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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Doctor Who: Power of the Daleks

Serial Title: Power of the Daleks
Series: 4
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills)

The TARDIS Lands on the Planet Vulcan (shall we get the jokes out of the way now?), an Earth colony in… the future. (BAH! Dates! Give me dates!!!). Inside, Ben and Polly are dealing with the appearance of a strange younger man in the place of their familiar Doctor, one awfully fond of playing the recorder. This man also claims to be the Doctor… Polly believes him, but Ben remains skeptical and suspicious. (Note from Sarah: YAYY!!! From that moment on...I knew I t'would love this mysterious Second Doctor.)

Exiting the TARDIS, the still somewhat-disoriented Doctor encounters an Earth Examiner… who is promptly shot by an unknown assailant in the distance. The Doctor takes his identification, intending to use the greater authority granted by the credentials to track down the murderer within the nearby colony.

When he, Ben, and Polly arrive there, they encounter Lesterson, a scientist studying a strange capsule from space found crashed in one of the mercury swamps, and his assistant Janley. Lesterson has not had much success in opening the capsule, (NFS: Make sure when you read that word you are reading it in the proper british way "Cap-see-ooull"..yes it's important.) but believes its technology and alloys may contain untold breakthroughs for mankind. They also meet Governor Hensell, his deputy Quinn, and Bragen, the head of security. The colony is in rough times, as a group of rebels is causing unrest.

The Doctor manages to open the capsule that night, in secret, and discovers even worse trouble for the colony- a pair of Daleks, currently inert and inactive. The Doctor immediately goes to the colony leaders and insists that the Daleks must be destroyed, that even a single one revived would surely spell doom for them all. Lesterson, however brings in a third Dalek, having secretly gained entry to the craft previously… the Dalek speaks, declaring itself to be humanity’s servant. The colonists, enthralled by the prospect of (to their eyes) robotic labor drones that can increase production and do their jobs for them, ignore the Doctor, who is terrified of the machines… but the Dalek lies and flatters smoothly, and the Doctor has no evidence. (Just like 'The Smugglers.' Evidence, always looking for evidence… the Doctor clearly just needs Batman as his next companion, so as to skip straight to the ‘taking the law into our own hands’ step.)

Quinn is implicated as the murderer of the Earth Examiner (which the Doctor claims as an unsuccessful attempt on his own life as part of the fiction, though the real murderer would, of course, know better)- but Polly believes that he is not the real culprit.

Quinn admits to having been the one that called Earth to dispatch an examiner, but his reasons are undermined by security-head Bragen, who spins his words and actions to look like an attempt to push aside and usurp the position of the governor. Bragen is made Deputy Governor in Quinn’s place. When the governor leaves on an inspection tour, Bragen… pushes aside and usurps the position of the governor. Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.

As the Doctor tries and fails repeatedly to warn people of the danger of the Daleks, he is further and further marginalized. Sabotaging the power transfer to revive the other two Daleks in an attempt to destroy them, he is caught and forbidden from the lab and the Daleks by Bragen, now wielding the governor’s authority. However, the Dalek weapons have been removed as a safety precaution… the reason for their subservient act, gaining trust until the weapons can be reinstalled.

Lesterson’s assistant, Janley, is sent by Bragen to the rebels to deliver them a powerful Dalek gun- she is a leader in the rebellion, and Bragen has been using the rebels to create a climate of fear which will allow him to reach this level of power. In other words, he’s Emperor Palpatine. Under orders, Janley also kidnaps Polly. She also blackmails Lesterson, who is becoming wary of the Daleks, seeing their true nature seep through their actions, into giving them all the building materials they want… which they promptly use in secret to construct more Dalek casings for the many Dalek-mutants still secreted aboard the capsule. (NFS: Wow...I can't remember what it looks like but this is obviously a rather large capsule.) The Daleks also order cables laid to convey static electricity power for them (as seen in The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth… and ignored ever since, until now) throughout the base so that they will no longer be dependent on the colony power-transfers that Lesterson doles out to keep them under his control.

While spying on the rebels, Ben is taken, and the Doctor is imprisoned by Bragen for interfering. He sees now that Quinn, also in jail, was falsely accused. He begins work on using a wet-finger-on-the-rim-of-a-drinking-glass instrument to simulate the sonic lock on their cells.

