Revelation of the Daleks ****

DJ Alexei Sayle broadcasts to the dead in this gruesome thrill-ride from 1985. Plus Michael Grade replies to RT readers...

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
Revelation of the Daleks ****

Season 22 – Story 142

“Now listen, you guys. I don’t wish to alarm you but there’s some pretty weird things going on out here” – DJ

Storyline
The Doctor and Peri arrive on Necros where the wealthy dead or near-dead are cryogenically preserved in “perpetual instatement” at the high-tech facility Tranquil Repose. The clients are kept apprised of events on the outside world by a bizarre DJ. Chief Embalmer Mr Jobel is preparing the corpse of the president’s wife, while fending off the advances of his student, Tasambeker. In truth, Davros is running Tranquil Repose under the guise of the Great Healer. He has eased a galactic famine but only by processing the corpses into an edible protein. He’s also using them as raw material for a new breed of Daleks. His manufacturing ally, Kara, secretly hires assassins Orcini and Bostock to kill Davros but he outwits them all. He has set a trap for the Time Lord but a Dalek force arrives from Skaro to put their creator on trial… 


First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 23 March 1985
Part 2 – Saturday 30 March 1985

Production
Location filming: January 1985 in Hampshire at IBM UK HQ, Cosham; Bolinge Hill Farm, Buriton; Butser Hill, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean. In West Sussex at Goodwood Estate and Tangmere Aerodrome.
Studio recording: January 1985 in TC1 and January/February 1985 in TC8



Cast
The Doctor - Colin Baker
Peri - Nicola Bryant
Kara - Eleanor Bron
Jobel - Clive Swift
DJ - Alexei Sayle
Davros - Terry Molloy
Tasambeker - Jenny Tomasin
Orcini - William Gaunt
Bostock - John Ogwen
Grigory - Stephen Flynn
Natasha - Bridget Lynch-Blosse
Takis - Trevor Cooper
Lilt - Colin Spaull
Vogel - Hugh Walters
Head of Stengos - Alec Linstead
Mutant - Ken Barker
Computer voice - Penelope Lee
Dalek voices - Royce Mills, Roy Skelton
Dalek operator - John Scott Martin, Cy Town, Tony Starr, Toby Byrne

Crew
Writer - Eric Saward
Designer - Alan Spalding
Incidental music - Roger Limb
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Graeme Harper

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
“Graeme Harper is exhausting,” producer John Nathan-Turner told me in 1985. “He’s taxing, he’s stimulating, because he’s greedy. All good directors are greedy. I’d love to work regularly with Graeme.” As it turned out, JN-T did not engage him again, although Harper made a spectacular return two decades later to Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who (Rise of the Cybermen, Doomsday, Turn Left, The Stolen Earth, The Waters of Mars…)

He’s among the best directors the series ever had. In 1984 he pumped energy into The Caves of Androzani and now breathes life into Revelation of the Daleks – which is an odd claim to make, given that a pall of death hangs over the story.

In spring 1985, with Grim Reaper Michael Grade on its back, signs were that Doctor Who was about to die at 22 – a venerable age for any TV programme. But before the death knell had started sounding, one of the very best 1980s stories was already in the can. It now seems prescient that Eric Saward had written a two-parter so obsessed with death.

The planet is called Necros. Its business is death – or “perpetual instatement” for those who can afford it in the gleaming facility of Tranquil Repose. Almost every character we’re introduced to ends up dead. Even the Doctor is faced with a monolithic tombstone with his face carved into it: “I’ve arrived in my own future and I’m dead.”

With Orwellian doublespeak Davros has been dubbed the Great Healer but in truth he’s profiting from death. He’s using the dead and near-dead in his genetic experiments, creating new Daleks, and he’s discovered that “the humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein”. When the Doctor asks how the starving might feel if they realised they were eating their own relatives, Davros jokes that it might create “what I believe is termed ‘consumer resistance’.”

