Doctor Who Serial 030 – Power of the Daleks

Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Christopher Barry

The Doctor’s body has changed and, it would seem, so has his personality.  As Ben and Polly attempt to understand what has happened and what it could mean for them, The Doctor gets involved in the affairs of a colony on the planet Vulcan and learns that a discovery in the swamp could have disasterous effects on the human colonists.

“I’d like to see a butterfly fit into its chrysalis after it has spread its wings!”

With the passing of the First Doctor, we have a new era of storytelling.   The very dynamic of the show feels altered with the coming of Patrick Troughton, and he is much more aloof than Hartnell ever was.  One can almost sympathize with Ben and his suspicions about who this new man is.  And yet, who else could he be.  Ben and Polly watched the transformation.

Renewal, or as we know it now, regeneration.  But was it always thus?  It would seem not.  I think that David Whitaker may have been trying to get at something slightly different and infinitely more interesting.  Keeping in mind that this is before we have met The Doctor’s people, before we have heard the word “Gallifrey”.  This is a time when The Doctor was very much a mystery.  The Doctor says that he has received a “gift of the TARDIS”, that he has had a renewal.  On the one hand, the implication is that his years have been stripped away so that his body now looks younger.  On the other, the butterfly metaphor implies something more grand and magical.  It implies that The Doctor’s being has changed to such a degree that his old body could no longer contain him.  The implication is a type of evolution, taking him beyond what he once was, changing him into something similar, but new.  It is more than mere body and personality change, it is progress, it is development.  The Doctor, who was somewhat less moral (by human standards) when we met him, is now someone who is guided by a strong sense of morality.  This aspect will stay with the show for decades, but what I find so interesting about how the renewal is handled here in comparison to later regeneration is the idea that this is an implied improvement.  Is this the Second Doctor’s arrogance or was this meant to be a part of the show’s mythology?  Yes, many Doctors would agree that they are an improvement over previous models (Ten and Five aside) but I doubt that there would be much evidence that they were improvements.  Merely changes.

Your author for the serial.

David Whitaker has returned to the show for the first time since The Crusade.  I find this quite interesting as he was the first script editor and he had a strong influence over some of the basic tenants of the show.  He shaped the early mythology of Doctor Who, and now we have him writing the explanation of one of the biggest events to have happened on the show to this point.  Not only that, but Whitaker helped shape the character of The Doctor in the beginning, thus he was possibly the perfect person to write this transitional story.  He could keep the essence of The Doctor while still exploring the ideas of renewal and change.  And of course, should anyone have their doubts, we have the return of The Daleks.

Even The Daleks are in new territory.  They are weak, but they are not defeated.  This show shows them at what is most-likely their most conniving.  They manipulate the human colonists with ease, first Lesterson and his scientific curiosity (and blindness), then later Bragen and Janley as they dream of revolution.  The Daleks seem more effective than ever in their state of weakness.  The Doctor defeats them in the end, but this almost seems a mere afterthought where the story is concerned.  Almost as if Whitaker is acknowledging that no matter how powerful and popular The Daleks may be, The Doctor must win in the end.  Even if it is a last-minute victory.

“Lesterson, listen.  Lesterson, listen.  It exercise the tongue.”

There is an odd exchange as The Doctor, Ben, and Polly depart the planet Vulcan.  As Ben and Polly discuss the events they had witnessed and taken part in, they become uncertain as to how effective The Doctor’s arguments were against The Daleks.  They wonder if he had only half-heartedly tried to convince the human colonists that The Daleks were evil.  When asked out-right, The Doctor merely smiles and winks.  This may have looked good on screen, but the implications are enormous.  The Doctor seems to have moved from curious explorer to manipulative meddler.  Sure, he still seems aligned with what would be considered “good”, but to what ends would he go to achieve what he deems good?  How Machiavellian is this new Doctor?

I really like this story, in part because I think it is not just one of the best Dalek stories, but because it is a six-parter that seems to work.  I enjoy seen intelligent, conniving Daleks as opposed to arrogant Daleks who rely only upon their weaponry.  So often they seem to glide about yelling and shooting, whereas these Daleks add a significant degree of manipulation to their repitoir.  The Doctor’s situation seems completely hopeless, and it never really changes.  Perhaps that is why he doesn’t try too hard in Ben and Polly’s eyes.

There are so many plot threads in this story and it keeps things interesting.  You have The Doctor and his attempts to thwart The Daleks.  Then there is the manipulation of Lesterson by The Daleks.  We also have Bragen’s attempts to overthrow the governor.  There is the mystery of who sent for the Earth inspector and who killed the real inspector (allowing The Doctor to impersonate him).  So much going on, it makes this story crack along at a great pace.  On top of that, we are having to learn about the new Doctor, and I think he wins everyone over just fine.  It is a good start.

Doctor: The Crusades.  Saladin.  The Doctor was a great collector wasn’t he.
Polly: But you’re The Doctor.
Doctor: Oh, I don’t look like him.
Ben: Who are we?”
Doctor: Don’t you know?

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4 thoughts on “Doctor Who Serial 030 – Power of the Daleks

    1. It is rather bleak, but I love that there are so many plot-threads and not so much padding (in my opinion).

      Since I was listening to the audio version, I didn’t know Polly wore flip flops. That’s great!

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