The Power of the Daleks: Episode Five
I’ve been praising Robert James’ performance in this story, and I’m going to have to continue repeating myself. His escalating hysteria is utterly gripping, particularly when faced with those who are actively seeking to undermine his credibility. James’ voice increasingly resembles a deranged Gussie Finknottle.
Lesterson: I know what I’m going to do. Laser torches. Melt them down. I’m going to melt the Daleks down to pools of metal!
Janley: You won’t, Lesterson.
Lesterson: Do you think I care what you can do? Go on! Tell everybody I was responsible for Resner’s death. I don’t care. I’m going to wipe out the Daleks! Yes, tell everybody all about Resner’s death.
The revelation that he can no longer wield the threat of cutting off the Daleks’ power (which they can now store) sends him scurrying first to the Doctor and then Bragen. Both the Dalek present and then Janley and Bragen treat him as if he is losing it, alleging behaviour or instructions that he did not issue.
Lesterson: What are you doing?
Dalek: Laying the new emergency power supply as you ordered, master.
Whittaker and Spooner deserve credit for devoting as much time as they do to Lesterson’s deteriorating mental state, which in this scene reaches a place of tangible surreality. It’s probably not until Hindle in Kinda that we again see such a fully-fledged depiction of someone losing it. He claims, “I’m perfectly well”, which he clearly isn’t, but unlike those around him he does now perceive the enormity of the threat of the Daleks.
Janley: You ought to be in hospital. You promised you’d report there.
Lesterson: I promised nothing of the kind.
Bragen: Pity. It’s probably only temporary.
Lesterson: You’re trying to say I’m mad.
Bragen instructs that Lesterson be placed under restraint, and it’s this episode where the character comes into his own. Bernard Archard makes the most of the opportunity, and his scene opposite Peter Bathurst (Hensell) is a master class in cool menace. Hensell has returned from his trip and Bragen barely acknowledges him, returning to his writing after looking up from his desk. He informs Hensell of the imprisonment of the Examiner.
Bragen: As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing more to be said. So if there’s nothing further…
Hensell: Nothing further? Who the devil do you think you’re talking to? Stand up when you’re speaking to me, man!
Bragen: I prefer to remain seated.
Bragen is utterly confident that he has the upper hand, and the casual manner in which he undermines Hensell makes for a fine scene.
Hensell: I am the Governor!
Bragen: No, not now. I am.
Hensell’s death is only the third in the story up to this point (it becomes a Saward bloodbath in the final episode) and its impact comes from being so offhand. Bragen attaches a gun stick to the Dalek.
Bragen: I’ll arrange a demonstration for you. Do you still refuse my offer?
Hensell: I will not be intimidated.
Bragen: No, of course not. In character to the last, Hensell. Kill him.
It’s probably because much of the characterisation and plotting is so deft that a more typical Who villain line sounds somewhat clumsy. So “From now on, I’ll have complete obedience from everyone” seems like it’s been put in to underline what a villain Bragen is, rather than it being something he would actually say.
The Daleks are as cunning as ever, despite having recovered from their faux pas at the end of Episode Four.
Dalek 1: No more than three Daleks are to be seen together at any one time.
Dalek 2: I obey.
Dalek 1: We are not ready yet to teach the human beings the law of the Daleks.
The “law of the Daleks” is mentioned twice in this story. Given the rampage they embark on in the final episode, I can only assume the “law” is akin to Judge Dredd’s; guilty of being humans, instant sentencing, which is death. They cannily decide to wait to make their move “until the humans fight among themselves. Then we will fight”.
We see the resurfacing of a Dalek having to stop itself from putting its foot in it too, fighting its “better” instincts when instructing Valmar regarding the static electricity cable.
Dalek: With static power the Daleks will be twice as… useful.
Their most memorable moment of the episode, more than the big cliffhanger, is the chillingly astute observation one makes after killing Hensell.
Dalek: Why do human beings kill human beings?
Bragen: Get on with your work.
Dalek: Yes, master. I obey.
With regard to the cliffhanger, there are a few clips of this sequence in existence, leading one to conclude that it would have been varyingly effective. Chris Barry inventively sells the appearance that there are untold numbers of Daleks spilling from a doorway, through the use of tight framing. But the cardboard cut-out Daleks used to add numbers behind the real ones confirms that the “less is more” approach the story has been taking so far is the more effective one. And, as with Bragen, having them revert to generic chanting undoes much of the good work that showed just how intelligent they are (“Exterminate. Annihilate. Destroy. Daleks conquer and destroy”).
There’s a bit of get-out writing concerning the specifics of the Daleks’ science; by drawing attention to what is apparently unscientific you can say, “It may seem like nonsense but they are very advanced”.
The Doctor: They’re powered by static electricity. It’s like blood to them. A constant life stream.
Quinn: Static isn’t workable.
The Doctor: It is to the Daleks. They’ve conquered static, just as they’ve conquered anti-magnetics.
Aside from breaking out of prison, the Doctor doesn’t have very much to do here, although his attempts to elicit the correct tone to unlock the door by rubbing his finger around the rim of a glass is quite amusing. He’s also reunited with Polly, who seems remarkably well-informed about the Daleks’ natures.
Polly: Human beings can’t be friends with Daleks. They don’t have friends.
Valmar: I don’t see why not.
Polly: It’s a kind of hatred for anything unlike themselves. They think they’re superior.
It’s Ben’s turn to be absent from an entire episode, although it’s not as if Polly gets much to do on her return. But she does make it clear that she considers Ben to be a real man when she takes Kebble to task for pushing her around.
Fine work from Archard and James, such that the backseat taken by the regulars doesn’t feel like being short-changed. All of the action has been delayed for Episode Six but, due to the deliberate pace, it doesn’t come across as a story that has hit a dull patch. Even well-worn devices such as locking characters up haven’t managed to dilute it. Indeed, the machinations of Bragen justify the plot thread in this episode even if the rebels themselves lack focus.