Apart from a few structural problems (keeping the Doctor and Peri peripheral to the action), this is Saward’s most accomplished script. At times he seems to be channelling his writing hero Robert Holmes. There’s blackly comic dialogue to die for and double acts to suit all tastes: severe entrepreneur Kara (gorgeous Eleanor Bron) and her prissy secretary Vogel; dignified assassin Orcini (dour William Gaunt) and his unwashed squire Bostock; sarcastic tomb raiders Natasha and Grigory; and morticians Takis and Lilt, supposed to resemble Laurel and Hardy (I don’t quite buy that one).

Saward’s most vivid creations are chief embalmer Mr Jobel and his third-year student Tasambeker. A vain egotist, constantly checking his toupée in mirrors, Jobel is beautifully played by Clive Swift, who gets better material here than he did in six years of the 90s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.

Of a corpse: “She’s already started to froth. Thanks goodness the casket is lead-lined.” To Peri: “Those rose red ruby lips were made for kissing.” To an assistant: “Are you picking your nose?” Jobel is monumentally cruel to Tasambeker. “Do you honestly think I could be interested in you? I have the pick of the women. I would rather run away with my own mother than own a fawning little creep like you.”

Jenny Tomasin, famous as Ruby, the drudge/maid in Upstairs Downstairs, is visibly out of her depth as Tasambeker, but in a peculiar way this works. You believe she is this frumpy, awkward, vindictive mortician smitten with loathsome Jobel and swayed by Davros. He tells her, “You have a pleasing personality.” Is he buttering her up or is she the sort of woman Davros really goes for? Bit of both, I suspect.

Terry Molloy gets a measured performance of out Davros, who has a lot more to do here than the usual ranting. He sets traps, manipulates and often speaks sotto voce. There’s no escaping the fact, however, that he’s looking more and more like Maisie Trollette, the ancient Brighton drag queen that JN-T used to cast in his pantos.

Daleks are thin on the ground but at least there’s an effort to present them differently – and not just in their new cream and gold livery. A botched effect shows a Dalek in hover mode, something they’d been doing in comic strips since the 60s. And we see a glass Dalek, something first posited in a David Whitaker novel way back in 1964. It’s effectively realised, albeit in perspex.

The horror quotient reaches an all-time high. A hideous mutant man, one of Davros’s experiments, looks like he’s been boiling in a stew, has “melted” teeth and lets out bloodcurdling screams while attacking the Doctor and Peri in the snow. Later, Davros’s hand is shot off by Bostock and we see his fingers scattered on the floor, green blood oozing from the stump. Remember these episodes aired at 5.20pm!

Most hideous of all, the head of Stengos is discovered by his own daughter engulfed in mutating growths inside the glass Dalek. His eye snaps open and he gurgles, “Na-ta-sha!” He starts ranting in a Dalek voice then pleads, “If you ever loved me, Natasha, kill me. Kill me!” Perhaps it’s the teeth grafted to a metal plate in his mouth, but the head of Stengos is, for me, the most disturbing and sickening image ever presented in Doctor Who. I can’t bear to look at it.

A late addition to Saward’s script – and an unexpected success – is the DJ, who provides a running commentary to events and breaks up the gloom with a lightness of touch. The programme is often accused of stunt casting, but more often than not it pays off and I can’t imagine any one better than Alexei Sayle in this part. He’s bizarre, funny and, quite simply, brilliant.

Revelation is the only time I remember getting a souvenir from the set. Just after Alexei Sayle had blown up some Daleks (in safely controlled BBC explosions – pffffft! pffffft!), the detritus of their tops lay scattered on the floor. One of the fx guys asked if I wanted a Dalek eye stalk, but my delight turned to dismay. It was so flimsy (a balsa wood rod with a black polystyrene ball for the eye and a sticky label for its iris). No one would ever believe this was an authentic Doctor Who prop and not some pathetic fan effort. After a few months I chucked it out. I wish now I’d kept it.

Radio Times archive material

RT billings  Part one  Part two

RT mailbag (23 March 1985) about the postponement of Doctor Who, with a response from Michael Grade to “hysterical enthusiasts”.

A gallery of rare RT black-and-white images from the production. 

[Available on BBC DVD]