Dennis Spooner makes a smart decision to begin this story about a month after the previous episode’s cliffhanger. It means when we re-join them, Vicki has had weeks to get to know the Doctor, Ian and Barbara.
The episode has two jobs to do. First, it needs to resolve the mysteries raised last week, and second, and more importantly, it needs to set up Vicki as the new companion. So as to avoid interfering with the real story – the introduction of the new regular – the mysteries are handled efficiently and effectively, and without any undue fuss. Once again the Doctor plays investigator – a role he’s played with the Tribe of Gum, in the city of Millennius, and on the Sense-Sphere. Having discovered Bennett’s secret escape hatch, and already aware that ‘Koquillion’ is just a ceremonial costume, it’s not much of a stretch to deduce what’s happened.
New year, new team. The Powerful Enemy opens slightly differently than we’ve become used to: the TARDIS lands in some caves (‘materialised is a better word,’ says the Doctor) but rather than then following the crew as they explore the new environment, it cuts directly to a crashed spaceship populated by a teenager, Vicki, and an injured man, Bennett. In an efficient bit of dialogue they fill in the backstory – this is the planet Dido, they’re waiting for a rescue ship that’s three days away, and someone called Koquillion is menacing them – so that we know more after the first three minutes than we do after 25 minutes on Skaro.
If you haven’t got the Nazi parallels by now, this episode makes them blatant: the extermination of all humans is ‘the final solution’. But despite the build up, the defeat of the Daleks is accomplished remarkably easily. Jacqueline Hill gets the funniest moments, firstly when she riffs on her history lessons to spin a yarn about an imminent rebellion, and then when she tries to imitate a Dalek voice over the radio, until the Doctor steps in with a more convincing impersonation. Following his orders, the Robomen turn on the Daleks and presumably kill every one they can find (shades of that in the future elimination of the Silents), while Ian sabotages their bomb causing the base to explode. Which means in both their appearances the Daleks are most disappointing in the final battle.
‘I never take life. Only when my own is immediately threatened.’ The Doctor is back, with a statement of intent. Ever since he vowed to defeat the Daleks a month ago – and which he reiterates here (‘We have got to dare to stop them!’), he’s been a man on a mission, which couldn’t contrast more with Susan’s cosy domestics with David. She’s more worried about some stew going cold than fighting the Daleks. It’s obvious that the Doctor’s outgrown her more than she has him. Fortunately, we’ve had five weeks to get used to the idea of her and David being together – a relationship that’s grown over as many episodes as we might expect even from modern TV.
This is the kind of middle episode that the show sometimes struggles with, particularly in the longer serials: not a huge amount happens, but it’s still too far from the last episode to start pushing things towards a climax. Instead, Nation focuses on more world building, expanding the story beyond central London to show the mines of Bedfordshire mentioned during the previous couple of weeks, and showing us the characters’ various journeys towards what’s clearly shaping up to be the epicentre of the Daleks’ invasion plans.
This is a thoroughly grim episode. The opening battle sequence goes on for ages, and oddly benefits from Richard Martin’s slapdash direction because it looks genuinely chaotic and shocking, with explosions going off, and people running in all directions. It works really well. So does the later (film) sequence of Barbara, jenny and Dortmun’s desperate race across London, with the classic images of Daleks outside the Palace of Westminster, in Trafalgar Square and outside the Albert Hall.