Resurrection of the DaleksOriginal release:
|(Doctor Who Story No. 134, starring Peter Davison)
In-Depth Analysis Reviewby Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended
for those who have already seen the program.
It's easy to develop a love-hate relationship with this monumental adventure. In what seems to be an effort to out-do his previous success during "Earthshock" (story no. 122), writer & script editor Eric Saward crafts another sci-fi action blockbuster featuring Doctor Who's most popular creature army. On one hand, we're looking at a tale with a morbidly violent tone and with lots of one-dimensional bickering between a large cast of virtually identical characters, and it's almost embarrassing to see fandom at large either not notice, or dismiss, or worst of all relish that as they rank the tale near or at the top of the season's stories. But I think we also have to acknowledge the fact that providing a fast-paced action story involving some of the most important and mythological villains in the series, and advancing that mythology really well, hits a lot of important marks in what should be done on this show. Indeed, by the time it is all over, despite its nagging faults, "Resurrection of the Daleks" has achieved the feeling of being the main event of the season.
One of my biggest long-term disappointments with the story is deeply embedded in its structure, as written. With so many different plot-lines occurring "simultaneously" in different places, the Doctor can only be in one of them at a time, and he winds up with far less screen time than he deserves. Way too much happens without really involving him, very often not involving any of his companions either. Restructuring to allow the story to be more focused in one area (or at most two areas) at a time might well have kept the characters more involved, and thus better motivated and more easily understandable and sympathetic as well. "Earthshock" (story no. 122) got this aspect far more correct, and was much better for it in the end.
Post production was once again a huge sore point for various reasons. After finalizing a four-part version for posterity and worldwide sales, the BBC then paired the episodes together so that British audiences would first see the story as two 45-minute episodes. Eric Saward is on the DVD extras quite rightly nixing British fans' interpretation that such a holy event should cast the story's "proper" format in stone. No, it was designed and shot as a four-parter, and works better that way, with episode one's cliffhanger being too unique for a combined version to do the moment justice.
But, this story was too important to be left in such an unfinished state, or so I thought in the late eighties. As had been the case previously with "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131), it was time to experiment with laser upgrades during VHS video dubbing again. Noting that characters changed weapons in the story, careful attention was paid to using red beams whenever Lytton's troopers' rifles were fired, versus green beams for the station crew's toy-like firearms. By the time Mercer's final shootout came along, it seems the sound effects dubbers had not been as careful. And although the Daleks' effects were awesome each time they scored a plot-important hit, there were plenty of opportunities to add a few extra cyan beams for them here or there whenever they scored misses - often there were great sound effects already in the mix to indicate these.
With so many of the current DVD releases sporting optional new CGI effects, I'm often baffled at the choice of which stories the "Restoration Team" decides to add these to. While they have made some impressive improvements on adventures that didn't really need it, many of those that need it most, like "Resurrection of the Daleks", get ignored. It baffles me how they think that the plain flashlights are okay.
Even without the massive script re-structuring to involve the Doctor in more plot-lines, I thought the post-production editing itself, particularly in part one, was unnecessarily messy and cutting back and forth between unrelated settings too often. Early TARDIS interior scenes felt far too short, shaken up, confusing, and unrelated to any neighbouring scenes to make an acceptable introduction to the three regulars, but all this seemed easily fixable by tacking the final cliffhanger scene from "Frontios" (the previous story), onto the beginning of this tale as a pre-title "hook". It properly introduced the regulars and the challenge facing them through their first few scenes in the TARDIS, it didn't give away anything of the previous story's plot, and it went a long way to helping the upcoming adventure seem "big."
One of the most confusing things about part one is its failure to adequately establish its over-packed cast of characters, and the fact that in the outer space sections, they are actually supposed to be in two very different locations. Indeed, by the time part one's credits rolled, I found myself looking at lists of unfamiliar character names, played by unfamiliar actors' names. Who was who? Something was obviously missing from dialogue. Not only was the Doctor and/or his companions not meeting most of these people and becoming involved with them as should be happening, but dialogue also clumsily neglected to have the characters refer to each other by name, or on the few occasions when it did, left it unclear or unemphasized. Most characters in this tale are lucky to have their character names used once across all four episodes combined, and you have to dig to find them. The most notorious example I can think of is the name "Styles", mentioned only once in its ultra-awkward possessive when she is nowhere around in part three: "Davros is using Styles's laboratory." The audience must both catch that and think back to the episode that aired two weeks previously, when Styles had her one scene of being in command of that set, to make the connection. Many other character names never get mentioned on screen at all. This did seem to be the wrong way to write a story.
