Unfortunately despite being the first story for the Second Doctor and thus a rather pivotal moment in Doctor Who history, The Power of the Daleks is a story which is almost entirely missing from the BBC archives. Which does make it rather difficult to watch, never mind review.
Some years ago (okay it was probably more like a couple of decades) I listened to the audio version which was a combination of the tv episode sound track and narrated by Tom Baker and it seemed to be to be a really strong story. Though let’s be honest Tom Baker’s narration can make anything sound good.
This time round I watched a reconstructed version that consisted of the episode sound tracks, narration by Anneke Willis (Polly in the story) and a collection of film snippets and set photos timed to the audio. It was remarkably effective and despite never having seen the story as intended I feel comfortable saying that this is one of the Dalek’s strongest outings in the show.
This being the first time the Doctor has ever regenerated (or renewed as he refers to it here) a fair amount of time in the first episode is taken up addressing his companions confusion. I really enjoyed this bit and the little references to previous William Hartnell stories. It doesn’t take long for Patrick Troughton to come into his own in the role and for my money this story marks the arrival of The Doctor as we will know him for the rest of the show’s lifespan.
I think one of the reasons this story works so well is that it uses the Daleks as a way to spotlight the failings of the human characters in the story. Daleks are in effect a relatively one-note villain which is why their appearances get get rather samey after a while. Here the Daleks are the trigger of change in the balance of power, but they merely enable what various people already wanted to do. Similarly here the Doctor, while much more willing to become involved than the first Doctor ever was, essentially works in the background triggering reactions from other people.
Is it a coincidence then that this is the first Dalek story not written by their creator Terry Nation? I suspect not.
As a result, and unlike many 6 part stories, this one doesn’t over-stay it’s welcome. There are so many characters and plot elements that even with both Polly and Ben having a “vacation episode” things keep moving forward at a steady pace.
Admittedly it is obvious even from the stills and limited film footage that Doctor Who was having it’s usual budget problems. The army of Daleks very obviously consists of three plus some cardboard cutouts. Eh… they did what they could.
One thing that struck me on watching this version (which I didn’t get from the purely audio version) is the extent to which the more recent Victory of the Daleks was paying homage with its scenes of Dalek’s serving Winston Churchill. They even use the line “I am your servant”. A lovely little nod to the past that doesn’t get in the way of the current episode.
As far as I’m concerned this is a must watch Doctor Who episode if you have any interest in the classic series at all.