You have got your Power! ‘Power of the Daleks’ at the BFI

❉ 50 years to the day, the debut of Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who lived again, thanks to a team of extremely talented and committed animators.

“Our new Dr. Who is more ‘with it’; more ‘switched on’, more in tune with the Twentieth Century. There are, of course, still traces of his old personality and, characteristically, he still wears the same clothes, which are a trifle baggy on his new form… He’s more closely involved in human affairs, even more curious about modern developments, and always ready or eager to reform or make trouble for any individuals he thinks are on the wrong wave-length.”  – ‘Phoenix in the TARDIS’, ‘The Dr. Who Annual’, 1967

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(Image credit: @WillBrooks1989)

I was two years old when I first saw The Power of the Daleks. It was the first ‘Doctor Who’ story I remember watching anything of, and just about the first thing I can ever remember. It’s where a 52-year love affair started that shows no sign of abating.

Appropriately enough, the first thing I remember watching from the story was a Dalek, minus exterminator gun, as Dr. Who – of course, as a toddler I didn’t know there’s been one before this funny little man with the bright-as-button eyes – and his friends huddling worriedly away from it. The other images imprinted on my memory are the rebels fighting the Daleks in Episode Six and, at the end of it, the wonderful moment where a shattered Dalek’s eye stick looks up as the TARDIS dematerialises and the credits roll. Left with my Nan while Mum did the meat round for my dad’s butcher’s shop in the winter of 1966, these vivid images were translated into many scribbled drawings on greaseproof paper filched from dad’s shop.

I never thought I’d see Power again. That was OK, because the script could have been written for audio. That’s not to say that it’s static and wordy; the story mesmerises as the threat slowly builds and the dialogue is a treat for the ear. Luckily, though, we live in a time of wonders. Following the discovery of The Enemy of the World and (most of) The Web of Fear in 2013, three years later I was, amazingly, able to watch the first three episodes of The Power of the Daleks.

The BFI is now almost as inseparable from ‘Doctor Who’ as the series once was from the children’s show ‘Blue Peter’. ‘The Developing Art’ season was held there for the programme’s 21st Anniversary year and, in the 1990s, the rediscovered Patrick Troughton story The Ice Warriors had its public premiere on the Southbank. The BFI’s affinity with ‘Doctor Who’ was publicly affirmed forever with the 50th Anniversary season in 2013, which celebrated the series’ half century with a monthly event dedicated to each Doctor.

The atmosphere on Saturday was as good-natured and buoyant as every one of those, with hosts Dick Fiddy and Justin Johnson even repeating the competition where members of the audience got the chance to win a ‘Doctor Who’ DVD by “shouting out for Dick” (A joke, I’m assured, that will never get old).

A variety of special guests graced the stage under the watchful eye of the cartoon second Doctor as he gazed down from the big screen. First up was comedian, presenter and actor Frank Skinner, at 59 now entirely grey, who was as engaging as he had been in 2013 introducing The Tomb of the Cybermen, highlighting the fascination his nine year-old self had for the new man in the TARDIS, as well as getting the biggest laugh of the day, with his comment that “there aren’t too many middle-aged, silver haired celebrities still at large.”

Doctor Who fandom, a minority of people who moan about everything aside, is a wonderful thing. Where else would you find artists and animators as dedicated as Charles Norton and Rob Ritchie, and their fourteen assistants listed in the closing credits, who could turn around a project in six months that, at the very least, was estimated to take between eight and nine? It was easy, Norton said, as long as you “didn’t do anything silly like eating or sleeping.”

Equally worthy of praise is the quality of the audio, given a painstakingly and pin-sharp restoration by ‘Doctor Who’ audio archivist Mark Ayres, from a domestic recording made by Graham Strong – who was in the audience and deservedly got a round of applause – when Power had its one and only BBC screening. Something had gone wrong and the episodes shown on Saturday didn’t have 5.1 stereo mix, but as they’d been originally transmitted with a mono soundtrack, for me that made the presentation was all the more authentic. Besides, the stereo mix is something to look forward to when the DVD comes out in two weeks.

