Saturday, 4 November 2017
Inspirations - Power of the Daleks
Written by David Whitaker - making it the first full Dalek story not to have Terry Nation's name in the opening credits. He's busy on more lucrative commissions for ITC film series. As well as story editing the first two Dalek adventures, Whitaker has never really left writing for the Daleks. Just about all of the written merchandise associated with "Dalekmania" has been penned by him, with only nominal input from Nation. The TV Century 21 comics are Whitaker's work, as well as the Dalek Outer Space Book and the Dalek Handbook. He had also penned the novelisation of that first Dalek adventure. So when they were looking for someone to write a new Dalek story, and Terry Nation had declined, Whitaker was the obvious candidate.
Power of the Daleks is not all his, however. His successor as Story Editor - Dennis Spooner - was brought in to do some editing and polishing. A lot of Spooner's work was about getting the new Doctor right.
Having the new Doctor encounter the Daleks in his first story was designed to show the viewers that this was still the Doctor they had known over the preceding three years. Ben seems to find it hard to accept him, but early on one of the Daleks appears to recognise exactly who he is.
We've mentioned already the ideas that were proposed for replacing William Hartnell as the Doctor. Legend has it that Hartnell claimed only one actor in Britain could replace him - Patrick Troughton. I suspect this was just a way of allowing the old man to retire from the role with a bit of dignity.
Troughton was first and foremost a character actor, though he had taken the lead in a couple of TV series. His Robin Hood gets glimpsed in Robots of Sherwood.
Troughton was working on one of his Hammer movies when approached by producer Innes Lloyd, who had worked with him before. He was filming The Viking Queen in Ireland when contacted. He initially turned down the role, as he feared it might lead to type-casting. However, his was a complicated marital life. He had left his wife and children and set up home with another partner, with another set of children. This was costing him, and the prospect of regular work, based in London, finally won him over. There were all manner of quite silly ideas for his costume and character. Some of these involved heavy make-ups - which he could hide behind, and which he could cast off when he finally left the role. It was Sydney Newman who pushed for the so-called "Cosmic Hobo" look - based on Charlie Chaplin's little tramp figure. At one meeting, Gerry Davis noticed Troughton's increasing discomfort at the ideas been bandied about. He threw everyone out of the room, and worked out the new Doctor's character with the actor alone. The notion that he would don disguises was to be retained, as was the new Doctor's habit of sorting out the situation but then running away before he could be asked to help sort out the mess he had left behind. Power of the Daleks ends with hundreds of colonists dead, and a smashed power supply that will take months to fix. The Doctor's response: "Oh dear. Did I do that?" with a smirk on his face. Hartnell stories often ended with a coda, in which the Doctor and his companions made their farewells to their new friends, but over the next three years the Doctor will sneakily usher his companions back to the TARDIS to avoid explanations or wait for thanks.
Something else we're going to be seeing a lot of over the next three years, as I mentioned last time, is the Earth Colony. In the last Inspirations post we looked at the state of the Space Race as it was in 1966. President Kennedy had declared that there would be a manned landing on the Moon by the end of the decade, and it was assumed that this would merely be the first step. A permanent base on the Moon would follow, and then it would be on to Mars and beyond. Science Fiction had frequently featured colonies of humans living on other planets of the Solar System, or on alien planets beyond our local space. Trawl through the public domain Sci-Fi movies of the 50's and early 60's on You Tube, and you'll see that they nearly all feature voyages to either Mars or Venus, when their inhabitants aren't coming here to invade us. Forbidden Planet stands out as an exception, with its setting of the totally alien Altair IV. 1965 saw the premiere of Lost In Space on US TV. It was about an Earth family - the Robinsons - setting out to begin colonising a planet in Alpha Centauri.
Introducing colonies in space would allow writers to comment on the morality and consequences of terrestrial colonisation. Many countries were emerging from under the Imperial yolk after the Second World War, and the idea that the process of colonisation had been for the most part beneficial was being challenged. Empires were rapacious and racist and caused untold damage to indigenous culture.
The colony we see here is on the planet Vulcan, and publicity materials claim it is the year 2020. Some of the colonists are not happy, and are seeking to overthrow the Governor. He doesn't appear to have been parachuted in from Earth, however, to tell folk what to do. Rather, it looks like he was the original captain who led the people to this planet and helped found the colony. We hear of outlying districts where the Governor is really very popular, and the big problem in Whitaker's scripts is that the reasons for the rebels' dissent are never specified. The only tyranny is the one that the rebel leader, Bragen, wants to introduce. We can't feel anything for Janley and her colleagues, as we have no idea what they want, or why they want it. Future writers will make sure there is a reason for discontent, be it a dictatorial leader, or - as is the case in just four stories time - some malign alien influence at work.
The rebels here seem to be included just to maintain the story for its full six episodes until the Daleks are ready to show their true colors. They abduct Polly, then Ben, merely to allow Anneke Wills and Michael Craze a bit of a holiday.
Being a David Whitaker story, the Daleks are back to worrying about static electricity. This only really featured in their debut story. There was passing mention of the reason they had discs on the back of their casings when they invaded Earth, and designer Ray Cusick claimed that the vertical slats he introduced for The Chase were supposed to provide their power, like solar panels. Here, despite the fact that these Daleks also have slats, they rely on a static electricity power supply in order to multiply their numbers and take over the colony. Whitaker also seems to have a thing about mercury - leading some to think he had alchemical interests. (He was just very, very bad at the science). The Dalek ship has been found in a mercury swamp. Mercury was the vital element needed to fix the fluid link in the first Dalek story, and Whitaker will return to this when he comes to write The Wheel in Space.
These are sly, duplicitous Daleks - pretending to be friendly and helpful and luring the humans into a false sense of security - just as their forebears had done back in their city on Skaro. This degree of deviousness won't be seen again until we get to Victory of the Daleks, which claims this story as an inspiration.
Lastly, a word about the name of this planet. Yes, we're still a couple of years before Star Trek premiers on UK television, and this story was written before it had aired in the US. Whitaker may well have been thinking about the hypothetical planet Vulcan that was supposed to exist in an orbit between Mercury and the Sun. In 1859, the French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier proposed this in order to explain inconsistencies in the orbit of Mercury. (Le Verrier will be name-checked in Sleep No More, as he predicted the existence of Neptune using mathematics alone).
Next time: Hoots Mon! We're back into historical fiction genre territory coupled with a real historical event for the very last time. (There's no aliens or renegade Time Lords trying to muck things up). Not only that, but Jamie's awa' in the TARDIS...