Everyone remembers their very first Doctor Who adventure. This one was mine. Sure, I had been in the room when my dad had occasionally watched the odd older episode on UK Gold, but I had never taken in any of it. Not until 1993, when the BBC repeated the adventure on BBC Two, did I finally sit down to actually watch a Doctor Who adventure from start to finish. By the end of the episode one cliffhanger, I knew I was hooked, as thirty years after they first appeared on British TV screens, I experienced the same thrill that six year olds in 1963 must have felt when they first saw a Dalek on their television screens. Six weeks later, each week all the more painful as I was itching to find out what happened next, I had very firmly transitioned from mild interest to absolute adoration. From this point on, countless teachers would lament my regular attempts to cover my school books with drawings of the menacing pepperpots from Skaro …
Universally recognised as the story that transformed Doctor Who into a nationwide hit, The Daleks is much, much more than a mere introduction story to the alien race that would go on to become the Doctor’s deadliest enemies. The series’ second story is a fantastic sci-fi adventure that stands up well more than 50 years after its initial broadcast, and is superb television, nevermind superb Doctor Who.
I was six years old when I discovered Doctor Who. Like most six year olds who discover Doctor Who, my first thought after discovering there were MORE stories was to want to see every possible Dalek adventure. So when I saw that the Day of the Daleks VHS cover was plastered with Daleks, I simply had to see it! I recall being disappointed at the time at how little the titular Daleks featured in the adventure, but still really enjoying the adventure. 25 years on, it’s still a firm favourite with many reasons to enjoy this four part story.
This adventure was a childhood favourite, and remains a delight to this day. Falling in Pertwee’s final season, this was the third and final time he would face the evil intergalactic pepperpots before regeneration at the close of the season. The story sees the TARDIS crash land on an unknown planet, suffering from a mysterious power loss. They quickly find an Earth survey ship suffering from a similar loss of power, and are soon joined by a spaceship full of Daleks, also mysteriously deprived of power.
The loss of power makes for a wonderful dynamic, with the Daleks initially deprived of their ray guns, and forced to develop conventional rifle style guns. Until they regain their weaponry, they display much the same sort of villainous cunning they displayed in Power of the Daleks – perhaps this is what Pertwee’s Doctor has in mind when he urges the earth taskforce “don’t trust them – not even for a minute!”
Both crews are ostensibly there for the same reason – needing a rare mineral that is the only known cure to a great space plague that is decimating the galaxy. They unite behind this purpose, and also to discover whatever it is that is causing the power drain. It transpires that the inhabitants of the planet, known as Exxilons, worship an incredible self-sustaining city, and this is the source of the power drain. After saving Sarah from being sacrificed for the crime of approaching the forbidden city, the Doctor allies himself with a fugitive Exxilon known as Bellal, the leader of a group determined to destroy the city. While the Daleks enslave the Exxilons to mine the planet, the Doctor has to find a way through a series of traps within the city to destroy its deepest workings, and enable the travellers to escape.
There are occasions when one must overlook the production values of this story; it is certainly not the most complicated or sinister Dalek adventure ever produced, and the episode 3 cliffhanger has to go down as the most pointlessly dramatic ever – as the Doctor urges Ballal not to step upon a patterned floor! If one overlooks these small details however, one finds a highly enjoyable a straightforward adventure, made all the better for a superb supporting cast and the involvement of the Daleks. That it is not the best Dalek story available says rather less about this adventure, and rather more about the quality of Dalek stories in general! It is also the last Dalek adventure of the classic era not to feature their villainous creator, Davros, although it did feature the actor who would portray Davros in his debut adventure, Michael Wisher, here providing the voices of the Daleks.
It saddens me to say that this is also the last adventure of the Pertwee era that I find myself able to enjoy. Even in this adventure you find the sparkle beginning to diminish, and for his final two adventures The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders the spark is completely gone. There have definitely been occasions when I have felt that either this story or The Green Death would have been more fitting swan songs for a truly great Doctor …
Next time: A classic Tom Baker adventure which takes him to the edge of the known universe …
As long term readers of the blog will recall, Power was one of the three stories I was most keen to see recovered, for the reasons I set out in this blog post. Indeed, so curious was I to sample Patrick Troughton’s sadly missing first adventure that I eventually gave in and watched the Loose Cannon recon – and it only increased my excitement for the animated release when BBC Store confirmed the animation project.
Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.
So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:
That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.
So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.
I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.
I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.
The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.
The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.
But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!
Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.
I have to confess to two heresies – that the first version I saw of this adventure was the movie version featuring Peter Cushing as the Doctor; and that I didn’t really enjoy this adventure when I first saw it on UK Gold. I think I expected more, having enjoyed The Daleks very very much indeed when I had first watched it. In time however, I have only come to enjoy and appreciate this story more and more.
This story is striking for two significant events – the return of the Daleks, and the departure of Susan. Until this point Doctor Who had seen the TARDIS crew go from one adventure to the next, not returning to any previous adversary. Given the mass popularity of the Daleks after their first adventure, it could only be a matter of time before the deadly mutants would make their return to viewers’ TV screens. While it seems an inevitability with the clarity of 50 years’ hindsight, we must not forget how much of a delighted shock it must have been when the Dalek emerged from the Thames at the end of episode one. (Don’t ask why the Dalek thought taking a swim in the Thames was a good idea, it just did!)
The story itself is strongly influenced by the legacy of Nazi occupied Europe, not least in the Daleks’ continued radio broadcasts to the hidden human rebels. Watched with this legacy in mind, the story becomes even more powerful, and not just a straightforward adventure, exploring the deep concept of having one’s liberty taken away and having to fight against the odds. The show is made all the more powerful for being filmed in contemporary London – while nothing will persuade me to enjoy the two minutes of bongo music that accompanies the set piece, the sight of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge or swarming around Trafalgar Square is truly astounding, and would have been even more so at the time it was first shown.
Of course the story sees the Doctor and his human allies defeat the Dalek menace – in a theme that is later revisited in the new series episode The Stolen Earth the Daleks are attempting to mine the core of the planet and turn it into a battle station. But while the story is simply enjoyed for what it is, I think the more significant moment comes as Susan falls in love with earth resistance fighter David Campbell (amusingly given the surname Cameron in the book adaptation!) and elects to remain behind on earth. Hartnell’s farewell speech is truly moving, and in many ways this would set the tone for Ian and Barbara’s departure in The Chase and indeed for Hartnell’s own departure in The Tenth Planet.
This makes The Dalek Invasion of Earth not just a very good story, but a very important story. The precedent was set to bring back previous foes, and even to bring them to our own planet. And it was acknowledged that the show did not have to die when the main cast changed, paving the way for the most radical change two years later. It may not be as good a story as the first Dalek adventure, but it is certainly a story that I am glad has survived fully intact to be enjoyed today!