When 'Resurrection of the Daleks' was first broadcast I was six and half years old. I still remember the feeling of anticipation as I sat down with my parents on a Wednesday evening to see the Daleks in action properly for the first time. It was exciting at the time, and images of the Dalek being pushed out of the warehouse window, the Dalek mutant attacking a soldier, and Daleks spraying white foam as they died stayed with me for years. With no Target novelisation to refresh memory of the story, 'Resurrection of the Daleks' attained a rose tinted glow in my memory. And then it was released on video and the disappointment was almost crushing. My opinion now is that 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is a well-directed, visually impressive story, but is fundamentally flawed by an inconsistent plot, poor acting, and what appears to be an attempt by Eric Saward to create an "adult" feel for the series.
The plot of 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is a mess. The idea of the Daleks needing to rescue Davros in order to cure the Movellan virus is essentially sound, but it creaks beneath the weight of a mass of other poorly developed ideas. Even the importance of Davros is inconsistently addressed; initially, the Supreme Dalek makes plain the vital importance of securing Davros' help to ensure the survival of the Dalek race, announcing at one point that "Without Davros we have no future". It is for this reason that they are prepared to humour him when he insists on staying aboard his space station prison and demands Daleks to experiment on. The problem is, this rather falls apart during Episode Four when the Supreme Dalek realises that Davros has taken control of two Daleks and decides to have him exterminated. So do they need him or not? Earlier dialogue implies that they are in danger of extinction without him, but when he unsurprisingly tries to gain power they seem to decide to cut their loses with ludicrous speed.
Then there are the other subplots. The Daleks apparently want to invade Gallifrey, which is not an implausible motivation for them, but seems very poorly timed considering the state they are in; not only are they on the verge of extinction, they are so weakened that they are forced to employ human (or at least humanoid) mercenaries in the shape of their "Dalek Troopers". It's a bit like Hitler suddenly deciding that it would be a good idea to launch an attack on America during his last hours in the bunker before he died. It seems as though Saward suddenly decided that he needed a reason for the Daleks to want to capture the Doctor alive and added it to his script at the last minute. And mention of the Doctor's capture brings me to one of the most gaping plot holes in the script, in the unlikely form of the duplicates.
Leaving aside the fact that my criticisms of the Daleks' intention to invade Gallifrey are equally applicable to their intention to invade Earth, the duplicates make no sense whatsoever. They are essentially clones, which have been given the thought patterns of the originals and then subjected to mind control. So why not just subject the originals to mind control? Their control techniques don't work properly anyway, so what do they gain by duplicating people? Stein's character makes this painfully obvious, since he spends several scenes in Episode One in obvious terror even when alone; Episode Four's exploitation of the fact that the duplicates are unstable explains this, but even so the cliffhanger to Episode Two just seems painfully contrived as he suddenly reveals that he's a Dalek agent. There are other problems too; the Daleks' decision to hide the Movellan virus on Earth in the past doesn't hold up to much scrutiny whether it's a lure or not. They obviously have adequate enough containment facilities to allow Davros to work on it onboard their ship (their original intention before he refuses to leave the space station), so why go to such extraordinary lengths as to hide it in an old warehouse on an alien planet in another time zone? Stein's claim that the cylinders were a lure is a flimsy excuse at best; he claims that it brought soldiers to the area so that they could be duplicated and thus guard the warehouse. But they only need to guard the warehouse because they've hidden the Movellan virus in it, and Lytton's policemen seem to be doing that perfectly well anyway once they arrive. As a lure for the Doctor, it makes even less sense, since it was the time corridor that primarily attacked his attention, and they are using that anyway to place duplicates throughout Earth's history.
