Revelation of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

It’s a thought-provoking little story, is this. Far richer than the average Dalek story, (and certainly far richer than the average 1980s Dalek story) Revelation Of The Daleks presents disturbing subtext after disturbing subtext in a gleefully unafraid way, as well as making the Daleks cool again (not as easy as it sounds) and even managing to coax a decent performance out of Terry Molloy. By far the most surprising element though is that it was written by Eric Saward, who just the previous season gave us the dismal Resurrection Of The Daleks, which served as nothing more than an exercise in pointlessly killing of extras. I suppose you have to commend someone for being able to learn from his mistakes.

Possibly the most remarked on aspect of the story is that the Doctor’s role is de-emphasised to an extraordinary degree, essentially relegating him to the role of a moral commentator. By contrast, Image Of The Fendahl for example also did this but this was a means of presenting some interesting guest characters and still allowed room for the Doctor to save the day in the end; here, although there are some excellent characters it feels like the Doctor has been forgotten about which, while innovative, is fundamentally unsatisfying.

The story begins with the Doctor though and presents some brilliant location footage, all the more notable for being the last broadcast story to have its exterior scenes shot on 16mm film – John Nathan-Turner’s obsession with being hip and modern removed this excellently atmospheric format from the programme from the following season. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Our first glimpse of the guest cast begins as it means to continue, presenting Jobel and Tasambeker at the height of their grotesquery (from which they never descend) as they crack graphic jokes about decomposition. These people don’t have redeeming features beneath their callous exteriors; they are not being cruel as a way of distancing themselves from reality such as was presented in programmes like M*A*S*H; they’re just a bunch of sickos. Jenny Tomasin puts in a very annoying performance, but seeing as her character is supposed to be annoying she gets away with it in a way she wouldn’t were she playing another part.

The design of the story is excellent, with subdued visuals for once (one curious thing about the Nathan-Turner era is how the money was spent on the stories with the best scripts; corned ham with cheese like Timelash had to get by on a shoestring. Not that I’m complaining about the results here, but I feel if they’d spread the money a bit more generally the season as a whole would have been better). However the incidental music, while by no means bad, has a very synthetic feel to it which contrasts starkly to the earthy look of the story.

Outside, the Doctor meets the mutant – an horrendously scary scene, made all the more harrowing by the sudden and jolting cut to the ruined face of the creature, one of the few moments of the show to genuinely make me jump and a reason I’m so glad that director Graeme Harper is working on the new series. Suddenly, the mutant scene changes from being scary to being poignant, which only goes to show the breadth of this story, even though it is slightly odd that the monster is so articulate. Then again, this is Doctor Who where aliens, mutants, savages and Viking warriors all went to grammar school.

Another oft-mentioned aspect of the story is how good the Daleks are. First of all, Harper’s direction is brilliant; he shoots the Daleks from low angles, increasing the illusion of size and power, and also only shows us them briefly: he utilises quick cuts, extreme close ups and long shots, and also the occasional nice moment where a Dalek suddenly moves across camera shot just for a second. These half-glimpses increase their menace while also hiding the essential prop-look that they so often had. Also, Saward’s writes them David Whitaker-style, keeping them in the background and using them as part of the story rather than the focal point of it. Keeping them on the periphery allows us to forgive their dialogue, which unfortunately never really elevates above catchphrase level; unfortunately their voices are terrible, even worse than in Day Of The Daleks: squawky, nasal, and lacking any real modulation. This has been fixed to a small extent for the new sound mix on the DVD release, but they are still poor. It is weird to see the Daleks just as a normal part of life on Necros – it just shows the unconventional world the story presents.

The grave robbers are also good, Grigory’s drinking another reason why this is the most adult Doctor Who story ever. The interplay between him and Natasha is excellent, for here we get two allies who don’t like each other. Also, his line of “I’m a doctor, not a magician” is a nice riff off Star Trek. On the subject of double acts the obsequious but treacherous double act of Kara and Vogel is also good, although I have to keep reminding myself that they sell human flesh as food. Is this really what I’m watching?

