Doctor Who Project: The Power of the Daleks

So he gets himself a new one?

The Doctor might be new, but the foe is not. To usher in Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, David Whitaker’s “The Power of the Daleks” (Story Production Code EE) relies on the everyone’s favorite aliens to ease the fledgling Time Lord (and the audience) into the new era. Viewers uncertain about William Hartnell’s replacement could still be expected to tune in for the Daleks, last seen some ten months prior. But, as is standard with Dalek stories, we do not see one until the end of the very first episode, leaving room for Ben and Polly to ask questions of this interloper, whose entire appearance and demeanor have changed.

Care is taken to reassure the viewer that there is a strong continuity between manifestations, particularly with a shot of Hartnell’s visage when Troughton looks into a mirror. The Doctor rummages through a chest and pulls out objects from past adventures, such as a dagger from Saladin and, ominously, a chunk of metal that causes him to mutter, “Extermination!” Oddly, though, he does not refer to himself as the Doctor once in the entire story, even referring to the Doctor in the third person during the first episode when asking if the Doctor kept a diary.

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Viewership figures (as reported in Wood and Miles, About Time 2), come in at nearly eight million per episode for the six-part story, far stronger than those for recent stories like “The Smugglers” (less than five million per) and even “The Tenth Planet” (starting at five and a half million and peaking at seven and a half million as Hartnell exits). The audience, clearly, accepted Patrick Troughton, but do Ben and Polly accept the Second Doctor as the Doctor?

Polly does, almost immediately; her concern is whether this Doctor is so different that he will not want them along. Ben takes somewhat longer to warm to the idea. Clearly, this new figure knows his way around the TARDIS, flicking open the door switch without looking, but Ben calls him out for not checking the monitors to ascertain if it’s safe to leave. The Doctor drilled that notion into all his companions’ heads; if this strange figure doesn’t even bother, how could he be the Doctor? But the reply puts Ben rather in his place:

Oxygen density 172. Radiation nil. Temperature 86. Strong suggestion of mercury deposits. Satisfied, Ben? Now are you two coming or are you not?

The regeneration (a phrase not used in this story) is explained, broadly, as a function of the TARDIS. The exact phrasing—”I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it, I couldn’t survive.”—leaves open the possibility that the Doctor’s life force is connected to the TARDIS not just for regeneration but for his very existence itself, bringing a hint of mystery to the ship that we haven’t seen since “Inside the Spaceship” back in the first season.

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If “The Power of the Daleks” is known for anything, though, it should not be for the difficult task of selling the first regeneration as much as for making the Daleks scary again. An empire of Daleks can be (and has been) played for laughs; one Dalek is frankly terrifying.

The Doctor and companions find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery shortly after landing on the planet Vulcan, a colony of Earth at some indeterminate future date. An Examiner from Earth is killed in front of the Doctor, and while examining the body (and pocketing the Examiner’s powerful investigative credentials), the assailant knocks the Doctor unconscious. Upon recovering, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben find themselves in the main colony area, where the Doctor readily pretends to be the Examiner, setting up a nice mistaken-identity sub-plot to accompany the story’s overarching identity question. He quickly discovers that scientists there have recovered an alien space capsule from the mercury swamps. The large capsule has been utterly untouched after sitting in the corrosive swamp for hundreds of years. Once inside, thanks to that hunk of metal—a key he— picked up from the TARDIS chest, the Doctor finds two inactive Daleks, with evidence that a third has been moved. The image of the Daleks sitting, inactive, covered in cobwebs (from space spiders?), with one unaccounted for, haunts in a way that all of the First Doctor’s encounters with them, save the initial, failed to do.

The Discovery of the Daleks

Immediately, the Doctor wants the Daleks destroyed, calling upon his powers as the Examiner to order it so. But the chief scientist, who has secretly re-activated the missing Dalek, convinces the colonial governor that the Dalek could be a useful tool for the colony. Why, the Dalek even says, “I am your servant,” while performing menial tasks on demand, and ingratiatingly offers to upgrade essential computers and power supplies in the colony, if provided with materials. What could possibly go wrong?

Ben finally accepts the Doctor as the Doctor when this Dalek recognizes him, regeneration and all. More notably, the Dalek reacts with fear upon seeing the Doctor. Ben and the Doctor share an odd bit of dialogue at this point:

Ben: It knew who you were. It sounds ridiculous, but it did.

Doctor: It knew who I was.