Within the laboratory, Lesterson sees dozens of completed and armed Daleks emerge from the capsule- ordering that no more than the three that are supposed to exist leave the lab at one time, lest the colonists discover their reproduction. Lesterson, horrified, runs to tell the Doctor, and then begins running through the colony, shouting hysterical warnings to everyone.

The governor returns, confronts Bragen, fails to play along, doesn’t recognize incredibly obvious threats (“I will give you one last chance…” says the man with all of your power, whom you have no authority over, are threatening to oppose, and who is holding a very powerful gun in a room with no witnesses…) and is promptly killed.

Quinn and the Doctor escape, and free Polly, but are captured by Bragen’s gaurds… just as the Daleks break lose in full force and numbers to begin their extermination. Ben likewise escapes, as do the Doctor, Polly, and Quinn, in the chaos. Humans are slaughtered all throughout the colony as the Daleks invade. Sheltering in the lab with the now-insane Lesterson, the Doctor sabotages the static-electricty power hub, destroying the Daleks… but not before they inflict a heavy death toll, killing Lesterson (who sacrifices himself to give the Doctor time to complete his task), Janley, Bragen, and nearly all of the rebels. 

Quinn is now in charge of what remains of the colony, and begins the monumental task of rebuilding, as the Doctor and his companions- now firmly convinced that he is the Doctor- sneak away, back to the TARDIS.

This is a very different Dalek story, to its benefit. Rather than the standard "They are unstoppable they will kill you you must run run away!!!!" story of fleeing unstoppable juggernauts, this is a more psychological tale- watching the near-helpless Daleks slowly growing in power until they reach their standard juggernaut levels... a story of greed and folly, and a story of desperation, as the one man who knows what's coming tries in vain to battle the lies of the Daleks- spoonfeeding their new 'masters' everything they want to hear- and warn people of the danger that's coming. 

The Daleks, proverbial serpents in a not-very-much-of-a paradise, spin their lies, gather power (gritting their teeth all the way- as exemplified in numerous near-slips, such as when a Dalek is compared unfavorably to a human being and the outraged exterminator responds with "DALEKS ARE-" *long pause* "-different from humans." (NFS: It's been interesting watching these earlier Doctor Who's when the Doctor is more or less out of control a lot of the time. I'd gotten used to the newer shows, and how it's kind of a rare situation when the Doctor is kind of helpless; this is something you experience quite often in the older shows and it makes for hard watching at first, but then it gets more and more interesting to see the lengths at which he has to go to prove himself half the time.) Quenching the use of the word 'superior' probably took more self-control than has been exercised by any Dalek in all of history. From the Dalek perspective, this is equivalent to a starving, weakened man being chained up by a colony of sewer cockroaches, and forced to cater to their every whim, until you've built up enough strength to escape and crush them like the vermin they are...) and pull the wool over everyone's 'eye-stalks'... until it's too late.

If you can't tell, I liked this one. Sure, the whole 'rebels/governor usurping' bit was a tad annoying to me- and superfluous- as was the 'false acusation' plot, but other than that, I greatly enjoyed the serial. The new Doctor was likable, but doesn't really come into his own (and really make me into a fan of his) until the next serial, The Highlanders.

Partly, this is because the Doctor is so low-key here. Suffering from (as yet unnamed and unconceptualized, but clearly present) post-regenerative madness, he is a little more of an amnesiac blank-slate, displaying few of the traits- save for a built-in silliness and a fondness for playing the recorder- that would eventually come to define him. (NFS: I still liked him. :-D )

The post-regeneration scene is vague and slow- befitting of post-regenerative madness, but otherwise just slightly aggravating. The mirror trick with Hartnell is clever, but other than that... it doesn't have much. Not such a great introduction for a new Doctor.

Ben and Polly are... well, let's put it this way. Ben disappeared somewhere around the 3rd Chapter. It took us until the 6th to realize he was gone and wonder what had happened to him, and when he re-appeared, we had no recollection of seeing anything that showed him leaving or being taken to where he was. Both companions get kidnapped as leverage. They are utterly superfluous- this is the Doctor's story. And as a psychological 3-way battle between the Doctor, the Daleks, and the played-for-fools colonists, there isn't really room for the companions anyhow. (NFS: Unfortunately Ben and Polly are not really interesting companions and feel kind of like stand ins with recycled lines.)

They do have a nice initial post-regeneration shtick, though- with Polly immediately accepting the new Doctor while Ben remains suspicious that it's a trick or impostor. It's a very nice touch. After the story gets going, though, they discreetly exit stage left to give the new Doctor a chance to prove himself.

