Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks Review
Resurrection of the Daleks is a perfect example of mid 1980s Doctor Who. It is frenetic, loud, plotless, badly acted and - ultimately - completely soulless. Two years earlier, the production team had scored a huge hit with the Cybermen story Earthshock which, although as plotless as Resurrection, was blessed with verve and style, courtesy of director Peter Grimwade. Earthshock’s stark dynamism set it head and shoulders above the rest of Season 19. But in trying to repeat the same trick with the Daleks, writer Eric Saward and director Matthew Robinson succeeded only in producing a disappointing gun-fest devoid of any of the charm of its illustrious predecessor.
Resurrection of the Daleks, the fourth story of Doctor Who’s 21st Season, begins with the Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) being drawn down a time corridor in the TARDIS to London’s Docklands circa 1984. Meanwhile, somewhere in space, a prison ship comes under attack from the Daleks, who need their cryogenically frozen creator, Davros (Terry Molloy), to help them fight an Dalek virus created by their android enemies the Movellans, from Season 17’s Destiny of the Daleks. Still with me? Good. Now the virus, for reasons unexplained, is stored on Earth, in a warehouse in the aforementioned Docklands, a warehouse that has come to the attention of Colonel Archer (Del Henney) and his army colleagues. Turlough sneaks down the time corridor into the Dalek ship, Tegan is injured by a Dalek eyestalk (probably), and the Doctor finds himself the subject of an insane plot to assassinate the High Council of Time Lords. Oh, and Davros starts forming his own faction with possessed Daleks and troopers, while the mercenary killer Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) just tries to stay alive.
Despite employing an all-star cast, script-editor Eric Saward’s contrived script allows no-one the opportunity to shine. Rodney (The Likely Lads) Bewes is saddled with a poorly delivered stammer that soon becomes grating; Rula Lenska barks macho clichés like a second-rate Sigourney Weaver in a fan-produced video, and the best said about former Play School presenter Chloe Ashcroft the better. Even Del Henney - a force to be reckoned with in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) - gives an unremarkable performance. On the plus side, Maurice (Howard’s Way) Colbourne as the mercenary Lytton gets the lion’s share of the good lines and delivers them with much needed gravitas. (As a side note, Colbourne reprised his Lytton character in the following season’s Attack of the Cybermen - another execrable story, written and directed by the same duo as Resurrection - and once again he gave an outstanding performance.) Terry Molloy, the third actor to play Davros after Michael Wisher (Genesis of the Daleks, 1975) and David Gooderson (Destiny of the Daleks, 1979) eschews the villain’s original quiet madness for scenery-chewing histrionics, leaving pre-Eastenders star Leslie Grantham to provide much-needed background menace as Davros’ ‘possessed’ stooge Kiston.
Of the regulars, Peter Davison has the most to do and does it well (although - and this is probably just me - he’s either lost a lot of weight or his costume is two sizes too big for him. The poor man looks dwarfed by his jacket!). Janet Fielding is criminally underused - she spends most of the story in bed due to an unseen head injury - and Mark Strickson gets little to do apart from creep along corridors looking brave. This is Fielding’s last story and so her lack of any decent action is doubly galling. I suppose if I were to be sexist, I’d say the only reason for watching her would be for a glimpse of the thigh-hugging PVC skirt she wears. But I’m not, so I won’t.
Matthew Robinson’s direction is inconsistent. A bravura opening scene in Shad Thames (which I remember vividly on its first transmission in 1984) promises much, but ultimately comes to nothing. The odd artsy composition (which Robinson is immodestly quick to point out on the commentary) is scant recompense for his clumsy handling of actors and Daleks, especially in key action scenes such as the Daleks’ initial storming of the prison ship. Here, a plethora of misguided artistic decisions results in a scene that should have been terrifying, but just seems comic. The Daleks are virtually inanimate, the ‘dying scenes’ of the extras are embarrassing (a common problem in Doctor Who, but this story is one of the worst offenders), the silly hats that the actors have to wear (MacDonalds for the prison crew, novelty rubber eyestalks for Dalek troopers) must have been designed for a drunken bet, and whoever’s idea it was that the guns didn’t fire laser beams but merely light up a 60w bulb on the front - presumably designer John Anderson’s - deserves a good kicking. The result looks like we’re watching a poorly executed camera rehearsal. I kept expecting the actors to shout ‘bang’ as they fired their guns, in much the same way as Harrison Ford does in those outtakes from Star Wars (1977). Perhaps the BBC’s Restoration Team could have added CGI laser beams as a seamless branching option?
