Doctor Who complete reviews: Revelation Of The Daleks
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
An old face makes an unwelcome return. And when we say 'face'...
In 1985, things were not looking so good for Doctor Who. The show was to be put on ice for 18 months in the wake of controversial storylines and supposedly poor viewing figures – all tosh of course, especially when you think that the programme was still pulling viewing figures of about seven million – a perfectly respectable number.
So The Doctor doesn't get to take Peri to Blackpool – well, on screen, at least. And unlike previous years, there were no more customary Who repeats in the summer to mollify the fans. 18 months, as I've said, isn't such a long time by today's standards, but back in 1985, you can understand why fans were weeping into their scarves. The crisis was so bad that the infamously bad 'Doctor In Distress' record was hastily assembled. The so-called supergroup of Who Cares actually comprised Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Nicholas Courtney and Anthony Ainley, along with Faith Brown, the toothy one from Man About The House, plus members of music legends Ultravox, Bucks Fizz and Tight Fit. Presumably the record also featured the canteen staff, the tea lady and the bloke who lived next door to the recording studio – all of whom were probably more recognisable than the talent on offer. Anyways, if you've never heard Doctor In Distress, then consider yourself lucky – it's so bad that it can't even be described as music, sounding more like a gang of drunken alleycats trampling over a cheap drum machine.
Even the DJ of Tranquil Repose wouldn't consider playing 'Doctor In Distress' to his sleeping masses, since it would probably melt the bodies to acidic goo with its toxic noise. Yes, wouldn't you know it, in one of the most mordant seasons of Doctor Who, it's highly appropriate that Revelation Of The Daleks takes place in an intergalactic funeral parlour. The Doctor and Peri have come to pay their respects to Professor Arthur Stengos on the planet of Necros, which houses the funerary delight that is Tranquil Repose. Naturally, this is all a trap planned by – who else? – Davros, who is now apparently reduced to a disembodied head in a giant futuristic food blender.
Even by season 22 standards, Revelation Of The Daleks is pretty grim – bodies are being cannibalised for use by Davros; Grigory is tortured with too much booze; Davros has his fingers blasted off; and of course, in true Saward style, virtually all of the guest cast are wiped out. Much like The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, Revelation comes across as a two-fingered salute to the powers that be with an orgy of gruesome deaths and images.
Having written a string of gung-ho action thrillers, Eric Saward tries a different tack with his last writing contribution. Revelation Of The Daleks is a larger-than-life black comedy, which is very much in the vein of some of the old Robert Holmes classics. By now, Saward and Holmes had become great pals, after the latter was invited back to the show to pen The Caves Of Androzani. Looking at Revelation again, there's many Holmesian elements present – the high death count, the uncompromising atmosphere, the rich, flowery dialogue, and of course, the double acts.
Now Holmes was a master at putting comedy double acts into his stories – think Jago and Litefoot, Garron and Unstoffe, Vorg and Shirna etc. – Revelation Of The Daleks, however, takes this to the limit. There's even more double acts to be found in Revelation Of The Daleks than in a ropey old Royal Variety Show from 1984. Generally though, the double acts work well, even if Saward is maybe just trying a bit too hard with some of them.
So who have we got here? Well, let's kick off with the noble knight of the Grand Order of Oberon, Orcini and his weaselly sidekick, Bostock. Orcini and Bostock have been hired to assassinate Davros, and Orcini is the prime candidate, a man whose key watchword is Honour. He doesn't even want a fee for killing Davros, since the prestige of killing the Dalek creator is a reward in itself. That said, surely, he should request a few quid if only to pop to the local intergalactic drug store to buy some smellies for Bostock, a man so filthy he'd turn your local swimming pool black if he went for a 30-second dip. Orcini and Bostock are one of the more successful double acts in the story though, and William Gaunt in particular, is perfect casting as the somewhat cynical knight. His last defiant act of bravery is actually rather touching, as he elects to blow up Davros and his new race of Daleks (he only succeeds in destroying the new tinpots) with one of his bombs.
