What follows is a substantially rewritten version of something I wrote AGES ago and originally posted at my old site. The original version struck me as woefully inadequate (and embarassingly gushy… which is a fault of mine) when I reread it recently.
Is ‘The Power of the Daleks’ a parable about a democracy destabilised by fascists or about an authoritarian society destabilised by liberals, or even people who think of themselves as leftists? Well… the answer is, of course, yes.
If this is about the rise of fascism, there are some problems with it. Bragen works as a sort of fascist, scheming to replace a relatively soft regime with an authoritarian one which he will rule with an iron fist. But the presence of the Daleks muddies this, separating the barbarism of fascism from fascism as a political movement. The Daleks have always been symbols of totalitarianism so, when they turn on the astonished rebels, it makes it hard to see the rebels as analogous to the Nazi party. If the rebels are Nazis, it should be they who are persecuting the ethnic minority in the colony… and that’s the Daleks! And the depiction of fascism is inadequate anyway because it is depicted as the work of one man acting on his own psychological motives. The story manages to notice that fascism emerges from social democracy, that it is a mass movement which can mobilise some popular support and appear radical… but predicates it on one man’s ambition and offers no context for it, no recognition of the fact that it is a form of class war waged at times when the capitalist system is (or perceives itself to be) under intense threat from crisis, instability and rising working class resistance and mobilisation.
But a full analysis of fascism as an actual historical phenomenon isn’t what the story is trying to do. And, in any case, the rebels are never conclusively identified as a fascist movement… and nor is the Governor’s regime ever conclusively identified as democratic. It might be an unelected oligarchy, for all we know. It has military undertones, almost like the colony’s social superstructure is built upon the ranks and hierarchies of a military expedition. Hensall seems happy for Bragen to acquire more and more police muscle as long as he thinks they’re his to call upon. Hensall’s government certainly seems to operate very much behind closed doors amongst small groups of plummy-voiced men… but then so does ours and we’d call ours a “democracy”, meaningfully enough as long as all we’re doing is distinguishing it from places like Saudi Arabia. In any case, it’s perfectly possible that the rebels are a liberal or leftist movement reacting to an authoritarian regime.
The rebels don’t seem to be an ideologically revolutionary organisation. They certainly behave like one… although they may simply be a non-revolutionary organisation forced into clandestine meetings by authoritarian repression… though, the guards who’d do the repressing are commanded by the rebel leader, so…. hmm, it’s all a bit confusing.…