The BBC used to do this stupid thing where they’d erase or tape over episodes of TV shows after they aired. They did this to Doctor Who a bunch. Over 100 episodes were lost (though copies of certain episodes have turned up) between the William Hartnell era and the Patrick Troughton era.
Trought’s my fav from the classic show. I take these lost episodes as a personal offense.
The missing serial that I lament losing the most is The Power of the Daleks, a 6 episode serial with no surviving video (though the audio has all been saved by the fans) that picks up right as Hartnell’s Doctor regenerates into Troughton’s.
I muddled my way through the reconstruction, but those are always pretty tough.
Recently the BBC has been revisiting some of the classic series and figuring out the best way to distribute the serials, particularly when it comes to missing episodes. Occasionally, they’d use animation to fill in the gaps for serials that had most of the episodes, but were missing one or two.
Then they announced they were animating all 6 episodes of The Power of the Daleks to the original audio. And they were doing special screenings.
Monday night I went to a theater doing one of those screenings, nestled into an auditorium full of Whovians, and witnessed the result.
Oh, and spoilers, but the serial is from 1966.
Story, Plot, and Script
As I said, I watched the reconstruction, so I sort of knew what I was getting myself into. For anyone who hasn’t seen any classic era serials, this may sort of throw you for a loop. Doctor Who episodes used to be under 30 minutes, and several episodes would be part of the same story, like we have 2 part episodes today. But these serials could be much longer (the longest was The Daleks’ Master Plan with 12 episodes). The Power of the Daleks is 6. Usually when they release a serial from the classic series, they’re still split into episodes. At the theater screening, the whole serial was shown as one long feature (the running time was somewhere between 2 1/2 and 3 hours).
I’m a big fan of this story. The writers and creators were in uncharted territory, undertaking the Doctor’s first “renewal” and establishing a completely new take on the character. And Troughton seemed to settle into the character immediately.
The new Doctor is utterly charming from the first moment, but there’s something sinister lying underneath.
Ben doesn’t think that he can be the same Doctor, Polly thinks he must be. The Doctor confuses his companions even further by referring to himself in the third person, as though he’s someone else.
This Doctor is much lighter and funnier than his other incarnations in some ways, and there are several laugh out loud moments, especially in the first half. His attitude can turn on a dime, going from fury to delight. The premise of the quirky Doctor started here, but his outlandish antics ALWAYS have a reason behind them (and some newer writers should take note of that). These moments are when the serial is at its best.
The Power of the Daleks also features the Daleks being smart and manipulative, which makes them more menacing than usual. They’re at their cleverest, repeating the phrase “I am your servant” to anyone who will listen, convincing humans that they are robots made to serve, then duplicating and wiping out a masses of people.
But there are about 12 layers of bad guy, and it’s a little long/convoluted. In a regular feature, it’d be a problem, but looking at it as 6 episodes stuck together, it’s not bad.
Really my only major concern was with all the backstabbing happening between all the characters, the Doctor, Ben, and Polly all got lost in the shuffle at one point or another.
There were a few points when I found myself looking around for Jamie, wondering if he had been squashed in a book somewhere before remembering that he didn’t show up until the next serial, The Highlanders.
I did miss Jamie something awful. The Second Doctor without him feels off somehow.
And there was this scientist dude, who seemed like he was the main bad guy, but is small potatoes in comparison to every other character in the serial. Instead the scientist goes more and more delightfully insane until finally, at the end he chillingly says the Daleks’ line “I am your servant” back at them. They don’t appreciate it.
It also had a really good build up. Since they had the time, the writers kept the Daleks mostly silent and immobile for the first couple of episodes, which actually makes them scarier. Knowing what they’re capable of, but that they’re waiting to strike. And then that damn eye stalk lights up and…gah! It’s creepier than some of their more recent incarnations.
They also racked up an enormous body count. There’s literally a shot of a Dalek rolling past a pile of dead bodies. I wondered how that scene originally looked. I mean, that’s DARK. And there was a scene where, right as the Doctor was discovering how to destroy the Daleks, a Dalek was about to fire at a family of civilians, complete with a crying baby clutched in its mother’s arms. The hell! Kid’s show, guys.
Design, Animation, and Color
I’m of two minds about the animation aspects really.
Stylistically, it’s not my favorite thing in the world. The way the mouths moved didn’t quite seem to fit what was being said, and the characters glide rather than walk, yet their limbs move in a very stiff and unnatural manner.
You know those paper dolls with movable joints? It looks like that. I like the character design from The Moonbase animation better. But, I will grant you that I eventually got used to it and it bothered me less and less.
But the Daleks looked great. The locations looked great. The backgrounds looked great. There was a scanning exterior shot when the TARDIS first lands and I thought “wow. That looked awesome.” So in some ways it really works well.
And I think everyone was wearing the right clothes in this one. One of my qualms with The Invasion animation is that Zoe is wearing the outfit with the boa as soon as the TARDIS lands, which I thought she picked up from Isobel. I’m pretty sure Zoe’s still supposed to be in the Mind Robber catsuit in that first episode. But here they were appropriately dressed. Though the pocket on Ben’s shirt does switch sides in one scene and in others it seems to disappear altogether.
The version I saw was in black and white, but I heard there’s also an edition in color. I liked the black and white though. The serial it was re-envisioning would have been like that, so it seemed right. I don’t know that I’d go looking for the colorized version.
The animation did allow them to do some cool things. First of all, and of course I don’t know if this happened in the live action version or not, but there’s a scene with monitors in the background. The monitors seem to show whatever that weird imagery from Doctor Who’s title sequence is.
But maybe the most major thing that the animation managed to do was to make the Daleks scary again. These episodes were made at a time in the shows history when the Daleks were still unknown and properly menacing.
I once heard someone, I think Frazer Hines (Jamie), say that he always thought the show was scarier in black and white because of the shadows. It would be dark and you couldn’t see what was around the corner.
The animators took full advantage of this. I felt myself getting more and more uneasy the more time that passed without the Daleks speaking or even moving. And as I said, the Daleks themselves looked great animated. the vision in the eye stalk adjusting was really well done, and that moment at the very end…well, you see it coming a mile away, but it’s still done really well.
If you are a fan of the new series, but aren’t familiar with the classic era, this probably isn’t a good place to start. I’m not saying you should never watch it, you just might want to build your way up to it. Get to know Troughton’s Doctor, Ben, and Polly.
If you like the classic show and are specifically looking for a good animation to start with, I might not direct you here either. Maybe try a serial that’s only missing a couple of episodes, try it in a smaller dose.
If you have seen the other animations for the missing episodes and are a Troughton fan or a diehard Whovian, fucking go for it. It’s a fun one. I still really wish we could recover the episodes in live action, but this may be the closest we get, and it’s worth it for the story. And like I said, there are some moments when the animation seemed to work in its favor.
So you wanna watch it? Well, it’s getting a DVD release! Hurray! It’s first going to be available in U.K. and is already available for pre-order. It’s also coming out on Blu-ray in February 2017. In January both DVD’s and Blu-rays will be available in the U.S. And you can purchase it in color or black and white.
But if you just can’t wait that long, BBC America will be airing the Black and White edition on November 19, and it can be streamed from their site after that.
Behold! The Power of the Daleks!