Ahhh,1985, the year when it all went pear shaped. Suddenly Dr Who's supporters were gone from on high and in came Michael Grade and the infamous hiatus. By the time this story was shown we knew the series was on trial, and I don't remember TIMELASH being particularly reassuring.
At the time I was only 14, and couldn't really understand the fuss about season 22, but revisiting it paints a slightly different picture. After the Davison era- a good doctor who still had a lot more to offer when he bowed out, and generally very strong stories, particularly in his final season, we suddenly got Colin Baker's radically different portrayal and more violent stories. Old monsters galore appeared in place of new ones. Out of six stories, four harping back to the past was too many. Particularly when only REVELATION really did its returning chracters justice. ATTACK is very watchable but fatally derivative and the gore content lost the public fairly quickly. MARK OF THE RANI was entertaining for the Master/Doctor/Rani banter but didn't have much of a plot to it, and was ultimately just another blast from the past wasting the Master yet again. THE TWO DOCTORS had some good ideas but was too long and ultimately dull. And REVELATION?
Thankfully this turbulent season was to end on a high note. REVELATION is excellent.
>From its very opening it drops you right in the thick of things. The Doctor and Peri encounter the mutant, Natasha and Grigory break into the base, Kara gets harrassed by Davros and hires Orcini to bump him off. The story sets itself up beautifully, on contrast to VENGEANCE ON VAROS say, where the opening Varos scenes are excellent but the stranded-in-the tardis-cue-whining-marathon bits are dreadful. It's not a good start to an adventure when the Doctor's first scenes make you cringe, and fortunately REVELATION is much better. The Sixth Doctor's regeneration troubles have eased out, Colin Baker is in confident command of the role, and Peri has ceased to be a brainless bimbo.
And so the story progresses- more of the Daleks in part one would have been nice, but Oh, well...the excellence of Davros in this tale more than makes up for it. Part One contains much that is great- the glass dalek scene is powerful, Terry Molloy's davros rises to the great chracterisation that the script offers him, and the direction is polished throughout.
Part Two is even better. The Doctor is captured, rival Dalek factions get their best battle, and the showdown with Davros is excellently done. This really was a great final story for Davros- brining him back again in REMEMBRANCE was unnecessary, and it's great that in the new series the Daleks got the chance to function without him again. The DJ gives a nice surreal touch to the proceedings, and the regulars shine.
Ironically, considering the shadow hanging over the series,
things looked healthy by the end of REVELATION. The Doctor and Peri's relationship was starting to settle down, Colin Baker gives his best performance in the part, and the viewing figures were climbing steadily back up. A great pity that things weren't allowed to continue on their natural course at this point....
There were several tragedies resulting from the cancellation, but I am not sure that season 23 itself was one of them. The bits we've seen in book form and in articles largely reveal more old monsters in more half baked
plots. MISSION TO MAGNUS is crap, the auton/rani/master story sounds too overcrowded again, ULTIMATE EVIL could have been Ok but feels desperately underwritten ( I realise things were only in draft form att he time maybe, but even so it is shallow) and NIGHTMARE FAIR, while OK, doesn't fell like a Toymaker scheme- more the Master's league really.Autons and Ice warriors would have been good, but they needed better stories- like DYING DAYS for example......but it might have been better than TRIAL, which tries very hard but wasn't what the series needed right then. It needed radical new stories with dynamism and drive and originality... and we got MYSTERIOUS PLANET.
The real tragedy was that when the series returned it felt like no one noticed. The habit of DR WHO was broken and the series never recovered. There should also have been a new producer- JNT delivered excellently in season 18 and the Davison era but thereafter things faltered badly.
And of course there was Colin Baker. I find him a patchy doctor at best- fine with a good script and good direction but unable to transcend weaker material as all the previous doctors could, including Davison. By the end of season 22 he WAS the Doctor- however in MYSTERIOUS PLANET he was dreadful and the TRIAL format gave him little room to progress in characterising his doctor. And when he was boooted out we got McCoy, the all time worst doctor. I am not as much of a Colin convert after Big Finish as many seem to be as I still find his performance in audio these stories irritating at times,and I still wonder whether he was ever a suitable choice for the part, but I do think he was denied a chance to do better. Not just by Grade, but by JNT and Saward as well. Oh well..
