Resurrection of the Daleks - DVD Special
This opening episode starts off well, with generally quite superb direction, even if the extras are rubbish. When did anyone fall down convincingly in a Dalek story anyway? And after spending much time in the company of Dudley Simpson, it's nice to have some distinctive music from Malcolm Clarke, however OTT.
Peter Davison is a great actor of course, and although some say Mark Strickson is a little hammy, I really love him despite (or, more likely, because of) it. Completing the trio is Janet Fielding as Tegan, who can be good, but just as often can be awful. What's she like here? As I said, I'm not going to make predictions.
John Nathan-Turner was a fabulous producer. It's just a shame that he was a thoroughly lousy one too, and you never knew which JN-T you'd get from story to story. Apparently he didn't know about those silly "eyestalk" hats until it was too late, so he can't take the blame for the tackier excesses of this one. Though maybe he should have been more involved there? The ship effects are okay but not great, while having the crew wearing fast food restaurant uniforms is decidedly dodgy. The real thing that bothers me though is the appearance of the Daleks. Noisy, squawky things with a needle of plastic in the top of their domes like they've been snapped out of an Airfix kit. I think I just hate "lasers" in Who, which is never something Who did well, and the Supreme Dalek's self-parodying voice and catchphrases don't blend well with those tacky white spheres, a particular distraction. This all looks quite plush as a DVD presentation though, even if some of the film shots are grainy and the sound is a little poor.
The use of (badly acted) ethnic minorities seems like tokenism compared to Who's usual Persil Policy, and isn't it weird seeing people smoke on TV these days? Saward's depiction of horror is again questionable: a man with a rotted face isn't shown in shock cut-away, Hinchcliffe style, but taken in with a six second leisurely zoom. This is much, much better than I remembered though… shame about the crap cliffhanger.
Eric Saward achieved much with an action adventure reworking of the Cybermen in 1982. It still relied upon suspense and so passed, though "action adventure" is something Doctor Who shouldn't - and more importantly - couldn't be. This was lost on Saward, who tried the format again several times. This is what bothers so much about Resurrection: it's not just the fifth-rate look of the Daleks or the plastic ray gun overkill, it's that it has nothing to say. And with all the huge strands of continuity this really comes over as a fanboy work. Davros's wish that he could have seen the Dalek-Movellan impasse still annoys, though I guess those ninety years in suspended animation may have affected his brain and made him forget that he did indeed see it.
I must risk sounding like Mary Whitehouse and say that yes, the gore on display here is far too much for a family show, and worse than anything in the Colin Baker era. And though this is - so far - a huge step up from what I remembered, it's oddly lacking in charm, a violent Doctor incongruous with Davison's humanitarian take. The scene where he empties a revolver into a Kaled mutant (then later cannot kill the humanoid Davros) is a betrayal of Who's ethos. (Actually, stop the press for this myth-breaker: if you look closely, you'll see the Doctor doesn't actually use the gun that he holds so awkwardly, and that only the soldier's rifle is used to kill it).
This is beginning to get silly now, marked by the would-be witty way a military man remarks of a radio "it's dead" - then has a gun pointed at him. The soulless cut and paste of rapid scenes distances the viewer almost as much as the weak supporting cast (though Maurice Colbourne is superb) and the body count quickly annoys. I've nothing against death done with style in Who, but this one is famously said to have more on-screen deaths than Rambo. Or something or other. After a while it just shows the author's lack of wit and imagination, a bullet an easy way to write out troublesome characters. And seeing someone go down like a rag doll an average of once every 80 seconds (as is what happens in the final episode) quickly becomes so overdone it gets bland.
I have to say that I've never been comfortable with Leslie Grantham being in Doctor Who. He'd served his time and all that, but having a convicted murderer in a series watched heavily by children always unsettled me. Worse still, he's dreadfully wooden, his "robotised" acting almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Talking of rubbish acting, wouldn't this have been great if Michael Wisher had, as planned, reprised his role as Davros? Terry Molloy's one-dimensional shouter is deeply irksome in this one.
"I will require the assistance of a chemist" says Davros here. Blimey, there's a war going on and the guy's thinking about… okay, leave it. Rubbish last story for Tegan though, spending the whole time under a blanket. Only a mild step up is Turlough's corridor skulking. Not as strong an episode as the first this one, but a great twist ending.
The many threads of this story become clearer each time you see it, but it's still messy and unfocussed. Saward's other Dalek script, just the following year, was infinitely superior in every way. This is serious Who, which is nice in a sense, but the tatty casings (parts of which dated back to the 60s) look silly without irony, and the lack of humour makes it a story devoid of warmth. As the Doctor himself says "why do they take themselves so seriously?"
Watching this as an episode by episode makes you realise that it isn't that bad as bits, just that the overall package is one of pointless repetition. This is a story about nothing, that does nothing, says nothing, and goes nowhere. Top fanwank moment has Ian Levine messing up like a lard boy by missing out Leela from the Doctor's flashbacks. It doesn't actually distract that much, and I was far more offended by Molloy's end of episode bellowing.
