Events come to a head this episode, as Lesterson’s dire warnings are dismissed as the ravings of a madman, Bragen and Janley move against Governor Hensell, and the Daleks have their own power, literally and metaphorically.
In between all the action, Whitaker still inserts some contemplative moments. Quinn’s quiet reflection on Hensell’s qualities as governor is moving, and the Dalek’s genuinely curious question to Bragen – ‘Why do human beings kill human beings?’ – is as troublingly imponderable to Vulcan’s new dictator as it is to our own politicians.
Whitaker asks us to consider Hensell’s ‘old-fashioned, single-minded’ qualities of quiet hard work with those, like the miners, on the periphery of the colony, in contrast to a rebellion that tears down rather than brings together. But what he doesn’t do is tell us why there is a rebellion, or what factors have led the colony to this point. Hensell seems to be a friend of the working man (Quinn says, ‘The Governor’s popular. He can count on the mine workers at the perimeter for support’) – so perhaps these are right wing rebels? Certainly, Janley wears an armband with an odd logo, that’s surely meant to hint at Fascism – as is Bragen’s obsession with uniforms and black-clad personal guards.
It’s odd, given that the Doctor so often sides with the rebels, for ‘rebellion’ on Vulcan to be a phantom menace to the status quo.
Whitaker’s on firmer ground with the Daleks, who need no such explanations for their evil. He writes the Daleks better than anyone so far, bringing out their deviousness and hatred. These are the Daleks at their least robotic, in contrast to the last story’s emotionless Cybermen. Peter Hawkins, who voices the monsters in both stories gives the Dalek voices a real edge of malevolence, as if they are slyly mocking the stupid human beings they have fooled. When one says, ‘Until now, we have had to recharge from the colony supply. With static power, the Daleks will be twice as… useful.’ the pause before the final word doesn’t seem accidental, but a deliberate taunt.
Whitaker also looks for ways to mark out the new Doctor from the old version: he has a habit of irritating people, like Ben and Quinn, by apparently focusing on trivialities like a dog whistle or a glass of water, which are then revealed to be part of a longer game. Understandably, the serial continues to focus almost entirely on him, at the expense of Ben and Polly (Anneke Wills took last episode off, this time it’s Michael Craze’s turn). For the first three episodes, Ben and Polly were basically the audience surrogates for the changeover. A month down the line, they’ve got almost nothing to contribute to this.
With a new leading man who’s able to carry both the dialogue and most of the action, perhaps a different type of companion really is needed. Someone who doesn’t need to explain the plot to the audience, but who gets it explained to them; who can be part of a double act with the Doctor, rather than with another companion. Oh, and maybe a plus one to twist their ankle and scream at monsters for story purposes.
Next episode: The Power of the Daleks – Episode Six