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: Revisiting the Doctor Who episode “Hide.”

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doctor-who-hide

On a stormy night in 1974, at Caliburn House, Major Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), a psychic, are conducting an experiment to communicate with the spirit inhabiting the house, when there’s a knock on the door.

It’s the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). The doctor says he’s looking for a ghost. He also lets Palmer, who specialized in espionage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines in World War II, believe he’s with military intelligence.

A reluctant Palmer tells the Doctor and Clara that while Caliburn House has been around more than 400 years, the “Caliburn Gast” has been around much longer, having been mentioned in local Saxon poetry and parish folk tales.

caliburn-gast

The Caliburn Gast.

He shows them a board of photographs depicting a translucent figure in various locales throughout the house.

Clara asks why the figure, who screams, according to various reports over the years, is always in the same position, regardless of the angle or the framing of a particular photo.

“We don’t know,” Palmer says. “She’s an objective phenomenon, but objective recording equipment can’t detect her.”

“Without the presence of a powerful psychic,” the Doctor interjects.

“Absolutely,” Palmer confirms.

For her part, Grayling says she can feel the ghost, who knows she’s there, calling out to her, saying, “Help me.”

As they talk, a figure flits past them.

the-doctor-and-major-palmer

The Doctor and Major Palmer.

When the Doctor asks if she’s coming to find the ghost, Clara replies with the very sensible, “Why would I want to do that?”

But she goes off to investigate, anyway, especially when the Doctor agrees to dare her.

Palmer recognizes the Doctor as a liar, though he doesn’t know if he’s lying about being from the ministry.

“But, you know, that’s often the way that it is when someone’s seen a thing or two,” he tells Grayling.

During their investigations, the Doctor and Clara hear a loud thudding sound, which the Doctor, not-so-helpfully, identifies as, “a very loud noise.”

In a scene reminiscent of The Haunting, when Clara tells the Doctor that while she’s a tiny bit terrified, there’s no need for him to hold her hand, he shows her that he’s not. A flash of lightning reveals something and they run.

They rejoin Palmer and Grayling, where they see both a spinning disc and a woman shouting, “Help me.” The words subsequently appear on the wall.

The Doctor borrows Palmer’s camera and uses the TARDIS to take a series of pictures from throughout the history of the Earth.

Returning to 1974, he shows the slides he’s taken, asking what if the Caliburn Gast isn’t trapped in a moment of fear and torment, but just trapped somewhere where time runs more slowly?

“What if a second to her was 100,000 years to us?” he asks.

The Doctor reveals that the Caliburn Gast isn’t a ghost, though she is a lost soul; she’s a time traveler named Hila Tacorian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs).

He also says Tacorian crash landed three minutes ago, from her perspective, in a rapidly collapsing pocket universe and tells Grayling that she’s a lantern, shining across the dimensions and guiding Tacorian back to the land of the living.

The slides also reveal that Tacorian is running from a creature of some sort.

One of the names for the Caliburn Gast is “The Witch of the Well”, though Palmer said there’s no well on the property, so far as they know. Once he knows the truth about the “ghost”, the Doctor realizes the “well” is a wormhole, “a door to the echo universe.”

the-doctor-and-emma

The Doctor and Emma Grayling.

With help from equipment cobbled together from the TARDIS, Emma Grayling opens a portal and the Doctor goes into the pocket universe to retrieve Hila Tacorian. She gets back safely, but the Doctor isn’t so lucky. It’s now up to Clara to convince the TARDIS, which apparently doesn’t like her, to travel into the pocket universe while an exhausted Grayling tries to open the portal again.

The Doctor, successfully retrieved, explains why the psychic link was so powerful: Hila Tacorian is Emma Grayling’s many times great granddaughter.

But if Hila Tacorian was a time traveler running for her life in a pocket universe, who or what held Clara’s hand inside the house? The penny drops as the Doctor realizes the full truth about the creature and the episode reveals its second twist.

Although “Hide” is not a Halloween story, per se (it takes place in late November), I thought it apropos for discussion today. It is a ghost story, after all.

Speaking of ghosts, I particularly liked a scene in the TARDIS, after the Doctor has taken the final picture at the end of the Earth’s life. When he confirms that he and Clara have just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death, she asks if he’s okay with that.

“Yes.”

“How can you be?” she asks, adding that one minute they’re in 1974, looking for ghosts. “But all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet. And to you, I’ve been dead 100 billion years.”

She asks if her body’s out there somewhere, in the ground.

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“But here we are, talking. So, I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you.”

“Hide” is an enjoyable Doctor Who episode, suitable for Halloween viewing. The revelation about the Caliburn Gast probably explains every ghost story out there. Oh, those pesky time travelers, always causing mischief. 🙂

Seriously, though, the idea that a “ghost” seen for centuries is, in fact, a living woman who’s only experienced three minutes is pretty cool.

All things being equal, I like the truth about the ghost more than the truth about the monster, though I recognize that the latter has a thematic connection to the story of Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling.

Again, “Hide” is a good tale to revisit on Halloween.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Revisiting The Sarah Jane Adventures

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Sarah Jane Adventures

Over the years Doctor Who has been on the air, the Doctor has shared his adventures with more than 30 companions. One of the most popular— the all-time favorite according to 2009 and 2014 polls of readers of Doctor Who Magazine— was Sarah Jane Smith.