At least REVELATION gives him a chance for greatness. Definitely one of the eighties' best.
When I was a relatively young and impressionable young chap, growing up long after my favourite television programme had been taken off the air, I was thrilled to bits when the BBC decided to repeat old ‘Doctor Who’ stories on BBC Two. Scouring through my already dog-eared copy of the 1991 ‘Doctor Who Yearbook’, I found out that the story to be transmitted next was ‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ and the Doctor in it was played by… ah, Colin Baker.
I was a bit apprehensive, and I was only seven years of age. The only other story with Colin Baker in which I had seen thus far was ‘The Twin Dilemma’ and it had left me feeling a tad cold- at the time, we were without Sky and (if I recall correctly) no other Colin Baker story was available to buy on VHS. And so it was on a cold evening that I sat down with my Parents and my Brother to watch ‘Doctor Who’. And it was great- really great. But what, even now, is the best thing about it for me is that, for the first time ever, ‘Doctor Who’ managed to scare me… but I’ll leave that until later on.
‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ is like a repeat of the success that was ‘The Caves Of Androzani’. They both have Graeme Harper as a Director; they both have Nicola Bryant reminding us all how good an actress she is, making Peri every bit as good as the character could be; they both have a great musical score by Roger Limb; and they are both a result of great directing meeting a great script.
Eric Saward is- not without reason- an author often criticised. Certainly with his previous Dalek story (‘Resurrection Of The Daleks’), there was simply too much going on that was irrelevant and the characters which were present varied between the forgettable and the wasted.
Here however, it all works. The supporting characters are all brilliant, and the several story strands are both necessary to the overall plot and damn enjoyable in their own right. Of all the writers to write for Season Twenty-Two and its forty-five minute episode-length format, it is Saward who writes best of all. What little padding there is remains undiscovered due to the humorous dialogue or inventive twists and turns in the plot. ‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ is engaging; it is witty and it is clever and it is scary… but I’ll return to that later.
Colin Baker excels as the Doctor here, showing all the naysayers exactly why it was that he was cast in the leading role. From the throwaway comedy moments such as trying to shake Davros’ hand after it has been blown off with a gun to the moments of genuine emotion like when he discovers quite what Davros has done with all the dead bodies, Baker’s acting abilities are thrown into the spotlight and he rises to the occasion in a most enjoyable fashion. What’s arguably most impressive of all about this is the fact that the Doctor and Peri are very much sidelined throughout the story, but this works very well as the supporting cast are all superb.
‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ is a story littered with double acts, from the lofty Kara and Vogel to the pseudo-historical pairing of Orcini and Bostock, the latter of which is given a great line where he observes that the aforementioned Kara and Vogel are “like a double act”! All such characters are both well written and well-acted, though specific mention must go to Clive Swift as the egotistical, pompous oaf Jobel who manages to make the character particularly memorable, despite the large host of memorable characters; his death scene too is simply wonderful.
As Tasambeker, Jenny Tomasin delivers what is arguably the weakest performance of the whole cast, though even that is gold-dust compare to other supporting actors who have appeared in ‘Doctor Who’ over the years.
Another knowing nod should go towards Alec Linstead as the remains of Arthur Stengos who manages to make a potentially sinister sequence very, very hard to watch due to the sheer power of his acting. When he begs- please note, that he BEGS- his own Daughter to kill him, it’s almost too much to bear. That’s not the moment which scared me though, and I mean really shook me up… but I’ll return to that later.
The Daleks themselves play second fiddle to Davros, but again this really works well for the script. Davros is for once given a lot more to do than simply rant and rave, and Terry Molloy is able to shed the long-term viewer of the opinion that Michael Wisher is the definitive Davros. Molloy’s vocal skills as an actor for the Radio really shine out here, and nearly every line he delivers is a gem in its own right.
