Avert your eyes if it offends you...
Resurrection of the Daleks has to be the most bored Doctor Who story ever.
Not that it's dull, or boring, but bored. The story seems to be looking around, desperate to find something interesting, and then dropping it, bored, before finding something new.
Look at the way it treats the Doctor. For two episodes he's stuck in a plot that has nothing to do with the rest of the story - skulking around some eerie docklands patrolled by sinister police force that he never meets. Working with the bomb disposal squad that ignore pretty much everything he says. At the half-way mark, the Doctor travels into the main plot with the Daleks... and gets locked in a room for another episode, getting his memories sucked out in a flashback sequence. When he gets out, he picks up a gun (something he was deliberately avoiding all through the first two episodes) and heads off to kill Davros. Except he doesn't. Then he goes back to the warehouse plot and releases a virus that blows up the Daleks.Resurrection of the Daleks is a story that has no interest in the Doctor, Tegan or Turlough. And considering it's Tegan's swansong, that's a bit of a shame. She gets knocked out in part two, then hides in the TARDIS for the rest of the story, leaving it and running away, and then changing her mind at the last minute. Her departure is one thing that's handled well, but it would make more sense for her to depart in the belief the Doctor's become a hardened killer than a general 'being sick of it'. Tegan seemed 'sick of it' before she joined in Logopolis and didn't want to leave in either Time-Flight or The King's Demons.
No, Resurrection isn't interested in the TARDIS crew.
Maybe it's the Daleks? Yes, the Daleks! After all, first time since 1979 we get to see the metal pepperpots from Skaro and this time no Douglas Adams "sillyness". Yes, we can forgive a story for focussing on the monsters that made the series famous.
One problem. Resurrection seems less interested in the Daleks than it does the TARDIS crew.
Now, if I was in the position for writing a story for the Daleks, I'd want to use them. Make them deadly, kill-all-biped psychopaths or very cunning, self-controlled alien death machines. Make them scary, nasty and feared by one and all.Resurrection doesn't do that, does it?
The first time we see the Daleks, they explode through a door and... get blown up. This gives them their new catchphrases. Forget "Exterminate!" or "Resistance is useless!", the Daleks spend most of the story shouting "Retreat! Withdraw!" or "My vision is impaired, I cannot see!" They aren't even able to defeat a bunch of smoking layabouts who run the space prison. They need Lytton and his men to get the job done, to defeat Styles and Mercer, to face off against Davros. The Daleks have seemingly dozens of plans working all at once and not one of them works. The Supreme Dalek spends the entire story staring at a crystal ball and complaining.
The Daleks don't seem to have any reason to be in the plot. When two of them appear and wipe out the control deck crew, it seems like a token gesture. See? Daleks are in this one! But Lytton's mercenaries do more work. The Daleks pop in for a gloat at the Doctor when they record his memory, and then run away leaving the human character Stien to do their work. As many troopers are ambushed by Davros' little laser gun as are Daleks, and they are interchangeable on a story level.
Not only are the Daleks badly used, they're treated with open contempt. Lytton calls the Daleks stupid to their faces, plots behind their backs and escapes with his life. Davros, their creator, is determined to make a new race of Daleks that aren't as crap as the one that are here. The Daleks explode, froth, melt and disgorge their contents at the slightest provocation. They can't even go through doors without blowing them up first and its painful to see the humans using normal doorways you have to step open while the Daleks have to wait to slide the entire wall back to let them through. The Daleks we discover are, in fact, on the edge of extinction with those rastafarian androids the Movellans completely defeating their enemies off screen.
We're supposed to be impressed by these things? Scared by them? The policemen are more intimidating!
No, the Daleks are as irrelevant to Resurrection as the Doctor.
Maybe it's Davros?
After all, Davros definitely gets a lot of screen time. He's the prisoner who, in an hour after his release, has brainwashed four troopers, a chemist and two Daleks to his cause and sensible created a batch of weapons of mass destruction. Davros also appears, for some reason, to have the moral high ground. The Doctor strides in, picks up a gun and is about to kill this one-armed, blind cripple in a wheelchair.
And Davros stops him using the power of words alone.
Um, forgive me, but the Doctor is the hero of the series, isn't he? Not Davros. Davros is an insane megalomaniac directly responsible for wiping out his own species. Yet the scenes in Resurrection show him cleverer than the Doctor and the Daleks combined. The Doctor is said to be the insane one, rejecting the fact that all sentient life exists merely to beat the crap out of each other. The Doctor said to be the weak one for not murdering a helpless victim right away. Humans are pathetic too, apparently, because we don't slaughter prisoners as soon as look at them.
Of course, Davros gets his comeuppance in the end. But the Doctor doesn't defeat him, or the Daleks, or all the characters united. Davros loses because he is stupid and forgets that a virus designed to wipe out Kaled mutants might just effect his mutated Kaled body.
Well, maybe Resurrection is more concerned with original characters...
