By Tony Williams.
50 years ago I watched the one and only BBC TV transmission of The Power of the Daleks (November to December, 1966) one of the now missing serials of the early Dr. Who series (premiering in 1963). The opening episode introduced Patrick Troughton (1920-1987) as the replacement for the much beloved William Hartnell whose health issues and lack of energy meant that he could no longer film on a weekly schedule. The final segment of the previous series “The Tenth Planet” witnessed the transformation between the two Doctors ending with a glimpse of Troughton’s first appearance, a sequence opening the first episode of this new animated version of The Power of the Daleks. The loss of this entire six-part adventure represented a tragic missing link in the series in revealing the hazardous “make-or-break” crucial introduction of the second Doctor. Had Troughton failed in the same way that John Turner failed to continue Carlos Thompson’s original role in The Sentimental Agent (ITV 1963), a spin-off from an episode of the 1962 ITV Man of the World TV series starring Craig Stevens, then Doctor Who would have come to a similar ignominious end. That it did not was due to the great acting skills of this veteran actor clearly present in other surviving episodes. Troughton was very well known in British television at the time and I first remember seeing him in the second BBC TV serial adaptation of Kidnapped (1956) playing Alan Breck again but this time opposite Leo Maguire and John Laurie. The loss of this six-part introduction to Troughton featuring the Doctor’s greatest enemies is one of the great tragedies of television history that not even the telesnap reconstruction (also available on this DVD) can ever replace.
Over the passage of time, I can only remember certain segments, which invokes John Ford’s famous comment that if three minutes of a movie remain in the mind of the audience, then the director’s job is well done. Late director Christopher Barry certainly achieved this goal. Embedded in my mind is that final image of the supposedly dead Dalek whose mechanical eye rose slowly upwards from its demolished dome to watch the Tardis vanishing skywards. The Dalek was placed in mid-shot at the left of frame, its silent sinister gesture evoking the majestic power of silent cinema. However, the animated reconstruction does not match my memory both in placement and the hesitant, rather than the menacingly slow movement of the eye apparatus skywards. I also recall that when the reconstructed Doctor gets up he moves right to left to get a new coat from an equipment chest rather than left to right as in this animated version.
However, in one of the many superb special features on this DVD, the producer of this animated reconstruction points out that the aim was not a “proper facsimile” of the series but rather an adaptation resulting in 50% of the finished product that would resemble Christopher Barry’s original and the remainder representing the collaborative effort of this hard-working team who was still in process of completing the entire project, as the sixth part of the audio-commentary makes clear. This is why it is so important for reviewers, whether of books, DVDs, and audio-commentaries, to go through the entire work rather than skim randomly at will. Listening to this segment answered my initial skepticism as to why a crane up shot of the Daleks on the studio floor finishing in a sophisticated overhead shot occurred in this reconstruction. This is justified creative license of the part of this team.
Whenever critically considering any new DVD release in terms of the many special features offered, it is now important to evaluate whether such new technological additions add anything of value. In his Searching for John Ford (2003), Joseph McBride stated that in view of the many meandering DVD commentaries now available, it was a blessing that Ford often remained enigmatic to those unfortunate interviewers wishing for their own version of a roman a clef! Fortunately, this DVD restoration differs in several positive ways since every special feature item is neither fluff nor unnecessary padding but crucial guides to understanding the nature of this animated endeavor. One may lament the fact that the original program is now as lost as Welles’s version of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). However, the animation team has done a superb job on this reconstruction.
