The Power of the Daleks – animated

A lot of the Doctor Who stories starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor were destroyed by the BBC in the 1970s, surviving only in audio taped by fans, photographs taken on set and a few clips that were preserved by happenstance. One of the most grievous losses is the very first Troughton story, The Power of the Daleks, originally shown in six episodes in late 1966 and never seen in the UK again. (Rumours still circulate of exported copies surviving in some unlikely ex-colonial archive.)

However, to mark the 50th anniversary of the original showing, the BBC released an animated version using the original sound-track but hand-drawn images. I got it for the Christmas before last, but have only now got around to watching it. Here is the trailer:

Before I get into the new material, here's what I wrote when I first listened to the audio of this story in 2006, with linking narration by Anneke Wills who played the Doctor's companion Polly on screen:

I loved The Power of the Daleks, sadly available on audio only (or BBC photonovel here). I was busily spotting foreshadowings in the first couple of episodes – Lesterson, the scientist who has recovered a crashed Dalek spaceship, is a combination of Henry Van Statten (from the Ninth Doctor story, Dalek) and Davros (from Genesis of the Daleks, not the later inferior versions), and some lines seemed to me to have been lifted direct from here to the later stories.

The suspicion of Ben and Polly as to the credentials of the new man in the Tardis are entirely understandable, particularly given his habit of referring to "the Doctor" in the third person. But confusion of identity is rather a theme in the story anyway: the Doctor is immediately taken by the colonists of Vulcan to be the Examiner from Earth; the Daleks are pretending to be helping the humans (few more chilling lines than the mendacious "I am your servant!" chant which ends episode 2); the humans themselves are so factionalised that nobody seems entirely sure who is on which side.

Robert James as Lesterson was particularly good, undergoing transition from blinkered scientist, to seeing the error of his ways, to breaking down completely. I was also impressed by Pamela Ann Davey as Janley, an actual serious role for a female character. Polly does not appear in epsiode 4 (presumably Anneke Wills was taking the week off? Obviously anticipated since she is kidnapped half way through the previous episode); Ben, irritatingly, keeps wanting to go back to the Tardis and get out of the place. But Patrick Troughton's Doctor, perhaps a little uncertain at first (and hiding behind that annoying habit of playing the recorder) comes into his own pretty quickly, and by the end of the story you know who's Who.

In 2010, I went a step further and watched the bootleg animation of the Anneke Wills voiceover synchronised with the official telesnaps, photographs taken during production (which is also included as a bonus feature with the new animation). I wrote:

I have the unfashionable view that The Power of the Daleks is the better of the two Troughton stories featuring the malignant pepperpots. It's a story about identity and motivations, with the new Doctor trying to establish the same confidence with his companions that the Daleks are attempting with the human colony on Vulcan, each of them masquerading (as the Examiner, and as servants, respectively). There are several very impressive performances here: Robert James as deluded Lesterson, moving from naïve credulity to horror at the magnitude of his mistake; Bernard Archard as the ambitious Bragen, nine years before he returned as Marcus Scarman, once again a human who dooms himself by trying to cut a deal with destructive alien forces; Pamela Ann Davy as Janley, an unusually strong female part for the era; and most of all, Peter Hawkins given far more than usual to do as the Daleks pretend to be servile.

This is also of course Troughton's debut, and although Ben and Polly may not be sure who he is, we the audience are left in no doubt; partly from the way he dominates as an actor, but also by the fact that we are reassured in non-verbal ways by the way in which it is directed. Yet this is a new Doctor, brave but also terrified, fighting the Daleks not from outrage but from fear, while tootling on his recorder and wearing a funny hat. The programme is going in a new direction.

So I knew the story reasonably well (having also read the novelisation) and was ready to appraise the new animated version as a third iteration, attempting to replace the lost video footage.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The style of animation is not all that naturalistic – real drama, including the surviving clips, has people moving around a lot; the animation can't really do that. While the Doctor and Polly (and some of the guest cast) are reasonably well drawn, the Doctor's other companion Ben does not look at all like the character as portrayed on screen by Michael Craze. Oddly enough the Daleks, inhuman as they are, seemed to me to survive the process best.

At the same time I picked up a couple more things from the plot that I don't think I had noticed before. It is the Daleks who recognise the new man as their enemy the Doctor, which is the crucial point that convinces Ben and Polly that it is still their friend. Lesterson's naïevety and treachery is all the more striking with jerky animation. The carnage wreaked by the Daleks in the colony in the final episode is pretty comprehensive.

And having just read Troughton's son's biography of his father, I can see how the mutable and deceptive personality of the Doctor might have appealed to the actor playing him. (It's notable that the Troughton Doctor particularly likes disguises, and actually comes face-to-face with his double in a later story.) And the fact that we now must watch the story using completely different images to the original would no doubt have tickled his sense of irony.

The DVD has a few extras, including the photosnaps reconstruction that I watched in 2010, of which the nicest by far is a 22-minute feature on the making of the original story, with interviews with director Chris Barry, designer Derek Dodd, and actors Anneke Wills (Polly) and Bernard Archard (Bragen) along with commentary from Kim Newman and Nicholas Briggs. I sometimes say that particular Who products are for completists; this would be a good litmus test for whether you are a completist or not. In a year when we are about to see a woman take the leading role for the first time, this was how it looked when a new man took over for the first time.

One thought on “The Power of the Daleks – animated

  1. Hmph indeed! Of course, why would you be concerned about someone that you’re presumeably going to have to manage in some way, and train up, and work with day to day in a very small working environment? Madness!

    Like Jess, I also missed the previous post, but I’m delighted that there’s movement on the job front. Exciting!

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