The Dalek voices in ‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ are a bone of content for many viewers, sounding- as they do- very human. Certainly, this effect works very nicely with the Ivory coloured Daleks as they are meant to be made from human remains; however, this inferred opinion is somewhat marred by the fact that the Grey Daleks use the same type of voices, and so the Daleks in this story simply appear to be poorly modulated rather than different from each other, which is a shame. Still, hearing traces of Roy Skelton’s real voice is not as big a detriment as it could be, since he delivers the Dalek dialogue so well.
Graeme Harper’s Directing is simply brilliant; the camera moves around with ease in the cramped studio, giving everything a sense of grand scale despite the budget restraint and the cramped studio space. Little touches such as using Soft Focus in the DJ’s room to enhance the spaced-out atmosphere just add to the stunning visuals, which Harper is at pains to put on screen.
Overall, ‘Revelation Of The Daleks’ is not only the highlight of Season Twenty-Two, but also that of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. The characters all gel together, and the Directing is above and beyond the call of brilliance. The story is well-lit throughout too, adding a real moody ambience to the proceedings, which- coupled with Roger Limb’s music- help make this story as good as it is: not even a poorly realised flying Dalek and a bizarrely humorous Polystyrene statue of Colin Baker can ruin it for me. I shall wrap this review up now, but before that…
The moment that scared me: it happens when the DJ, played with suitable eccentricity by Alexei Sayle, is exterminated. Now, the Daleks are evil and nasty, I know that and knew that, but this was the first time that I actually took it on board properly. The DJ wasn’t a bad man, nor was he self-centred or nasty to Peri. He wanted to help her, and it costs him his life. Oh, and when he dies he screams. Loudly. Painfully. It hurts when you die; it was horrible to watch too. I was seven years old, and I was petrified.
It’s a thought-provoking little story, is this. Far richer than the average Dalek story, (and certainly far richer than the average 1980s Dalek story) Revelation Of The Daleks presents disturbing subtext after disturbing subtext in a gleefully unafraid way, as well as making the Daleks cool again (not as easy as it sounds) and even managing to coax a decent performance out of Terry Molloy. By far the most surprising element though is that it was written by Eric Saward, who just the previous season gave us the dismal Resurrection Of The Daleks, which served as nothing more than an exercise in pointlessly killing of extras. I suppose you have to commend someone for being able to learn from his mistakes.
Possibly the most remarked on aspect of the story is that the Doctor’s role is de-emphasised to an extraordinary degree, essentially relegating him to the role of a moral commentator. By contrast, Image Of The Fendahl for example also did this but this was a means of presenting some interesting guest characters and still allowed room for the Doctor to save the day in the end; here, although there are some excellent characters it feels like the Doctor has been forgotten about which, while innovative, is fundamentally unsatisfying.
The story begins with the Doctor though and presents some brilliant location footage, all the more notable for being the last broadcast story to have its exterior scenes shot on 16mm film – John Nathan-Turner’s obsession with being hip and modern removed this excellently atmospheric format from the programme from the following season. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Our first glimpse of the guest cast begins as it means to continue, presenting Jobel and Tasambeker at the height of their grotesquery (from which they never descend) as they crack graphic jokes about decomposition. These people don’t have redeeming features beneath their callous exteriors; they are not being cruel as a way of distancing themselves from reality such as was presented in programmes like M*A*S*H; they’re just a bunch of sickos. Jenny Tomasin puts in a very annoying performance, but seeing as her character is supposed to be annoying she gets away with it in a way she wouldn’t were she playing another part.
The design of the story is excellent, with subdued visuals for once (one curious thing about the Nathan-Turner era is how the money was spent on the stories with the best scripts; corned ham with cheese like Timelash had to get by on a shoestring. Not that I’m complaining about the results here, but I feel if they’d spread the money a bit more generally the season as a whole would have been better). However the incidental music, while by no means bad, has a very synthetic feel to it which contrasts starkly to the earthy look of the story.
