Aired 5 November – 10 December 1966
Following the unprecedented recasting of the Doctor following William Hartnell’s harrowing departure from the role in ‘The Tenth Planet,’ ‘The Power of the Daleks’ is tasked with introducing and selling Patrick Troughton as the same character audiences have come to know and love. With the concept of regeneration still such a tremendous gamble, the story wisely brings back the Daleks to help ease the transition and to give a sense of familiarity amongst the turmoil.
Wisely or not, the new Doctor is particularly unwilling to reveal any crucial information to help sell the concept of regeneration, and even his companions have trouble accepting the transformation despite witnessing it. Their doubt is further enhanced as the Doctor soon does very non-Doctor things such as dancing a jig, playing an instrument, and failing to check safety precautions. Yet after feeling his face and witnessing his old self appear in a reflection, Patrick Troughton quickly assumes command of the role and programme, the writing still trying to determine the personality of this new incarnation while seemingly more confident in giving a younger actor more heroic work to do.
It’s clear from the start that the Second Doctor is a bit more reserved and cerebral than his predecessor, content to sit back and observe rather than to throw all of his weight into an ostentatious display. Even following his successful deception leading to his defeat of the Daleks, he rather demurely shies away from the plaudits and attention, a far cry from the lapel-grabbing pomp the First Doctor would have displayed with such success. While Troughton is occasionally uncertain regarding his performance as he tries to find a balance between levity and gravity, between paying homage to Hartnell while forging his own path, this perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty of his companions as well as of the audience viewing at home. Yet at the end of the six episodes, Troughton has already indelibly left his mark and become the Doctor in his own right.
With the Doctor not giving much explanation as to what has just occurred, the story wisely wastes little time in getting right to the action on Vulcan, and the 200-year-old mysterious capsule is certainly an intriguing hook. The cobweb-covered Daleks in the recesses of the capsule is a stirring image as well, instantly assuring anyone that this is still very much Doctor Who. Seeing the Daleks in this subdued state is certainly a new light for the programme to portray its popular villains in, but it allows for a more thorough exploration of just what a Dalek is as well as what a single Dalek is capable of even when not at maximum. Unsurprisingly, the human colonists believe they can make the Daleks a subservient race, but it’s apparent early on that the Daleks have a more sinister plan in motion. Rather than having pride and short-sightedness be the only downfall of the humans, however, writer David Whitaker layers an incredible amount of internal politics that keep the strong supporting characters more focused on each other than on the alien threat among them.
The Daleks themselves are incredibly effective in ‘The Power of the Daleks’ as well. Seeing the commonalities between Daleks and humans, they masterfully lead a secret revolution to enhance their numbers and overall forces. The production line of Daleks is a wonderful image, making good use of their mechanical design, and the slow progression in each episode as the Daleks change from a drained but learning race to a recharged and learned race is fantastic. Lesterson’s psychotic reaction is absolutely fitting as he realizes the truth, for rarely have the Daleks been so overtly terrifying as they ruthlessly slaughter everyone in the colony without hesitation.
For an introductory story, ‘The Power of the Daleks’ creates a powerful and devastating backdrop for Troughton to announce his arrival. The Daleks have transformed from just a powerful force to a masterfully tactical one, and the more cerebral and modest Second Doctor certainly reflects that change well. With fantastic characterization and emotion put into all of the supporting characters, strong direction, and a palpably building tension until the resounding climax, this is absolutely deserving of its ‘lost classic’ status, a true joy from beginning to end and a strong start for the Second Doctor as he begins his own personal journey.