Revelation of the Daleks

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 143, starring Colin Baker)
  • written by Eric Saward
  • directed by Graeme Harper
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Roger Limb
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each, or
    2 episodes @ 45 minutes each
Story: Strange deaths and developments bring many curious minds, including the Doctor's, to the Tranquil Repose mortuary on the icy planet Necros. But can these various separate voices prevent the horror that the self-proclaimed Great Healer is about to unleash on the galaxy?

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by director Graeme Harper, actors Nicola Bryant (Peri) and Terry Molloy (Davros), and writer Eric Saward.
  • "Revelation Exhumed" making-of documentary (45 min.), with Harper, Molloy, Saward, William Gaunt (Orcini), Hugh Walters (Vogel),
    Clive Swift (Jobel), Trevor Cooper (Takis), Colin Spaull (Lilt), Roy Skelton (Dalek Voices), Alexei Sayle (D.J.),
    designer Alan Spalding, visual effects supervisor John Brace, composer Roger Limb, and costume designer Pat Godfrey.
  • "In Studio" behind the scenes footage (15 min.)
    • with optional commentary by Graeme Harper and Terry Molloy
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Optional new CGI Effects
  • Isolated music and new 5.1 surround sound audio options
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • transmission clips detailing the 4-part version of the story

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

This story has a few significant points of merit to help it climb in the seasons ranking, if that says much in a season with so many obvious problems on display. However, it also manages to be both distasteful and quite lacking in quality character interaction, where there is any character interaction at all. This is probably Eric Saward's worst story for the show, but it is also like the Rosetta Stone in giving us some fascinating, definitive insights into how his habitual thoughts may have been shaping his story-crafting process.

The Good, ...

First the good points: The story builds steadily to a climax properly placed at the end of the final half-hour. It's very hard not to notice and value this highly, considering the string of anti-climactic endings that had so badly plagued the rest of the season. That may indeed help "Revelation" rank decently within the season, but compared to other years where exciting conclusions were considered standard, this conclusion will likely come in as below average.

Next good point is that we have Graeme Harper directing the show, and doing fairly well with it. There is clear visual creativity about it, and when action happens, it's fairly exciting. However, acting isn't this story's strong point, ranging mostly from decent to dull, although in many cases I think this stems from what the writer gave the actors to work with.... more on that later. Harper won't get a really good script to work on until "Rise of the Cybermen" (story no. 176) in David Tennant's 2006 season, but when he does, his real magic will begin.....

The setting is worthwhile actually, showing us something of the galaxy on an alien planet that combines snow and pyramids. Excellent backdrop. Centering on a mortuary is a bit too morbid for my tastes, but with the right story, it could work. Particularly good is having the story accept snow and appropriate dress for the Doctor's companion, instead of pretending it should be summer when shooting outdoors in January. But this victory is not complete, with someone having to perform from beneath the surface of some icy freezing water....

Composer Roger Limb is also having a good day, building on his success with "The Caves of Androzani" (story no. 136), and improving yet again. Most memorably, he creates a very interesting electronic scream sound, what I often like to call "The sting of a thousand Daleks", giving the creatures a very distinctive musical sound. Additionally, he's actually created a decent melodic theme for the story and/or its setting, which has a few variations for different moods. Nice! Of course, a study of the intervals in the melody reveals that he often drops down a semitone again and again - surprise, surprise! .....but the timing helps keep the melody fresh. His more traditional semitone drops can be found elsewhere in the score, and despite some extra sound creativity, the score would be better at creating mood without them.

Lastly for the good points, the adventure features the Daleks and Davros, who are interesting fan favourites. This really is Davros's story, and Terry Molloy pulls out the stops to give his character the best performance in the adventure. Dalek mythology is advanced in this story, in ways that pay off in later eras, so if you want to follow Dalek history, you'll probably want to include this tale in your viewing schedule.

...The Bad, ....

Now for the bad points: This really is Davros's story - a double-edged sword, since he pretty much takes over as the main character. The Daleks are completely upstaged, as is the Doctor, with neither of them having anything much to do until the final half-hour. And what we do see of the Daleks has them acting more like Cybermen (Saward's favourites), particularly in their view of the human resource, instead of acting like the purifying exterminators they were designed as. This confusion continues in later stories, but this is really where it all started.

