DOCTOR WHO: REVELATION OF THE DALEKS: Who Needs Who?

“Revelation of the Daleks” – Season 22, Serial 6, Story 143 – The Sixth Doctor and Peri discover that the cryogenically frozen subjects of Tranquil Repose are actually being turned into Glass Daleks by Davros, who’s so unloved that there are three sets of people trying to stop him: The Doctor, Orcini the Assassin, and some Renegade Daleks. Because Everybody Hates Davros.

Part 2 of REVELATION OF THE DALEKS was the final regularly scheduled show, and saw the series enter an unknown future that turned out to be an 18-month hiatus. It was a happy day for me. It wasn’t happy because of the potential cancellation of the series, because back then the only thing about DOCTOR WHO that I knew with any sense of certainty was the kick-ass opening/closing theme, which has always struck me as the greatest Pink Floyd song Pink Floyd didn’t write.

No, that particular day was happy for me because it was my birthday. I turned 12 on 30 March 1985 and though I have no real recollection of that day, I’m sure it didn’t suck. I think that was the year I got a kick-ass hockey stick and I probably got a Stephen King novel because at that age I was always getting Stephen King novels as gifts. There was probably cake and ice cream and because it was my birthday neither the cake nor the ice cream would have been chocolate, so that was a positive. There might even have been baseball practice. Whatever I was doing and whatever presents I was getting, I was blissfully unaware of the state of uncertainty into which the Doctor was heading.

Watching REVELATION now, of course, I know exactly what will happen and I don’t have to wait 18 months to start watching TRIAL OF A TIME LORD. Heck, Netflix is delivering Part 1 tomorrow. But thought of contextually, as the last episode until who knew when, REVELATION allows for some interesting reads.

Being put into cryogenic stasis is a perfect subject for this potentially final episode of the Doctor, and Eric Saward delivers his finest piece of writing to the series. That the Doctor is, once again, a guest star in his own series, provides a bit of insight into how the John Nathan-Turner/Eric Saward years went so far off-track. That REVELATION is as strong as it is gives credence to the notion that I’ve had watching the Davison and Baker II years that JNT/Sward didn’t really want to be working on DOCTOR WHO, at all, but would much rather have been working on a serious science-fiction anthology series. REVELATION feels like that – the scenes with the Doctor and Peri feel largely stock, like they could be taking place in any number of serials but the sequences with Davros, Daleks, and the Tranquil Repose workers crackle with energy.

This is the best of those serials and Saward’s script (borrowing heavily from Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One and a bit from Soylent Green) works more than it doesn’t.

There is a limited presence of the Doctor and Peri in the first part of the serial, as they land on Necros so the Doctor can pay his respects to a scientist who’s decided to undergo the popsicle treatment. Almost as if it’s to give them something to do, a mutant attacks them and Peri kills it by hitting it in the head with a stick. Peri – being Peri – is emotionally distraught over this. When the mutant absolves her of her act (she was defending the Doctor), Peri only wants to know, “Why does he have to be so nice about it?”

Because he thought he was being unfrozen to be cured and not experimented on by some sick creep in a bad-ass stroller, Peri, that’s why. Geez.

Then again, maybe she’s really just upset that the Doctor intimated she was turning into a fatty because she was eating too much.

There is some nice moments between the Doctor and Peri and as blah as most of their dialogue is, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant infuse it with some real bite towards each other. Like too many stories from this era, however, it’s the questions that don’t get asked that you want to see asked. One has to wonder why the Doctor doesn’t ask her, at some point over all these stories after Peri has remarked yet again that they should play things safe and go back to the TARDIS, why she’s still around. Peri certainly doesn’t descend to Teegan-esque misery, but there are these small moments throughout her time in the TARDIS where you really honestly wonder why she doesn’t just get off this crazy ride. While it seems the Doctor and Peri are always talking about going on a vacation, Peri has to realize by now that the abnormal is always going to trump the normal when one travels in the TARDIS.

There’s an interesting exchange between them after the Doctor sees a statue of himself at Tranquil Repose, which indicates he’s going to die here and be put in the freezer. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think he actually could die here, but Baker does a good job selling his uneasiness at the idea.

The sequences in Tranquil Repose are much tighter and more interesting. There’s five – yes, FIVE – separate sub-plots going on. In the first, Natasha and Grigory search for Natasha’s dad, who happens to be the scientist that the Doctor has come to Necros to pay his respects. They eventually find him in a creepy lab and discover that he’s not a popsicle at all, but that he’s being turned into a new form of Dalek – a Glass Dalek.

Well, sort of. Apparently, the way this works is that you take a frozen brain and stick in a Glass Dalek. The brain then evolves into a Davros-controlled being that will populate the Imperial Daleks (the white ones that are loyal to Davros). For reasons I don’t understand, the Glass Dalek apparently transforms itself into a metal Imperial Dalek when the procedure is complete. It does this because … I don’t know, because of toys or drugs or because someone thought a Glass Dalek would look awesome.

And you know what? It does look awesome. It looks so kick-ass awesome, in fact, that I don’t care why it needs to be a glass casing or why it becomes something else, because – and let me make this perfectly clear – a human brain mutating inside a Glass Dalek looks freaking amazing.

Is there a Glass Dalek toy? Because I want one. Make it happen, BBC.

The second Tranquil Repose sub-plot involves Jobel, who looks like a mole with a toupee but is something of a ladies’ man around Repose. A student under his tutelage, Tasambeker, is in love with him and she runs around whining and bleating about how much she loves him. If for nothing else, REVELATION is worth watching just to see how mean Jobel is to Tasambeker. Clearly, he’s an inspiration to Mel Gibson. “Why would I want you when I can have anyone here?” he asks after she has professed her love for him, adding, “I’d rather run off with my mother.” Tasambeker does the smart thing at this point and kills him before he can turn into Gibson and make it all racial.