The colony members are... well, they would seem at first blush to have the combined intelligence of a mud/dung brick... that's had a lobotomy... that was botched. In fact, I was, at one point, wondering out loud if Lesterson had actually achieved a level of idiocy to outdo our old friend Mavic Chen. However, as my wife wisely pointed out, Chen knew who the Daleks were and what he was getting himself into.

Seen from their perspective, while I believe the actions of the colonists in this episode are still slightly trusting and moronic... they are somewhat justified. The Daleks spin a web of very convenient, exactly-what-they-want-to-hear lies, while the Doctor, without any credentials as an extraterrestrial expert in his assumed disguise, merely seems to be an ignorant alarmist who fears the unknown and wants to destroy it... much like the kind of paranoid Luddite fool that the Doctor himself confronts on a regular basis, especially in the modern program; the standard it's-different-so-we-fear-it-and-want-to-destroy-it-(and-by-the-way-by-this-we-mean-ethnic-and-sexual-minorities-we-do-that-to-them-too,-see?) sci-fi message that's been driven into the ground in science fiction since the days of the Twilight Zone is here inverted- making an expert without proof of his expertise appear to the characters as just the kind of paranoid imbecile that must be opposed- which transforms it into another sci-fi cliche, the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' story, in which one man knows the danger but can't find anyone who believes him, creating a quiet desperation in us, the audience, who likewise know the danger... funny how that role reverses the reason-ability of the positions depending on which one the protagonist holds at the moment, eh? 

However, in this case, it is not a fear of the unknown driving an individual to urge destruction of the alien visitors... but fear of the known. And an audience awareness of what the Daleks can do, building on past appearances, serves this story well- even though their power and capabilities are not demonstrated, we as the audience know what those capabilities are... and so it becomes a tense countdown, a feast of anticipation, as the Daleks move ever closer to what we know is coming- the cynic in us well aware that they won't be thwarted because then we won't get to see another display of power, and they wouldn't make a show that anticlimactic... even as the optimist in us, caught up in the story, is desperately rooting for someone to see the light and help the Doctor to stop them before it's too late! It's a fine psychological thriller, and while a cynic might find it predictable ("These people are petty, foolish, and expendable- the Daleks will clearly succeed and many colonists will die before they stop it... it would only be if the Daleks had a doomsday weapon that could destroy the planet or plans to blow up the TARDIS or something that they'd be stopped before they could reach full capabilities... since their capabilities are something they love showing and won't affect history drastically, they'll be loosed, no doubt about it."), the writing is of such quality that, even in still-picture-reconstruction version, with a weak Doctor character for this serial, a near-absence of companions, and an annoying supporting cast, it remains an engaging, attention-sustaining, and entertaining story that draws you in enough to block that cynicism (which only re-asserts itself in retrospect) and maintains suspense.

((((The Reconstruction we watched, meanwhile, was yet another NON-LOOSE CANNON reconstruction, which I want to clarify- NOT LOOSE CANNON, THEY DON'T SUCK.)))) This reconstruction, on the other hand, does. Badly. Muddy sound, incompetent framing (cutting off the bottom half- during the shots of the ring lying by the Doctor's foot, all we could see were apparent closeups of the Doctor's foot), no action captions- it was about the worst possible way to watch the story... fortunately, we were able to jump on youtube and enjoy the audio recreation with linking narration describing the action for a few of the middle chapters. Honestly, though... if we can still enjoy it after this utterly horrendous presentation, you KNOW it has to be good.

Overall, a strong opening for the Second Doctor... even if he is not very strong IN it.

Great moments:
Not so much a moment as a rising plot thread, as the menace of the Daleks is more and more fully revealed in each confrontation with the Doctor.

I have to give this one 4.5 out of 5 Deadman's Keys- it wasn't perfect, despite my rave reviews- the start was slow and meandering- but save for that, it was flawless. I can't give it a perfect rating (and it seems there are few that I do...) but like Keys of Marinus, Myth Makers, and the Aztecs, a few flaws do only a little to tarnish an otherwise excellent tale.

0 out of 5 Deadman's Keys for whatever pathetic piece of tripe that supposed 'reconstruction' we were watching was... and to whatever dead animal carcass apparently vomited it up from the bowels of Heck to torment innocent Internet viewers with it's ubiquitous incompetence and rank shoddiness. Loose Cannon, come back, and wash the bad taste away...

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