The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Who am I Anyway": Power of the Daleks Episodes 1-3

Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don't know
What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
So many faces all around, and here we go
I need this job
Oh God, I need this show.

--Marvin Hamlisch, A Chorus Line.

The old order changeth, yielding place to new--that's where we left the Doctor, remember, gasping out his life on the floor of the TARDIS. His face glowed, his features shifted, and, an old man faded out, replaced by a younger, smaller man.

He awakes to great pain, and sound searing him. "Focus on one thing," he says, half audibly, and repeats it. And then--silence.

"It's over," the little man says, and then laughs harshly--almost a bark of a laugh. He hauls himself up to his feet, using the TARDIS console. The Doctor's clothes are much too big for him--he sheds the cloak, the coat. Left in the checked pants, braces, he staggers to a chest. When he looks in a mirror, his image fades, replaced by the of the Doctor, and then fades to that of the little man himself again.

Polly knows the the little man is the Doctor, Ben keeps trying to trip him up--or at least get a reaction:
BEN: Now look, the Doctor always wore this. So if you're him, it should fit now, shouldn't it?
(And slips it on the man's finger. It's far too big.)
BEN: There. That settles it.
DOCTOR: I'd like to see a butterfly fit into a chrysalis case after it's spread its wings.
POLLY: Then you did change!
DOCTOR: Life depends on change and renewal.
BEN: Oh, so that's it. You've been renewed, have you?
DOCTOR: I've been renewed, have I? That's it. I've been renewed. It's part of the Tardis. Without it, I couldn't survive. Come here.
It's not really an answer, necessarily--it's Ben's own words, fed back to him. Or it is an answer. Troughton plays it so perfectly that you can defend either reading.

After looking over some old possessions ("The Doctor was a great collector, wasn't he?" he asks appraisingly brandishing Saladin's dagger). He supplements his wardrobe--a more contemporary coat, a bow tie--looks for "the Doctor's diary" (it's a 500 year Diary, by the way).

Then, calling to his companions, he goes out for a stroll. He tests his legs, gets used to his new body. And starts exploring the planet.


Right, we'll get to the story, but stay with me on this magical, ominous, mystery tour. David Whitaker has done it again--created a capsule form of the original hero's journey that was the plot line of Auntie Verity's Pandemonium Carnival. The Doctor isn't for the first two episodes, trustworthy, in just the same way he wasn't in the first few Hartnell episodes--he is a mystery again, not the giggly, stern, pompous, righteous, brave old man we have lost.

We are back at the beginning.


This renewal is unexplained in its scope, and tied to the TARDIS somehow, but all we really know is that our hero is dead and what is left behind is--very different--his consistent references to the Doctor in the third person suggests that even he doesn't feel that he is the same character. The recorder, the indifference to his companions, the way he takes the Examiner's badge and assumes his identity--all of this leaves us with someone new. When he finds himself in a colony, in the muddle of a power struggle against authority and rebels, he shows no interest, he wants to know what's in the capsule scientist Lesterson is trying to open. He (and Ben and Polly) steal in after hours, opens the castle, and we see two cobwebbed and seemingly immobile Daleks--and one Dalek mutant scuttling across the floor into the dark.

Lesterson, flooding the third Dalek with power wakens it; it's first act is to kill Lesterson's assistant. Lesterson is too enthralled to look after him, Janley lies, saying that the assistant will live. "I am your servant!" it grates, again, and again, but then:
Lesterson's Dalek glides into the room. It's movement is strangely fascinating, holding everyone transfixed. Everyone except the Doctor who edges backwards, shaking his head in horror. The Dalek stops and looks around at each person in turn. At last it re-focuses on the Doctor. The Doctor backs into a chair.)
BEN: It recognised the Doctor. It recognised him.
POLLY: What's the matter, Doctor? Are you all right?
DOCTOR: The fools. The stupid fools.
BEN: You're scared. What can it do?
DOCTOR: Nothing yet.
LESTERSON: This creation is called, I understand, a Dalek.
BEN: It knew who you were. It sounds ridiculous, but it did.
DOCTOR: It knew who I was.
And suddenly, before the political machinations that take us to the end of episode 3, before the Dalek manages to make Lesterson its assistant, while hanging on--barely--to the "servant" persona, we realize that the Dalek's recognition of the Doctor has cemented our own.

The Doctor is different, but he is still the Doctor.

And just in time, too, because a small circle of Daleks chanting "We will have our power!" again and again suggests that we need him badly.


BritBox has the new restored animated version, which is what I watched. The animation is good, not perfect,, as the trailer above shows, but good. The cleaned up audio sparkles, and the story moves smoothly. And, for old Who fans, the animation team has subtly righted two old wrongs.

The traditional credit of the theme to Ron Grainer is followed by a credit noting the theme was "realized by Delia Derbyshire."

Likewise, the original credit for Terry Nation is immediately followed by a credit "Daleks designed by Raymond Cusick.

So much of the impact of the theme music was the strange, otherworldly sound dynamic crafted by Derbyshire; so much of the power of the Daleks (sorry!) is in their design. Yet for decades Derbsyshire and Cusick were not given their just due. The BBC has done a little justice in this revision to the credits, as well as creating a lost episode with style and narrative force.

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