Troughton’s spoken emphasis settles on the word “was,” suggesting that the Dalek could apprehend some fundamental aspect of the Doctor that transcends physical form, or perhaps that this Dalek comes from a timeline where its group has already encountered the Second Doctor. In either event, the more ominous interpretation is that the Dalek only knew who he used to be; this Doctor is different from his predecessor (and ancestors?) as regards the Daleks: he is active in attempting to exterminate the Exterminators, no discussion needed.

This darker side of Troughton’s Doctor comes out both with the Daleks and with his willingness to accept suffering in others in exchange for a greater good. When Polly protests that an innocent man has been framed for the murder of the Examiner, the Doctor does not attempt to intervene, saying, “This is a case where a little injustice is better than wholesale slaughter.” He later accedes to the use of soldiers as sacrificial bait to draw the Daleks, providing time to destroy the Daleks at the cost of the soldiers’ lives. The First Doctor certainly sacrifices people for greater causes and for a greater benefit, but he is never shown to do so actively. He will fail to rescue a Hugenot from the mobs, but he won’t point out where she is hiding to save the timeline. The Second Doctor, one gathers, just might.

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The tonal differences are not the most pronounced, however. Troughton’s Doctor fills the screen with a frantic demeanor. He jumps, lunges, dives, and runs in a way the First Doctor never does, making his first words, “Slower, slower,” rather ironic. Where the First Doctor is given to long speeches and pontification, the Second Doctor speaks with a very clipped pattern, occasionally verging on the abrupt and rude. He very much plays the fool, even with his companions, allowing others to fill in silences and, in frustration and impatience, reveal themselves. And at times, one wonders just how much of the absent-minded fool routine is really an act:

Ben: I hope you know what you’re doing.

Doctor (while smashing an electrical unit with a chair): So do I.

The Second Doctor’s most notable prop, the recorder, debuts in this story. While some practical use comes from the Doctor possessing it, as he tries to match the tone on a sonic lock, for the most part, the recorder’s shrill whistle serves only to annoy. If later stories feature this “instrument” as frequently as this one, it could be a long few seasons with the Second Doctor.

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Equally regenerated are the Daleks, freed from creator Terry Nation’s hand for the first time in established Doctor Who hand David Whitaker’s script. All past Dalek outings were, to a greater or lesser extent, penned by Nation, whom, one supposes, had a proprietary interest in building their scope as widely as possible. Whitaker drastically narrows the scope and gives us one Dalek, unwittingly revived, which relies on its cunning and deceitfulness to revive two more, who then establish an entire Dalek production line in their long-buried space capsule. The unsettling nature of a disarmed Dalek playing butler and turning on cue relies, it must be said, on past knowledge of their destructive tendencies. They play on human greed and arrogance, serving obsequiously until they finally have all the energy they need to take over the planet.

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Whitaker’s script also details the Dalek construction process, complete with a vat of tentacular mutants who are scooped up and deposited in the empty casing. They still rely on static energy, though they can store enough to avoid the need to run on metal floors. Just how the energy is distributed to the Daleks remains uncertain, though it is somehow wireless, allowing the Doctor to eventually overload the energy circuits and destroy all the Daleks at once. Not that anyone remembers that the Doctor just days prior, all the Cybermen were destroyed when Mondas came too close to Earth, causing a massive energy surge in them.

Ben and Polly pretty much just come along for the ride after serving as the audience identification figures in the first episode. Once they’ve established that, yes, this is the real Doctor—an issue that the script settles as resolved from the third episode forward—they play standard companion roles, getting kidnapped in successive episodes to allow a vacation for each. Ben’s role as action hero seems less necessary now that this Doctor can, as they say, do his own stunts. Polly functions as a moral compass, pointing out changes in the Second Doctor’s approach, but little scope is given to either Anneke Wills or Michael Craze. This is Patrick Troughton’s story, through and through, and for his debut, blessed with a typically strong Whitaker script, he cuts a strong figure, more in the differences from Hartnell than in his own right, but unavoidably so. Future stories should allow him to stand on his own, without the First Doctor’s reflection in the mirror.

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The Dalek threat eliminated, the rival factions on the colony agree to work together to rebuild (shades of The Savages), and our time travellers head off to another adventure. On their way to the TARDIS, they pass a destroyed Dalek, commenting on how it’s just a hunk of metal now. But as the TARDIS dematerializes, the Dalek’s eye stalk rises to watch the eternal foe depart.

(Selected images via BBC Photonovel for “The Power of the Daleks”)

(Previous Story: The Tenth Planet)

(Next Story: The Highlanders)

Post 31 of the Doctor Who Project

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