Wait a minute, what original characters? We get three groups - Archer, Laird and the troops on Earth, 1984; Mercer, Styles and the prison gang in space, in the future; and Lytton, Stein and the mercenaries. These characters aren't treated particularly reverently. Archer and his gang are systematically killed and then replaced with clones. It takes ages to drain the knowledge of the Doctor and it seems to be important for the victim to be alive, but the Daleks are able to copy and convert several dead soldiers as well in the living in around ten seconds. And why are these perfect copies such crap actors? Why isn't Laird copied?
Now, it strikes me that if you kill off a character and then replace it with a clone, in storytelling terms you might as well not have killed them off at all. Are we supposed to care when the evil cloned soldiers get shot by Daleks? But if it were the original, fighting desperately to keep the Daleks in the warehouse and away from the rest of London, we might actually care.
But we don't. They die. So do a lot of people. A lot of good people, according to Tegan, and it's lucky she tells us that because we certainly don't get a chance to make our own mind up.
Take Mercer and Styles. We get a good chance to know them. A chance, anyway. The first sequence shows Mercer as young, idealistic and rebellious and Styles as tired, desperate and corrupt. The crew of station are more interested in relaxing and playing cards and smoking and laugh aloud at the idea of their workplace actually getting attacked. But in ten minutes Styles is gleefully determined to sacrifice her life on a suicide charge into the Dalek ship, not to mention blowing up the station. In the final battle, she's the first to be shot - which is either shockingly innovative or dramatically pathetic, I'm not sure which. Similarly, Mercer doesn't get any real emotion to his death, he doesn't even scream.
Indeed, there is so much carnage, you wonder if you're supposed to care. The opening scene where a bunch of alien prisoners and a harmless tramp are machine-gunned to death, that's shocking. Like the opening to the author's The Visitation on speed. But then there's another massacre on the space station when the mercenaries gas the workers and the Daleks blast those that are left. By the time Turlough has hopped over the heap of corpses, either trying to prevent infection or stop himself vomiting with a hanky, I think we're fully desensitized. Daleks shoot each other, shoot humans, explode with toothpaste... Tegan seems to be the only one to notice it was a complete bloodbath.
Stein is the only character who dies with a point - and even that's debatable. The Daleks shoot him and luckily his corpse hits the control. And it's ironic because he is the most badly-plotted character there. Why is he with the other prisoners? How come he hides when surely all he has to do is wander into the time corridor for a welcome and that food he's always asking for?
Come to think of it, who are the prisoners at the start of the story? Why are they imprisoned on Earth 1984 in the first place? Why was Lytton's lieutenant so stupid as to arrange for these 'valuable specimens' to be shot dead? Does it matter, if the converter seems able to work on dead bodies? It seems the specimens are to be converted into evil Dalek clones to bring down society... but why try that in the future as well as 1984? Surely if human society collapses in the twentieth century, it won't exist in the twenty-third for other duplicates? What is the plan the Supreme Dalek has to control Davros and why the hell doesn't he use it? Where did Davros get that funky brainwashing gun and why didn't he use it earlier, like when he was arrested? I could complain at the bad continuity between other Dalek stories, but I'll simply ask why Eric Saward was so utterly useless at them after watching every existing Dalek story? Wasn't he paying attention? Was he actually interested in writing this story at all? Was there some subtext that the world needed to know?
Is Resurrection more of a message story? What is it's message? Er...
Well, I think it is that the only way for life kind to go on is to blow up absolutely everything else.
After all, the day is won when Stein blows up the space station, the Daleks, and (apparently) Davros. It's Lytton that survives the story by killing anyone who can stop him. If the humans had blown up Davros, none of this would happen. Its blowing up Daleks that stops them. The Movellan canisters are rubbished by Tegan, Laird and Turlough when they discover they are not bombs and can't blow anything up. The Doctor snatches up bombs and blows up more Daleks.
So, the moral of the story is the only winners are those with superior firepower and no moral scruples.
Remind me, why the hell was this allowed to be shown in Doctor Who? Full frontal nudity has as much place in this program - and at least that's slightly more wholesome! This story was written by the SCRIPT EDITOR of Doctor Who and he couldn't even remember that the Doctor is supposed to show a better way to resolving situations than shooting your enemy in cold blood? Eric Saward recently admitted in DWM that his heart wasn't in Resurrection of the Daleks. Which, considering he had an extension of year to tinker with it, is a damning indictment of his skills.
Now, this isn't to say that Resurrection of the Daleks has no merit. All those involved (bar Saward) give their all to this mess, making such a sleek and polished production that the fans of 1984 were conned into thinking it better than The Caves of Androzani (a fact now treated by people with the same amusement than once people thought the Earth rested on the back of a tortoise). The actors give it their all, the special effects are massive. The moment when the TARDIS takes off carrying Tegan and Turlough to safety is treated with equal respect if not emotion when the Doctor pulls the same trick in The Parting of the Ways.Resurrection of the Daleks continues the harshness of Season 21, and finally shows the characters cracking under the strain of this cruel universe. The Doctor snaps and picks up a gun, while Tegan gives up and walks away. The Time Lord avows to mend his ways and stop any further carnage from now on. The rest of the stories in the season would show how well this progressed.