Back in November, I gave an enthusiastic account of my viewing experience in the cinemas watching the six-part Doctor Who story “The Power of the Daleks,” lost to time since its airing 50 years ago but painstakingly re-mounted using original off-air audio and newly commissioned animation using telesnaps (a term for photographs taken of the television during broadcast, for archival purposes). It’s a complicated story (detailed in that enthusiastic account I mentioned earlier) but the long and short of it is all six episodes were lost or wiped and we had nothing. Now, we have a DVD with three different ways to watch it. What a world!
The story was and is one of the most important in the history of the show. Written by original script editor David Whitaker—with additional writing by his replacement Dennis Spooner—it had to prove that a new Doctor not only could work, but that it would work with Patrick Troughton in the role. One reason for that success is that they didn’t attempt to make Troughton’s Second Doctor immediately avuncular or even all that friendly at first. It was a mystery whether or not he even was the Doctor, and companions Ben and Polly had to be cautious, even though they’d literally just seen the change happen.
It also gave us a Dalek story that proved the Daleks could be sneaky and duplicitous and use cunning to get what they want, not merely blow down doors and destroy everything. That will happen eventually, but for awhile they pretend to be the “ser-vants” of a fraught mining colony and only the Doctor—posing as a visiting official—knows the truth of what they are…until it’s too late. People try to use and exploit the Daleks at their own peril.
At any rate, I can talk about the greatness of “The Power of the Daleks” in story terms and as a piece of television history all day, but for the purposes here, the most amazing thing about a DVD release is that we get to have it at all and viewable in three different formats. Many fans were holding out hope that at least a couple of the episodes would one day be discovered, but the BBC commissioning a fully-animated reconstruction all but ensures that the real episodes probably are indeed lost to time. However, with the animation, we now have a chance to see this and watch it any time we want, and with special features that put it right in line with the other discs in the range.
First and foremost, I’m gonna get some of the criticisms I have out of the way: for fans who have collected the DVD range for years, and who—like I do—have an entire shelf devoted to all of them, it will be a bit annoying that the style is pretty drastically different. Similar color scheme, but the font is different and it doesn’t have a picture of Troughton on the corner or “The Patrick Troughton Years 1966-1969” on the front, the way literally every single other release has done. Even “The Underwater Menace” which came out a few years ago andhad two full episodes and two telesnap reconstruction in pretty crappy versions, fit the visual aesthetic. A lesser nit to pick, but the DVD menu, while looking pretty much the same, also doesn’t adhere to the way literally every other one does.
Like I said, those are only really going to irk fans who’ve spent time, energy, and money building their collection. As far as what the set actually gives you, you’re in the same great hands. There are a whopping three different ways to watch “The Power of the Daleks”; the first is the colorized version which was made at the behest of BBC America for its weekly airing. The animation looks great, so it only annoys my sensibilities a little bit that they even felt the need to color it in the first place. There is, though, the full story again in the black & white animation style that more closely mirrors what was broadcast. It’s gorgeous; I love it. And finally, you get the full telesnap reconstruction, so you can own the only version people have been able to see for decades. Giving fans the fullest picture of “The Power of the Daleks” story is really a great move.
As far as extras go, the main one here is commentary on every animated episode. All are moderated by comedian, author, and supreme Doctor Who authority Toby Hadoke, who has been the DVD commentary moderator for quite some time and does a phenomenal job. As the animation for the story was finished so late in the game, none of the commentators had gotten to see it prior, so their reactions to the now-visible story are genuine. Hadoke joined for episodes 1 and 6 by Anneke Wills (who played Polly), Derek Dodd (the story’s designer), and Michael Briant (the story’s assistant floor manager who went on to direct stuff in the ’70s). They have quite fond and surprisingly well-remembered things to say about the show. On episode 2, that trio is joined by actor Nicholas Hawtrey (who played guest character Quinn). Episode 3 features Hadoke in France watching with actor Edward Kelsey, who played Resno, and who appeared in a total of three Doctor Who stories. This feels more like a podcast interview, but that’s a-okay with me.
Episodes 4 and 5 are where things for me got more fun and interesting. The former had Hadoke talking with people involved in some modern Dalek stuff: new series Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs, series 1 and 2 Dalek operator David Hankinson, and the writer of the series one episode “Dalek,” Robert Shearman. All are huge fans of both the show and of Daleks in general and listening to the four of them nerd out at getting to see “Power” is lovely, since all of them except Briggs weren’t alive when it originally aired. And for the fifth episode, Hadoke is joined by three of the key members of the animation team, explaining what they did and how they replicated what was known of the initial TV broadcast. It’s evidently 50/50 when it comes to what they re-created and what had to be embellished or improved.
Along with the commentaries, we get a 22-minute making-of–that seems like the made it several years ago, perhaps when they expected the real episodes to be found—which has interviews with people involved as well as from scholars talking about the story’s importance. And to finish it off, we get quite a lot of photo and image galleries, which are interesting enough for a second or two as comparison.
Part of me was worried—because the people who used to be involved in the production of classic Doctor Who DVDs aren’t doing it anymore, and the fact that pretty much there hadn’t been need of a classic series DVD release in several years—that this would feel demonstrably different and relatively bare bones. But it isn’t at all! Get over the different packaging and what you get fits exactly inline with what we’ve had up to now: a release that seems to really care about the fan who buys this kind of thing. There’s something for everybody.
Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks hits DVD retailers Tuesday, January 31
Images: BBC America
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!