Tuesday, June 16, 2009
This truly spectacular story ends with easily the bloodiest, most violent episode of Doctor Who to date. All but two characters, Valmar and Quinn, meet their end either at the end of a Dalek gun or a rifle wielded by a rebel. The choice of using real, 20th century weapons as opposed to some BBC prop laser guns with a flashbulb at the end of them was a daring one. Guns had barely featured in Doctor Who up to this point. The only two stories before it that come close are The Gunfighters, which was set in the Wild West and, given the title of the serial, pretty much had to include the weaponry of the time, and The War Machines, where all the army's rifles were seen but not heard.
Most of the gunfire is concentrated on the Daleks by the rebels as the rebels realize far too late that their ability to control the Daleks is long gone (if it was ever even there to begin with). The deaths in this episode are numerous, and none of them are marked by hammy screams or melodrama, making it unrelentingly grim.
The Doctor, who I've scarcely mentioned over the course of these six episodes, finally manages to defeat the Daleks at episode's end, but treats it as if he's a child who's accidentally knock his mom's vase over. "Did I do that?", he cheekily asks Ben and Polly after the dust has settled. Only now do you realize that, when the rebels thought they were in control, the Daleks were really moving the chess pieces from underneath. But yet under the Daleks, The Doctor was the one who was really in control. Scarcely noticed, always aloof, involved in one conversation while thinking of the next one he's going to have, Patrick Troughton's Doctor has a superb debut episode. He almost reminds me of a philanthropic version of The Meddling Monk. They both have the same approach, but The Doctor is doing his best to put all the toys back in the box in the right place.
And The Doctor doesn't necessarily succeed in this story. In any other given circumstances, his goal would be to save the colony. Here, his mission is to defeat the Daleks, which he does, but at the expense of the colony. The fact that he sneaks away before he can receive blame for this is remarkably cavalier. All of the one time leaders and scientists of the colony are now dead, with no one to replace them. Vulcan was definitely left a worse off place than it was when the story started.
The central theme of this story is power. In the literal sense, the Daleks are seeking a power supply to rejuvenate themselves, build an army, and exterminate all who oppose them - the standard Dalek edict. While this goes on, there are numerous characters trying to impose their power on others - Bragen over Quinn, Janley over Lesterson, Lesterson over the Daleks, Bragen over the Daleks, and so on and so on. The real "power of the Daleks" is that the Daleks manage to convince everyone, apart from the Doctor, of course, that they are on their side. It is they who really drive a wedge between the establishment and the rebellion. The Daleks barely fire their weapons until the final episode, but they've long ago consigned the humans to their doom. I am in no way suggesting that Robert Shearman's Series 1 episode Dalek is inspired by this story, but the behaviour of the Dalek(s) in both stories are similar, and unique to any other Dalek stories that happened before or afterwards. Never have the Daleks been more conniving, more scheming, more intelligent, more ruthless, more brilliant than in The Power of the Daleks. This story shows the true potential of them, which was, sadly, never picked up on much until Dalek almost 40 years later.
The Power of the Daleks just might be the best Dalek story ever made, and easily one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time.
Posted by Steven at 10:36 PM