“The Power of the Daleks” is easily one of the better Dalek stories, both in terms of plot and characterization. I recently listened to the BBC audio with Anneke Wills providing narration where needed to cover the missing visuals. I’ve also read the novelization and seen the existing clips from the story, along with the telesnaps. All of it falls somewhat short of actually watching the story, which is sadly impossible, but regardless I found that Power easily held my attention over the entire six episodes. This has to be attributed in large part to the variety of plot threads present in the story. A lot is happening, leaving little need for story padding. There are the Daleks of course, who spend the majority of the story biding their time until they can get the power they need. There is the political unrest in the colony and the power struggle between security chief Bragen and deputy governor Quinn. There is Lesterson, the scientist determined to unlock the secret of the Daleks and put them to work for the colony. And there is the newly regenerated Doctor.
It would be interesting to see this story without being as comfortable with the idea of regeneration as I am after seeing most of the series. As it is, it’s not difficult at all for me as the listener to accept the new Doctor right away. Had I been watching in 1966 I might have felt differently. The dialogue given to Ben and Polly in episode 1 is very good, since it has to mirror the reactions from the audience. Polly is ready to accept the new man as the Doctor while Ben is determined not to believe that it’s possible. The closest I can come to understanding the feeling of the contemporary audience is perhaps experiencing the switch in actors playing James Bond. I really like Pierce Brosnan in the role, and I’m not eager to see someone else play it, but the new actor will probably do well and I’ll end up enjoying his performance. I imagine that there was a similar reaction to Doctor Who’s change of lead actor at the time. It’s a credit to all involved in the show that the switch from Hartnell to Troughton was successfully executed.
Ben and Polly both get strong roles, even though both are missing for an episode. Ben is the voice of disbelief for the first two episodes. He’s very strong in his denunciation of the “impostor”, but once he’s convinced of the Doctor’s identity, he’s as loyal to him as he was to his previous incarnation, even attempting to draw off the rebels at one point so that the Doctor can remain free. Polly accepts the Doctor’s change far more easily than Ben, and shows here, as in “The Faceless Ones” a strong sense of moral indignation and disdain for the violent and self-serving actions of the rebels.
Troughton plays the Doctor far differently in this story than he does later on in his mostly intact third year. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about his performance is the utter conviction he brings to the role, and that is very evident in Power. You can really believe that the Doctor hates and fears the Daleks, and considers them to be a major threat. When it comes to other topics he’s evasive, often dodging questions about himself or his actions, even from Ben and Polly. He is single-minded in his purpose of thwarting the Daleks, even to the point of ignoring the politics of the colony. Some scenes of note in this regard are his warning to the Dalek at the start of episode 3 (“I will stop you. I will!”) and his solution at the end of the story, where he is not content simply to cut the power to the Dalek capsule, but instead overloads it and destroys them. “I prefer to do things my way” he says at the time. He also adopts some of his eccentricities, such as his recorder, five hundred year diary and very tall hat, which thankfully seems to have been lost rather early on in his tenure. I liked his very loud checked trousers though, and it’s a shame they toned those down.
The Daleks are at their best here. This story showcases their arrogance and xenophobia better than almost any other, as well as their almost joyful exuberance at the thought of exterminating the humans in the colony. They are hardly emotionless, and can barely conceal their real feelings, slipping up several times. “Daleks are bett… different than humans” being one example. Another occurs when the three Daleks join in a chorus in front of Lesterson saying “We will get our power!” over and over again. They also look forward to the coming exterminations at the end of part five when the Daleks sit around in a group and chant “Daleks conquer and destroy!” over and over again. One of the few clips we have from part two shows the Dalek chanting, “I am your servant” over the Doctor’s insistence that they be destroyed. There is slyness in the Dalek’s voice in several other places in the story that would not readily be apparent if the visuals were there to distract the viewer.
The other subplots keep the action moving along well. The rebels are, for once, not rebelling against an oppressive regime, but are themselves simply hungry for power. They want to use the Daleks to their advantage. The scientist Lesterson also wants to use them, though for more benevolent reasons. The main flaw in the story is that no one realizes for the longest time just what a danger the Daleks are. You could argue that each side is so caught up in their own agenda that they are blinded to the danger, and this is reasonable enough to make the story work until the light starts to dawn. Lesterson in particular undergoes a role reversal when he finds out for himself just what is going on and is pretty much driven mad with fear. As an aside, since no one knows what Daleks are, I have to assume this story takes place before Dalek Invasion of Earth in 2164, though the date of 2020 mentioned in the trailer seems unlikely. The Dalek Invasion trailer gets the date of that story wrong, so it’s easy to assume this one does too. Perhaps the Daleks learn of humanity in this time period and this leads to the invasion of Earth.
Mention has to be made of Anneke Wills’ narration, which is uniformly good throughout the story. I greatly enjoy Fraser Hines’ narration on the other audios, and he does an excellent job. However, it’s refreshing to hear Anneke for a change of pace, and she does have a lovely speaking voice. “The Power of the Daleks” is unique among the Troughton stories in that it doesn’t feature Jamie and so she’s certainly appropriate here, but I hope that this is not her only narration job for the Troughton audios.
In my opinion, this is a better story than “The Evil of the Daleks”, even though both are stories that put the Daleks in their best light. “The Power of the Daleks” stands out strong even in a season that featured both the debut and return of the Cybermen, the first regeneration and another excellent Dalek tale in “Evil”. I’d highly recommend this story. Get the audio, download the telesnaps from the BBC website, and enjoy a lost classic.