He's originally acting on the orders of Kara, the owner of a galactic food distribution plant, and since all her profits are being eaten by Davros (which are presumably used for a prodigious consignment of fruit to go in his new blender for a non-stop supply of tasty milkshakes), it's no wonder that she wants the ranting head out of the equation. She's assisted by her rather fey secretary Vogel, a man who can lay claim to being a past master at the double entry – not really something that he should list on his CV. Again though, they're a good, well-acted pair. Well-known Footlights actress Eleanor Bron had only had a small taste of Doctor Who with a cameo in City Of Death, but she really gets to grips with the role of Kara, making her a memorably greedy villainess, who is ultimately brought down by her own duplicity. Hugh Walters is also very good as the fawning Vogel, and although his last WTF expression before he falls dead is a bit OTT, at least he's another convincing screamer when he's caught in the rays of an angry Dalek.
Some of the other double acts aren't as memorable. Takis and the Totally Tropical Lilt (a man who I always expect to see wearing a JNT Hawaiian shirt, shades and Sombrero hat) are a bit confused, despite great performances from Trevor Cooper and Colin Spaull. One minute they're vicious thugs, the next they're comic relief, and by the end of the show, they miraculously get a conscience (and ironically are the only two guest characters to survive). Natasha and Grigory also get a lesser deal, constantly running around with expressions of breathless panic on their faces, and in true Doctor and Peri style, they're bickering non-stop. Mind you, the tense scene in which Natasha is forced to kill her mutated father, the head of Stengos (good cameo from Alec Linstead here), is one of the best of the story.
"As far as big prizes go, being turned into a Dalek is up there with winning a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen"
I guess you could also call Jobel and Tasambeker a double act – in Tasambeker's eyes, she's holding out for the day when the two stroll hand in hand through a field of daisies while 'Un Homme Et Une Femme' trills in the background. Of course, this is about as likely as a plastic cup speaking Spanish, since Jobel despises the dumpy old boot. The problem with these two isn't so much the scripting, but the acting. The unrequited love story is given a deliciously vicious twist as Tasambeker is given orders to destroy the man she loves in order to prove her loyalty to Davros. I'm not quite sure why Tasambeker thinks it's such a great opportunity to be turned into a Dalek. As far as big prizes go, that's up there with winning a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen. But of course she does, and so she stabs her beloved Jobel in the heart with one of his embalmic fluids after he's effectively told her to take a running jump into a pit of alligators. That's a great, great scene – the murky hand-held camerawork only adds to the violence of Jobel's death, and the nice touch of Jobel's wig falling off as he crumples in pain to the ground is the final insult.
And Clive Swift is brilliant as the vain, arrogant Jobel. He absolutely gets the snide pomposity of the character, a man so deluded, he's convinced that the entire female population are queuing round the block to get a bit of Jobel action – despite the paunch, the wig, the Larry Grayson specs, the sleaze, etc etc. Perfect casting, but unfortunately, the same can't be said for Jenny Tomasin, who surely gives one of the worst performances in Doctor Who. Tomasin's clumpy am-dram stomping does, I suppose, add to the uselessness of Tasambeker, but it's such a painfully inept performance. There's a cut scene on the DVD in which Tomasin is supposed to bellow angrily at Takis and the Totally Tropical Lilt, but it just made me laugh like a drain, because Tomasin's amateurish "SHUUDDUUPPP!!!!" is so rubbish. Shame, since the non-relationship between the two is perfectly written by Saward and acted by Swift.
The problem with all these double acts is that one very important couple are late coming to the party. The Doctor and Peri are hardly around in the important first part, which is unusual for the time. They're too busy bickering about nut roast rolls and fob watches, or wrestling with mutants and giant polystyrene monuments. The cliffhanger to part One doesn't really make any sense – why is there a monument to The Doctor in the first place, and why should there be blood (which isn't actually seen)? There's some half-baked explanation about the thing being a great big farcical joke, but despite the effective white-out of The Doctor's stone features at the climax of part One, it's just a bit odd.
