Sunday, 25 October 2009

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

Part One / First Bit of Part One

“You’re pathetic.”

“That too.”

The opening scene, with the sudden appearance of the time travellers, the policemen, Rodney Bewes, and the casual shooting of the tramp, is fantastic. This is all down to Matthew Robinson and the location, however; this story is a mess, for reasons which are mainly down to Eric Saward’s script.

There follows a brief diversion to a spacecraft which looks very much like something from Star Wars from the outside, where lots of Saward’s trademark hard-boiled dialogue happens, much of it involving Rula Lenska. It’s a prison ship- hmm, I wonder, in this story with “Daleks” in the title, who the prisoner could possibly be?

A time corridor draws the TARDIS to the bit of London round Tower Bridge, and my, how that has changed since 1984!

Meanwhile, on board the ship, Saward demonstrates his admirable ability to come up with such naturalistic dialogue as “You fear attack?” and “Your bile would be better directed against the enemy!” The crew are attacked by a bunch of Daleks and… win. Perhaps not the most orthodox way of making your baddies seem threatening. Still, the zapped Daleks, with the visible mutant things, look just as impressive as when last seen in The Five Doctors.

Things turn around, of course, as we get to see a rather cool shot of a Dalek exterminating three people at once, and the Dalek Supreme turns up for the first time since Planet of the Daleks.

The Doctor and co have found Stein, some soldiers and the source of the time corridor, but Turlough seems to have found his way through into the ship. Disappointingly, the Daleks’ doors don’t make their customary noise. Can it be that we’ll never hear that sound again?

The prisoner- it’s Davros! And the Daleks’ gas weapons are making people’s faces go all minging! And the Daleks’ human underlings are dressed up as Daleks in a way that looks very silly! It’s all kicking off!
I remember seeing this on its original transmission. And yes, we did play at Daleks in the playground that week.

Part Two / More Stuff From Part One

“My vision is impaired, I cannot see!”

The way the Doctor and the soldiers deal with the Dalek that’s just teleported down to Earth is all exciting and well directed and that, but these Daleks are a bit easily killed, innit?

Still, I like Terry Molloy’s ranting take on Davros. He’s no Michael Wisher, but he’s a step up from the ranting-by-numbers of David Gooderson. I love his apoplectic reaction to being told by Lytton that the Movellans won their war with the Daleks, and that they’re plagued by a deadly virus. The Daleks are reviving him to find a cure, but little does he know the Dalek Supreme has no intention of keeping him around once he’s achieved that aim. Oh, and that’s Leslie Grantham playing Kiston, who’ll be hanging around Davros for the rest of the story.

Meanwhile, in London, the Dalek mutant thingy is on the loose, and everyone’s all worried. We get a false alarm that turns out to be a cat- I might be jumping to conclusions here, but do you reckon Eric Saward might have seen Alien at some point? Still, it’s good to see the Doctor joining in with trying to shoot it, using that gun the colonel so kindly gave him earlier. Saward is so good at not neglecting this gun-toting aspect of his character.

We hear Davros has been frozen for ninety years, conscious for all that time. Blimey. And Stein turns out to be a Dalek agent. Oh dear.

Part Three / First Bit of Part Two

“Why am I so excited? It’s the last thing I’ll ever do!” 

I think it’s the bit at the start of this episode where Stein reveals to the Doctor that the Daleks are planning to use all these duplicates that it becomes apparent that the plot’s a complete mess. This story isn’t just about the Movellan virus and reviving Davros- oh no, the Daleks have all sorts of ill-thought-out plans on the go. And without any real plot or theme, this story essentially consists of hard-boiled Saward-scripted characters shouting and shooting at each other for ninety minutes.

I like the scene where the Professor urges Tegan to leave while she stays behind to lie to the Daleks. Never in the field of television drama has any character been more clearly going to die. I’m reminded of a certain sketch from The Mary Whitehouse Experience here.

So, the Daleks are planning to use duplicates of the Doctor and his companions to assassinate the High Council on Gallifrey? I think this is the point where the plot jumps right off the edge of a cliff. Although of course in recent years it’s acquired a certain possible relevance to the Time War. 

Turlough’s ended up with Rula Lenska & co, as they attempt to blow up the ship. Turlough’s far from enthusiastic; I think it’s here that I can safely say that “There’s nothing we can do!” is now his actual catchphrase.

Part Four / More Stuff From Part Two

“I can’t stand the confusion in my mind!”

Suddenly the TARDISeers are all reunited, a sign that suddenly the plot has to start moving so everyone has to be in place. We learn that those mysterious cylinders on earth are the Movellan virus, although there seems to be absolutely no reason for them to be there of all places. And the Doctor sets off to kill Davros. Well, nothing can possibly go wrong there then.

In fact, this whole sequence with the Doctor setting out to execute Davros pretty much symbolises something very wrong with Saward’s vision of the show, something which has lain dormant for some time but is now being foregrounded more and more. Now, Earthshock was stylistically similar to this story, if a hell of a lot more coherent plot-wise, being hard-boiled, violent, and fast-paced. And I liked it. Season 19 was hugely varied in the different styles of its stories, no doubt because of the influence of two script editors, and in that context it was good to see this type of story. But in the context of this season that’s no longer the case.

I don’t read other people’s reviews [on the message board thread this was posted on at the same time as the blog, as with all of my Who reviews] until just after I post my own on to the thread, so I’ve been reading them almost a month after they were first posted and in ignorance of anything posted more recently. But I’ve noticed that in some of his excellent recent reviews (and very possibly in others I haven’t read yet), Nuallain has mentioned a running theme running through this season of the Doctor’s optimism versus the harshness of the universe. And this story seems to be where this contrast reaches a peak, and simultaneously where it becomes clear that Saward’s vision of the show is exposed as very, very wrong. Because the whole scene with the Doctor failing to execute Davros reeks of contempt from the author for the main character of the show. We’re being invited to sneer at the Doctor’s optimistic world view, and instead accept that the world is a cynical, nihilistic place. This is deeply wrong, and undermines the values of the show. I’m reminded of Alan Moore’s public regrets over what happened to comic book superheroes after Watchmen. It’s now become horribly clear that Saward does not like or understand what Doctor Who is about, and has no interest in its central character.

Anyway, ranting aside, it’s odd that Davros doesn’t mention at any point that the Doctor looks different. But the scene soon fizzles out, with most of the rest of the episode consisting of various characters shooting each other dead. Lots of dead bodies are on display. There are now two opposing Dalek functions, both of which are gruesomely destroyed by the Movellan virus. Davros is apparently hoist by that pesky old petard of his, and Stein blows up the ship and everyone on board. Lovely. Lytton and his two policemen friends walk away at the end, though. Sequel, anyone...?

It seems that, for some reason, Tegan doesn’t think that all this death and killing is her idea of fun, and she stays behind on Earth. Odd, that. It’s an effective and moving exit, with Tegan and the Doctor parting on unpleasant terms.

Awful. The plot was all over the place, the Doctor was shown as ineffectual and the whole thing felt like a cynical dismissal of all that Doctor Who is supposed to be about. I agonised long and hard about whether this deserved a 1/5, but eventually decided the direction was good enough to move it up to a low 2/5.

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