Monday, 26 October 2015

030. The Power of the Daleks by David Whitaker: Episode 3 (19 November 1966)


To open with a fun aside, this episode is notable for giving Ben a fair few perspicacious comments on the other features of the story; generally, if Ben makes an observation here, it is one we are to take as being key in summing up whatever it is he is observing. “The way I see it, this lot’s too busy arguing amongst themselves to do much about anything,” says Ben of the colonists, and quite right he is too. The complex power-play between them marches on: in this instalment we learn that it was Quinn who sent for the Examiner because of his fear of the rebels’ gaining the upper hand, whilst the Iago-like Bragen continues to turn the Governor against his deputy and Janley continues to aid rebels right under everyone else’s noses. Note that, in the manner of a Shakespearian history, this is a power-play that centres very much on its highest authority figures. The rebels are up to this point mostly off-stage, merely alluded to. Even Lesterson, who has little interest in the politics of the others and wishes it could stay out of his beloved laboratory, is the Doctor Faustus of his day – “a first-class scientist”, according to the Doctor. But it is always the greatest and most ambitious philosophers who strike the deal with the Devil, is it not?

“He’s a right little delinquent, isn’t he?”, says Ben of the Doctor, and once again he is spot on. Troughton continues to be considerably different to his predecessor; Hartnell could well be mischievous and roguish, but he rarely took a pragmatic glee in tearing things down. But that is Troughton’s MO: jamming signals, breaking control units, ripping up papers, sabotaging experiments, ridding planets of their corrupt overlords. The Time Lord is becoming more and more of a deliberate crusader, a righter of wrongs, a man of whom Lesterson can legitimately say “you’ve done nothing but meddle and interfere ever since you arrived on Vulcan”. The Doctor telling the Dalek to immobilise itself is one such example (again something echoed by Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor in Dalek: “Why don’t you just DIE?!”), a highly strung scene in terms of tension and bolstered by a certain steely yet risky streak in Troughton’s diction. His stalemate confrontation with Bragen toward the episode’s end is also rather good. Slowly, without us really knowing it, we are coming to accept this guy absolutely as the Doctor.

Polly has been rather underused in this story, although Anneke Wills is always good with what she’s given. Her arc so far has not amounted to much more than suffering from mercury poisoning briefly, and being convinced that Quinn is a good and innocent man. But in this third episode she does play a larger role – it’s just unfortunate that it’s probably the weakest element of the story (along with the Doctor’s line “she’s a clever girl, but she couldn’t answer this” and his general lack of concern for Polly). Prioritising going back to the restroom to clear up, a regrettably uninteresting and gendered role, she then becomes part of a rather transparent and limp “damsel-in-distress” sequence; however, this is rather redeemed by the fact that it’s Janley who sets up this deception and indeed who seems to be commanding the rebel Valmar. She incapacitates Polly and provides Valmar with his new weapon (could there be a Freudian reading to her making a man out of him by giving him the Dalek gun?). Indeed, in general, Janley is the kind of villainous character one can really relish. Piercingly intelligent and scheming, she ensures Resno’s death but leads Lesterson to believe he’s only ill, dumps Resno’s body in a mercury swamp, and cautions that, if Lesterson kicks up trouble, the fact that he awakened the Dalek and that this led to Resno’s death “will be a hold over him”.

As we said last time around, this story’s usage of the Daleks is so well-remembered because of THAT cliff-hanger, because of the way it treats master-slave relations as not just the human colony’s power tussles. We can trace this same line of thought right back to Hegel’s Herrschaft und Knechtschaft, better known in English as the Master-Slave dialectic and which was of course influential on Marx’s conception of class struggle. What makes Hegel’s idea so fascinating is the extent to which the slave can become the master – by creating the world around it on the master’s behalf, it comes to understand its own self-consciousness, whereas the master becomes completely isolated from all the products which the slave has made. In effect, the master is enslaved by its own slave, since it has become unable to function without it; unsurprisingly, this is an increasingly common theme in our technology-soaked age, and one that has been to some extent linked to the ‘Uncanny Valley’. The Daleks do not look remotely like humans, of course, and so are not comparable to other more humanoid robots, the traditional artificial intelligences of the Uncanny Valley (see the robophobia/Grimwade’s Syndrome in The Robots of Death). They resemble machines, even tools (they look as though one could sit inside them, funnily enough) and yet have their own conceptions of life, their own speech, their own worldview and rational thought, even their own weaponry. They are independent and have their own self-consciousness. The scientists’ idea that the Vulcan colony can exploit Dalek labour is fundamentally myopic, since it fails to take into account that to do so would be to become utterly dependent on the Daleks. And who then holds the real power? If such a master-slave synthesis is not reached, a death struggle ensues; according to Hegel, the victor still does not emerge victorious, since a master cannot be defined as a master if it has no slave to revere and obey it. This is where the Daleks’ uniqueness comes in: they are so absolute and so utterly certain that human deaths in their millions and the removal of slave upon slave will never matter to them, since they need no assurance or recognition from any external influences (see the Dalek’s blatant disregard of the Doctor’s order once he has left the room). They do not have exploitable insecurities as we do. And so, with this failsafe built in to their machinery, they can slowly multiply, arm themselves, and they can always become the Masters of Earth. They will get their power.

When that happens, there’s no longer any point calling the man who is armed with a gun. You need the man who is sitting quietly and playing the recorder.

Read my take on the fourth episode here.

Other things:
The Dalek’s rationale: “You gave me power. Your orders are right. I serve you.”
“In a few years’ time he’d have had this [the Governor’s] seat!”/“A few years is a long time to wait.”
“You may think that Lesterson’s the driving force. But I don’t. The Daleks are using him.”
Ever the pragmatist, Doctor: “This is a case where a little injustice is better than wholesale slaughter.”
Great moment when the Daleks’ façade nearly slips and in spite of itself it almost begins a rant about its innate superiority: “A Dalek is bett-is not the same as a human.”
“Entry is restricted!”/“Not for me it isn’t. ‘Accord every access” – I’ve got a badge!”
“When I say run, run like a rabbit. Run!” (not quite the same, is it?)
“Greed and ambition. That’s all it is. Wait till they find out what their precious production figures have cost them!”
For all his threats, Bragen is an ultimately petty menace, and the Doctor asserts emphatically “I’d rather fight a hundred of his sort than just one Dalek.”
“WE WILL GET OUR POWER!” isn’t quite up there with the previous cliff-hanger, but it’s still a goosebumps moment.

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