Fortunately, when The Doctor and Peri are in the middle of the action, they are used very well. The Doctor, despite the arrogance and the devil-may-care attitude (he's perfectly willing to let Peri walk off with the pervy Jobel), is amazingly starting to mellow. He shows genuine regret at the death of the DJ, and is evidently moved by Orcini's last sacrifice. It's such a shame that Colin Baker wasn't allowed his deserved second season for 18 months, since he evidently knows his Doctor inside out. It's a great performance that combines spiky arrogance, caustic wit and genuine compassion.
Nicola Bryant too, does well, especially after being ill-served by the Timelash scripts. She develops a nice rapport with Alexei Sayle's DJ, in particular. It's a clever trick to pass the DJ off as a larger-than-life comedy character in part one, and then to make him a sweetly shy everyman in part two. His genuine gratitude to Peri's compliments is nicely handled, as is his bravery in letting Peri use his radio equipment as a transmitter. It's a refreshingly subtle performance from Sayle – it's another brave bit of casting for the time, and another example of how comedy actors provide some of the most understated turns in Doctor Who. The only slight downer is Sayle's rather OTT comedy shriek when he's inevitably exterminated by the Daleks, but I'll let that pass. And the DJ's got quite a funky record collection by the sounds of it – Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade Of Pale'; The Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations' (Although it sounds suspiciously like the stellar Todd Rundgren version from the great man's 1976 Faithful album); and Jimi Hendrix's 'Fire' (which was replaced by a generic rock toon on the DVD, because of clearance issues).
"The Davros of Revelation is a sly, calculating figure, working out how to dispose of unsuspecting pawns in his game"
In the middle of all these various duets are the Daleks and Davros, who are back to their evil, fire-spitting best. Terry Molloy gets some good material as the Davros head. The Davros of Revelation is a sly, calculating figure, working out how to dispose of unsuspecting pawns in his game. Admittedly, the idea of a clone Davros is too similar to the Borad's double in Timelash, and I'm not quite sure why Davros has suddenly turned his withered hand to worldwide corpse-food manufacturing. Damn it, those curried eyeballs never tasted so good.
It's telling that the Daleks always come off well in the hands of the right director, and that's certainly the case in Revelation. Graeme Harper is back for more after his superb work for Caves Of Androzani, and again, he doesn't disappoint. Like Caves, Harper goes for every trick in the director's handbook to create a fast-paced, taut thriller. The hand-held camerawork adds greatly to the impact of the story, there's many obscure camera angles, and just as importantly, he knows how to film Daleks, whether they're shot from down low or as a gloomy, shadowy presence. As a result, the evil pepperpots send a new generation of kids behind the sofa.
The production values are none too shabby either. Alan Spalding's designs are truly impressive and large in scope (the main parlour of Tranquil Repose is particularly good); the location filming is suitably alien, and both Roger Limb's incidental music and the moody sound effects add much to the claustrophobia of the story. Another visual and aural triumph.
Revelation Of The Daleks is probably Saward's most accomplished script. It's the perfect combination of gratuitous violence and laugh-out-loud black humour. It's not plagued so much by inexplicable plot holes, and it builds nicely from a slow-burning first part to a jam-packed climax that zooms along at a fair old speed.
So it's all the more regrettable that we don't get to go to Blackpool. Looking back on those dark days, the 18-month hiatus was probably the beginning of the end for the original run of Doctor Who, at least from a ratings viewpoint. Subsequent seasons would bring fewer episodes and struggling viewing figures, not to mention a tarnished reputation. And also, Revelation is the end of an era in other ways – no more mix of film and video and no more groovy title music from Peter Howell. Luckily, Revelation Of The Daleks itself signs off the turbulent season 22 in fine style with a masterful mix of violence, drama, comedy and lavish production values. Morbid but brilliant.
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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