No Award goes to the movies: Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks

 

This Classic Who serial originally aired in 1966. I’m not sure when it hit Australia, but my dad watched it on the ABC as a child, and the Very First Regeneration (Hartnell to Troughton) made enough of an impression on him that he could describe certain scenes to us kids.

But because early television was ephemeral (and the BBC needed to reuse that tape a bunch of times and then burn it), the serial itself was lost. Only the audio track survived.

To celebrate the serial’s 50th anniversary, and to make a quick buck, the BBC has “restored” the video via animation, and the result has been given a limited cinema run.

First of all, let me say this: Daleks are terrifying. They were terrifying when I was a child, they’re terrifying now, probably this has something to do with the game Dad used to play where he’d chase us around going, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” while being much faster and more relentless than us kids — oh yes, and we started playing that game before I encountered a Dalek on television, so when I finally saw one on screen, child!logic dictated they must be a real thing out there in the world.

“Power” was an ambitious serial featuring a hell of a lot of Daleks, and they’re served well by animation. Instead of having to fill backgrounds with cardboard cut-outs, the animators could just copy and paste and have a room full of genocidal pepperpots.

If this was just a cartoon about Daleks, it would be great.

Unfortunately, it also featured people.

I feel slightly bad about pointing out how terrible the animation of humans is, because the animators straight up say in the post-feature doco that they didn’t have enough time or money to do this job properly. So let me say first of all that I’m more critical of the BBC for not allocating a proper budget to this project, and then flogging it in cinemas.

Having said that, here’s a quick list of hilarious animation and art blunders I spotted:

  • For the first few scenes, no one can walk. They’re just bobbing across the screen like South Park characters.
  • I’m just not sure anyone who worked on this had ever seen a real pair of legs.
  • Let alone an actual human being in motion.
  • Clearly they couldn’t afford to do turnarounds, so instead of switching directions when they’re walking, if a character has to turn a corner, they sort of crab walk out of frame, and it’s hilarious.
  • Facial expressions? AHAHAHAHAHA WE CAN’T AFFORD FACIAL EXPRESSIONS!
  • In one scene the Doctor and his companions literally change clothes between cuts.
  • The backgrounds are amazing, but inanimate objects in the foreground are … hit and miss.
  • There’s a scene where the Doctor is speaking, but his mouth is closed.
  • And a bit where the Doctor does something that makes his companions laugh, but I’m not sure what, because I couldn’t tell what it was he was holding.
  • And a pocket just … detaches from a guy’s shirt and hangs in place while he walks away.

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So what was good?

  1. The script. There’s a reason this serial is well-remembered. In many ways it’s predictable, but there’s a wonderful sense of inevitability about it. Events are completely out of the Doctor’s hands, but he has to stay to prevent a terrible outcome.
  2. Getting to see the companions. Polly and Ben were kind of the Amy Pond and Rory Williams of the ’60s — she’s clever, with great hair and very short skirts, and he’s … there. (Okay, fine, Ben is a Cockney sailor, Rory’s a down-to-earth middle-class nurse, it’s not a perfect parallel.) It’s hard to get a handle on them nowadays because very few of their serials survive.
  3. I mean, I kind of was disappointed in Polly, who is one of the screamier companions. When she took the role, actress Anneke Wills was like, “Well, what would I do if I was encountering monsters and aliens? Probably scream a bit, to be honest.” Fair point, Anneke, I’d be screaming, too. And also twisting my ankle. But this isn’t super fun to watch (or hear!), and she doesn’t get to do much.
  4. But then, neither does Ben, who comes across a bit dim and hostile.
  5. But that’s kind of okay, because it’s Troughton’s show, and also the guest stars are pretty good.
  6. Especially Janley, part of a long line of female characters who get to be more interesting than the companion. She’s intelligent, duplicitous and ruthless, and it takes the Daleks themselves to bring her down. And she’s not especially excited about the nice young man with a crush on her, either. What a great character.

It’s a mixed bag. With the limited budget, the animators didn’t get a chance to expand the setting or — aside from the Daleks themselves, the non-wobbly walls and some nifty lighting work — transcend the original. It exists in an awkward space between Straight Reproduction and Revisionist New Take.

On the other hand, it’s a really good story, and if (like me) you don’t much care for audio drama, the animations do help.

Just don’t waste your money and see it at the cinema.

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