Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ressurection of the Daleks written by Eric Saward and directed by Matthew Robinson

This story in a nutshell: ‘So they have returned to their creator…like an errant child.’

Fair Fellow: Don’t get me wrong I think there is some superb work done with the fifth Doctor in this story and Peter Davison gives an exceptionally strong performance. What really gets stuck in my teeth is when writers like Paul Cornell enthuse about how Davison’s Doctor adheres to pacifism compared to brutes like Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor. Its bollocks, frankly. In this story the Doctor willingly handles a pistol and shoots a Dalek mutant, he shoves a gun in Davros’ face, he happily clips explosives to a Dalek and then lets off a lethal virus that murders more. He's a mass murderer. That's the whole point of the story, just like Warriors of the Deep, he realises that he has to change his ways. It's all very well coming to an epiphany after the event but that doesn't change the fact that a lot of people had to die to complete your psychological education. It just really bugs me when people criticise the sixth Doctor for exactly the same reason and yet in the same breath give the fifth Doctor a free pass because he feels bad about it – I guess its because he has no problem in taking out humanoid enemies whereas number five is a bit of coward in that respect. ‘We have to find it before it tries to kill again’ is a typically melodramatic Eric Saward line that should be awful but Davison is simply gripping, giving these scenes real gravity. Something has happened to his character since the massacre on Sea Base Four, he was full of fire in Frontios and displays a similar blazing eyed fury in this story and it is a welcome change. Tegan recognizes it in him and suddenly she wants to leave. The fifth Doctor has grown a pair of balls, that's all in a universe that is no longer plying by the rules. Davison does amazing work without saying a word; look at the look of pure abhorrence when he discovers the corpse of the Colonel and his men. His decision to kill Davros is a real shock but it does make sense if you have seen Genesis of the Daleks (to which the Doctor eludes to here). Robinson allows some for some astonishing close ups which gives Davison the chance to emote beautifully when the Doctor holds a weapon in Davros’ face and the monstrous scientist tells him he is a moral coward. It's not until Tegan turns on him and tells him she is leaving that the Doctor realises what this violence has brought him to. He begs her not to leave this and can barely shake her hand as she walks out of his life. He says he left Gallifrey for similar reasons ('if you stop enjoying it, give it up...') and he will have to sort himself out. It's powerful characterisation for a Doctor who often gets saddled with a exposition only. It seems a shame that Davison should about to depart when he suddenly feels assured in the role and Saward has started taking risks with the character.

Mouth on Legs: It is clear from her effect on proceedings (none at all) that it is long past time for Tegan to go. She gets knocked over by a Dalek, spends an episode in bed and then escapes and runs around a bit whilst Turlough is doing all the exciting stuff on the space station. What I never predicted was that Tegan would get such an affecting departure scene, one of the finest offered up in the classic series. Saward pre-empts her decision with the sequence of the faceless extra metal detecting being shot down in cold blood, the Professor suffering the same fate and the massacre in the warehouse. There is so much death in that second episode that Tegan’s disgusted reaction mirrors the audiences. Finally I can empathize with this character and all it took was mass murder. Surrounded by corpses Tegan declares she is sick of seeing people die and that travelling with the Doctor has stopped being fun. How can you argue with that? There is no time for a proper teary goodbye because she is out of there before she changes her mind. That happens but the Doctor has already left with his tail tucked between his legs. Her decision to stay on Earth is made for her. If Tegan had been written with as much care throughout her tenure as she is during her leaving scene we could have had a genuinely engaging character on our hands rather than an angry mouthpiece of he shows fans. Unfortunately for the last two seasons she has been little but a mouth on legs with little development (only Snakedance, Enlightenment and Frontios do anything special with her) and I can only welcome the idea of the far more interesting Turlough going solo.

Over the Shoulder: Never has that description been more appropriate. Look at Turlough in the background of every scene rolling his eyes  suspiciously and watching his back. Anyone would think that he was the Dalek agent. Turlough does eventually catch up with the action but he spends the majority of the first half of the story wandering corridors and failing to interact with anybody. He trips over corpses, suffers a beating and is sent on a suicide mission - you could make an argument that Saward might not like the character. One moment that is skipped over but shows how ruthless Turlough can be despite the fact that he is living under the pretense of a happy go lucky adventurer is when Mercer asks ‘What about the guards?’ and Turlough replies ‘We kill them…’ Thanks goodness Tegan didn't hear that. Near the end of the story Turlough says ‘best news all day’ about going back to Earth. He’s changed his tune.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The creatures of Earth have no stomach for judicial murder. They prefer to leave you to rot and die. They call it being humane.’
‘They’ll kill anybody…even if they need them.’
‘Why do they take themselves so seriously?’
‘You’re like a deranged child always talking of killing, revenge and destruction!’