The Dalek cruiser gets an awesome establishing shot to begin with, but sadly the ship doesn't really show up on screen very effectively after that. By the time the very quick, static establishing shot of the space station flips on and off of the screen, one may very easily assume it is the same place. Additionally, after Lytton has demonstrated such a strong visual commanding presence, all the dialogue of the space station crew discussing the character of their unseen captain I thought on first viewing was describing and referring to Lytton. The commentary even points out the similarity of the hats worn by the station crew and Lytton's gang when not in battle.
An obvious remedy seems to be to combine a lot of separate scenes from a location together, especially during part one, to let one beat continue through from start to finish without interrupting it with another. Although extra establishing shots and space/vortex exteriors would be useful all through parts one and four, I have found that one of the most important juxtapositions that can be made is to go from Lytton's second scene on the Dalek ship, commanding "All troopers to battle stations. Battle speed!", to an exterior of the ship to remind viewers what it looked like (now doing the equivalent of Star Trek's warp speed with stars / space dust streaking by), and to make a hard cut to the clearly different space station sitting motionless, and let that flow into Styles and Mercer's first scene. Many of the scenes of the station crew's early reactions to the cruiser also work much better when intercut with new exterior optical effects footage to show the multi-ship outer space battles that are otherwise only talked about on the original version. It plays out so much better than cutting to unrelated scenes on Earth.
Another important juxtaposition is to go from Stien watching the arrival of the Earth soldiers at the warehouse, to the police box landing on the docks, continuing to the regulars' scene exiting the TARDIS interior, and cutting directly to them exiting the police box on location. A simple and obvious sequence to make the TARDIS clear for any viewers getting their first taste of watching Doctor Who, particularly if it's a fan showing it to them and proclaiming that "this is a good one!"
And if this story does justice to any one character, it is Davros. One can almost excuse the fact that all of episode one's exciting futuristic action doesn't involve the Doctor, his companions, or anyone he is actively trying to help, by the fact that it all builds up so well to reveal that Davros is the "McGuffin" at the center of the entire thing, and it has all revolved around him. His reveal is also very nicely timed to be the first half of a double-cliffhanger. Having absolutely no idea who or what Davros was on my first viewing, I can tell you his image alone looked suitably intriguing and Dalek-related to fuel a huge sense of mystery and anticipation for learning more about him the following week. And the second half of the cliffhanger is exquisite, with the tracked-in close up of Peter Davison's Doctor as he caught his first glimpse of his adversaries for this tale, and the Dalek continuing to screech "exterminate!" even after the cut to the credits. I pity the British audience that didn't get to see it that way on their first broadcast. Davros proceeds to be the most interesting element of part two, if not the rest of the entire story. His scenes opposite Lytton and Kiston work really well, as they dig into each others' recent history and neatly fill the audience in on who they are, what their interests and motivations are, and what's been happening to Davros and the Daleks since their last appearance in "Destiny of the Daleks" (story no. 104). Great stuff, succeeding nicely in bringing me up to speed on this character during my first viewing, and whetting my appetite for "Genesis of the Daleks" (story no. 78) to no end. Davros also gets to demonstrate his devious side, something only "Genesis" has managed to do greater justice to yet.
The Dalek ship is curiously different to most of the other spacecraft designs we have seen them using before. Although most of it has a nice "sterile" look to it that falls in line with their need to exterminate all other forms of life in the universe, the interiors look a bit more reminiscent of Movellan ship interiors from "Destiny of the Daleks" (story no. 104). Is this a ship they stole in one of their skirmishes in the backstory of the Movellan war? Equally, it might be more a ship that belonged to Lytton's group before they joined the Daleks. Externally, it just seems so much more square and "blocky" than the round saucers the Daleks seem to use in every other story that sees them traveling through space.