The Dalek are the worst offenders. Battered and falling to pieces after years sitting around in dusty exhibitions and storerooms, they are shadows of their former selves. Even the much-derided Daleks of Destiny of the Daleks had more life in them. These ones are well past it. And when they fall victim to the Movellan virus and start spurting foam from their midriffs, it is as much as anyone can do not to think of Victor Lewis Smith’s Gay Daleks and their notorious ‘white wee-wee’. As for Davros, his mask has been re-sculptured since his previous appearance and now looks, as one reviewer of the time accurately put it, more like old Coronation Star harridan Ena Sharples than the much-feared progenitor of the Daleks!
Although I didn’t enjoy the story - can you tell? - the disc is another winning product in the growing line of excellently-produced Doctor Who DVDs from BBC Worldwide. On a personal note, I found the (4:3 aspect) picture quality disappointing when viewed on my Wharfedale 750. Film sequences looked very grainy and there was a lot of ‘smearing’ in the dimly-lit warehouse and the overlit Dalek ship scenes. Sources in the know claim this is caused by a combination of 8-bit players and excessive disc compression, but all I know is that other Doctor Who DVDs have looked far better on my set-up. But compared with much cult TV material on the marketplace (Revelation’s Tomorrow People releases, for example), there’s really nothing to complain about. On the main feature we get the usual information subtitles, a music-only track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix and a commentary featuring actors Peter Davison and Janet Fielding and director Matthew Robinson. In a story bristling with explosions, gunfire and much hoarse shouting, the 5.1 soundtrack (created by Mark Ayres) is the perfect excuse to give that sub-woofer a thorough workout, and it doesn’t disappoint. Clarke’s unsubtle music score has never sounded more…well, unsubtle.
The commentary is every bit as good as the one for The Caves of Androzani, with an added frisson provided by Robinson’s patronising comments (“That’s a funny story, Janet”) and his paper-thin ego (“By the time I did these episodes,” he boasts, “I’d already amassed so many scripts that piled end to end they were taller than me.”) The moment when he imparts a behind-the-scenes gem of the ‘bleeding obvious’ variety to the two regulars and receives a rejoinder from Davison along the lines of, “We did these shows for three years you know - we do know how they were made!” made me laugh out loud. What with Fielding’s assertion that the Daleks are a combination of “ego, id and no super-ego” and Robinson’s rather risible notion that his story is on a par with Macbeth or Hamlet, we’re treated to the first Doctor Who commentary that works by dint of barbed put-downs rather than cosy familiarity. Anyone who criticised my fillings as much as Robinson criticises Davison’s would get a piece of my mind fairly quickly, and it’s to the actor’s credit that he rises above it. Stuff friendly chats - more of these bitching sessions please!
The extras lack the substance of the last DVD release, The Aztecs. There is a short selection of deleted or extended scenes (7:06) and two features from BBC’s Breakfast Time news and chat show (7:59); but neither has explanatory text or subtitles. Whilst for the former it may be an unnecessary luxury, I would still like to know exactly where some of these (extremely short) scenes fitted into the transmitted story. But the latter definitely needs some form of on-screen caption. When did this particular programme air? Did the two pieces hail from the same programme? We’re kept in the dark - an annoying oversight. There is also a TARDIS-Cam (0:44) and two Easter Eggs (0:15 and 2:09). The main featurette, shot in anamorphic 16:9, is Resurrection of the Daleks - On Location (18:33), a fascinating look at how the show was filmed at Shad Thames, with those same locations being revisited 19 years on by Matthew Robinson, script-editor and writer Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner. While it is great to see Saward step back into the limelight after many years, it is Nathan-Turner who is the revelation here. Never has he seemed so relaxed and jovial when discussing his time on the show. Whilst in the producer’s chair (and, it has to be said, for many years after), he was often caustic and tight-lipped when being interviewed, wary of opening himself up to criticism (some of which, in all fairness, could be extremely nasty). But here he is more relaxed and good-natured than I have ever seen him before. The fact that he died a few weeks after making this (his illness is shockingly apparent from his skeletal features) adds a poignancy to this new-found public affability. This is the first and last time we’ll get to see the real JNT, which is a great shame.
The saving grace of this story is the frenetic editing and the bombastic music. So while the plot actually makes little sense, it is possible to enjoy Resurrection of the Daleks merely in terms of its visual and aural qualities. Ignore the acting, script, costumes and storyline and you might just pass away the 100 minutes quite happily.