❉ Earlier this month, we reported from the BFI for the premiere of ‘The Power of the Daleks’; now, we review the eagerly awaited DVD.
On November 5th I Tweeted, “Rather ironic that on a night where people set fire to things I have just watched something that has risen from the ashes. #PoweroftheDaleks” Yes, as incredible as it would have once sounded, the once-incinerated six part story was ‘back’, at least in a specially recreated animation.
Thanks to BBC Store, who planned to release an episode a day over six consecutive days, The Power of the Daleks was available to watch as a transmittable BBC product (as opposed to a photographic reconstruction) for the first time since 1966 (and to those who purchased it via the app, the whole caboodle was accidentally accessible on Day One due to a speedily fixed glitch). It was a momentous moment. The story that first showcased regenerative fallout, the tale that gave us a new Doctor for the first time (Peter Cushing doesn’t count here) was tangible again as a frame per second entity.
Animation is, of course, nothing new in terms of Doctor Who episode reconstruction. Ever since Cosgrove Hall drew life back into the two missing instalments of The Invasion, several other stories have had their AWOL episodes recreated in this way, to varying degrees of success and approval. The most divisive attempt would have to be The Reign of Terrror, where the quick cutting techniques employed are totally at variance to the live action that accompanies them. Also, not all are totally accurate in their recreation of costumes either, most noticeably the original foray in this field, The Invasion, which has Zoe in the wrong outfit in Episode One – something that the animators of Power homage in the way Ben and Polly have their Colony clothes on before they should. (That was a homage, yes? Oh, perhaps not.) However, whatever their merits or detractions, the fact they exist at all in this way not only allows us to view these stories in a ‘complete’ form, but it also showed the BBC that enough people accepted them to consider the once unheard of notion of piecing together a full-blown animated version of a tale where every single episode was ashes lost to time. That story was, of course, the longed-for The Power of the Daleks.
Talking of ‘story’, what was it about this ‘lost’ adventure that made it sought after like the Holy Grail in Who-terms? Was it the tale, or its unique placing within the chronology of the expanding time line of this television series? Arguably, it’s both. First of all, this story deals with the aftermath of the first ever change of the lead actor. This is something so casually accepted in today’s world but, back then, it was rather unique to recast a lead figure. ‘Quatermass’ and soap operas has done it, but never in way that drew attention to the fact. These moments were elephants in the room, seen but not addressed. In Doctor Who, though, the elephant was not only visible, but it was waved at, commented on and invited to tea. In the layers of the story, this questioning of true identity is heightened and mirrored in the way the Doctor spends most of time on the planet Vulcan deliberately masquerading as someone else (the Examiner) while uttering his true name in the third person. But this ‘change focus’ doesn’t last for that long, especially in relation to the way later regeneration stories would be filled with the consequences of this act.
While Power deals with the Doctor’s transformation rather fleetingly (from Episode Two onwards the blatant questioning of the Doctor’s credentials is significantly reduced) the fact that it was done at all shows that the production team were aware the move was significant, risky – and could not be ignored. In terms of plot, this serial showcases another first – a Dalek serial written entirely by someone other than their human creator, Terry Nation. David Whittaker’s take on the Daleks, depicting them as cogitative players rather than simple war tanks has grown from recollection over time, gaining a mythical status whose echoes were visibly seen in Mark Gatiss’ Victory of the Daleks where the Ironside Dalek intones servitude in the way the Daleks on Vulcan do. A human colony is slowly being ensnared as the seemingly servile Daleks grow in strength and power, their greed making them build the gallows for their own extermination.
Has Power been rediscovered and released as was? Of course it hasn’t. It could never be in this form. Only recovering the original broadcast tapes could achieve that. What this has allowed, however, is a wonderfully fluid version of watching that moment in a way that doesn’t require you to visualise the action as you listen to an audio or, however excellent the recons are, strive to prevent the scrolling text from reminding you are watching a reconstruction and yes, you really have seen that same frame 25 times already. It is not perfect. Ben looks distinctly unlike Michael Craze and some arm movements are reminiscent of a Character Options figure being twisted into action but, overall, I ran with it – I swam with it. I actually ‘forgot’ I was watching animation and for the first time I fully saw that episode as a unified narrative and visual experience.
Of course, the audio had been there for years, the fan recons as well, but thanks to this animation I feel I have finally fully experienced the story for the first time. Initial thoughts in the aftermath? I can see why the recorder tooting Troughton might have disconcerted some, Ben and Polly really don’t get a great deal to do apart from react (and in the case of Polly have a week off in a cupboard), it’s so darn Shakespearian in the way most of the action occurs off screen (the revolution is relayed in much the same way as the sea battle in Hamlet), the Daleks mange to draw blue prints very well without any discernible way of producing them and somehow they are back to relying on static electricity after years of conveniently forgetting about it, aside from providing the cliff-hanger for Episode One, there’s no real reason why the Dalek mutant decides to take an outer-casing stroll inside the capsule (and, indeed, how did it actually get out of its unit?) and, talking of that capsule, just how big is it inside? I detect Time Lord technology….
But, all of this aside, it works so, so well. The Daleks, stripped of their guns, are devious and conniving (Terry Nation clearly noted this and used it in his Death to the Daleks script), the small scale cast acts to create a real feeling of claustrophobia as the outside events impact on the internal, mirroring Lesterson’s breakdown perfectly. Ah, Lesterson! Lesterson! Has there ever been a guest turn so pitch perfect as this one? I went to Power to experience ‘new’ Pat and my lasting impression is of Robert James’ wonderful performance. His turn has made me want the original recordings back more than ever. I want to see every move in that face as his story unfolds. Hopefully, one day we will have that power.
❉ ‘Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks’ is available as a digital download on BBC Store.
❉ ‘The Power of the Daleks’ DVD was released on 21 November 2016, RRP £20.42, and is available to order from www.amazon.co.uk
❉ A colour version of ‘The Power of the Daleks’ will be available to buy on 31 December 2016, also appearing on Blu-ray in February 2017.