Sarah Jane, played by Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011), was a freelance journalist who initially traveled with the Doctor in his third and fourth incarnations (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) from 1973-1976. During the show’s initial 1963-1989 run, Sladen was twice invited back to reprise her role. And, until Torchwood debuted in 2006, her 1981-one off K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend was the only Doctor Who spin-off idea to make it to the filming stage.

Sarah Jane and the Doctor

Sarah Jane and the Doctor.

When the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors”, aired in 1983, Sarah Jane was not only one of the returning companions, but also played an active role in the story. More so than the Doctor’s own granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford).

Is it any wonder, then, that A) of all the past companions who could have been invited to appear after the series returned in 2005, then-producer Russell T. Davies asked Sladen to reprise Sarah Jane in the 2006 episode “School Reunion”? Or B) that Davies would go on to create a five-season series centered around the resourceful Ms. Smith, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)?

The first episode, “Invasion of the Bane”, finds a somewhat aloof Sarah Jane, now living in the London suburb of Ealing, reluctantly interacting with her teenage across-the-road new neighbor, Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) as she investigates strange goings-on regarding the company behind a drink called Bubbleshock.

Sarah Jane— still an investigative journalist at heart— has taken it upon herself to battle alien threats (and help friendly aliens in need) in her own, quiet way. She doesn’t want anything to do with Maria— or anyone else— but the fact that the alien Bane regard both as threats brings them together.

Sarah Jane and Maria

Sarah Jane and Maria.

Things get more complicated for Sarah Jane when the Archetype, a teenage boy created by the Bane, escapes and assists in their defeat. Knowing that the boy, a genius she names Luke (Tommy Knight), has nowhere to go, she adopts him.

Of course, normal adoption procedures don’t apply to a teenager created by aliens a few hours before you met him. Good thing Sarah Jane has a sophisticated alien computer called Mr. Smith to create the necessary paperwork. Not strictly legal, but what else is she going to do? Leave him to fend for himself? Let Torchwood know about him? Neither would be in Luke’s best interests.

No, the Torchwood team isn’t actually mentioned, as The Sarah Jane adventures was ostensibly a kids’ show and Torchwood definitely wasn’t; but her comment about “secret organizations… tending to go in with guns blazing” is an oblique reference to both Torchwood and UNIT, with whom Sarah Jane was associated during her initial travels with the Doctor.

In season one, Luke and Maria befriend classmate Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony); and in season two, after Maria and her family move to Washington, D.C., a girl named Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) moves in across the road. Sarah Jane, who wasn’t pleased when Clyde learned what she does, was bound and determined that Rani would remain ignorant of the truth.

Too bad for her that Rani— herself an aspiring journalist— is “into weird.”

THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES

Sarah Jane, Rani, Clyde and Luke watch for trouble.

Neither Luke nor “class clown” Clyde, are thrilled that Rani’s father is their school’s new headmaster.

Over the course of the series, Sarah Jane and the kids face off against a Gorgon; the Pied Piper (yes, that one); the Mona Lisa (yes, that one); a cosmic force predating the creation of our universe; the time-shifting agent of chaos known as The Trickster and The Nightmare Man, who preys on college-bound Luke’s insecurities.

Other adventures include the investigation of a haunted house; interaction with the Men in Black (Rani: “So where’s Will Smith?”) and Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani being sent on separate missions back in time.

Eventually, the Doctor himself appears. His 10th incarnation (David Tennant) shows up in the third season episode “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”; and his 11th incarnation (Matt Smith) appears in the fourth season adventure “The Death of the Doctor.”

“The Death of the Doctor” also teams Sarah Jane with her predecessor on Doctor Who, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).

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Sarah Jane with the Doctor and Jo Grant.

Sarah Jane is also reunited with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, 1929-2011), the head of UNIT during her tenure with the Doctor— and another popular character— in “Enemy of the Bane.”

The series is called The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it’s very much an ensemble show. Maria, Luke, Clyde and Rani are just as important as she is. And all the characters face challenges.

In “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane” the Trickster changes history so that Sarah Jane died at age 13. Maria’s the only one who remembers the true history. With Sarah Jane gone, so are Luke and Mr. Smith. Clyde doesn’t even know her. Setting things right isn’t going to be easy.

In “Mark of the Berserker”, Clyde not only has to deal with the return of his estranged father, but must also find a way to reach him before the mind-controlling alien Berserker takes the elder Langer over completely.

In “The Mad Woman in the Attic”, Rani, feeling ignored by the others, does some investigating of missing people on her own. A decision with long-term consequences.

In “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”, after a quarrel with Sarah Jane, Luke rather foolishly decides that he, Clyde and Rani can handle matters involving the come-to-life painting without her help.

Oh, and to paraphrase a line from a certain 1970s TV series, don’t let the Mona Lisa get hold of a Sontaran gun. You wouldn’t like the Mona Lisa with a Sontaran gun.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa: artwork with an attitude.

In “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”, Sarah Jane has the opportunity to save her parents, who died when she was a baby. But it’s a trap by the Trickster. One affecting the future of the human race.

In “The Empty Planet” Clyde and Rani must work out why everyone but the two of them— and a young boy— has disappeared.

Sky

Sky manifests her powers.

The fifth season introduced a girl named Sky (Sinead Michael), who first appeared on Sarah Jane’s doorstep as a baby, but soon aged to a teenager. Like Luke, she was of alien origin. Sarah Jane adopted her, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity to develop the character as much as the others had been. Still, there were some nice brother/sister bonding scenes between Luke and Sky.

If you like science fiction and/or Doctor Who, you’ll probably enjoy The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.