Outside, the Doctor meets the mutant – an horrendously scary scene, made all the more harrowing by the sudden and jolting cut to the ruined face of the creature, one of the few moments of the show to genuinely make me jump and a reason I’m so glad that director Graeme Harper is working on the new series. Suddenly, the mutant scene changes from being scary to being poignant, which only goes to show the breadth of this story, even though it is slightly odd that the monster is so articulate. Then again, this is Doctor Who where aliens, mutants, savages and Viking warriors all went to grammar school.
Another oft-mentioned aspect of the story is how good the Daleks are. First of all, Harper’s direction is brilliant; he shoots the Daleks from low angles, increasing the illusion of size and power, and also only shows us them briefly: he utilises quick cuts, extreme close ups and long shots, and also the occasional nice moment where a Dalek suddenly moves across camera shot just for a second. These half-glimpses increase their menace while also hiding the essential prop-look that they so often had. Also, Saward’s writes them David Whitaker-style, keeping them in the background and using them as part of the story rather than the focal point of it. Keeping them on the periphery allows us to forgive their dialogue, which unfortunately never really elevates above catchphrase level; unfortunately their voices are terrible, even worse than in Day Of The Daleks: squawky, nasal, and lacking any real modulation. This has been fixed to a small extent for the new sound mix on the DVD release, but they are still poor. It is weird to see the Daleks just as a normal part of life on Necros – it just shows the unconventional world the story presents.
The grave robbers are also good, Grigory’s drinking another reason why this is the most adult Doctor Who story ever. The interplay between him and Natasha is excellent, for here we get two allies who don’t like each other. Also, his line of “I’m a doctor, not a magician” is a nice riff off Star Trek. On the subject of double acts the obsequious but treacherous double act of Kara and Vogel is also good, although I have to keep reminding myself that they sell human flesh as food. Is this really what I’m watching?
The interplay between the Doctor and Peri is good, being far less whiny. There is a sense that their relationship has suddenly developed, as if there have been a lot of unseen adventures between Timelash and this story. The watch scene is good – irrelevant, but a nice little moment of characterisation.
Now…the glass Dalek scene. If this isn’t one of the most shocking and stomach-churning scenes the show ever produced, then I’m Lord Lucan. It is done on a total whim, and is unnecessary to the story (any other episode would have just told us about severed heads being converted into Daleks, rather than actually showing us), but this more or less sums up this adventure: it has several elements that could be excised, but they are unbelievably good all the same and it is by leaving them in that this story is elevated to what it is. The hair-raising performance by Alec Linstead as the head of Stengos further amplifies the power of the scene, and on a final note I should say that this scene happens to come exactly twenty-five minutes in; in any other season it would rank as one of the best cliffhangers ever.
Moving on, Lilt wants to slice up a woman’s face with a knife. ‘Nuff said.
Orcini and Bostock are wonderful, the only truly noble guest characters (and that includes the rest of the goodies, if there are any). William Gaunt gets the best lines in the episode, which he does justice admirably. The exposition is laid on here, but in general it is very good as it is presented at an even pace – the advantage of having a forty-five minute format is that there is less of a need to make the plot so obvious as the audience doesn’t have to remember it for so long.
The way Jobel talks to his subordinates shows the difference between his public and supposedly private personas, and his reference to drug use is also notable (anyone would think I’m keeping a score of all the adult references in this story). After all this, the cliffhanger is somewhat mundane, being presented for no very good reason like a lot of other elements of this story such as the statue of the skeleton in Davros’s laboratory, but without their originality.
The second episode carries on in fine style, with Orcini’s ‘sword’ monologue being a high point of the story. The DJ shows his serious side, becoming a likeable character for the first time. His weapon is rather odd though: sonic cannons aren’t new to this show but in this case the credibility of a gun that fires a beam of rock music is questionable.
