Well, that was… interesting.
So, tonight was Daniel’s introduction to Doctor Who and we began with one of the slowest ones. I’d been planning to start him with “The Tomb of the Cybermen” next month, which was his big brother’s first look at the show back in 2002 or so, but then the BBC went and announced this animated reconstruction of a lost serial, the one that introduced Patrick Troughton in the role and was first shown fifty years ago. So we sat down to watch it, and it was interesting and slow. Thankfully, he enjoyed it. I was really worrying whether he would.
I really didn’t know what to expect. “The Power of the Daleks” is one of a handful of black and white serials about which I really don’t know much. I’ve never cared for the telesnap reconstructions or listening to the audios of the missing stories, and nor have I absorbed novelisations or even detailed episode synopses for a few of these stories, so this one, like “The Savages” and “The Space Pirates,” is almost completely unknown to me.
And so what I didn’t know is that the lengthy opening scene really must have relied a lot on the body language of the actors, Troughton, and, playing his two companions Polly and Ben, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze. With silent seconds passing like glaciers and these drawings standing motionless on the screen, it’s very far from exciting.
I think there must have been a decision to have the animators adhere closely to the original camera script. A few years ago, the BBC released a 1964 serial, “The Reign of Terror,” with cartoon versions of the two missing parts of the story. That animation was almost exciting and modern, with lots of cuts and fast editing. I thought that was very interesting, but there was a lot of pushback against it from fandom since it was so unlike the visual pacing of the rest of the story.
It’s a shame because this must have been a thrilling moment of mystery to 1966’s audience. Most of the lore of Who and its changing lead actors came long after this episode. The Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, weren’t named for another three years, the planet Gallifrey and the word “regeneration” came five years after that, and the “I can do this twelve times” limitation was added a full decade after he did it the first time. So this strange moment of a new actor looking around the TARDIS and digging in the toybox was, in 1966, utterly bizarre, but it falls completely flat as animation. This should have been a scene of weird, mysterious magic, and not drawings standing still.
Unsurprisingly, our son was quite restless after about ten minutes of such slow and quiet television, and as we reach the planet Vulcan (no, not that one) and meet a colony full of drawings of middle-aged British actors in pajamas, he wasn’t all that interested. Opening the inner compartment of the capsule and meeting the seemingly dead and dormant Daleks finally got his attention, and he pronounced the show, in the end, “creepy and cool” and he’s looking forward to part two.
He did ask why we couldn’t go ahead and watch the next part tomorrow instead of waiting a week. Well, just as soon as the DVD gets here (it’s released in the UK on Monday), we’ll start watching a day at a time, but for now, we’ll wait for BBC America.
If you’re wondering why the heck this is a cartoon, and what I mean by “lost serial,” stay tuned. I’ll explain why there are missing episodes in next week’s post.