A lot of commentators have written extensively about how amazing it is that a complete Doctor Who story, missing from the archives for 50 years and important because it’s the first episode of a replacement Doctor, has been animated. This review isn’t about that. It’s about whether the story is any good and whether the animation passes muster.
The answers are, respectively, yes and sort of. Yes, the story romps along at a decent pace for the time (although viewers of the current series, 2005 and beyond, may find it a little slow). By normal standards too much time is spent on the newness of the Doctor, but this was a complete novelty at the time; the companions, Ben and Polly, aren’t sure this actually is the Doctor, and the audience would have been equally puzzled. The new incumbent is very much finding his feet; Troughton was always impish but here he’s deliberately obscure, testing out the soon-to-be-jettisoned catchphrase “I would like a hat like that”, enunciating his words too carefully – there’s a germ of the eventual characterisation of the second Doctor in here somewhere but it’s not fully-formed yet.
We move to the story itself, which is a corker. The team have landed on the planet Vulcan, not yet a famous trope from another franchise, and the Doctor quickly replaces a dead examiner, sent to investigate what’s happening on an Earth colony. What’s actually happening is that some dead – of course in this instance this means “dormant” – Daleks have been discovered. Rebellious colonists are trying to reactivate these Daleks (hence the “power” in the title) and that’s such a mistake…
If the Doctor has changed in this story, so have the Daleks. The blunt extermination machines had turned into caricatures during the William Hartnell era; here they’re scheming and clever under the writing of former script editor David Whitaker. He would pull off the same trick in Troughton’s other encounter with the meanies from Skaro later in the series. Often the plot twists are obviously aimed at children; anyone over the age of 10 who doesn’t guess at the bad guy early on is being plain obtuse. But it’s watchable, Troughton uses his depth as an actor to hint at the right level of menace and it’s no surprise the idea of replacing the Doctor caught on and gave the programme its legs.
And as with all TV of the time, they wiped it. Luckily someone recorded the audio so this reanimation was possible. Sadly it doesn’t have much budget so although the likenesses of the characters are good, the movements are crude. The Toy Story generation might find it difficult to get engaged in this. It may be easier when the colour version comes out in February (milk it? The BBC? Surely not…) but for the moment it’s an engaging enough story, competently told and a brutal reminder of just how much was lost before our culture woke up to the interest in archive TV. Oddly it’s easiest to forget you’re watching a cartoon when the Daleks themselves come onto the screen – maybe it’s their angular appearance lending itself to line drawing, maybe it’s something else, but it’s in these sequences that the thing really comes to life.
EXTRAS: Given the amount of people who are no longer with us from the original production there were always going to be limits on what could go onto the extras disk. Given this limitation it’s done a remarkable job. The accompanying booklet has a bit of depth, there’s a decent photo gallery albeit packed with pictures most fans will have seen before; a reconstruction of the story using off-screen telesnaps restores some of the original expression and inter-actor dynamic so important to the original. There’s a good “making of” sequence, PDFs of production notes and scripts, a digitally-recorded title sequence that looks much like the non-digitally-restored version and best of all the surviving footage and original trailer are present. You’re reminded of the cardboard cutout Daleks in the ship’s background which is unfortunate but you get glimpses of just how good elements of this story would have been.