He was resting on a kind of dais and his casing was made of glass. Inside, I could see the same sort of repulsive creature that the Doctor and I had taken out of the machine and wrapped in the cloak. The Dalek looked totally evil, sitting on a tiny seat with two squat legs not quite reaching the floor.
That quote comes from the novelisation of the first Dalek story, a magnificent book by David Whitaker that deviates quite significantly from Terry Nation’s original scripts. That glass Dalek lived in the imagination, and finally we get to see one on screen in Revelation of the Daleks. Bad idea.
Looking at the original Dalek story and then reading the novelisation is a masterclass in the difference between television and fiction. What works in one medium doesn’t necessarily work in the other. In the television version we get just a clawed hand as our only glimpse of the Dalek mutant. The rest is up to us to conjure up in our minds. In the book we get the whole mutant visible through a glass Dalek. That’s a striking image, but it’s one that again simply lives in our imagination due to the nature of the medium. We can’t actually see it on a screen.
Revelation of the Daleks takes that image, puts it on our television screen, and uses it as an opportunity to show a human being converted into a Dalek, and it’s nasty: graphic body horror right there on television, in a family show at half past five in the evening. Eric Saward continues his fascination with morbidly dwelling on horror and violence in Doctor Who, with stabbings, dismembering, and the aforementioned victim in a glass Dalek put out of his misery. Just about every character in the story is unpleasant, with the possible exception of Orcini, who is our stand-in hero while the Doctor does nothing much of any importance, and just about everyone ends up dead. This is the last Eric Saward story, and frankly good riddance.
That said, this is a popular story, so surely it must have something going for it? Following on from Timelash, a story that tried to play everything by the book and go down the traditional Doctor Who story route, I can see why this was much more well-received. It is the opposite of what Doctor Who normally does. There are multiple plot threads that barely intersect, like a soap opera format. The Doctor and Peri spend over half the story wandering around not doing much, but those scenes are actually quite compelling, particularly the giant gravestone (a pity it’s polystyrene) that denotes the Doctor’s possible arrival at his grave.
DOCTOR: No, I’ve arrived in my own future and I’m dead.
PERI: You can’t be.
DOCTOR: Look at it this way. If I were to take you back to Earth after you had died, it would be possible for you to see your own gravestone.
He has a point, and it’s something new that Doctor Who has not attempted before. The Doctor might be an incredible being, but presumably he must meet his end eventually. Doctor Who will play with this idea again, and it might be a red herring but it’s still a big moment.
The problem is that Saward is clearly much more interested in his own characters than the Doctor or Peri, and that shows. In fact, he seems to actively dislike them. There is a distasteful little parallel going on between them and Tasambeker and Jobel, both warped kinds of abusive relationships. Compare these two quotes:
DOCTOR: Drop you? I’ll be lucky if I can lift you, the amount you weigh.
PERI: Oh, watch it, porky.
TASAMBEKER: To think I almost threw up everything for a fat, bald egotist like you!
JOBEL: Fat? Me fat? My figure is the height of fashion!
The Doctor’s insult about Peri’s weight is actually the one that is played on the most. Tasambeker’s is a parting insult before she kills him, but the Doctor’s is at the end of a series of belittling Peri and apparently breaking her spirit.
PERI: This thing I’m wearing’s too tight.
DOCTOR: You eat too much.
I would complain that the Doctor insulting Peri about her weight when she has a perfect figure was at risk of giving any girls watching body image issues, except there probably weren’t any of those still watching Doctor Who at this point.
The one thing Revelation of the Daleks does best is to finally do something interesting with Davros, for the first time since his debut. His plans here take advantage of human corruption, greed and a desperation to survive that he knows only too well himself. It’s remarkably cynical, particularly when we find out that people have been put there until cures can be found for their illnesses, whereupon their families have just enjoyed spending their money and not bothered with them when a cure has been found. Most of all, it places Davros back where he should be: a ruthless schemer in control of the situation, rather than the Daleks’ pet. Of course, we can’t then have it both ways. When Davros is the brains behind the plot, the Daleks are inevitably diminished, and they are almost as redundant as the Doctor.
So we have the Doctor and the Daleks outshone by just about everything else in Revelation of the Daleks, which leads me to draw a similar conclusion to The Caves of Androzani. I can understand why people like this, but to hold it up as a shining example of the best that Doctor Who has to offer is to wish for a series that is not really Doctor Who. After a year of Doctor Who that finally did live up to that horrible Mary Whitehouse description, “teatime brutality for tots”, the series went off air for a while. By some miracle it returned, and would eventually find a path to greatness again, but for now Doctor Who was most definitely in distress. RP
The view from across the pond:
Dalek stories are all over the map. Some are actually pretty good, most are off-the-wall twaddle. It’s often amazing to me that Daleks were ever the most popular monster in Doctor Who. I confess that they are enhanced by the rise of Davros but even he can’t, if you’ll pardon the pun, elevate a story if the plot is weak or the characters are shallow. There are things about Revelation of the Daleks that I do like, or at least, hold in some nostalgic regard, but overall, I think the story starts off wrong and never quite gets better.
