I turn my attention to one of the two Sixth Doctor stories to get a 4* rating from the Radio Times. Yes, time to rewatch the Eric Saward story Revelation of the Daleks. When this story was broadcast in March 1985 I was still watching the show around starting a new job. My memories have always been of not enjoying this story. What do I think now a lot of time has passed? I assume you’ve watched it, so I will drop spoilers as needed.
Revelation of the Daleks
What’s the story?
So, what is it all about? Well there are a range of summaries available.
First the Amazon product description, which is rather to the point:
The Doctor and Peri arrive on Necros to attend the funeral of an old friend of who has recently died. However, Tranquil Repose is not all it seems and an attempt is made on the Doctor’s life. Soon the Doctor comes face to face with the Great Healer, only to discover it is none other than Davros, the creator of the Daleks, intent on rebuilding the Dalek race decimated by the Movellans.
OK. Well, I rather prefer the version on the forthcoming Eric Saward novelisation (due November 2019):
The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Necros to visit the funerary home Tranquil Repose – where the dead are interred and the near-dead placed in suspended animation until such time as their conditions can be cured.
But the Great Healer of Tranquil Repose is far from benign. Under his command, Daleks guard the catacombs where sickening experiments are conducted on human bodies. The new life he offers the dying comes at a terrible cost – and the Doctor and Peri are being lured into a trap that will change them forever.
The version on the back of the DVD has this to say:
The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Necros, home of Tranquil Repose, a funeral home for the galaxy’s elite. But is this the Doctor’s final resting place? And why do Daleks guard the inner sanctums of the perpetually interred? Perhaps the Great Healer will have the answers…
Watching the DVD
There’s a strong sense this was written as though it would be 4×25 minute episodes then forced into 2×45, with the midpoint of episode 1 in particular feeling like a real episode ending.
The story is dark and has a lot of elements that could be challenged for a supposedly family story. History tells us the show was losing fans, already cancelled by transmission and not the centre of attention, but even so it has many aspects I would have thought the same people who complained about Genesis of the Daleks would have been bother by. I include:
- Peri kills someone (as part of the story) through violence
- Violence towards women: the guards clearly assault the supposed body snatchers when they capture them with no respect to gender. Perhaps today this would happen, but for the time I suspect it could have been taken as problematic
- Use of dead people as food.
I’m not saying these things are wrong but that for the era quite a step out of the show’s comfort zone.
When broadcast I wasn’t sure about Clive Swift’s Jobel the embalmer, but now I think he’s a masterpiece of a creation, great dialogue and very Dickensian. Also when broadcast I really, really, really didn’t like the idea of the DJ nor the idea of Alexei Sayle in the part. I still find the dwelling on mid-20th century pop music a bit out of keeping with the setting of the story, but the character with his talks to the viewer (disguised as addressing the dead [irony]) are a clever narrative device and very Shakespearean. It’s also another (like Happiness Patrol) where music is integral to the tale, not part of the post-production. I still don’t like the sonic gun.
The first 25 minutes really packs in plot, characters, setting, exposition, action and is a masterpiece (certainly compared to most 1980s Doctor Who. It does leave the Doctor and Peri to the sidelines waiting to join, but we’ve had more extreme Doctor-lite stories in recent years, so not as off-putting as it would have been at the time.
The list of great ideas continues. There’s a wonderful performance by Eleanor Bron as Kara, and then there’s William Gaunt.
I’m of an age to have watched William Gaunt on Sundays in The Champions and been a huge (if young fan). Here he was back as a hero (of sorts) a Knight of Oberon with squire. When I first watched this is was pleased to have the character and the line about the artificial leg stayed in memory. What I didn’t remember was how poor a lot of his lines were, though delivered with great gravitas.
Davros is excellent throughout, but the Daleks I found poorly voiced and too easy to defeat, with a lot of them exploding at the slightest provocation (I exaggerate). We do also get floating Davros and this much before Remembrance!
I’ve gone on a lot and there’s more I could say. Peri has a major event in the first quarter (killing someone) and it’s soon forgotten and she does little except be letched after. It’s the weakest part of the story in my view, everything else making some kind of sense in the context.
Overall it’s a rich story, plenty to consider and pretty good on the whole. Is it the best of Colin’s time on TV? Perhaps.