After Episodes Two and Three were shown, the already announced Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines (who played companions Polly and Jamie) were joined by Power’s production designer Derek Dodd, future ‘Doctor Who’ director Graeme Harper, who was a 21 year-old runner on the story, and the series’ current Executive Producer Steven Moffat, who was four years old in November 1966.

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On stage at the BFI (Photo credit: @AnnekeWills)

As in 2013, the panel discussion revealed fascinating new anecdotes about the making of what we’d just watched, principally Anneke teaching Patrick an Irish lullaby to play on his recorder that her husband Michael Gough had sung to her; and Derek Dodd basing his designs on the vintage futures of Buster Crabbe’s 1930s Flash Gordon serials, Georges Méliès’ silent film A Trip to the Moon (1902) and the popular Meccano construction kits. The well-known story of Anneke and Michael Craze (Ben Jackson) emerging from the TARDIS to confront Patrick with T-shirts bearing the slogan “Come back Bill Hartnell, all is forgiven” was punch-lined by Steven’s quip “… and then you were replaced by Jamie and Victoria.”

The screening was a happy occasion, and the goodwill continued into both BFI bars and long into the night.

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Two seemingly dormant Daleks…

As all the press coverage around The Power of the Daleks confirms, BBC Worldwide couldn’t have picked a more important story to animate in full. At the time, audiences were used to popular heroes such as Tarzan, The Saint and Sherlock Holmes being played by different actors, but this was the first time the change of leading man had been made part of the narrative. Not only that, but – as Steven pointed out – his character was totally different.

For obvious reasons, the 2D Patrick Troughton’s face isn’t as mobile as the actor’s was in live action performances, but in this version that makes the new Dr. Who more enigmatic; as well as not knowing what’s happened to him, you discern even less about what he’s thinking and planning. I had an immediate nostalgic thrill at the little man’s battered hat, loudly checked trousers and elastic sided boots, as this was the Doctor I saw in the Dr. Who Annuals and TV Comic strips of the time, where, until 1969, the artists worked solely from photographs from Patrick’s first two stories. Great stuff.

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The enigmatic second Doctor in 2D.

Episode One is rather static, but as soon as the Daleks arrive, the animation really comes into its own, in a style I would say is, cleverly, subtly informed by the work of George Dunning on The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ (which hit cinemas two summers after Power was on TV). I don’t know what it is about Ray Cusick’s iconic design, but Daleks look good in almost any medium – TV, film, illustration, Lego and now animation. As Dick Fiddy observed, the initial scenes of two of them covered in cobwebs are both strikingly beautiful and haunting. When Lesterson reactivates a Dalek and its arms and eye stick start to slowly move, the implied menace is hugely effective.

As it was in the original version, the more Daleks there are, the more the threat increases and the more gripping the story becomes. Watching the story ‘complete’ for the first time, I was struck by how much the main plot beat riffs on ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ – an ancient space capsule under scientific investigation that brings a sleeping, apocalyptic threat back to life.

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“Lesterson is the story’s Robert Oppenheimer”

The scientist responsible, Lesterson – brilliantly played, in any medium, by the underrated Robert James – is the story’s Robert Oppenheimer, criticising his assistants for bringing politics into his lab but unleashing a power that nearly destroys everything. If Lesterson is Oppenheimer, Bragen (Bernard Archard, equally brilliant) is a 1930s dictator-in-waiting, gradually working his way up the government hierarchy until he can take over. The uniforms of his security guards look like they were based on those worn by Mussolini’s Italian fascists and, thinking about it, Archard’s aquiline profile is very Il Duce. Christopher Barry clearly saw the historical parallels and now, thanks to Charles Norton’s fantastic team, so, again, can we.

It was a shrewd move to stop the screening after the end of Episode Three, when three Daleks are seen chanting “We will get our power”. I guarantee everyone in the auditorium on Saturday afternoon did that as soon as they could.

In any form, The Power of the Daleks is unmissable.


❉ ‘Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks’ is available as a digital download on BBC Store

❉ ‘The Power of the Daleks’ DVD will be 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.

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