The Power of the Daleks: Episode Three
The third episode is essentially the battle of wits between the Doctor and the Daleks, the former attempting to out them or do for them at every opportunity while they gain ground by taking the path of least resistance.
The Doctor first tries to gain the upper hand through logic. If they are their servants, they will respond to any command.
The Doctor: Very well, immobilise yourself.
Which the Dalek apparently does, with a drooping eyestalk. Later, he attempts to dupe Lesterson (“I’d like to be friends”) in order to deactivate the Dalek. And it looks like he will succeed until he’s forced from the room.
Then he takes the opportunity to enter Lesterson’s lab but beats a retreat when faced with two armed Daleks.
The Doctor (to Ben): When I say run, run like a rabbit.
The Doctor of this story uses deductive reasoning sharply, concluding that whatever he does (destroy the Daleks and incur the reprisals of the colony or allow the Daleks to take over) the outlook is bleak.
The fall-out from this obsessive attention towards his nemeses is that Polly’s plight is ignored. Ben is worried about her and wants to find her, and he’s right to. But the Doctor dismisses his concerns, telling him that she is just exploring; “She is interested. I like that”.
And, aside from some more tootling on his recorder, he’s dropped most of the more comedic flourishes of the first couple of episodes, establishing clear priorities. This is most clear in his comment on Quinn’s plight.
The Doctor: A little injustice is better than wholesale slaughter.
It’s an example of tidy plotting that Polly, whom he ignored, should be the leverage for stopping his action against the Daleks later; the message relayed to him being that she will be safe as long as he leaves the Daleks alone.
Meanwhile, the Dalek(s) run rings round Lesterson and generally prove highly adept at manipulating the colony under the pretext of servitude. When the Doctor leaves, the immobilised Dalek resumes its previous state.
Dalek: His order was wrong. I cannot serve human beings if I am immobilised. You gave me power. Your orders are right. I serve you.
Likewise, they tell Lesterson a load of porkies to get the materials they need for their production line, claiming they need them to manufacture a computer for meteorite detection. I like the near-trip up the Dalek makes when in conversation with Lesterson.
Dalek: A Dalek is bet-… is not the same as a human.
So it’s a little disappointing that, after they play the trump card of revealing two more of their number at the climax sans weaponry, they revert nearly to type for demands of a cliffhanger. Surrounding Lesterson, they rant in unison “We will get our power”.
Throughout this, Robert James really sells Lesterson’s lack of discernment. Lesterson has his eye only on the horizon he thinks lies ahead, and from scene to scene he shows a complete lack of judgement. He smooths over Hensell’s concerns at the Dalek’s powers of reason.
Lesterson: Now there is no cause for concern, Governor. Wait until you see the amount of work it can do.
Which is just what a beleaguered governor wants to hear (later he comments “I have every confidence in Lesterson” and provides a permanent guard for the lab). And when told of the 100 perecent accuracy of the Daleks’ meteorite detection he fixes on how it will be “an enormous saving for the colony” and no doubt bring enormous accolades for him too. Later, he exhibits the same failings with the Doctor.
Lesterson: You’ve done nothing but meddle and interfere since you landed on Vulcan.
Quite an accolade for the Doctor, but as soon as he offers friendship Lesterson buckles (“Very well. You may stay”). Notably, though, the Doctor makes a point of telling Ben that Lesterson is a first-class scientist, and should not be underestimated.
The Quinn plotline is something of a damp squib after he reveals that he sent for the Examiner, because of the threat of the rebels. It provides Polly with slightly mundane motivation followed by kidnapping. Maybe she fancies Quinn? She pleads “Leave him alone” as he is marched off to confinement. Her kidnapping by Janley and Velmer feels a bit clumsy, though. Get a companion out of the way for an episode. And the rebels’ short-sighted planning, not to mention the question of just what the oppression they are amounts to, involves using a Dalek gun (it “could win us the revolution”).
That said, the revelation that Janley is playing the rebels, working for Bragen, adds a layer of intrigue.
Bragen: I don’t want to take over a colony of rebels, do I Janley?
But it seems like a rather convoluted and risk method for attaining the governorship (he’s been promoted Deputy Governor just through a bit of clever arguing). Janley stirs them up, such that Hensell is undermined and loses his position. Then Bragen crushes them.
Bragen: The whole colony will be grateful and then I’ll be Governor.
Bragen has already shown his true colours in accusing Quinn of murdering the Examiner in order to blame it on the rebels and usurp the Governor. Which doesn’t take a lot of effort to come up with, as later Bragen (see above) reveals that this is essentially his plan. It’s a consistent theme with the colonists, that personal goals blind them to the threat of the Daleks (because otherwise we the viewers wouldn’t buy into the scenario). Even the calculating Bragen doesn’t recognise what they are capable of, siding with Lesterson in order to keep the Doctor at bay (the real threat in his mind).
His scene opposite the Doctor lays his cards on the table, each calling each other’s bluff. He informs the Doctor that a body has been found in the swamp.
The Doctor: What is that to do with me?
Bragen: You’re the Examiner. Or maybe you’re not. Who are you?
The Doctor: There’s only one possible way that you could know I’m not the Examiner.
It appears that an impasse has been reached between them in respect of the consequences of either telling the Governor their different truths.
Ben: He’d make a right Father Christmas, wouldn’t he?
The Doctor: I’d rather fight a hundred of his sort than just one Dalek.
Sustaining a scenario where the Daleks remain relatively impassive three episodes into the story is no mean feat, and Whitaker/Spooner largely succeed. Mainly because the battleground of the episode is an intellectual one between them and the Doctor, very much a rarity until Davros showed up to rant cerebrally. There can’t help be a bit of “I can’t believe they’re falling for it” because we know them so well, but for the most part the performances (Hensell, Lesterson) and the underlying motivations of the humans sell it. Most of the characters have ulterior motives and see the Daleks as only incidental or instrumental to their goals. The rebel plot remains lacklustre at this point; it can’t hope to be as compelling as the main thread, and it isn’t, with Polly’s kidnap coming across as filler material (and a holiday for Anneke).