For instance, I loved the look of the Glass Dalek. I can’t say why; maybe it was the macabre nature of seeing the humanoid mutating inside it. It’s certainly not that it makes a lick of sense! The mutant is supposed to be a small creature which lives inside the shell, encased in machinery. Seeing a clear shell begs the question: where are the machine bits? Still, visually nice. Then there’s Davros’ hand. Here I display a dichotomy in my personality. I loved it as a kid. I loved the gruesomeness of it, seeing his fingers strewn about the floor later. As an adult, however, I realize that the demographic was wrong for such a horrific image. Not only did we not need that level of violence, it was over the top for a family show. But I have to say, I still look fondly at the episode for the inclusion of such a thing. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the episode was something remarkably simple that has no impact on the plot but added a level of believability to the setting: when the Doctor helps Peri over a wall, she breaks his pocket watch. It’s a marvelously subtle scene between them and it creates something that feels plausible.
But there the good things ended. The Doctor says Peri eats too much which, no offense Colin, but coming from this Doctor seems surprising! (I never found Colin to be overweight as the Doctor but it’s clear he is larger than his predecessor but I also don’t think a line like that is necessary!) And when did Davros get the ability to shoot lightning from his fingertips? It makes more sense after this story, when he builds a mechanical hand for himself (used to great effect during The Stolen Earth/Jouney’s End) but not during this one! And how does Davros know about regeneration, beyond meeting the Doctor again? (And that’s hardly a premise upon which to base knowledge anyway! Why wouldn’t he assume that the title is just passed on, like Clive does in Rose?) Who are the Knights of the Uninspired (Oberon) and why are they so powerful that they are never, ever talked about again? What was the deal with the giant monument of the Doctor’s head?? Did the Daleks actually think to make that and then, just in case, make it of Styrofoam so it wouldn’t do any damage when they knocked it over on the Doctor? Had they even met this Doctor before, to know what to make it look like?!? This leads to a problem or two…
The Problems of the Statue
First off, it implies that they are so used to the Doctor showing up to thwart their plans that they actually have a big sign that says “yeah, look, we’re over here… just come and check out our handy sign first.” As I’ve said once or twice before… it doesn’t make any sense!
Second, Doctor Who is a TV show that has to be loyal to fans while not alienating non-fans. It’s got to appease the loyal viewer who tunes in week after week but not exclude the casual viewer who pops in from time to time. In other words, you can’t fill the stories with historical stuff that would lose a casual audience member. That’s a hard tightrope to walk. Especially when dealing with an enemy that has such history with the main character. So the Daleks build a monument to a man they never met and don’t make it out of stone so it could be lethal to him when they drop it on him? Talk about a cartoon way to kill someone – knock a wall over onto them… but utterly fail to make it heavy enough to do anything. It would have been better if the face was a previous Doctor, but then it runs the risk of alienating fans who were not watching during Davison or T. Baker’s era. So the simple solution: don’t have the statue as …. It made no sense to have it there in the first place! (One begins to see why the show went on hiatus after this story!)
Oh wait, no! There’s another reason: the DJ. Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: kudos to Doctor Who for being willing to try new things. Memo: some things are just wrong and should never be tried! The DJ, for me, took so much away with a commentary probably designed to be representative of the viewing audience with their peanut gallery comments, but it came off as so short-sighted and weak that it single handedly destroyed the episode for me. This truly was “the end of the road” (the working title for the episode but it was too out of keeping with the standard “…of the daleks” title scheme that it was abandoned. Somehow “End of the Road of the Daleks” was deemed too long to put on any street sign even on Skaro!)
And the worst part was, there were other horrible elements of this story. Mr. Jobel, is rude, crass, and generally mean to Tasambeker, the one woman (ish…person) who likes him. And he is harder to like than the Doctor during The Twin Dilemma, so bravo Tasambeker for aiming for the bottom of the barrel and actually finding it. The only thing that came from him that I appreciated was him remonstrating with someone not to pick their nose! Don’t get me wrong, Tasambeker is not easy to like either. In fact, that’s the problem with the entire story: no one is likable. The most likable person is Peri, which isn’t a leap, but then why bother caring for anyone on Tranquil Repose?
No, barring a few minor glimmers of goodness, it’s better to let this one stay buried in the past. They should have gone to Blackpool. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Mysterious Planet