, Jackie says how an unknown girl had sat with him until the ambulance came (and how the driver had stayed as well).

Rose comforts her dying father

Rose comforts her dying father.

In the season finale, “The Parting of the Ways”, when Jackie scoffs at Rose’s claim that she met her father, a crying Rose reminds her of the girl.

Rose: “Remember when Dad died? There was someone with him. A girl, a blonde girl. She held his hand. You saw her from a distance, Mom. You saw her. Think about it. That was me. You saw me.”

Davies also appealed to a wide audience through comedy. in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 44), he discusses a scene in “Rose” where a plastic rubbish bin drags Mickey inside it and burps.

“We wanted 5-year-olds to watch this brand new show. Little kids hooting at a burp. It was absolutely right.”

That’s probably the same reason why the Doctor says “excuse me, do you mind not farting when I’m saving the world?” to the man he thinks is the prime minister (actually a disguised alien with a gas exchange problem) in “Aliens of London.”

David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi have all helped make Doctor Who a continuing success, but it was Christopher Eccleston who put the series on the map. His season of Doctor Who is well worth a look.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.