Looking at Tasambeker and Jobel, the sexual undercurrents become quite uncomfortably obvious, with lechery, submission / aggression and lust all playing over the minds of the characters, even being used by Davros for the purposes of manipulation – the only time this aspect of psychology has ever been used in the series. Jobel’s death is very violent (get used to it, there’s more coming), and his wig falling off is a nice touch. Tasambeker’s death, which follows on immediately, is also well done, particularly because the extermination special effect is at it’s very best in this story. There are a lot of deaths here, but they are dramatically justified, unlike for example Resurrection Of The Daleks which merely presents a load of extras with no other purpose than to get mown down.
The flying Dalek is a nice idea, but pointless and in execution is confusing as the extreme close ups required to make it convincing only serve to make it less clear what’s actually happening. Like the voices this has been corrected to an extent on the DVD release (the CGI effects are excellent) but the scene is essentially inadequate, which is a real shame.
The story begins to wind up now (translation: my review starts to wind up now because it’s getting late). Kara’s stabbing is unbelievably graphic, as is the shot of Davros’s hand being blown off (his fingers are seen scattered on the floor). The Dalek factions battle it out, mysteriously losing the ability to shoot straight. On that note, the Doctor is a remarkably good shot for someone who claims never to use firearms.
And with that, it’s all over. Therein lies the story’s major failing, that the Doctor may as well never have been there in the first place. However, not even this can cause the story to fail: in a period where the show was treading water, here comes a story that takes risks and dares to be dangerous. The safe method of relying on previous stories had failed to win in the crowd, and this one succeeds by dicing with controversy in a way that leaves Vengeance On Varos, which received much more criticism, far behind. This is a story that cries to us, “I’m going to appal and horrify you, and you’re going to love me for it”. And we do.
'Revelation of the Daleks', like 'Resurrection of the Daleks', features many of the worst aspects of Eric Saward's writing style. The Doctor is largely sidelined and plays little part in the story's resolution, Saward seems more interested in writing for mercenaries than for the main character, and the body count is cranked up in an attempt to create an adult feel. The difference here however, is that it works beautifully.
'Revelation of the Daleks' is not a Dalek story; it is Davros'. Whilst Saward focused on Davros to the detriment of the Daleks in 'Resurrection of the Daleks', here he avoids this by portraying Davros' own Daleks as little more than drones. The Daleks from Skaro play a role, but not until towards the end of Episode Two. Since the Daleks here have been custom made by Davros, the fact that they play second fiddle to him in no way detracts from the story, and allows Saward to concentrate primarily on their creator. The result is superb; for the first time since 'Genesis of the Daleks', we see Davros fully in control of a situation and see what he does when left to his own devices. Davros is at his most cunning and resourceful here; he has established himself as "the Great Healer" on Nekros, simultaneously giving himself access to the cryogenically preserved humans that are the basis for his new Dalek army, whilst also providing the income he needs to finance this enterprise. He manipulates and discards the personnel of Tranquil Repose as he wishes, often seemingly to satisfy his own sadistic urges more than for any other reason, and he takes few risks. After the betrayals and dangers that he has endured during his previous stories, here he takes precautions against attacks upon his person in a logical character development; the cloned "head" that he uses as a "lure for the assassin's bullet" is one such precaution, another is that he has apparently modified himself so that he can fire bolts of energy from his hand and his eye. For a being as intelligent as Davros it seems a sensible move, and it benefits the character enormously.
So too does Davros' trap for the Doctor; the forty-five minute episode format of Season Twenty-Two results on several occasions in much padding, with the Doctor and Peri taking more time than usual to become involved in the main plot. This is equally true here, but is used effectively since it forms part of Davros' elaborate trap for the Doctor. Despite his misgivings about Stengos' apparently out of character decision to be interred at Tranquil Repose, his curiosity gets the better of him and he wanders straight into Davros' web of intrigue regardless. Indeed, one of the main reasons that 'Revelation of the Daleks' benefits Davros' character is that he so nearly wins; whilst Orcini is responsible for destroying Davros' Dalek army and the Doctor is responsible for saving a handful of lives and offering the survivors new hope in the form of the weed plant, it is ultimately the unexpected (by Davros) intervention of Takis and Lilt that results in Davros' defeat. He expects the arrival of the Doctor and prepares for it, and he equally expects treachery from his business associate Kara, but the indignation of two mortuary attendants makes his plans come undone at the last minute.