The interplay between the Doctor and Peri is good, being far less whiny. There is a sense that their relationship has suddenly developed, as if there have been a lot of unseen adventures between Timelash and this story. The watch scene is good – irrelevant, but a nice little moment of characterisation.

Now…the glass Dalek scene. If this isn’t one of the most shocking and stomach-churning scenes the show ever produced, then I’m Lord Lucan. It is done on a total whim, and is unnecessary to the story (any other episode would have just told us about severed heads being converted into Daleks, rather than actually showing us), but this more or less sums up this adventure: it has several elements that could be excised, but they are unbelievably good all the same and it is by leaving them in that this story is elevated to what it is. The hair-raising performance by Alec Linstead as the head of Stengos further amplifies the power of the scene, and on a final note I should say that this scene happens to come exactly twenty-five minutes in; in any other season it would rank as one of the best cliffhangers ever.

Moving on, Lilt wants to slice up a woman’s face with a knife. ‘Nuff said.

Orcini and Bostock are wonderful, the only truly noble guest characters (and that includes the rest of the goodies, if there are any). William Gaunt gets the best lines in the episode, which he does justice admirably. The exposition is laid on here, but in general it is very good as it is presented at an even pace – the advantage of having a forty-five minute format is that there is less of a need to make the plot so obvious as the audience doesn’t have to remember it for so long.

The way Jobel talks to his subordinates shows the difference between his public and supposedly private personas, and his reference to drug use is also notable (anyone would think I’m keeping a score of all the adult references in this story). After all this, the cliffhanger is somewhat mundane, being presented for no very good reason like a lot of other elements of this story such as the statue of the skeleton in Davros’s laboratory, but without their originality.

The second episode carries on in fine style, with Orcini’s ‘sword’ monologue being a high point of the story. The DJ shows his serious side, becoming a likeable character for the first time. His weapon is rather odd though: sonic cannons aren’t new to this show but in this case the credibility of a gun that fires a beam of rock music is questionable.

Looking at Tasambeker and Jobel, the sexual undercurrents become quite uncomfortably obvious, with lechery, submission / aggression and lust all playing over the minds of the characters, even being used by Davros for the purposes of manipulation – the only time this aspect of psychology has ever been used in the series. Jobel’s death is very violent (get used to it, there’s more coming), and his wig falling off is a nice touch. Tasambeker’s death, which follows on immediately, is also well done, particularly because the extermination special effect is at it’s very best in this story. There are a lot of deaths here, but they are dramatically justified, unlike for example Resurrection Of The Daleks which merely presents a load of extras with no other purpose than to get mown down.

The flying Dalek is a nice idea, but pointless and in execution is confusing as the extreme close ups required to make it convincing only serve to make it less clear what’s actually happening. Like the voices this has been corrected to an extent on the DVD release (the CGI effects are excellent) but the scene is essentially inadequate, which is a real shame.

The story begins to wind up now (translation: my review starts to wind up now because it’s getting late). Kara’s stabbing is unbelievably graphic, as is the shot of Davros’s hand being blown off (his fingers are seen scattered on the floor). The Dalek factions battle it out, mysteriously losing the ability to shoot straight. On that note, the Doctor is a remarkably good shot for someone who claims never to use firearms.

And with that, it’s all over. Therein lies the story’s major failing, that the Doctor may as well never have been there in the first place. However, not even this can cause the story to fail: in a period where the show was treading water, here comes a story that takes risks and dares to be dangerous. The safe method of relying on previous stories had failed to win in the crowd, and this one succeeds by dicing with controversy in a way that leaves Vengeance On Varos, which received much more criticism, far behind. This is a story that cries to us, “I’m going to appall and horrify you, and you’re going to love me for it”. And we do.