Monday, 9 November 2009

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

Part One

“You forgot I’m a doctor. When they slice me open I’ll know the name and function of each organ that plops out.”

It’s quite alarming to see Eric Saward’s name in block capitals at the start. Is this the first time the writer’s name has been displayed like this or have I not been paying attention?

Aside from this piece of apparent self-aggrandisement on the part of our glorious script editor, it’s a promising start. The snowy landscape looks great and, uniquely for this season, the TARDIS lands immediately with no faffing about.

This is Necros, and for some reason the Doctor has decided that he and Peri are to attend the funeral of some bloke called Arthur Stengos, which is an odd thing for a time traveller to do; what particular connection does he have to the particular time period where Stengos has just died? Anyway, he and Peri are still keeping up their veggie lifestyle with the Doctor rustling up some nut roll, and Saward mentions his Speelsnapes for the first time.

We meet the embalmers- chiefly Jobel, a git with a toupee, and poor Tasambeker, who bewilderingly has unrequited feelings for this total arse, brilliantly portrayed by Clive Swift. There’s an agreeably realistic undercurrent of gallows humour which helps to carry along the exposition- Glen McCoy could learn a thing or two from this sort of thing.

More groups of characters appear: a couple of infiltrators skulking about; Alexei Sayle being quite brilliant as a DJ and almost making you forget the utter pointlessness of the character, who doesn’t really cut it as Greek chorus material; and Davros (well, above the net) with some white Daleks. Pleasingly we get the traditional Dalek hum which as Deadly Lampshade pointed out (and I unaccountably failed to notice having obsessed about it for every Dalek story thus far) was absent from Resurrection of the Daleks.

The whole thing looks great, and is as brilliantly shot as one would expect from Graeme Harper- the shot where the camera pans down through several floors is magnificent. Admittedly the Dalek voices are a bit crap but I’m sure this is counterbalanced on the sound front by a top drawer rock n’ roll sound track which we’re unable to hear on DVD for sodding copyright reasons.

Eleanor Bron is a delight as Kara, with the mutually insincere conversation between her and Davros being great fun. Thing is, though, with all these different groups of characters it’s noticeable that the Doctor and Peri are being sidelined somewhat, not actually having entered the building where all the stuff is happening by the end of the episode. Still, we learn that the Doctor is now 900 years old. He’s aged a bit since he last mentioned how old he was then- he was 760 when he was Tom Baker, I recall. It seems we can only fit in those extra 140 years by assuming it happened while he was travelling with Romana.

I don’t like the Doctor / Peri relationship here- not only is there too much bickering and, yet again, no indication that they’re friends, but Peri actually seems afraid of his disapproval in a way which makes this feel far too much like an abusive relationship for comfort. For all that this story is very well made and cleverly scripted, it’s entirely lacking in charm or a sense of fun.

The glass Dalek scene is a case in point. Conceptually, yes, it’s great. But Stengos begging his daughter to kill him is not the sort of thing we should be seeing in a teatime adventure serial. Oh, and it’s odd to hear the Stengos Dalek speak of “racial purity” where that’s precisely what isn’t involved in the whole idea of turning humans into Daleks.

I like William Gaunt’s Orcini, a blackly humorous character with a dodgy artificial leg whose prattling on about “honour” does nothing to dissipate the obvious fact he’s going to turn out to be an utter buffoon. The fact that he almost leaves before Kara gives him the sequence for the bomb is highly revealing and a nice touch. Still, this is rather a lot of characters for a story this length, and it’s clear Saward is not going to involve the Doctor any more than he has to.

Isn’t it nice of Davros to cheaply sell his source of protein throughout the galaxy, thereby eliminating famine? I’m sure there’ll be no downside to this at all…

We end with the Doctor and Peri still outside the bloody building, with the Doctor disturbed to discover his own tombstone “as I am now”, meaning he will “never again regenerate”. I’m getting a bit tired with all these frequent and unnecessary references to regeneration we’ve been getting ever since Colin Baker took over- they do real harm in that by reminding us of other Doctors all the bleeding time they give his Doctor a real sense of impermanency which threatens to undermine the character.

Part Two

“But did you ever tell anyone that they might be eating their own relatives?”

“Certainly not! That would have created what I believe is termed ‘consumer resistance’”.

Again we start with some nice touches; Clive Swift quite brilliantly portrays the creepiness of Jobel’s attentions towards Peri, while the computer’s sexy female voice as it speaks to Takis is a nice little detail, and the Doctor’s reaction to the DJ reminds us that this story was made back in the midst of the Dark Ages of Radio One.

But mainly this episode consists of characters double crossing each other and the complex of betrayals untangling itself. It’s all very clever and well plotted, but we get moments of character along the way, such as Eleanor Bron’s brilliant reaction to the extermination of Kara’s secretary, telling us everything we need to know about their relationship. And the conclusion of Davros’s manipulation of Tasambeker and Jobel is horrifyingly predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less gripping as we watch it happen. The way Jobel’s toupee falls off as he dies is an inspired directorial touch.

Orcini and Bostock seem to kill Davros, but it seems that what they killed was only a fake, put there to divert the bullets of potential assassins from their real target- did he and the Borad go to baddie school together? He seems to have survived more or less intact since we last saw him, and is now able to hover in the air and shoot blue lightning from his fingertips like Emperor Palpatine did at the end of Return of the Jedi. It seems he survived by means of an escape pod; the small matter of the Movellan virus is, naturally, glossed over.
It seems that Davros takes the “best” bodies from the Tranquil Repose to become Daleks and uses the rest to feed the galaxy, to let them know it’s Christmas time. Must be an awful lot of bodies then.

It’s a great twist that Takis has invited Daleks from Skaro to arrest Davros, and for the first time since Evil of the Daleks we see a sort of mini-Dalek civil war. Delightfully, this bit gives us some Dalek poetry as the lines “My vision is impaired / I cannot see / My vision is impaired / Emergency” are delivered in perfect iambic pentameter by one of the Daleks.

Echoing the ending of Genesis of the Daleks, the Dalek incubators are finally destroyed by a great big bomb, and the Doctor makes it out by the skin of his teeth. Peri then demands to be taken somewhere fun, and the Doctor resolves to take her to somewhere which may or may not be Blackpool.

This is very well made- Graeme Harper has done an excellent job. The performances are universally great, too, and the script is very cleverly constructed. But the tone is getting quite seriously worrying by this point- this is one story about cannibalism too many; the Doctor is sidelined, appearing far too infrequently and affecting the plot hardly at all; and the Doctor / Peri relationship is by now looking very, very wrong. I can’t give this any more than a 3/5.

As for Season 22- well, with a relatively poor score of 2.571/5 it’s my least favourite so far, and I seem to be making a habit of saying that!

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