Indeed, "Revelation of the Daleks" seems to have conquered the more important of season 22's typical story structure problems, that of correctly creating and positioning an exciting climax, at the expense of nearly tripling the other of its structural problems, namely that of getting the Doctor and Peri to the scene on time and letting them interact decently with the guest characters. I will continue to automatically refer to the 25-minute international versions of this season's episodes, especially since it really highlights those problems in the writing.

Although "Revelation" looks like it's off to a great start by landing the TARDIS and bringing our regulars out right away in the first scene, Saward keeps writing scenes of them wandering around on location forever, while writing scene after scene for his guest characters without the Doctor or Peri's presence. This goes on for not one, but two half hour episodes. Part Three is only slight improvement, giving them some very idle conversations with retarded dialogue, before stuffing the Doctor into the prisoner dynamic, and giving him some idle wandering, while all the important actions go to the guest stars. Only in part four does Colin Baker get some worthwhile scenes, and even then, he only has a supporting role while Davros and the other guests continue to upstage him.

A lot of the usual investigation and discovery story-beats go to Natasha and her machine-gun-toting medical friend, and I couldn't tell you why. The story is not better off for it, and the repetitive arguing slowing down their dialogue is painful to listen to, but has become staple Eric Saward output by now. The lost opportunities are sad. Getting this pair together with the Doctor and Peri at the start might have been an ideal way to kick-start the plot. Even after the Doctor's had a chance to talk to them late in the story, he then sends them off to handle a dangerous task that he should have been looking after himself. It's baffling.

Saward is more interested in mercenaries, and he's created a doozy this time: Orcini, Knight of the Grand Order of Oberon, complete with a limp to ensure a slow approach and a filthy sidekick to ensure that the enemy can smell him coming from a mile away. But Orcini can be as poetic as Shakespeare, and thanks to Harper no doubt, likes to use a machine gun. I guess that passes for watchable tough guys in Britain. Curiously, Orcini doesn't make his entrance until the second 25-minute episode, and doesn't quite manage to take over as a protagonist, if he was actually meant to. I'd rather have the Doctor anyday anyway, but here Orcini upstages him so that Saward can resolve everything violently and give the proactive violent actions to a more appropriate character. Sort of. Whatever.

The real bottom line is that "Revelation" is a story without any real clue how to involve the Doctor in any significant way, or indeed any interesting way. The guest characters could really go full steam ahead without him and wind up with almost exactly the same result.

And are these guest characters worth their time on screen? Saward falls into his most common traps with the bulk of them, isolating them into pairs, and having them prickle and irritate each other with dialogue full of the most unrealistic, moronic, needless collections of barbs and insults. This tends to drain the characters' charisma considerably. And what kind of arc do all these irritants produce for most of the cast? Passive-aggressive syndrome. This isn't interesting; it's old hat and very predictable.

.... and the "Rosetta Stones".

However, it is in this story that we find Tasambeker, played by Jenny Tomasin, who is undoubtedly the purest passive-aggressive example in any Saward-era Doctor Who show, a sad creature trying to be sweet and likeable, but this just masking the frustration and resentment that she's bottling up inside, until it all explodes in poor, hostile choices. In the other characters we will find echoes and reflections of this, as they all find things to gripe about, and different ways of lashing out at each other. Ho hum. I find myself wondering to what degree Saward may have put himself into his own story through the character of Tasambeker.

Want a really good laugh? Just imagine Saward being asked how he REALLY felt about producer John Nathan-Turner and working on this show, and imagine the answer then came out of the Ken Barker mutant that the Doctor first meets in the woods when said mutant first opens his mouth. Hear the frustration reaching the boiling point? Hear the mutant unable to explode loudly enough to satisfy himself? This story really is Saward's biggest, deepest, most all-pervading wallow in passive-aggressive arcs.

And then there's the poor D.J. He tries SO HARD to be cool, and never really hits the mark at any point in the story. At least when he meets Peri, she's almost as much an awestruck nervous wreck as he is, leveling the playing field a bit. The editing for the whole story is the typical 80's mess of intercutting unrelated things constantly, and many times the only thing connecting scenes together is the fact that Davros or the D.J., or both, are watching it all on their TV's. But throwing the D.J.'s bizarrely toned comments into the mix, particularly as his presence gets no explanation until part three, makes the whole thing far more disjointed than usual. Not good.

And here we have the template for Saward era stories. Create a cast list full of unlikeable characters, make sure they irritate each other as much as possible to create passive-aggressive arcs, and when the audience has had just about as much as they can take, let the old favourite monsters march in and wipe them all out to provide relief. The whole process speaks of low values and poor taste. Tell me the fans who do like this one aren't really cheering Davros and the Daleks in this tale, which may be the scariest part of all...

