Doctor Who complete reviews: Resurrection Of The Daleks
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
A highly anticipated Dalek return to Doctor Who was a hit at the time, but has aged badly...
Way back when in 1984, The Official Doctor Who Magazine (yes, it really was called that) ran a poll to find the best story of season 21. Given all the plaudits and platitudes heaped upon it, you'd expect The Caves Of Androzani to have taken the top spot. In actual fact, at numero uno was...
Resurrection Of The Daleks!
Now there's a surprise, especially when you consider how Resurrection has fallen so far from grace. These days, Resurrection would be lucky to scoop the fourth spot, and it's only the follies of Warriors Of The Deep and The Twin Dilemma that save it from being the official season 21 turkey.
So what went wrong? When did the coins fall from the eyes, so to speak? After all, in theory, Resurrection has an awful lot going for it. Eric Saward's back behind the word processor, after his previous offering Earthshock was released to great acclaim. Given that the Cybermen were granted a reboot after a lengthy screen absence, Saward was seen as the perfect choice to bring back the Daleks after a screen absence of four and a half-ish years (The Five Doctors cameo notwithstanding). On top of all this, you have an impressively stellar cast, swanky direction from Matthew Robinson, and even better news, Teabag finally exits stage left with her weary brand of moaning left intact.
I guess the curse of the video age obliterated Resurrection's once-unblemished reputation. Doctor Who was originally meant to be seen on a weekly basis - a bit of cool sci-fi escapism for all the family. All the script shortcomings weren't pored over to the thousandth degree, whereas with a video, you could view the thing in one go, and all the deficiencies were there to see. Even back in the Orville and Bean-mad winter of 1984, not every family had access to a VCR, so the fuss over the script wasn't quite as extensive.
These days, however, we've got the curse of the DVD age, so that means that Resurrection's problems are there for all to see, not just by sitting through the story, but also through accompanying commentaries and documentaries. Even Saward himself confesses to being a bit crestfallen by the end product these days, so what hope is there?
The first problem with Resurrection is that plot-wise, it's a complete jumble. Random plot events jostle with annoying inconsistencies to the point where the viewer can scream along with bumbling turncoat Stien - altogether now: "Waaaaargggghhh! I can't stand the confusion in my mind!" The basic plot concerns the Daleks getting Davros back into their clutches so that they can find an antidote to the deadly Movellan virus. All well and good, but then you get about a million and one other subplots and settings to confuse the issue. The most baffling tangent is the Daleks' plan to send duplicates of The Doctor, Teabag and Turlough to destroy the High Council of the Time Lords. Okay, so it's not the most left-field aim of the Daleks - the problem is that it's just randomly tossed in to the script, seemingly as a hasty afterthought. Quite when the Daleks managed to get the details of Teabag's and Turlough's DNA and appearance is a bit of a mystery, and one that you're probably not supposed to think about.
And talking of the duplicates, this is shaky ground anyway. Stien, for one thing - why does the duplicate keep reverting back to his previous shambling self after he's successfully duped and trapped The Doctor? And the duplicates of the army seem a bit pointless too - wouldn't it have been far easier to send a squad of Daleks to zap Teabag and poor old Professor Laird? And more to the point, why are there canisters of Movellan virus in the Earth warehouse in the first place? Hopefully the forthcoming Revisitations release will finally include a free prescription of headache tablets - after sitting through Resurrection, believe me, you'll need them.
If you choose to leave the brain in the fishtank - very wise - the more squeamish of you may still wince at the body count, which practically wipes all the guest cast out. At the end, it's only Davros and Lytton and his policemen buddies that make it to the bitter conclusion. And in hindsight, it's only Revelation Of The Daleks that gives the game away with Davros, and besides which, Lytton's days are numbered given the ending of Attack Of The Cybermen. Which leaves no one alive - even Peter Davison equates the story with Rambo on the DVD commentary.
"In Resurrection, there's a whopping great pointlessness about the deaths, and in turn, the characters, who are reduced to the status of talking cannon fodder"
Now actually this doesn't bother me too much, especially how I've repeatedly mocked Moffat for his odd decision to allow most of his incidental characters to live on. What does rankle is the way in which characters just die for the hell of it. Back in the mid-70s, the body count shot through the roof, but there always seemed to be a reason for the deaths. In Resurrection, there's a whopping great pointlessness about the deaths, and in turn, the characters, who are reduced to the status of talking cannon fodder. Some of the deaths work well - the melting face and fingers sequence of Osborn's hapless lackey is memorably icky, while Stien's slow-motion extermination and Quantel-assisted belly flop detonation of the Space Station is visually impressive. Other deaths are a bit near the knuckle too - Laird's brutal shooting gets a wince from Davison on the commentary, but more often than not, the deaths are either too throwaway (Mercer and Styles) or too ridiculous for words. The duplicates of Archer and Calder provide the silliest exterminations in the history of Who. When Archer's zapped, he turns into a hyperactive John Travolta while making the noise of an angry bear who's just eaten a very hot vindaloo curry. Meanwhile, Calder's facial expression and "WAAAAAAAGGG!!" noise remind me of an ickle baby who's just had a particularly bad reaction to a little tub of egg custard and rice.