In addition to all of his scheming, Davros gets other examples of great characterisation courtesy of Saward. His manipulation of Tasambeker is pure sadism; watching all of Tranquil Repose on his ubiquitous cameras, he observes her obsession with the disinterested Jobel and exploits it. Whether or not Davros truly intends to transform Tasambeker into a Dalek if she obediently kills Jobel is unclear, but it is probably unlikely; given his preference for intellects from the humans available, the lovesick and gullible Tasambeker seems an odd choice. Ultimately, when she betrays Davros and tries to warn Jobel to escape, she is exterminated even after killing Jobel anyway when he rather cruelly rejects her; but I strongly suspect that this was to be her fate anyway, in which case it gives us a fascinating glimpse of how sadistic Davros has become. Ultimately, he toys with Tasambeker to amuse himself. Another example is the statue that he has erected of the Doctor; utterly pointless (beyond the need to provide a cliffhanger), it nevertheless rattles the Doctor and causes him some indignity as he it falls on him and douses him in fake blood. Given Davros' giggling as he watches the Doctor and Peri approach just before this scene, it seems to be the case that the whole point of the statue is that it amuses Davros to play such a trick on his old enemy.
Lastly on the subject of Davros, his conversation with the Doctor when they finally come face to face once more is also rather interesting. His justification for transforming the abandoned denizens of Tranquil Repose into Daleks is that they as men of power and ambition they would realize that they are better of as Daleks than left to rot; he might just be gloating or being sadistic again, but I always get the impression that he really believes it. He also has no problem in justifying the fact that he has been feeding local planets on protein concentrate mass-produced from their own dead, and he discusses this as though it were simply a practical solution rather than a concept that is genuinely horrifying. I should also at this point mention Terry Molloy; whilst some fans do not favour his ranting in the role, I still enjoy his performance enormously, and he is a key part of the success of this particular story.
As I've already noted, the Doctor and Peri take ages to reach Tranquil Repose, spending most of Episode One wandering about trying to find a way in. In many ways, this is symptomatic of the forty-five minute episode format, but Saward, seemingly inspired by Robert Holmes, fills the void thus created not with obvious padding, but with some splendid characterisation. There is an distinctly grotesque feel to many of the supporting characters, from the vain and pompous Jobel, to the pseudo-Holmesian double act of Takis and Lilt, and it manages to be hugely entertaining. This is largely dependent not only on the script but also on the acting; Clive Swift is perfect as Jobel, because he not only brings the right amount of bluster and conceit to the role, but also because he physically fits the role, Jobel being, as Tasambeker eventually points out, fat and bald despite his colossal ego probably telling him otherwise. He uses his power and influence to seduce his female staff members, but seems deluded about exactly what it is they are attracted too; consequently, when Peri spurns his advances with obvious distaste, he seems unable to grasp that she simply doesn't find him remotely attractive, and seems to assume that she is merely playing hard to get. Tellingly, her initial rebuttal of him is met with the words "I am Jobel, I'm very important here", which probably sums up his usual technique for chatting up women.
Equally well cast is Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker. Interestingly, during her first scene Tomasin seems like a dreadful actress, as she stands and bellows at Trevor Cooper (Takis) and Colin Spaull (Lilt) in a worryingly hammy fashion, but she very quickly makes the role her own, portraying Tasambeker as emotionally fragile and socially inept. It is difficult not to feel sorry her for her by the end, as Davros toys with her affections for Jobel and nudges her into killing him; the scene in which Jobel shatters her ill-concealed desire to gain his affection is superbly written because it's so pettily cruel. Jobel directs snide asides at her throughout, but his final rejection of her is deeply cutting, callous and obviously meant to hurt, and is the final straw that makes her snap and kill him. Tomasin portrays Tasambeker's enormous distress at what she has done in her final scene, just before she meets an inevitable tragic end as two Daleks gun her down. And this is typical of why 'Revelation of the Daleks' works so much better than many of Saward's efforts; just as in 'Resurrection of the Daleks', he includes the deaths of large numbers of supporting characters, but whereas in that story they were anonymous cannon-fodder, here they are people in whom he makes the audience interested.
