The era of the “renewed” Doctor (the term regeneration was not yet in use) begins with a bang. Patrick Troughton’s first adventure as the Doctor, “The Power of the Daleks,” is better than any Hartnell era Dalek story. With the challenge of introducing a new lead actor to the audience, the show fell on the Doctor’s oldest and most familiar adversary, the Daleks, to help the audience with the transition.
After the Doctor regenerates, greatly confusing Polly and Ben, he dematerializes the TARDIS. They find themselves in an earth colony on the planet Vulcan (a name that was developed at the same time as, yet independently of, Star Trek) where an examiner from Earth has just been murdered. The Doctor stumbles upon the scene, and has the dead man’s credentials in his hand when he is attacked and knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he realizes that he can pass for the examiner and chooses to do so for the time being.
As he investigates at the colony, he soon discovers that the colony’s problems are twofold. On the one hand, a group of rebels are plotting to overthrow the governor. They are led by the power-hungry head of security Bragen and the scientist Janley. The main threat to the colony, however, comes from the mysterious capsule that has been found in the mercury swamps. Lesterson, who seems to be the chief scientist, and Janley have been studying it. They open the capsule to find three dormant Daleks inside.
Lesterson cannot destroy the creatures as the Doctor orders, and works to find a way to reanimate them. He believes that they are controllable and will be useful to the colony. The Daleks, who still need assistance to regain their power, play along at being the servants of the humans. Of course, things do not go as planned with the Dalek “servants,” and the two story lines become intertwined as the story progresses.
The Troughton era definitely opens up with a strong episode. Even at 6 episodes long, “The Power of the Daleks” never drags. It is peopled with interesting characters, who all have different motives for wanting the Daleks to be “repaired.” The machinations of the different groups keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. There are enough secret plots to keep you guessing at just who is going to come out on top.
What makes this story particularly memorable, however, is the way that David Whitaker uses the Daleks in this story. I know this is a bit heretical, but I have never been a huge fan of the Daleks. While certainly iconic, they are often a one-dimensional foe that is simply bent on exterminating others. They are a powerful enemy, but they are often rather single-minded. “The Power of the Daleks” features devious, intelligent Daleks. The viewer knows that the Doctor is right, that the Daleks must be destroyed, but just what their plan is is not immediately evident to the Doctor or the viewer. Ultimately, this makes the Daleks menacing once again. They display great intelligence in the way that they exploit the divisions in the colony. The fact that the Daleks keep reiterating that, “I am your servant,” is unsettling, because the audience knows that the Daleks are anything but the servant of any race. It’s interesting that this story brings back the idea of Daleks needing static electricity for power. This was a major issue in “The Daleks,” but it didn’t really factor into the other Hartnell era Dalek stories after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.”
It is a shame that all the episodes to this story were lost because the few clips that remain show some striking images. The clips that survive of the Dalek assembly line, as well as the congregation of Daleks are both memorable images. They might rank among the iconic images of the series, if they were ready available.
As I mentioned earlier, this was Patrick Troughton’s first story as the Doctor. At this point, the Doctor is even more eccentric than he is further into the season. The Doctor is constantly playing his recorder and wears a rather strange tall hat. Immediately after the regeneration (sorry, “renewal”), he even refers to himself in the third person, as if he might not actually be the Doctor anymore. Besides his hobbies and fashion sense, his personality is completely different from Hartnell’s. The air of superiority and the imposing manner are gone, making him seem like much less of an authority figure. One can’t help but wonder if the colonists on Vulcan might have taken the warnings of William Hartnell’s Doctor a bit more seriously than the seemingly unfounded panic of Troughton’s Doctor. He is also far more impulsive and playful. He gives the impression of enjoying his adventure far more than Hartnell’s Doctor ever did. Unfortunately, he also appears to have absolutely no idea what he is doing. Of course, that is the big question about Troughton’s Doctor: does he really have no idea what he’s doing or is it all an act? I tend to lean towards the latter, since he always manages to save the day in the end.
When it comes to the companions, Ben and Polly, there’s not much to report. Each is missing from one episode in this story (Polly from the 4th episode and Ben from the 5th), and their characters are still not terribly well-defined. Ben is very protective of Polly and always up for a fight. Polly appears intelligent and is a persuasive talker, but she gets herself kidnapped yet again. Neither she nor Ben (who manages to get kidnapped eventually himself) contribute a great deal to the outcome of the story.
Overall, “The Power of the Daleks” is an excellent story. It’s engaging and, for once, uses the Daleks in a truly menacing way. It’s also clear that it was a big influence on Mark Gatiss’ “Victory of the Daleks” in the new series. They both share the conceit of having Daleks pretending to be working for humans. Instead of “I am your servant,” the Dalek in “Victory of the Daleks” says, “I am your soldier” with almost the same inflections. However, “The Power of the Daleks” is superior to the more recent story (and most other Dalek stories). It conveys an actual sense of danger; you know the Doctor has to save the day somehow, but you have no idea how he is going to do so. The title even works on many levels. The Daleks are working to create a power supply, but they are also the ones who are in control (and hence, have the power). After all, what could be scarier than a devious, calculating Dalek?