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25 May 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 145: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Before starting work on today's episode, I set myself a bit of a challenge. Having rabbited on for the last three diary entries about how great the Daleks have been in this story, and how they're being used so effectively in the cliffhangers, I decided that today would be different. Today, I'd refrain from mentioning the Daleks outside of a brief sentence or two, and concentrate on something else instead.

What I hadn't counted on was that this episode of The Power of the Daleks contains one of the most famous Doctor Who cliffhangers ever. Most fans, when discussing cliffhangers, will have a few that they'll go to as particularly memorable examples - for right or for wrong reasons. Some will call on the end of The Mind Robber Episode One (mostly for Zoe's bum), others will point to the end of The Daleks Episode One, with the plunger menacing Barbara.

Some fans will call on that old favourite from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or from the end of The Deadly Assassin, Part Three. That one from The Caves of Androzani often gets mentioned, as does the one from Dragonfire, where the Doctor climbs over a rail, down his umbrella and then… oh dear. But somewhere along the line, this cliffhanger tends to crop up. The Dalek production line, with the little plastic toys filling in alongside shots of those handy cardboard cut-outs as the Daleks swell their ranks.

Anneke Wills has said in interviews before now that she sometimes has nightmares about that shot of the Daleks coming down the conveyor belt, and it's not hard to see why. I went back and watched a reconstruction of the scene after I'd heard the audio because, as much as I love the narrated soundtracks, there are some bits of the missing stories that you simply have to experience visually.

The way the shadows fall across the Dalek models as they move along, the lighting really accentuating their shape, as they just keep coming along the production line… the soundtrack spells it out perfectly when it says that the Daleks aren't just reproducing, but mass-producing. It's a chilling scene, and really helps to hammer home the fear that these creatures can instil. I've praised the look of the 1960s Daleks plenty of times in The 50 Year Diary, but it really does feel worth repeating here. Frankly, it's a stunning design, and the ones in this stage of the programme's history are some of my favourites. And look at that! They've got me talking about them again! Terry Nation may have created the Daleks, but for me, it's David Whittaker who gets them best in this era.

So much for not talking about them much today! I can't move from the subject until I mention the way that they act right at the start of this episode, as we make our way out of the cliffhanger. When we finished yesterday's instalment, Lesterson was surrounded by the creatures as they chanted for their power. Having been talked down today, the power is shut off, and the fear that the Daleks cause comes from a totally different place. It's bad enough when they're all shouting in unison, but there's something simply scary about them having to struggle to summon the power for each word.

'Turn… Back… The… Power… Supply…' one of them begs, and it's one of the scariest uses of their voices that we've ever heard. It's fantastic. Having been ordered to back down by Lesterson, the Dalek struggles for a moment before croaking 'We… Are… Your… Servants…' once more. It's so unusual to hear them in this way, and it completely works.

Elsewhere, the story is still chugging along at a nice pace. I have to admit that I'd worried a little at this one - it's the first time we've had a story with more than four episodes since The Daleks' Master Plan (and the first six parter since the Chase, which was ages ago!). I've made my thoughts on the six-part format clear in the past, and on the whole I never think that it works. This is proving me wrong, though! Having spent all this time building up, it looks like everything is in the right place now to really kick off in the final two parts.

We've got the introduction of one of the Second Doctors' catchphrases here (or, at least, one which is considered a catch phrase, though I believe it doesn't last very long) as he comments that he'd like a hat like that. Yesterday we had the first real use of 'When I say run…', so it really does feel like he's establishing himself here. I've enjoyed seeing him spend more time with Ben, though the sailor still isn't really warming to him, is he?

That's not a bad thing - quite the opposite. Ben has been sceptical of all this time and space travel right since the start of The Smugglers, and I like that even after all they've been through, he still isn't quite ready to accept it all yet. I'd worried that by now he's have given in and would just be written as a generic 'companion', but he's holding firm for now. Though, as we stand at the moment, he's now been captured too, so there's a chance that he'll be missing as well as Polly for the next episode. That seems a bit drastic, though, so surely not?

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