There are several other examples. The thoroughly irritating DJ (Alexei Sayle) is despised by some fans, but he fits perfectly in amongst the dysfunctional cast of 'Revelation of the Daleks'. He is clearly meant to be annoying, a fact that fatally gains him Davros' loathing early on, but when Peri eventually meets him he turns out to be more than just a "prattling DJ", Sayle conveying his shyness and also his genuine enthusiasm for the music he plays. In keeping with the spirit of things, he also seems slightly unbalanced however, since his deadly ultrasonic beam of rock 'n' roll has clearly been built at some previous point, for what reason we are not told… In short then, Saward finally masters characterisation, not just of one or two key characters, but of all of them. Minor characters are made interesting by little details such as Grigory's alcoholism, Takis' interest in flowers, and Vogel's willingness to commit petty fraud for Kara. Even the nameless mutant is interesting, thanking Peri for killing him as it frees him from a life of painful disfigurement.
Of all the characters created specifically for 'Revelation of the Daleks', William Gaunt's Orcini is probably the most effective. Saward's interest in mercenaries was obvious in his creation of Lytton for 'Resurrection of the Daleks' and his obvious influence over the character's role in 'Attack of the Cybermen', but Orcini is far more interesting than Lytton from his very first scene onwards. Mercenaries or warriors with a sense of honour are not exactly rare in science fiction, but Orcini is nevertheless very well handled, partly because of Gaunt's acting, and partly because the script brings out different facets to his character. Initially he seems vaguely sinister, but with comic undertones; John Ogwen's malodorous Bostock makes a great foil for him, and as soon as Orcini starts apologizing to Kara for his Squire's smell, a distinct tongue-in-cheek feeling, complemented by Orcini forgetting to ask Kara for the code for her "signaling device". The slightly buffoonish air surrounding Orcini and Bostock is revisited as they reach the edge of Tranquil Repose and Orcini talks of regaining past honour in the eyes of his order, announcing to his Squire "only fools would take the risks I do". Bostock's lack of faith in his master's choice of weapon does not instill confidence in Orcini's abilities, until the precise moment that he swings round and destroys a Dalek. Suddenly, Orcini is a character to be taken seriously, and this remains throughout the rest of the story. His killing of Kara, and his sudden alliance with the Doctor (mutually agreed in a single moment of eye-to-eye contact) show a man whose mind is focused entirely on the task in hand; by the time he sacrifices himself in an attempt to destroy Davros (allowing the Doctor and his friends time to escape not because he has to but because he can), there is little doubt that he has found the honour that he was seeking.
Whilst Saward's script is one of his best, a large part of the success of 'Revelation of the Daleks' has to be attributed to director Graeme Harper. The story looks superb from the start, as Harper switches seamless between superb location work and excellent sets. There are some great shots on display here, such as the early close up of a sarcophagus in Episode One, the impressive split level shot as the camera moves between floors, and the electrifying scene with Stengos' head, and the careful visuals are complemented perfectly by Roger Limb's dramatic score. There are minor deficiencies (attempts to make both a Dalek and Davros hover in mid-air, whilst laudable, don't quite work as they should), but these are easily outweighed by the production's many good points. It is worth noting that 'Revelation of the Daleks' is also rather horrific in places, and it is largely due to Harper's direction that such moments really have impact. The disfigured mutant and Davros' hand being shot off (followed by a brief shot of his fingers lying on the floor) are both examples, but by far the most disturbing scene in the story, and indeed one of the most horrific in the series, is the scene with Stengos. The sheer horror of Natasha finding the head of a loved one suspended in a tank and slowly mutating into a monster is considerable and whilst it was arguably too strong for the younger members of a Saturday teatime audience, it is a powerfully effective way of conveying just how monstrously evil Davros really is, without just having him ranting and raving and issuing threats.