Saward goes back on Nation's upgraded continuity by making the Daleks cyborgs again. It works better that way though. "I can't stand the confusion in my mind!" is a great laughable line, and I wonder (anal statement coming up) if they'd kept that mind machine running, would we have seen the Doctors from Morbius?
Tegan's still well made-up considering she's been knocked on the floor and spent the whole day under a sheet. Though I said I'd reserve judgement and now, having seen it, Janet does indeed deliver the goods on her final story. Peter's "going to kill Davros" speech seems unusually self-conscious acting from him though, probably because he was uncomfortable with the slightly corny dialogue.
This is a poor last episode, with the story collapsing under its own shaky foundations, tacky sets and tacky props, underdeveloped subtexts piled on underdeveloped subtexts and perfunctory dialogue. The scene where the black Dalek talks to the Doctor on his scanner screen belongs in a spoof, not in real Who, and Davro's death scene, arm outstretched, Strangelove style as Molloy again bellows is abysmal. As this attempting to be a family(ish) site I won't make the obvious jokes about how the Daleks die (though they do get heavily derided on the commentary), but seeing the Daleks drown in a hail of shaving foam is just risible.
If this were a song you'd call it a dirge, as a cavalcade of noise and tack flies out of the screen. Lytton shoots someone again… yawn. Ultimately, the question you have to ask yourself is… what was it really about? My idea of good Who is nothing like this, a crass shoot-'em-up with no reason for existing other than its status as a sequel. What's the point of the story? What's its meaning? What's it trying to say? Garbage, and the "characters" - including the regulars - are all ciphers.
The episode by episode format cannot do justice to what a poor story this one really is. It feels very little like Doctor Who at all, and it seems Saward wanted to make his own shallow action series with the Doctor only getting in the way. As a story it ultimately fails not because of the disparate quality of its parts, but because overall it's devoid of all intellect and purpose. Quite a depressing experience.
Commentary: This is the seventh DVD commentary I've listened to (after Seeds, Carnival, Tomb, Talons, Ark In Space and The Robots of Death) and it really is the best by far. As is often said, Peter is superb at this sort of thing, mixing a genuine enthusiasm with amused detachment, and is seriously funny at times. I love his laughter when Janet recounts how JN-T was concerned she looked too much like Matthew Waterhouse, and affectionately mocking Mark Strickson is a running gag. Matthew Robinson has done himself no favours with this one, all reviews I've read complaining about his egotism. It's a shame, because it's clear that in the majority of circumstances his tongue is firmly in cheek. Okay, he's not particularly funny, but he's been given a slightly rougher deal than he deserves, even if his self adulation does get almost as tiresome as the story it sipports. Telling us that a shot was ahead of its time for the programme is just there to get your back up, and a comment that I'm sure Lovett Bickford, Graeme Harper, Douglas Camfield and many, many more would take exception to. Pratt. Janet also has some lovely takes on the Daleks, describing them as a metaphor for the way humans place walls around their emotions. Sweet.
The info text option is a little bit bland this time around, (except for episode three's) while there's also an opportunity to select Dolby stereo for the story (didn't work for me as I was watching on a mono telly - d'oh!) and a music-only option.
THE EXTRAS: Over forty minutes of extras, they are as follows:
On Location (18'30m) - A cracking documentary with JN-T discarding all pretence of machismo and being as camp as Bet Lynch. Now the guard is dropped he's much more likeable, which is poignant as he died shortly after it was made. Also on hand is Eric Saward (understandably filmed separately - there were probably police barricades on location keeping them apart) who is commendably candid about his own script. Finally there's Matthew Robinson, whose humour, as with the commentary, doesn't quite translate and makes him come over as a bit of pratt. The most interesting thing for fans will be his discussion with Eric about JN-T. From what is said, I can understand JN-T's point of view entirely - after all, he was the producer, he was responsible for the way it looked - why would you discuss a shot with the writer? And full credit to Eric, too, who gives a non-committal "John was always very possessive", not wanting, like Peter and Janet in the commentary when Robinson brings up the same story, to get involved. If Robinson wanted to make JN-T look bad out of this, it's a feat that has spectacularly backfired.
Breakfast Time (7'58m) - Yellow cardigans? A worthwhile view this, even if JN-T seems unusually guarded and "The Companions" was a naff book.
Extended/Deleted Scenes (7'04m) - Thirteen extended or deleted scenes, which can be fascinating (a deleted Davros line to the Doctor has him say "You, in your own way, are not an unambitious man.") yet is marred slightly by having no introduction or explanation of each sequence.
BBC trailer (0'31m) - This works far more effectively than the ponderous Five Face one of just two years before. A sign that the BBC were becoming more professional, or more disenchanted with Who so that they didn't want to promote is as much?
Photo Gallery (3'12m) - A selection of 37 photos, all worth seeing, but coupled with the most annoying sound effect imaginable.
Tardis Cam No.4 (0'40m) - What really is the point?
Easter Eggs - Two hidden ones here, no greats, but decent enough, lasting 2'04m and 0'12m.