|Composer Malcolm Clarke is back to tackle yet another mythological block-buster style story for Doctor Who, and he achieves success once again. While creating some effective themes for both Davros and the Daleks, these are both actually quite simple sequences of notes. What makes the score really work are all the good moody anticipation portions and crescendos leading up to those themes in the final product, with the edgy harp-like space station portions being my favourites. They make you know that something serious and hugely important is about to take place. Once again, even long after other composers had taken over writing Dalek music, Malcolm Clarke's versions still reign as the definitive ones in my head. Even though his scores for both "Earthshock" and "Enlightenment" are better, this is another of Clarke's good ones from the time when the show was still at its peak.||
Enthusiastic director Matthew Robinson keeps up a tremendous pace and energy throughout the story, particularly in the first and last episodes, using both this and the cutting between short scenes to help disguise the holes in character motivation, helping the audience forget what each character may be trying to do, and helping them focus on simply what happens. This helps when both the Doctor and Tegan are stuck in separate instances of the prisoner dynamic throughout episode three. Strange that so much expensive location film was spent on completely irrelevant padding of Tegan's plot there.
Early sections of episode four are the most problematic in terms of character. Complete misunderstanding of how noble aims like peaceful negotiations or heroic actions work has led Saward to give Peter Davison's Doctor nothing greater than the most obvious example yet of the passive-aggressive syndrome routine to play out in his confrontation with Davros, with Davison appearing to be "stuck" on the passive side of things. Although the Doctor appears clever in conniving his way to Davros under his own power and proactivity, and has a few good lines debating philosophy with him, the only actions Saward gives him to contemplate actually doing are the ones he has just argued against. If he kills Davros, he'll be a hypocrite, and at this stage actually doing the Supreme Dalek's dirty work for him.
Most important of all are the lack of stakes here. Who is the Doctor attempting to help in this tale? Exactly what is he trying to accomplish with Davros's death? Who is it going to save? You have to get very hypothetical to get an answer to that question. It's a huge contrast from where he was at the climax of "Earthshock". The Cyber Leader had clearly invaded the Doctor's space in the TARDIS, and was threatening the future of the Earth on the large scale, and his companions on the personal scale. He was completely justified in that story. Here, he's been too uninvolved with most of the people in the story, particularly those in the futuristic half of it. Why would he even seek Davros out? Putting an end to the Supreme Dalek's duplication plans would have been a more appropriate priority.
Not that we fans wouldn't want a confrontation with Davros more. We just want it to make sense when it happens, and let the Doctor stay true to his principles.
A problem with both "Jedi" and "Resurrection" is that, although the main protagonist's abilities to convince others to their side is a good thing, those others wind up using violent means to resolve the plot anyway, making the protagonists appear to simply have shifted their responsibilities to someone else. In that sense, surprisingly, Davros is the one that hits the philosophical nail on the head here, and with Peter Davison's Doctor unable to counter his arguments effectively, especially whenever he has the weapon raised, Davros has clearly been the more effective of the two in debating the issue. Is the Doctor lacking in action and courage? Here, I would say yes, mostly because he hasn't found a worthy action to courageously follow through on, and he spends way too much time neglecting to recognize this. I'd rather have Tom Baker's Doctor waltz in proactively, cracking jokes, offering jelly babies, embodying and exuding a positive attitude towards life that makes his philosophical arguments for it effective, while cleverly crossing a few wires and pushing a few buttons to bring the violent plans of Davros and/or the Daleks to a crashing halt. That's a key part of this show's charm, I think, which Saward and Nathan-Turner and many others undervalued. This is also sci-fi, so it shouldn't be too hard to come up with devices for making this plausible even in the face of the serious danger and likely responses that Davros, the Daleks, and Lytton's troopers should make. And I think we only have to look at the previous story, "Frontios", to see that it is still possible and effective with Peter Davison's Doctor, and shows him at his best.
It all boils down to Saward being unable to write, if not recognize, the true opposite to the active violence of Daleks and most other villainous forces in Doctor Who. Instead of proactive peace and positiveness, he is stuck on inactive passivity.... hence the constant return to passive-aggressive syndrome each time Davros wins his argument in Saward's head. One almost gets the sense that Davros here is expressing one of Saward's philosophical hang-ups, one that Saward himself doesn't know how to get past.
Saward's only attempt to moderate this level of violence is to show how painful it is, how much it hurts. This is an absolutely daft philosophical direction, eating deep into the story's repeat-viewing value. We end up with far more excessive screams and sounds of pain in this story than is tasteful or appropriate, with Chloe Ashcroft's contributions being particularly ugly.