The cliffhangers aren't great in this one. In fact, the accidental cliffhanger to the 25-minute international part one is probably the best, with Natasha and her friend scurrying into an alcove in the catacombs, and the cut to the credits occurring before we find out what's coming down the corridor towards them. Would it have worked better to include the next shot as well, showing a Dalek and entourage coming their way? Perhaps not, considering how we've seen Daleks turn up all over this story already, without it being any big deal to the other characters.

The official "statue" cliffhanger ending part two is actually pretty lame, when you consider how much part three's reprise deflates all serious menace out of it. Christopher Bidmead would have been aghast. Part Three ends on a lame phone call between the Doctor and Peri, as we take forever to zoom in on Colin Baker in the corridor and he gets excited about how much danger Peri is in. It actually sounds half-decent on paper, but considering what led up to this, it doesn't work on screen.

The Cure...

You may not find it within this story, but there is a cure for passive-aggressive tendencies, if you feel the potential beginning to bottle up inside. It starts by reframing your judgments and interpretations of everything and anyone around you. Notice the positive and the beauty and the good. Forget what others should or should not be doing, and focus on what you can do yourself. Magnify what works for you, what you can freely offer the world for mutual benefit. Persist in directing your thoughts to dwell on that. Turn back to part four of "Snakedance" (story no. 125), and learn meditation as the Doctor does. You can leave out the snake. Find your stillpoint. To the extent that you can truly be at peace with yourself, the world you manifest around you must eventually follow suit.

Interesting is Colin Baker's choice to virtually boycott all participation in the special features on the DVD. I'm not sure if that was meant to mean anything, but in some subtle ways, perhaps it ends up saying it all anyway.

Well, I don't think too highly of this adventure. While the last 25-minutes have some interesting portions and decent energy, the long, grating, tedious set-up hasn't got enough worthwhile things going for it to inspire much repeat-viewing. And for something that has so little of Colin Baker in it, it can hardly be considered a great example of his era either, as some strange fans would try to tell you. However, if you like Davros, and/or want to follow his story, fair enough. You'll want to check this one out.

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Planet der Toten" (Colin Baker)

Magyar: "A dalekok felfedése"

Français: (La Révélation des Daleks)

Русский: "Откровение далеков"

Yes, a dubbed version of this Colin Baker story went out on German TV in 1995 under the title "Planet der Toten", which means literally "Planet of the Dead". Years later in 2009, David Tennant starred in a special Easter episode of Doctor Who titled "Planet of the Dead" (story no. 205). This was no problem for the English canon, as that title had not yet appeared on any previous English Doctor Who story, but the Germans ended up using the title "Planet der Toten" again, possibly unaware that they had now attached it to two very different stories featuring different Doctors.

Rankings for Season 22 / Colin Baker's first full year:

Best Story:

  • The Mark of the Rani
  • The Two Doctors
  • Attack of the Cybermen
  • Vengeance on Varos
  • Revelation of the Daleks
  • Timelash
  • The Twin Dilemma

Best Director:

  • Sarah Hellings (The Mark of the Rani)
  • Peter Moffatt (The Two Doctors / The Twin Dilemma)
  • Graeme Harper (Revelation of the Daleks)
  • Matthew Robinson (Attack of the Cybermen)
  • Ron Jones (Vengeance on Varos)
  • Pennant Roberts (Timelash)

Best Music:

  • Peter Howell - The Two Doctors
  • Jonathan Gibbs - Vengeance on Varos
  • Malcolm Clarke - The Twin Dilemma
  • Malcolm Clarke - Attack of the Cybermen
  • Jonathan Gibbs - The Mark of the Rani
  • Roger Limb - Revelation of the Daleks
  • Liz Parker - Timelash

Best Writer:

  • Pip and Jane Baker (The Mark of the Rani)
  • Robert Holmes (The Two Doctors)
  • Eric Saward / Paula Moore (Attack of the Cybermen)
  • Philip Martin (Vengeance on Varos)
  • Eric Saward (Revelation of the Daleks)
  • Glen McCoy (Timelash)
  • Anthony Steven (The Twin Dilemma)

"Revelation of the Daleks" has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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DVD NTSC Region 1
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for the U.K.
VHS Video
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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story:
"The Trial of a Time Lord - The Mysterious Planet"

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