Doctor Who: The Power Of The Daleks animation review

A classic in every sense, The Power Of The Daleks is now available to buy in animated form. Here's our review...

Ever since The Web Of Fear and The Enemy Of The World were (mostly) recovered back in 2013, there’s been a renewed desire to see more from the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who. But with no further sign of goodies from Morris and his team (though we are assured the search is ongoing), it’s fallen to BBC Worldwide and a team led by director Charles Norton to bring us the next best thing – an animated version of Troughton’s debut story The Power Of The Daleks.

Much of the fun of the story is in discovering its twists and turns for yourself, so we’ll skimp on plot details here (they’re available all over the internet anyway), but for the uninitiated, the story involves a post-regenerative Doctor and his companions Ben and Polly landing on the planet Vulcan (not that one). There they discover a human colony under threat from a group of rebels, and a crashed space capsule – containing some dormant Daleks. But chief scientist Lesterson is keen to wake them up…

This is not the first time missing Doctor Who episodes have been animated, but The Power Of The Daleks is the first complete story to receive the treatment. Fortunately there’s a wealth of reference material to work from; this is one of many stories represented by John Cura’s off-air photographs, or ‘tele-snaps’, as well as a number of short snippets of 8mm film footage which are included if you purchase the series pass. The result is a product which does its best to match the original shot-for-shot, with the visuals edited to match the pacing of the soundtrack rather than the other way around. Die-hard fans familiar with the tele-snaps may notice occasional cosmetic changes – but with the possible exception of a costuming error in the first episode, these shouldn’t detract from the story one bit.

Anyone who’s seen previous reconstructed lost episodes will know the sort of animation to expect here; though being worked on by a new team, it’s still been done to a BBC Worldwide budget with a relatively tight turnaround time. As such, the style is far more Pugwash than Princess Mononoke, but it’s surprisingly effective. The fact that the story features Daleks works in the project’s favour; though the movement of the human characters may be jerky, the Daleks glide flawlessly across the screen in a way they simply wouldn’t have been able to in their more rickety live-action form.

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This isn’t to say that the humanoid characters are badly animated, though. It’s true that some characters are better represented than others – Ben in particular doesn’t bear that much resemblance to Michael Craze – and at times expressions don’t quite come off, but for everything that doesn’t work about the characters there’s several things that do, and there are times when the animators do a lot with very little – there’s a moment in episode 3, for instance, when Bragen’s expression changes such a small amount but manages to convey a huge shift in meaning. All of the best character work has been saved, quite rightly, for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. Troughton’s face is so expressive, and his performance so powerful and nuanced, that any recreation will struggle to capture it entirely, but Norton and his team do a stupendous job, with the animated Troughton stealing every scene he’s in just as the original did.

At the risk of enraging the purists, there are times when the animated Power Of The Daleks actually improves upon the original. The animation medium allows for lighting tricks and effects that would have been impossible to produce within the confines of the original’s time and budget, and as a result there’s an added depth and atmosphere to a number of scenes. For an example of the improvements, compare the conveyor belt scene in the surviving footage to its animated counterpart; though both are striking, the animated version has a number of extra little touches, like the individual Daleks’ eyestalks lighting up and raising as they wake up.

That said, the animation does of course owe its success to the original transmission, and it would be impossible without the original soundtrack, recorded off-air by a fan in 1966 and subsequently restored by the audio genius that is Mark Ayres, who has also created a new Dolby 5.1 mix for those capable of playing it. This is the best that the story has ever sounded, and it’s often easy to forget that you’re watching visuals which have been synced to an archival soundtrack, rather than a fresh production in its own right.

And of course, the story itself is a bona fide classic. There’s a tendency among Doctor Who fans to unfavourably re-evaluate stories like this which have gone into the fan mythos as being so well-regarded, but Power is a joy from beginning to end. It avoids the pitfall of so many six-part stories, which have an unfortunate habit of sagging in the middle, by featuring multiple plots which twist and turn their way through the running time, keeping up the intrigue for characters and viewers alike. It also features the Daleks at their most inventive and ruthless, in a way that we possibly wouldn’t quite see again until 2005’s ‘Dalek’. Early in the story, the Doctor remarks that a single Dalek is enough to bring the colony to its knees – and with these Daleks, it’s easy to buy into that.

Then there’s Patrick Troughton, taking the biggest gamble the show would ever take as he presents a take on the Doctor so completely different from William Hartnell’s, and at first it’s not even certain that he still is the Doctor. But what is instantly for sure is that he’s a mischievous, likeable figure, something which only grows throughout the story as he recovers all of his faculties. It’s such a confident, layered performance that there can be no doubt by the end of the story that his casting was a triumph.

Those who purchase the series pass will also have access to a number of bonus features, the longest of which being new 22-minute documentary Servants And Masters, which takes a look back at the making of the serial. It’s an engaging, pacy documentary, but at times it suffers from the inevitable problem that there’s not many of the original contributors left standing, so the likes of Nick Briggs, Andrew Beech and Kim Newman are drafted in to give their opinions on the tale instead. Also included are the five minutes or so of surviving footage. Most of this is taken from off-air 8mm recordings and as such is of quite poor quality, but after watching the animation it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the reality and see how the two stack up. The photo gallery runs to fifteen minutes and contains a mix of (non-tele-snap) photos from the story, animation storyboards, test designs and finished sets, while elsewhere the animation test footage feature is interesting for anyone interested in the process, as actors are drafted in to film certain movements to help the animators get them right. The package is rounded off by the animated trailer that announced the release and a clean version of the Patrick Troughton opening credits – neither of which offer anything new, but both of which are nice to have for completion.

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Whether you’re a devoted fan who was old enough to watch The Power Of The Daleks when it first went out, or a casual fan of the new series, you’ll be doing yourself a service if you pick up a copy of the animation in whatever format suits you best (A colour version will be available in the new year). And we’re not just saying that because the likelihood of more stories being animated is wholly dependent on the success of this one; The Power Of The Daleks is a classic in every sense, and in its political intrigue and the way it handles the Daleks – not as shrieking grunts but as intelligent, scheming creatures – it feels strangely contemporary. And as much as we’d happily trade it in for a copy of the original, the animation does lend the story an extra sparkle that adds to the magic far more than it detracts.

The Power Of The Daleks animated episodes are available to buy now at the BBC Store.