The third TR sub-plot is a DJ who plays American old-timey rock music and film clips for those who are cryogenically frozen, and sounds like the classic wacky FM DJ. Bob and Tom would love him as a guest. The DJ’s zaniness seems totally out of place in this somber serial, but they don’t use him so much that he’s overly annoying. It’s also a pretty neat idea and at least we finally see Saward throwing neat ideas into his scripts that offer a bit of life.

Sub-plot #4 involves Kara, who manages food factories on Necros and has to pay Davros all sorts of money and … are you understanding yet why there’s so little of the Doctor in this serial? Kara hires Orcini, who’s this old bad-ass assassin with a faulty fake leg, to kill Davros. There’s all kinds of good Don Quixote stuff here about Orcini and his Grand Order of Oberon ex-comrades being men whose time has past. Kara plans on betraying Orcini by having him blow himself up, guaranteeing the death of Davros, and it’s some good stuff.

The final sub-plot not involving the Doctor has to do with Davros and the Daleks, and it’s this plot that really serves as the centerpiece of the serial. Saward might have been better off just telling this story solely from Davros’ viewpoint. If he had, it would’ve been a fine dramatic precursor to the “Doctor Lite” episodes (like LOVE AND MONSTERS) of the Russell T. Davies regime, or even a nod to the old MISSION TO THE UNKNOWN episode from the Hartnell run.

If we’d gotten more of Davros the impact of seeing two sets of Daleks killing each other would have had a more emotional impact to run parallel to the very cool visual impact it does have.

Davros is in charge of the Imperial Daleks and he gets waylaid by the arrival of the so-called Renegade Daleks from Skaros.

It’s a great dramatic moment for the Daleks and for Davros, and Saward does a good job of making the tension between the two sides have a real energy and passion to it. Davros is at his scheming best here. He’s taken control of Necros under the moniker of “the Great Healer,” he’s got Kara all figured out, he survives the attack of Orcini and the Doctor (remember him? Tall guy, curly hair, ugly coat, big-boobed, squeaky-voiced assistant?), and then he still loses because the Renegade Daleks show up and take the Imperials out. The Renegades haul Davros’ wrinkly, chair-bound ass back to Skaros for trial as your neighbors wonder what the hell you’re watching with all them weird ass voices blaring through the walls.

With Davros gone, the planet needs to figure out what to do with itself, and the Doctor and Peri are off to … a freeze frame ending that stills the Doctor’s voice just as he’s about to say where he’s headed next, which is a very fitting ending for what’s going on with the show out in the real world.

It’s all very effective, but it does make the Doctor feel like a secondary character in his own show. I don’t have a problem with that because the show largely works – although it must be said that Saward’s dialogue, as over the top as it is, seems designed for radio or the stage much more than for television. Like too many serials from the JNT/Saward partnership, REVELATION is lacking in fun, but unlike those serials, REVELATION does manage some effective dark humor, and the quality of the writing is so comparatively superior to almost everything else in the previous few seasons that REVELATION ends up being one of the very best serials of the JNT era.

Plus, Glass Daleks.

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3 thoughts on “DOCTOR WHO: REVELATION OF THE DALEKS: Who Needs Who?

  1. Definitely one of the best from the Saward/JNT times, as you say…maybe one of my absolute favourites of all, along with Snakedance. I never had a problem with a Doctor-light Doctor Who, perhaps because I got used to seeing the Doctor on the sidelines in the novels, but also because, I think, the cool thing about Doctor Who is that, putting aside for a moment the fact that it’s a TV programme with certain restrictions and audience expectations, you can basically do anything at all with it. It’s a concept that anybody can just grab and run with and see where the hell they end up, which is a lot like what the production team was doing in the earliest days of the show, when everything was new and there wasn’t any idea about Doctor who being “this or that” kind of show where you had to have this or that monster cameo. It’s perfectly plausible to me that the Doctor might show up in a lot of places and, like in those old historical adventures, not really be much of an impact on world/universal events. What’s interesting is seeing how people react to this strange wanderer and how his “omnipotent stature” as a time and space traveller who possibly knows the outcome of events which are completely uncertain to the guest characters. It doesn’t necessarily make for engaging viewing if you’re looking for a Doctor-centred show, but Revelation has such good writing that it all works beautifully.

    I think this is a cool way to use the Daleks, too, since they’d been becoming less and less effective ever since the Pertwee years. A part of that problem was Davros himself, but then somebody seems to have figured out that Davros is actually a character in his own right and that you could build a story around him that wasn’t Genesis of the Daleks while not actually involving the Daleks much at all. It feels almost less like a Dalek story than it does a DOctor Who story, if you know what I mean…they’re now reduced to the level of automatons obeying Davros’s will and whim, and surely the “renegades” agree that this is a sad state for this “superior” race to succumb to. This is definitely the best Davros appearance other than Genesis itself and his scenes with the lovesick girl are almost stomach-turning because we’ve never seen Davros charm anybody before. “serve me, and I will allow you to become a Dalek,” he pronounces grandly, after being so perceptive and making her defenses crumble until she blurts out what a creep Jobel really is. Add that to the scene you mentioned where she kills Jobel and I actually feel a little dirty after watching this and I consider that a complement. haha

    Also, I’m glad the Daleks don’t talk much here as their voices just aren’t as cool as usual for some reason…a bit squeaky, like the ring modulator box was broken or something.

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