Fifty years ago, The Power of the Daleks, a six part Doctor Who serial, was first broadcast across the UK and, soon after, it was lost forever, never to be seen again, until now! This year the Second Doctor’s first adventure has been regenerated as a full-length animated feature, and was released yesterday as a limited event across theaters around the United States for one night only. I was lucky enough to have a theater near me showing the newly restored serial, so I jumped at the chance to see one of Doctor Who’s lost adventures.
Before I get into my review, I should first give you a little backstory. You might be surprised to learn, that there are actually quite a few early Doctor Who episodes that are completely missing – 97 to be exact. Almost completely erased from history, no one has seen these episodes since their original broadcast. But where did they go? How does a studio just lose entire episodes of one of the most enduring programs in history? To answer these questions, you’ll need to get to know one of the British Broadcasting Company’s now most infamous policies: archive wiping.
From 1967 to 1978 the BBC, routinely erased its catalogue of programs. Reruns were not something that was widely practiced, and the company decided that to save space, and free up tape, they would just erase programs that they erroneously assumed no one cared to see again. Eventually the BBC ended up erasing every single one of Doctor Who’s first 253 episodes. Doctor Who was not the only program affected, there were thousands of hours of a number of programs that lost most, if not all, of their archives of episodes. Sadly, a small few of these shows simply no longer exist.
Doctor Who was lucky though, it ran long enough, and was distributed widely enough, that today, we still have most of the episodes. But getting them back was not easy. As I said before, every single episode had been erased. But thanks to fans, collectors, and international broadcasters, a large number of these episodes have been found and returned to the BBC’s archives. Many episodes were purchased to air in countries around the world, and some of those broadcasters still had their copies. Sometimes the reels were sold to collectors, and a number of episodes were discovered that way. After years of searching, all but 97 episodes have been found and returned.
But fans still have hope to see those missing 97 episodes! While VCRs weren’t a thing yet, people would still record audio from their televisions to listen to like a radio program. And in that way, those 97 episodes still live on! Every single episode is now accounted for, if not in video form, then at least in audio form. While fans have begged for restorations for years, the BBC has been slow to commission them, so this complete restoration of an entire serial is a real treat for patient fans.
The Power of the Daleks revolves around the Doctor’s visit to the planet Vulcan with his companions, Polly Write and Ben Jackson. After his regeneration, which his companions are struggling to understand and come to terms with, the Doctor lands the TARDIS and walks out, stumbling upon a man who is instantly murdered by an unseen gunman. The doctor takes the man’s badge, and his identity as an inspector who has come to inspect a research base where political upheaval is threatening violence.
Upon investigation of the base, the Doctor and his companions discover that one of the scientists has unearthed a pod containing three “robots” that he has been experimenting on. Despite warnings from the Doctor, the scientist succeeds in activating the machine, which is in actuality a Dalek – a living creature inside what is essentially a small tank. The two feuding factions come to blows with the Daleks in the middle, creating a brand new Dalek army and threatening to destroy everyone on the planet.
This story is actually a hugely important serial in Doctor Who’s history. This episode marks the first time fans had to get to know a brand new Doctor. While regeneration is a well known concept for fans today, back then this was the first time it had ever happened. The first Doctor regenerated at the end of the previous serial, which, incidentally, is also missing, and the first scenes of this story were crucial to get fans on board with their beloved character being played by a brand new actor. His companions, Polly and Ben, were instrumental in making this happen. They were with the first Doctor at the end of his life, and their reaction to this new stranger was meant to mirror how fans watching at home might feel.
This was also the reason that the writers decided to make this a Dalek-centric story. The Daleks were already a well-known piece of Doctor Who history, so the use of these iconic villains was the perfect way to prove to fans that this was still the same program that they knew and loved.
For me, this was my introduction to the Second Doctor. I have seen very few of the the early Doctor Who episodes as so many of them are missing that they were never repeated when I watched the show when I was younger. Of the original series, I am most familiar with the Seventh Doctor and, to a lesser extent, the Fourth. I saw very few episodes of Doctors Five and Six, and none of the first three. I have wanted to catch up on all the early Doctor Who adventures, but as they are currently either missing or unavailable for streaming, this was the first real chance I’ve had.
I quite enjoyed this new take on an old show, as a fan of Doctor Who it was a good experience. The acting was excellent, the sound design was great, and the music was just what I was expecting. Everything worked together to really draw me in and at times really had me on the edge of my seat. The music was very tense and, along with the sound design, it really worked for the story. But these are all things that have to do with the original version of the story. What does the new animation bring to the table? Does it live up to everyone’s expectations? Sadly, it probably does not.
There are so many good things about this production. All the things I mentioned before – the music is excellent, the sound design is excellent, the acting is excellent – and many of the new things about this production are great as well. The character design is great, the set design is great, the backgrounds are great, the 3D modeling is great, the 3D animation is great, but arguably the most important thing, the character animation… is not that great.
All the characters are animated in a 2D flash style that is very stiff and un-life like. It was like watching a slightly more animated version of a motion comic, or a stop motion animation of paper dolls. While they looked quite good in still poses, once they started walking it was hard to accept them as fully realized characters. In addition, there were a surprising number of absolutely glaring animation errors that somehow made it into the final cut. At one point someone walked away, leaving their pocket and name-tag behind, floating in midair for a few seconds, before snapping back onto their chest.
I know all these animation difficulties are there because the BBC did not have a massive animated film in their budget, and it did they best it could with the resources it had. At the very least, I am happy BBC made it and I am happy that this now exists. As a fan, I was able to look past the animation flaws and get pulled into the story. Once in a while there would be a glaring animation error that would take me out completely, but I was invested so I soon forgot that I was watching something with such a low budget.
It also helped that the Daleks were animated so well in comparison to their human costars. The Daleks are essentially faceless robots, so the animators did not have to worry about lip syncing and believable human movements. As Daleks get around by gliding across the floor, very little had to be done to make you buy them as believable characters.
In addition to the Daleks, anything else that was rendered as a 3D model looked incredible. The TARDIS, the TARDIS console, machines, doors, ships – everything looked crisp and perfect. They were all stylized to look 2D, but with the 3D animation they moved far better than any human in the entire film. The 3D animation really was the saving grace of this feature.
For a casual watcher with no interest in the history of the production, and no attachment to the series as a whole, I would probably not recommend that this be the story that you start out on. For a hard core fan of Doctor Who, someone who knows the long, hard struggle it has been to get these episodes to the point where they can even be watched, then I highly recommend that you check this out. It is such an important piece of Doctor Who’s history that, if you are a fan, you can’t afford to miss.
Are you a fan of Doctor Who? Did you get a chance to see this movie? What did you think of it?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes