First, an apology that this post is so much later than the first six. Sadly, I had an arthritis flare-up that made it painful for me to type more than a sentence or two at a time, and which also made me too fatigued to even think for more than a week. The perils of chronic illness.

Still, my hands are working – more or less – now, so let’s have a look at the most-loved story (or to hear many people talk, the only loved story) of season twenty-two.

Revelation of the Daleks is the only Colin Baker story to bear the name of Eric Saward as its credited writer (though Saward, as script editor, did more than a little work on many of the other scripts, as we’ve discussed). And while there are many creative contributors to season twenty-two – Doctor Who at that time had an unwritten rule of “writers write, directors direct, actors act”, and people were discouraged from encroaching on each other’s territory – it’s safe to say that season twenty-two of Doctor Who is an extremely Eric Saward season.

But it’s important to understand what that means. You see, Saward has only ever written a handful of things, and as far as TV goes, it was all for Doctor Who (he’s not worked in the industry since leaving the show). And his early scripts have a macho, action-movie, edge to them that means all his work gets seen through that lens – and it’s true that all his scripts, and many of those he script-edited, have a tendency to kill off characters every time he runs out of plot purposes for them, and that characters during his tenure on the show are more likely than during other eras to make quips after someone dies in a grisly manner.

But most of his scripts for the show were written early in his time with the series – The Visitation was his first ever TV script, Earthshock was written just after he joined the series, and while Resurrection of the Daleks was broadcast in season twenty-one, it was originally written for season twenty.

What this means is that they were all written before Saward became an admirer of Robert Holmes. Holmes was generally agreed to have been the best writer the series ever produced, but it was really only when the production team started looking to make The Five Doctors and working with writers who had worked with the previous Doctors that Saward became aware just how good Holmes was. Holmes had returned to the show, and had written the most popular story of the previous season, The Caves of Androzani.

Now, the thing to remember about young writers – and Saward was very young in writing terms – is that their taste vastly outstrips their ability. They get good by copying other writers, and Saward now took Holmes as his model. So here we have something that, rather than the attempt to remake Commando that one might expect from Saward’s previous efforts, is something closer to 2000AD in its sensibility – the same grim, almost militaristic, tone that Saward’s earlier work had had, but with an overlay of black humour and camp.

It also makes very clear that everything I talked about in the previous entries in this series was deliberate, the result of conscious artistic choice (although the fact that the DJ in the story doesn’t play actual rock and roll classics, but rather soundalike rerecordings of the type I talked about in the Attack of the Cybermen entry, is down to clearance issues rather than any artistic resonance). We once again have every character watching every other character on TV screens and providing a commentary as Greek chorus, we have people being turned into cybernetic monsters and begging for death (as in Attack of the Cybermen), we have dead bodies being used as meat (as in The Two Doctors), we have metatextual stuff going on, with deliberate referencing of Don Quixote and Waugh’s The Loved One…in short we have a script that does everything that season twenty-two does, just turned up a slight notch.

It also does something else which I’ve not had a chance to mention yet, which is to have yet another monstrous (this time in terms of personality only) character lust after Peri, as one does in almost every episode. Depending on how generous you want to be to the series – and we’ve established that I feel like being fairly generous – this is either an example of the horrible sexism that John Nathan-Turner’s “something for the dads” approach encouraged, or a comment on the monstrousness of the male gaze and the way straight male viewers were likely to be viewing her. Quite possibly there is a large element of cake-having-and-eating going on here, and I also suspect that the aims varied somewhat from story to story.

It’s a strong script. It’s not the strongest of the season – that would be Vengeance on Varos – but it’s a very good one. One could argue, though, that it’s not a great Doctor Who script, because the Doctor is not involved at all in the actual plot – he wanders through the story’s world, affecting nothing and changing nothing. There’s a fan edit of the story, apparently, though I’ve not seen it, which contains all of the actual “plot”, lasts something like seven minutes, and doesn’t have the Doctor in it at all.

And it’s fair to suspect that Saward – who has stated that he never liked Colin Baker being cast as the Doctor – is marginalising the Doctor. One can even make a case that just as the Daleks recognising Patrick Troughton in Power of the Daleks was “proof” to the watching children that this strange new man was still the Doctor, the grey Daleks not recognising Baker here is Saward saying that he isn’t the real Doctor.

And possibly there’s an element of that – but I really don’t think so. If the plot of the story can be boiled down to seven minutes, that’s just proof that the story isn’t about the plot. Rather, it’s about the characters. This is closer to The League of Gentlemen than to much Doctor Who, with a cast of grotesques in little, linked, dark comedy vignettes. It’s Saward looking at Baker’s larger-than-life, multi-coloured, Doctor and putting him into a world that’s as turned up to eleven as he is.

It’s the kind of thing that only works if you have a particularly fine cast, who know exactly how much to overplay things, and luckily this one does. Alexei Sayle (an actual fan of the show, who had written an article entitled “Why I Should Have Been the Next Doctor Who: The Case For A Marxist in the TARDIS”, with lines such as “Doctor Who the individualist, pacifist and eccentric became Doctor Who the TV Personality, charity show-biz eleven dick-head. K-9, the show’s most perceptive Marxist theoretician, got the chop at the same time and the programme also moved to Tuesdays and Thursdays when everybody knows I go to my non-sexist quilt-making workshop”) is rightly praised for his performance as the DJ narrator, whose obviously-fake American accent drops regularly into his natural Scouse, while Clive Swift is wonderful as Jobel. And Hugh Walters is so good as Vogel that he manages the rare feat of actually being more watchable than Eleanor Bron in their scenes together, something even the Beatles and John Cleese never managed.

But all of these are overshadowed by Terry Molloy as Davros. Fan opinion generally holds that Michael Wisher, who originated the role of Davros in Genesis of the Daleks, is the Only Proper Davros, and that no-one else is as good as him in the role. Now, Wisher is certainly good in the part, but his Davros is a one-dimensional ranting figure. Molloy can do ranting as well as anyone, but he imbues his Davros (here and in the stories after this, at least – his appearance in Resurrection of the Daleks is rather underwhelming in comparison) with a cool intelligence and a sense of humour that’s totally missing from Wisher, but which is a large part of how the character is now seen. His delivery of the line ‘That would have created what I believe is called “consumer resistance”’ (when talking about why he hasn’t explained that his miraculous protein food is really made of dead bodies) did as much to define the character as Wisher’s ‘that power would set me up above the gods!’

Seen on its own, Revelation of the Daleks is “only” a very good Dalek story – of the fourteen Dalek stories in the classic series, I’d rank it at fifth, after Genesis, Power, Evil, and Remembrance of the Daleks but ahead of the rest. But in the context of season twenty-two, it’s the final proof that this season of Doctor Who was trying to do something specific, that it succeeded in that aim at least some of the time, and that when it did succeed in that aim the result was definitely worth watching.

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2 Responses to “Doctor Who Season 22: Revelation of the Daleks”

  1. James Brough Says:

    I think the DJ’s music is only soundalikes on the DVD. The tv version has him playing Fire by Hendrix which had to be removed for the DVD and video releases. What always strikes me about this is that Seward has taken the idea of the Holmesian double act and run with it – Takis and Lilt, Natasha and Grigory, Orcini and Bostock, Kara and Vogel. And Dalek Stengos is one of the best pieces of body horror the series has ever produced.

  2. Andrew Hickey Says:

    Yeah, “Fire” had to be removed for the DVD release (though they could probably fix that if they ever did a “Revisited” style release, because sync rights laws have changed, which is why you can hear the Beatles again in Remembrance), but the rest were soundalikes even on the TV version –the rerecordings were heavily phased to make it less obvious.

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