Then we have the horribly tacky appearance of the Supreme Dalek on the TARDIS scanner at the end, as though it can simply give the Doctor a 'phone call whenever it feels like it, and which seems like nothing more than a rushed attempt to tie up the loose end of the duplicates as quickly as possible. There is also the poor continuity; whilst continuity should never be more important than the story (at least insofar as established characters are not suddenly and unexpectedly given handy new abilities), it is still irritating that a story so reliant on established continuity gets it wrong. The classic example is Davros' mind control device, which he certainly didn't have in 'Destiny of the Daleks' and although it's possible that he had the chance to build it whilst he was awaiting trial on Earth, it seems very unlikely. But above all, my main criticism of 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is what I assume to be Eric Saward's attempt to make the story more "adult" by going all grim and gritty. I don't mind adult and I don't mind grim, but Saward's approach is simply to stack up the body count. It is what an adolescent might believe to be adult and it doesn't work because, as in 'Earthshock', the characters Saward kills off are not sufficiently well characterised for me to give a toss about any of them. Thus, the deaths of Mercer, Styles, Archer and his men, Galloway, the space station crew, and Lytton's troopers have no impact whatsoever. By Episode Four, the death toll has reached such proportions that Saward simply seems to be killing off characters whom he hastily introduced and can't think of anything useful to do with them.
Weak though much of the characterisation of the supporting characters is, the acting often doesn't help. Del Henney is wooden as Archer and his duplicate, and of course he puts in a deeply embarrassing and over the top death scene. Chloe Ashcroft is little better as the strangely unlikable Professor Laird, and Les Grantham is terrible in his television debut. But by far the worst performance is by Jim Findley as Mercer, whose performance is both stilted and wooden throughout; his acting in this story revolves almost entirely around raising his voice and sounding a bit angry regardless of the situation Mercer finds himself in. Mind you, even he seems quite good in Episode One by comparison with the speaking extras; as the Daleks invade the station he tells the crew that it is every man for himself, and two extras can be heard exclaiming "Oh no!" and "Every man for himself?" in a way that sounds so bad it is almost funny.
But for all that it might be tempting to write off 'Resurrection of the Daleks' as a load of old cobblers, it does get some things right. For one thing, it looks great; Matthew Robinson's direction is first rate and it is helped considerably by the always-welcome location work and some excellent sets that have aged surprisingly well. The emergence of the Daleks through the airlock door in Episode One is a great moment and highly memorable and the new Dalek props look far better than the tatty relics seen in 'Destiny of the Daleks'. In the same season that saw 'Warriors of the Deep', 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is also very well lit, and this creates a grim and gritty air far more effectively than Saward's insistence on mass slaughter. Malcolm Clarke's doom laden incidental score is also crucial to creating the gritty atmosphere. And despite its addition to the body count, even I must admit that the makeup used to show the crewmembers succumbing to the Daleks' lethal gas attack is very, very good. The costumes are also reasonably good, the worn uniforms of the run down and unenthusiastic space station crew contrasting nicely with the smarter militaristic uniforms of the Dalek Troopers. Unfortunately, the incredibly silly and slightly phallic helmets worn by the troopers slightly detracts from the overall effect, but this is a minor criticism.
There are also a few good performances on display. Maurice Colbourne's Lytton is a commanding figure, and his ruthlessness means that he works well despite the fact that he is essentially a henchman, despite Saward's obvious love for the character. Former Likely Lad Rodney Bewes is very good as Stein, his performance switching from nervous and stammering coward to cold and ruthless mercenary as he tries to keep up with the eccentric characterisation he has to work with. And then there is Terry Molloy.
Molloy's performance as Davros both here and in subsequent stories is something of a bone of contention. Davros has become a ranting madman here and this annoys many fans, but his increased megalomania and his decreased stability makes sense to me considering that he has been trapped, immobile but fully conscious, for ninety years; I challenge anyone to cope with that without becoming unhinged, and Davros was insane in the first place. Molloy does shout quite a bit, but he also makes use of quite malevolence, and Davros comes across as calculating and intelligent. After David Gooderson's brave but unsuccessful attempt to impersonate Michael Wisher's unsurpassable performance, Molloy wisely elects to make the role his own, and Davros works well for it. As soon as he is released, his mind is clearly working to turn his new situation to his own advantage, and it is worth noting that until the Movellan virus attacks his chair at the end, he gets his own way throughout. True, he doesn't get to kill the Doctor, but he does regain his freedom, get access to the Movellan virus and Dalek tissue samples, and prepare an escape pod (which of course he also manages to use, as revealed in 'Revelation of the Daleks').