It's easy to feel some sympathy for the starry cast, who have very little to work with here. Given that this is the mid 1980s, practically all of the actors shift about uneasily at the thought of having to utter cod-macho speak that makes about as much sense as a talking potato. "Your bile would be better directed against the enemy!" bellows Mercer at Styles, who's too busy spending her time being sarcastic at every single person that crosses her path. If only Styles had made it to the bitter end, she would have had a terrific future as a sniping reality TV judge, reducing some poor wannabe rapscallion to tears with her bitter comments. Elsewhere, Stien's promising The Doctor that he will invite death with his non-stop questions and resistance, while new head prefect to Davros, Kiston, mumbles that his new lord and master must be equally humane in his revenge. This isn't dialogue, it's a looping spool of third-rate Stallone bafflegab, which should really be put into a hermetically-sealed box and then shot off into space forever on account of its piss-poor attempt at sounding tough.
"To reduce the usually bolshy Teabag to a nervous wreck must take some doing, but The Doctor's latest tussle with the tinpot meanies has finally broken her down"
Even the main cast are not served that well. Turlough does his usual schtick of lurking around like a shifty work-experience kid, Teabag's last story has her mostly tucked up in a makeshift bed, while The Doctor's having his brain drained in a psycho version of This Is Your Life. Nice fillings, sir!
Actually, Resurrection is the turning point for the character of the 5th Doctor. The problem is that in some ways, the concept of the pacifistic 5th Doctor facing up to the evil that men do is deeply flawed. It's a close echo of the celebrated scene in Genesis Of The Daleks in which The Doctor debated whether he could destroy the Daleks - this time around, he's lacking the courage to pull the trigger and kill Davros once and for all. Naturally, he can't do it - and yet minutes later, he's running around wafting deadly canisters of Movellan virus under the Daleks like a waiter with tureens of hot food. Hmmmmmm, the moral high ground's just turned into crazy paving here.
What does work though is the final scene in which he's forced to take account of his dangerous lifestyle. Teabag decides that enough is enough, and elects to stay behind on Earth. Only Victoria chose to leave for these reasons, but then she was a screamy wimp. To reduce the usually bolshy Teabag to a nervous wreck must take some doing, but The Doctor's latest tussle with the tinpot meanies has finally broken her down. The Doctor's reaction says it all - the crumpled, hurt expression on his face is swiftly followed by a desperate plea of "No, don't leave! Not like this!" And resolving to mend his ways, The 5th Doctor, in a way, does. His next two adventures will see him take a more ruthless stand against the bad guys, whether he leaves them screaming in flames or abandoning them to their fates without so much as an offer of help. It's the moment when The 5th Doctor puts himself on trial and finds himself guilty of his Mr Nice Guy persona.
It's actually a lovely scene, and brilliantly acted by both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding. It's a shame that the production team were so hell-bent on making Teabag into such an annoying whiner, since in stories such as Kinda, Snakedance and Enlightenment, Fielding reliably came up with the goods. By the time of the 21st season, there was little else left for her character to do, and she was largely sidelined away from the action. A wasted opportunity really, and what's worse is that the next companion will be reduced to the same status of moaning minnie for most of her stories.
In fact, even with all the problems, I actually quite like Resurrection - strictly in a 'Guilty Pleasure' way, of course. For all its clunking machismo, the story's fast-paced, action-packed and looks great on screen. The Daleks at least are a bit better than in their previous outing - and they're back to their fire-spitting best. The new Davros is generally OK, although the new mask makes him look a bit like a 10,000 year old Phil Mitchell. Terry Molloy's performance is also fine, if not in the same league as Michael Wisher's - the problem with the new Davros is his tendency to splutter and gurgle all the time, a bit like a Women's Institute party at a lapdancing nightclub. I swear that my TV's drenched in outraged spit, given the amount of times that Davros starts on one of his many MANY rants.
"Even if the plot's ridiculously convoluted, you can't deny that Resurrection is a visual tour-de-force"
At least the rest of the acting's generally strong, overcoming the weak dialogue. Maurice Colbourne is very good as the tough mercenary Lytton, as is Rodney Bewes, who's worlds apart from his dependable Bob character in The Likely Lads as the traitor Stien. Rula Lenska gets her teeth into the unlikeable character of Styles, Chloe Ashcroft wishes that she'd have stayed with Big Ted and Hamble when playing the doomed Laird, while Leslie Grantham warms up for his coveted role as Dirty Den with an effectively understated performance as Kiston.
Matthew Robinson's pacy direction adds much to the atmosphere of Resurrection, and he's evidently got the talent for producing memorable set-pieces and images. The opening shootout along the backstreets of London. The slow zoom-in into the crewmember's badly-burned face. The policemen stalking Teabag and shooting down a luckless metal detector. Stien's final sacrifice. Even if the plot's ridiculously convoluted, you can't deny that Resurrection is a visual tour-de-force.
So in some ways you can understand why Resurrection was so highly regarded at the time. Don't forget - in 1984, gung-ho action adventure films were all the rage, and with that in mind, Resurrection had clearly found its niche. The downside of this is that it's not aged that well, especially with the clumsy dialogue and hashed plot. But even if it's not the most intelligent story ever told, it's still an enjoyable bit of escapist nonsense and an improvement on the below-par Destiny Of The Daleks.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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