Finally, the Doctor and Peri get some nice character moments here, and both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are at the height of their powers. The usual (amusing) bickering is on display, but there is also real emotion between them. The Doctor's quiet "I'm sorry about the DJ" is understated but clearly heartfelt, and suggests genuine concern for the feelings of his companion. It is unfortunate that Baker's tenure as the Doctor was about to be so rudely interrupted; his final "I'll take you to B…" a rather abrupt end to 'Revelation of the Daleks' (the Doctor and Peri's trip to Blackpool eventual seeing light as a novel), but at least the variable Season Twenty-Two ends on a high point.
Season twenty-two can be a difficult season to watch. The tackiness, the arrogant Doctor, and the annoying companion have made many fans dislike the season and its Doctor. Of late there has been a kind of reevaluation of the era thanks to the excellent Sixth Doctor audios produced by Big Finish. I have always had a soft spot for the braggart in the clown coat. One of my first experiences with Doctor Who was watching Attack of the Cybermen. I continue to love that serial even though I recognize its not high art. My favorite Sixth Doctor story (and probably yours too according to the OG polls) is Revelation of the Daleks.
The serial has the distinction of probably being the strangest Dalek story to date. The story turns the typical “covert alien invasion” plot into a dark horror comedy. Davros has taken control of a galactic funeral parlor, intent on using corpses as Dalek building materials. The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet because Professor Stengos, a friend of the Doctor’s, has died. What the Doctor doesn’t know is that Stengos has been transformed into a Dalek.
The scene where we are shown Stengos remains one of the most disturbing images in the show’s history. He is encased in a glass Dalek shell, his body gone. His head is barely recognizable as human. His voice alternates between human and Dalek. This scene is one of the key points in the serial and manages to make the Daleks scary again.
Davros is also at his most terrifying. Terry Molloy outshines even Michael Wisher (Genesis of the Daleks) in the role. Revelation of the Daleks features Davros at his most cunning and evil. This serial not only shows Davros as a mad scientist, but as a master manipulator. The scenes between him and the fawning Tasambeker feature some of the finest villainy in all of Doctor Who.
The human cast is also noteworthy. A criticism that can be laid against the story is the fact that the Doctor and Peri are only accessories to the story. This does not stop Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant from giving fine performances. Both characters have their less likable attributes toned down for this story. In Revelation of the Daleks, Colin Baker gives one of his most noble portrayals of the Doctor. The supporting cast, however, are the real stars. Clive Swift dons an orange toupee for the role Jobel, the sleazy chief mortician. His character is human, but his portrayal of Jobel is as creepy as Terry Molloy’s Davros. The same goes for Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker. She endows the character with much pathos and feeling. William Gaunt as the mercenary Orcini is another highlight. His performance brings life to the somewhat stereotypical character. Also of note is Alexei Sayle (The Young Ones) as the somewhat annoying DJ to the dead. All in all, Revelation of the Daleks has one of the greatest casts of any 1980’s Doctor Who story.
The audacity of the story might take some aback. Eric Saward’s scripts are known for their viciousness. It wasn’t till the second viewing that I fully appreciated the story. Revelation of the Daleks was the final story of Season 22 which is a shame because they seemed to have just gotten the feel of the era right. In this serial the shows makers finally managed to find the right balance of gaudiness, gruesomeness, and drama. Season 23 was a good season, but none of the stories seemed to have the quality of this serial.
Revelation of the Daleks is one of the Doctor’s quirkiest adventures. It’s an important serial because it showed how Sixth Doctor stories could actually be good. It also made the Doctor’s arch enemies scary again. The story stands as an excellent story in a somewhat questionable era.