It is interesting to note also how extended flashbacks of clips from the series' long history had become popular since John Nathan-Turner took over as producer, with at least one big one featuring favourably each year. Tom Baker had received two at the climax of "Logopolis" (story no. 116) giving viewers a nostalgic tour of the villains he had faced and the companions who had traveled with him. The flashback for the Brigadier's experiences in "Mawdryn Undead" had worked both in terms of nostalgia and also in introducing the character to an audience who may not have remembered him or seen him before. Both of those had very nice pieces of music coming to the fore in the soundtrack. The flashback of Cybermen encounters in "Earthshock" was probably the one that integrated best into the narrative of the story, and featured important dialogue over an atmospheric background sound loop. In "Resurrection of the Daleks", we get the most ineffective and gratuitous flashback sequence yet. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, other than the fact that the production team knows such things have been popular with audiences who didn't yet have libraries of 1960's and 1970's Doctor Who videos on their shelves. The images get so distorted near the end of this, that you can hardly tell what you're looking at. Worst of all, the soundtrack is a horrendous load of painful screaming from the Doctor, over which we get a moronic batch of yelling out of Stien. As a climactic moment of bringing Stien over to the Doctor's side, this is disappointingly lame, distasteful, and poor.
This story earns back a few points in retrospect after we learn that the character Lytton recurs in a future Doctor Who story. This generates more interest in him here, and adds to the mythology being advanced. Good stuff. Maurice Colbourne does a good job playing the part, and definitely deserved the encore that he later got.
Perhaps it is best that the Doctor / Davros confrontation comes early in episode four, in that it leaves time for the Doctor to do other things as well. He does finally get into a good bit of an action sequence in the second half. After having sent Tegan and Turlough ahead of him in the TARDIS to collect some extra armament for him, he gets to use the time corridor under his own power, very effectively use Dalekanium to fight his way into the TARDIS during some very well done single-camera work in the studios, and unleash the virus thus bringing an end to the warehouse battles and apparently the Daleks' plans. Not bad. It's also good that he gets a scene confronting the Supreme Dalek, but too bad there's only time for it to take place over the videophone on the TARDIS scanner screen - and has the feeling of being tacked on to an overpacked script at the last minute. Still, some good stuff. The final moment goes to Stien, is made quite dramatic, and works fairly well in terms of being satisfactory. Not the best ending ever, but it will do.
Still, despite the considerable excitement and action and energy of the story, it all ends on a particularly depressing note. Every single guest star who was on a sympathetic side is dead at the end, repeating one of the idiotic mistakes of "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131), or "Horror of Fang Rock" (story no. 92) for that matter. Mercer would have been a good character to save, but hard to do while both the station and the cruiser blow up together. Colonel Archer and Sgt. Calder also looked like they were worthy of making it through the story, and were knocked out way too early. Tegan and Professor Laird's story beats were less interesting without Archer and Calder to continue rooting for. Again, we're eating into both the feel-good aspect of the tale (which "Resurrection" has almost totally thrown away), and its repeat-viewing potential. And for what? Even if the message of "Warriors of the Deep" is worth saying once, repeating it ad nauseum must mean the writer really hasn't listened to it himself.
In case you missed it, Tegan draws much attention to the pain and suffering and horror of this story in the aftermath, using it as the reason for her exit. Can't say I blamed her one bit. The scene isn't bad, but so many other companion exits were more moving, and dwelt on better subjects. And on first viewing, I thought it was another bogus exit for Tegan anyway, as she had already had at the end of "Time-Flight" (story no. 123). At this point, I had somehow heard about a story called "The Five Doctors" (story no. 130) which hadn't aired in TVOntario's run yet, and I knew that Peter Davison's Doctor, Turlough, and Tegan were meant to be the "current" line-up in it. So I was sure that Tegan would be back. It's curious how the Doctor appears to forget what he's doing in this scene. He starts out declaring that he's on his way to talk to Earth authorities, then after Tegan interrupts with her departure, he pops off in the TARDIS with Turlough instead. Bizarre.
Well, let's leave off on the bright side. At least the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough managed to save one cat, who is now free to rule the abandoned warehouse and discipline it as he (she?) sees fit. Not bad. Perhaps this inspires the Doctor for the upcoming switch to cats on the lapel instead of celery? With all of the things this story both gets right and wrong, you have to agree that it does attempt to deliver a heck of a lot, and largely is the main event of the season. Although still far too flawed to rise to the absolute top ranks of the season, where I had previously, reluctantly considered it, I think it has still earned third place, with both "The Awakening" (story no. 132) and "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131) nipping a little more closely at its heels.