We have been given a very cool early Christmas present this year from the folks at Doctor Who. For the last few weeks on BBC America, and some time ago in select theaters, a new animation of a classic lost series of The Doctor battling the Daleks was created from surviving audio of the episodes. For the first time in fifty years, we can witness “The Power of the Daleks,” meet me after the jump for my review.
This is from the original series of Doctor Who when a story consisted of several episodes divided up into parts like a movie serial. They usually averaged between four and five episodes per, under one title. The show having been around for over fifty years actually has more than a few missing or lost episodes and stories. Not all episodes of all stories still exist as it was common practice to broadcast and then tape over programs. No one really thought there would be a market for an old black and white kids show five decades later, or that that kids show would become a sci-fi sensation that would be the most watched series on Earth. No vision, those Brits.
“The Power of the Daleks,” a six-part serial, the third of the fourth season of the original series was quite the landmark, besides being lost of course. It is a regeneration episode, and the first featuring Patrick Troughton as The Doctor, who had previously been William Hartnell, the originator of the role. It is also the sixth appearance of the Daleks, one of The Doctor’s greatest nemeses, in the series. Yeah, these are old school Daleks, for an old school Doctor.
The Second Doctor
This was the first full Patrick Troughton adventure, and he was a very distinct change of pace from The Doctor had known previously. He still maintained a gruff exterior, still a grouchy old man, but considerably younger, and with a wry sense of humor and a playful streak, almost like a child. Quite frankly, and you could ask his first companions, he was even a bit mad. From his silly get-up to the Moe Howard haircut to that damned recorder he played far too often, the ‘cosmic hobo’ as he was called, was definitely something different.
His companions of the moment, who had witnessed The First Doctor collapse from essentially old age after battling the Cybermen, were at first perplexed by the regeneration – at the time referred to as a renewal. Ben Jackson, a seaman with the Royal Navy, did not trust this new Doctor at first, but Polly Wright, a younger secretary also from 1966, gets him right away. Of course he’s The Doctor, they saw him change right before their eyes after all, despite The Second Doctor referring to the First in the third person. Ben and Polly help the audience indirectly adjust to this first regeneration with their trust and doubt. Ben actually holds out until he hears the Daleks identify The Doctor as such.
“The Power of the Daleks” exists only in clips, photos, script, and of course the full audio, and has been reconstructed with the use of stiff, mostly black and white (well, it was a black and white episode) animation. Airing originally in November and December of 1966, the new version aired exactly fifty years later. I absolutely love that they use the original Patrick Troughton opening credits sequence, obviously borrowed from other episodes, as it gives this re-creation a note of authenticity.
That is however where the coolness ends. The animation is, as I mentioned, very stiff. So bad, I am reminded of the old Marvel Super Heroes cartoons of the same year that merely took images from the comics and moved them across the TV screen with rare exceptions for mouths and arms and legs moving. When I say limited animation, I mean limited animation. The lines are crisp, the images are realistic, but the final product is at best disappointing.
After the regeneration, the new Doctor, along with Ben and Polly, land the TARDIS on the planet Vulcan. No, not that planet Vulcan, but seeing how this story aired around the same time Star Trek had debuted in the US, it may have been some sort of wink-wink homage. Finding a dead man near the Earth colony there, the mischievous new Doctor takes his badge, and presents himself as that man – an examiner of the facility. In the days before psychic paper, The Doctor uses deception and assumption, nice.
Daleks have been found, and The Doctor knows what they are, and the danger they represent. A colony scientist disagrees and claims to have made them servants. Of course, it’s all a ruse, the Daleks are planning a resurgence and a resumption of their grand conquest. They might be saying “I am your servant,” but it sounds just like “Exterminate!” The Doctor and company catch on, and it’s business as usual Whovian style. Pretty basic for today’s standards, but gripping for 1966, this one is one of the better stories.
Yes, it’s the original series, so a bit simple, and geared to kids, and the special effects (had we seen them) were primitive and cardboard, but this was a good story, as I said. The problem here comes with the reconstruction of the serial if I’m being honest. If you’re going to animate something based on the audio, go for it, go full throttle. One the biggest faults of the original Doctor Who series is the special effects – here’s the chance to fix that.
What we have here is a painstaking slavishness to make it look exactly as produced in live-action, which even though I’ve never seen it, was dull and unexciting. Why not use the animation to pump it up, make it look amazing, make it stronger, rather than the same old same old? Yeah, I love my old Doctor Who, but this was a disappointment. Here, the BBC had the opportunity to introduce younger audiences to the original series, and they blew it. Recommended, but only for hardcore fans.