I find the Doctor's confrontation with Davros especially interesting. It has often been criticized because it makes the Doctor look racist, since he can't bring himself to kill the humanoid Davros but he can happily destroy the Daleks. This is perhaps true, but it also makes sense; the Doctor's inability to look Davros in the eye and shoot him is consistent with his character. Indeed the Doctor has often dispatched opponents through various indirect means rather than actually looking them in the eye and killing them, and we need only consider his relationship with the Master to see that his moral stance on killing is largely variable. On the other hand, his willingness to kill Daleks equally make sense; long experience has no doubt made him realize that the Daleks might be an intelligent species, but they are also exclusively hostile and destructive (and indeed he seems to regret having failed to destroy them in 'Genesis of the Daleks', as he tells Tegan that he once blew his chance to wipe them out and doesn't intend to repeat his mistake). It is no surprise to me whatsoever that the Doctor seems to consider Davros a person (however evil) but not the Daleks.
In addition, the confrontation between them works well for Davros' character. His attempt to argue rationally with the Doctor by asserting that "the universe is at war" and that by conquering it he can bring piece picks up on his motivation from 'Genesis of the Daleks'. He seems to genuinely believe this, whereas the Master for example seems to be motivated instead by a vague desire for personal power. Davros also seems to have insight into the Doctor's personality, which is an indicator of how intelligent he is; his attempt to persuade the Doctor that he can restore compassion to the Daleks very briefly causes the Doctor to hesitate and gives Davros more time to talk. His offer of an alliance is clearly a further delaying tactic; whereas the Master has in the past genuinely sought an alliance with the Doctor ('Colony in Space') and frequently finds excuses not to kill his old enemy, Davros is clearly simply talking to preserve his life and there is little doubt that he will kill the Doctor there and then if he gets the chance (as a matter of interest, there is a deleted line on the DVD in which he says that the Doctor is not, in his own way, an unambitious man, further suggesting that whilst he dislikes the Doctor he does have some understanding of him - significantly, the Doctor waits for him to continue when he says this). By the time he finishes talking, it is clear that the moment has passed for the Doctor and that he won't pull the trigger; obviously realizing this, Davros then proceeds to express his disgust at the Doctor's lack of moral conviction.
The problem with this scene however, is that it is virtually the only one that the Doctor does anything worth mentioning in. For the rest of the story, he wanders around the warehouse, or gets strapped to a table for an episode, and by the end he has achieved little; it is Stein who blows up the space station and the Dalek ship, Davros' ambiguous fate is unaffected by the Doctor's actions, and he certainly doesn't manage to save any lives. True, he gives Stein a lift back to the Dalek ship, which allows him to trigger the self-destruct sequence, but this is hardly impressive, and neither is his destruction of about three Daleks in the warehouse with the Movellan virus. Turlough also does little except wander around and hide from Daleks and Troopers; in fact his best scene wasn't even broadcast. An extended scene on the DVD release shows him seriously contemplating fleeing the Dalek ship even though Tegan has just pointed out the Doctor needs rescuing, and this tiny sequence captures says more about his character far better than anything that actually made it to the broadcast version does. Both Davison and Strickson put in fine performances, but both get far too little to do. As for Tegan, she spends most of her last story in bed with concussion. She gets a superb leaving scene, which makes sense both in the context of the story and the season as a whole, and Janet Fielding puts in one last great performance as Tegan tearfully bids an abrupt goodbye to her friends, conveying the feeling that she is absolutely at the end of her tether. The death of the old man on the shore of the Thames is ironically one of the few deaths that have much impact on the story, because the sheer callousness of his murder and the futility of his death obviously makes an impact on Tegan. For the longest serving companion of Peter Davison's era however, I would have hoped for so much better.
And that sums up 'Resurrection of the Daleks'; it has so much potential, but most of it is wasted. Sadly, several years after the video release, the disappointment still hasn't gone away.