So this is a story about power, and the struggle for it…both meanings of the word. Bragen wants power over the colony. The rebels want to seize power from Bragen. The Daleks want their own kind of power, the electrical kind.
Bragen has taken charge of the colony…or so he thinks. The Daleks have other ideas. Janley declares the revolution over but Bragen hasn’t quite finished and wants everyone that he considers a threat to his position killed, including his own people. The Doctor and friends are just trying to stay alive long enough to come up with a plan of action. There’s a scene in a corridor where the Doctor covers his eyes and swipes blindly at a guard using his recorder as a weapon, as if he can’t bear to witness his own violence! Unseen by the Doctor, Quinn knocks the guard out with a punch…so upon opening his eyes the Doctor appears very pleased with himself!
While the humans squabble and fight amongst themselves the Daleks attack the whole lot of them, killing indiscriminately. All Daleks that is except the three that are still pretending to be on Valmar’s side. He plans to use them against Bragen. But these three Daleks have motives of their own of course… It’s very funny hearing a Dalek claiming them to be Valmar and Janley’s “friends”! They lead the three Daleks to the rebels who after Janley orders a few guard exterminations then begin shooting everyone in sight. A chilling pause as one of the Daleks makes its intentions clear, eyestalk focussing on Valmar and Janley before declaring: “You’re usefulness is over”. A distraction from a guard allows their escape however.
The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Lesterson hide in the lab near the capsule…yes, as Polly points out, not the best place to hide. Luckily, as a Dalek glides in, the Doctor has remembered to take his hat off…that’s not a ‘hiding’ hat, an unusual choice of headgear for a man who does an awful lot of hiding. After the Dalek’s gone there’s some loopy Dalek admiration from Lesterson: “Marvellous creatures. You’ve got to admire them.”
The exterminations continue and Janley is one of the casualties. I like how her death is off camera as we cut to the Doctor’s group and hear her scream from their perspective. At Lesterson’s mention of power cables, the Doctor comes up with a plan…
Bragen is completely insane and still thinks he can boss the Daleks around. The Doctor makes preparations and three Daleks emerge from the capsule. “The Law of the Daleks is in force”, says one. Now there’s an unused story title… Suddenly Lesterson reveals his presence and attempts to bargain with the Daleks. His “I am your ser-vant” mimicry is very funny. It’s useless though and they immediately shoot him down. The Doctor plugs a cable in, pulls a switch and all round the colony Daleks start to go beserk, billowing smoke and exploding.
Elsewhere Quinn confronts Bragen and puts a stop to his lunacy…with a bullet.
Shockingly, rather than a grateful “thank you” all the Doctor gets from the survivors is some moaning from Valmar about all the mess! Unbelievable. I mean literally unbelievable – I don’t buy that those people wouldn’t have given so much as a handshake after all that they’ve been through.
The TARDIS team make their way back ‘home’ past the broken remains of a solitary Dalek. We get a reprise of our new Doctor’s mysterious persona before they disappear in the police box. The Doctor’s evasive response to Polly challenging that he didn’t really know what he was doing feels like a mission statement for this new version of our hero, and indeed the future of the programme.
Well, what an episode. Of course we’ve seen plenty of death in Doctor Who and are not unfamiliar with shootings and extermination. However in the three years this programme has been on I’ve never seen it quite like this. It’s really quite grim. This episode is entirely devoted to presenting the sheer horror as everything unravels for the colonists.
There’s an astonishing scene where we are shown piles of bodies sprawled around the corridors – astonishing I mean, when one considers that this is a teatime adventure series aimed primarily at children. Witnessing a group of terrified colonists being hunted down and slaughtered by ruthless aliens might be considered pretty strong stuff even for adults watching 21st century television. Perhaps coming from an age where armed terrorists can cause mayhem and devastation in Parisian restaurants (for example), scenes like these resonate even more for me.
Particularly noteworthy is Anneke Wills who really sells the horror of it all as Polly. A posh debutante we met barely five months ago having a giggle in a London nightclub, now sits head in hands, blubbing in terror, trying to block out the screams of the slaughtered colonists. “Can’t we do anything? They’re murdering everybody”, she shrieks. Michael Craze as Ben is also playing this for real, brave but not cocky, keeping it together, convincing.
Much has been said and written in disparaging terms about the role of the companion in Doctor Who, with haughty received wisdom telling us that the sixties was full of weak helpless screamers, unlike your 21st century ‘feisty’ strong role model companion. Well guess what? If you are ever hunted down by anything with a gun, whether a human with an automatic or an alien with a space gun, you will scream, you will panic, you will run! You will not make glib jokey remarks while you are running, you will not shout “oi, toe rag ” before whacking the assailant with a baseball bat, and you will not reminisce about how much fun it all was a few months later. So I’ll take Ben, Polly, Victoria, Jo, Sarah, Harry any day and you can keep Rose, Amy, Clara etc…! This has been a great reminder of a time when Doctor Who took itself more seriously, drama rather than ‘romp’, with a genuine sense of threat. Unbelievable situations but played absolutely for real.
It’s not perfect. The Daleks suffer from their usual failing: they’re a bit slow, inconsistent, only exterminating at the last minute, choosing to let the Doctor and friends retreat after they’ve declared war on everyone there, but I’m just nit-picking.
My main criticism of this episode though, is one which can be levelled at any number of others due to the format of a weekly episodic drama: it’s all over after it’s barely begun. A rather sudden ending as the Doctor gives the Daleks what they asked for so persistently: power. Lots of it. Enough to overload and wipe them out. So be careful what you chant for Daleks!
With reports of the public having had Dalek fatigue in recent times, I wonder what those people made of this. It seems to me that the Daleks are a credible threat now, ironic when you consider that this story wasn’t written by their creator. So it’s more than a return to form in my view. I think I’d go as far as saying that in the three years since Doctor Who began, this has been my favourite story of all. I really like the new Doctor and I really like Power Of The Daleks! I wonder where we’re going next week…