BBC Worldwide have provided a wealth of very relevant information in addition to the reconstruction. A very informative audio-commentary features many who worked on the original production, including Anneke Willis, the archetypal Swinging 60s Dolly Bird who I also remember from other TV roles in The Railway Children (BBC TV, 1957) and Probation Officer (ITV, 1960); production manager Michael E. Briant; actors Edward Kelsey and Nicholas Hawtrey, neither of whom supply irrelevant anecdotes; designer Derek Dodd; and costume designer Alexandra Tynan. Unfortunately Bernard Archard (1916-2008), who plays the villainous Bragen and is fondly remembered by those of us who saw him as Lt. Col. Oreste Pinto in the 1959-1961 BBC TV series Spy-Catcher and appears in “The Making of” DVD feature, along Michael Craze (1942-1998) who played “Barnacle Ben”, the Cockney sailor, are no longer with us. But the survivors contribute to the audio-commentaries in a professional and responsible manner. One audio-commentary even features those who worked as Dalek operators and their voices, with the sad exception of original Dalek voice Peter Hawkins. Relevant information is supplied about other actors no longer with us such as Peter Bathurst (1912-1989) who played unfortunate astronaut Greene in the BBC TV 1953 The Quatermass Experiment. Echoes of Nigel Kneale do appear in The Power of the Daleks with the Dalek spaceship’s discovery after landing hundreds of years before echoing the BBC TV Quatermass and the Pit (1959) and the discovery of the two cobwebbed Daleks echoing that of the Martians at the end of episode, three with the suction arm falling down similar to the motion of one Martian in that episode.
Like the Martians in Quatermass and the Pit whom Andre Morell’s Professor Quatermass describes as “old friends whom we haven’t seen for a long time” the Daleks are the favorite monsters of the Doctor Who filmmakers, who are always ready to have them appear at some significant point in the series history. What better moment for their re-appearance than to support a new Doctor at the time of his walk-on stage performance in replacing a familiar face? Due to Daleks creator Terry Nation’s involvement in another series at the time, David Whitaker steps in to continue the tradition but this time giving the original victims of a nuclear attack begun by the rival Thals (who ironically return to their previous human form while their victims remain mutants) a cover story that all but the Doctor and his companions see through. Once the Daleks speak, original Dalek voice Peter Hawkins (1924-2006) articulates the nuanced line “We are your Serve – ants” spoken in a manner than none but the dumbest colonial greedy administrators fall for. As the Daleks appears as docile creatures aiming “To Serve Man” as that ominously titled 1962 Twilight Zone episode went, Hawkins’s pronunciation of the Dalek favorite line “I obey” is obviously for human convenience until they regain their power and proceed on their mission to exterminate every human in sight in the final episode. However, in episode five when Bragen orders a Dalek to execute the Governor, the Dalek immediately and surprisingly steps out of character to become for a brief moment the moral conscience of the series – “Why do human beings kill human beings?” Bragen soon quells this alien’s very reasonable (but to him insubordinate) question in the typical manner of any university administrator – “Get on with your work!” The Dalek replies, “Yes Master. I obey” in the most nuanced manner Peter Hawkins can offer.
Naturally, the memory of Patrick Troughton dominates the memories of those survivors who all testify to his humane character and professional abilities that overcame the initial objections of executive produce Sydney Newman. Troughton himself contributed immensely to the new character of the second Doctor both in mannerism and costumes to realize the validity of Newman’s original objections concerning costume. He rejected a suggested top hat and Harpo Marx wig by taking up Anneke Wills’s suggestion of a Beatle hair style and initiating playing a recorder even using a tune his son had created in school. He soon established his distinctive Doctor persona to pave the way for his many successors by providing that necessary foundation for continuity that at one point looked extremely fragile.
Other fascinating additions to this DVD include a compilation of the fragmentary surviving footage and trailer, animation test footage including staging by live actors before animated representation, an animation primer revealing meticulous work on characterization, vocal expression, background art, and movement (one actually going forward to later 1990 Inspector Morse footage to get an idea of the actor’s type of motion, and de-aging the actor in the process of animated reproduction) a Making of the Power of the Daleks feature, PDFs of original camera scripts, as well as a 1966 original Dalek Voice Session Recording of the reproduced Daleks passing in vocal numerical order (I gave up after #12!). Andrew Pixley has also written a valuable Production Notes booklet documenting the history of this production, a description of David Whitaker’s rehearsal scripts that differed from the final transmission in which we are spared Ben singing a sea shanty at Polly’s suggestion, the recording schedules, and reliable evidence concerning the loss of all copies of the original transmission.
However, valuable though this reconstruction is, I hope one day somebody finds the complete original version of The Power of the Daleks if only so I can confirm whether my original memory of that resurrected Dalek is correct or not.
Tony Williams is Professor and Area Head of Film Studies at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Contributing Editor to Film international, author of James Jones: The Limits of Eternity (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), and co-editor with Esther Yau, of Hong Kong Neo-Noir (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).