The Good Stuff: The opening scene screams of Eric Saward in all the best ways; gripping, gritty, nasty and violent – it’s an unforgettably brutal rain-lashed massacre set in the London Docks. Rula Lenska puts in a fine performance as the dispassionate, hard as nails station Doctor, she’s a million miles away from a similar character that Ingrid Pitt played far less effectively in Warriors of the Deep and yet she is given much less character to grasp hold of. The station sets look fantastic considering the budget restrictions; it looks futuristic, spacious and Robinson insists it is lit moodily. Smoking in a Doctor Who story? Whatever next? The TARDIS and Tower Bridge in the same shot is a clash of icons but perfect for publicity shots. Matthew Robinson’s dynamic direction ensures the attack on the station is pacy and dramatic with barely a second to catch a breath. Imagine if Pennant Roberts or Peter Moffatt were directing this? Some directors recognise that the Daleks need a dramatic entrance and this is one of the best examples, blasting through the shield and massacring the crew. The face melting make up is strong stuff for the tea time audience and I can imagine a portion of the audience turning their nose up at their baked beans on toast. Destiny of the Daleks was trying to build up to a spectacular return for Davros but it didn't quite come off as intended and given another opportunity to get it right, JNT ensures that everything is thrown at this story to make it as memorable as possible. Look at Davros' reveal, bathed in blue light and smoke.  A much published photograph, the Doctor pushing the Dalek from the second storey is pretty damn exciting. Terry Molloy was a superb bit of casting as Davros and he manages to get under the skin of the character like Michael Wisher did, silky voiced and genuinely psychotic. There are times when he pushes the hysterical ranting to the limit but and he comes across as a raving child but somehow that is even more frightening. I love how desperate the producers of Doctor Who have become in the eighties, I remember Verity Lambert saying she would never have shown the Dalek mutant in its entirety in fear of scaring the bejesus out of the audience and yet here we have a glistening snot coloured nasty sucking blood from an innocent squaddies neck. How times have changed. The whole sequence feels like it belongs in a (rather good) horror movie and that can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Saward is aware of the Movellan war enough to mention the conflict and keep the fans happy whilst failing to include them and blight the production. Clever chap. ‘Why am I so excited? This will be the last thing I ever do…’ – like Russell T Davies after him never let it be said that Eric Saward isn't good at building up a tense atmosphere and Styles' suicidal desperation to bring the Daleks down leads to some memorable scenes. Dalek on Dalek action is fecking brilliant; they go up like insane robotic fireworks and the child in me was screaming with excitement. How nasty is the Daleks frothing with foam from the virus and being unable to express their pain except in childish, slurred cries? I never thought I would feel pity for a Dalek but there we are. It might be a lazy way of cutting that part of the narrative dead but the explosion of the prison ship is genuinely climactic. So shocked am I by it's effect on me that I have to mention it again - Tegan's leaving scene is a real tearjerker. Who would have ever suspected? 

The Bad Stuff: What is it about designers being asked to bring the fashion of the future alive? The Thunderbird style hats are up there with the spray on uniforms from The Ice Warriors and the nappy trousers from The Seeds of Death. Check out the scene where the Daleks storm the bridge - the crew is made up of actors that have already been exterminated elsewhere (it is almost edited together quickly enough that you wont notice). There are some very funny deaths that resemble the Tarantella. The soldiers from the warehouse are duplicated very quickly.  The cliffhanger is both ridiculously melodramatic and makes no sense. If Stein was a Dalek agent why was he acting so terrified of the other troopers earlier in the episode when there was nobody to act up to? There were plenty of other moments that would have made a better cliffhanger (the Daleks approaching on the Doctor a few seconds later for example). The Daleks seem to be juggling 101 plans at once in this story (saving Davros, duplicates on Earth, curing the Movellan virus, etc) and assassinating the High Council is perhaps a thread too far. Although it provides another nice stepping stone on the path to the Time War after Genesis of the Daleks. Why does Chloe Ashcroft grab her head as though she is being deafened? What is that all about? ‘I CAN’T STAND THE CONFUSION IN MY MIND!’ – Bewes has never been the most sophisticated of performers but when handed a Saward script that asks him to contradict himself from one scene to the next he is completely at sea. The killing gets out of hand in the last episode when Saward can think of no other way to deal with his spaghetti junction of plot threads but to cut them all dead. Literally dead. An absolute bloodbath (minus blood). Some of the exterminations are pure panto. The Supreme Dalek popping up at the end should have been excised because it is another unnecessary complication. What happened to the duplicates that he activated? Big Finish? 

The Shallow Bit: Tegan has never look more like a hooker. The soldier who stops for a fag is gorgeous.

Result: Yes it is too violent, yes it is too nasty and yes it is too complicated but I still find it ridiculously entertaining. For once the Daleks feel like a terrifyingly violent force that cannot be opposed and Davros makes a very welcome return with Saward setting up some interesting tension between him and his creations. Saward himself called this the worst Doctor Who script ever written and whilst it does require a script editor to untangle it a little and find a more interesting way to tie everything up besides massacring everybody, it does have an impressive number of set pieces and an understanding of how to set up a dramatic scenario with plenty of atmosphere. Certainly there have been worse Doctor Who scripts written. Matthew Robinson’s direction must be praised because he never keeps the camera still and is constantly finding ways of making the action dynamic and looking like the budget was ten times its size. The realisation of the show during this period was generally quite slack when in the hands of theatrical directors such as Peter Moffatt, Ron Jones and Pennant Roberts but every now and again a Grimwade, Robinson or Harper would emerge to shake things up a bit. Peter Davison gives another impressive last season performance and the Doctor is pushed further over to the edge than ever before. It makes you wonder how much longer this placid incarnation can make a difference in such an ugly universe. He needs to regenerate into someone tougher and more violent in order to face these horrors head on. Resurrection of the Daleks is a terrific Cowboys vs Indians life or death struggle in space and one classic Who’s most effective action stories. Just don’t think about it too much: 8/10


Timothy Allan said...

People always say that the Doctor shoots a Dalek in this one but I really don't think he does. He certainly points a pistol at it but everytime I've watched it it's looked to me like he doesn't pull the trigger. It's the Sergeant with the machine gun who shoots the Dalek.

David Pirtle said...

I didn't ever think of any iteration of the Doctor as a pacifist. I'm reminded of that very first Big Finish story, not exactly a belter, but Colin Baker's Doctor does a great job of explaining that all of his iterations share the same traits, just in different measures, him being the most 'pragmatic' of the group.