There’s an odd moment near the start of this episode when two armed Daleks, issued with orders to conquer and destroy, lets the Doctor chat to them and walk away. It epitomises a script that seems to have developed amnesia about things that happened just a few pages before.
There’s a similar issue in the treatment of Janley, who suddenly and unexpectedly seems to have developed a loyalty to ‘our own men’, the rebels – even though in Episode Three she discussed with Bragen their long game to use the rebellion as a pretext to take over the colony:
JANLEY: We could take over the colony now.
BRAGEN: No. No, it has to be absolutely right. I don’t want to take over a colony full of rebels do I, Janley?
JANLEY: I don’t know. You’re making me help them.
BRAGEN: Only to stir them up to create enough trouble to get rid of Hensell, and then, then we crush them. The whole colony will be grateful, and I’ll be Governor.
As this was their plan all along, why has Janley apparently forgotten about it and become suddenly sentimental about her false friends?
Episode Six Janley’s character and motivation make very little sense: she ends up a superficial character. And I’m left feeling that The Power of the Daleks wants to seem to be about something (any human disagreement is petty in the face of an existential threat) but isn’t really. The human disagreements are petty because Whitaker doesn’t write them with any substance. The end result is a story that is easy to like but hard to admire.
Which isn’t to say it’s a failure. Whitaker succeeds in making the Daleks their most intelligent and evil: the massacre of the colonists montage is particularly harrowing. Their defeat by a surfeit of power – “absolute power corrupting absolutely” – is extremely funny.
However, his biggest success is in making Troughton’s Doctor central to the developing plot: clever, brave and heroic, but also strange and inscrutable, and discomfiting in a way Hartnell never was. A leading man who doesn’t act like a leading man, which means the story develops in quite unusual directions. Rather than being celebrated and revered by the colonists for saving them, he’s blamed for wrecking their power supply and has to slink off before they ask him to foot the bill.
Next episode: The Highlanders