Resurrection of the Daleks ★★★

A violent Davros/Dalek crowd-pleaser with a brave departure for Tegan and a pre-EastEnders Leslie Grantham

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Season 21 – Story 133

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“Once before I held back from destroying the Daleks. It was a mistake I do not intend to repeat. Davros must die” – the Doctor

Storyline
The Doctor lands the Tardis in 1984 London after breaking free from a time corridor that connects the capital with a spacecraft in the future. It turns out that the Daleks are behind a plot to release Davros, held captive by humans on a prison space station. Having lost a war with the Movellans due to a viral weapon, the Daleks want their creator to help them develop an antidote and resurrect his army. Their plan to send duplicates of the travellers to Gallifrey to destroy the Time Lords are thwarted by Stien, a Dalek-conditioned double agent, who activates the space station’s self-destruct. Tegan, sickened by the killing she has witnessed, stays behind on Earth.

First transmissions
Part 1 – Wednesday 8 February 1984
Part 2 – Wednesday 15 February 1984

Production
Location filming: September 1983 at Shad Thames and Butler’s Wharf, south-east London
Studio recording: September/October 1983 in TC8

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Tegan – Janet Fielding
Turlough – Mark Strickson
Stien – Rodney Bewes
Styles – Rula Lenska
Colonel Archer – Del Henney
Lytton – Maurice Colbourne
Professor Laird – Chloe Ashcroft
Davros – Terry Molloy
Mercer – Jim Findley
Osborn – Sneh Gupta
Galloway – William Sleigh
Kiston – Les Grantham
Sergeant Calder – Philip McGough
Trooper – Roger Davenport
Crew members – John Adam Baker, Linsey Turner
Dalek operators – John Scott Martin, Cy Town, Tony Starr, Toby Byrne
Dalek voices – Brian Miller, Royce Mills

Crew
Writer – Eric Saward
Visual Effects – Peter Wragg
Incidental music – Malcolm Clarke
Designer – John Anderson
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Matthew Robinson

RT Review by Mark Braxton
More than four years had elapsed since the Daleks had appeared with their wizened creator. And with time running out for the fifth Doctor and his companions, now seemed a good time to dust off the gargling Skaro-mongers.

It’s an arresting opening: two men in strange clothing burst from empty London warehouses… more men appear, stalked by police constables who fire on them with machine pistols… an inspector uses a device to make all the dead bodies vanish…

Within minutes we’re introduced to cold-blooded mercenaries, gleaming spaceships and the Doctor in a tight spot: so tight in fact that the Cloister Bell tolls aboard the Tardis. “Oh no,” groans Tegan, as well she might.

There’s serious intent here: a grim, Euston-Films landscape of deserted docklands; sturdy, open sets; disturbing music; and a high, TV-watchdog-needling body count.

The horror is cranked up to the max across the two episodes (originally four but adapted to accommodate the Winter Olympics). The make-up to reflect viral decomposition is squirmingly effective, Daleks are liberally eviscerated and sudden deaths occur with sweaty frequency – one man, a metal-detector, is shot dead for no justifiable reason.

There’s mostly serious casting, too. A slicked-back Leslie Grantham, or Les as he was billed, practises narrowing his eyes for when he’ll make his name as Dirty Den in EastEnders – he’ll only have to wait a year. Here he’s playing Davros’s sinister IT backup, Kiston, though the part requires little range.

Former Likely Lad Rodney Bewes plays the duplicitous Stien, who switches from shrinking violet to steely colluder, thanks to his Dalek brainwashing. It’s a strange old part with no clear motivations but Bewes grabs the bull by the horns.

Nice to see Rula “Rapunzel” Lenska, though her trademark tresses have been packed away under confining headgear as the amusingly named Styles. And prim, sensible Play School stalwart Chloe Ashcroft as the prim, sensible Professor Laird. Surely there were parts for Carole Ward and Toni Arthur, too?

Top of the form is journeyman actor Maurice Colbourne as cold, self-serving Lytton, who lives to fight another day – in the sixth Doctor story Attack of the Cybermen in 1985. Always a safe pair of hands, Colbourne was honoured with lead-man status in Howards’ Way, until his untimely death in 1989.

But what of everyone’s favourite pepperpots? Beyond a bit of internecine conflict, the story doesn’t really enlarge the Dalek mythos. If anything they come across as tentative, even wuss-ish (“Withdraw! Withdraw!”; “He must be exterminated, as soon as it is convenient to the Daleks”). Their voices inspire little awe, as if the actors are shouting into cupped hands. And within moments of their introduction, they’re being blown to smithereens. We expect this at the end of a Dalek story, not the beginning. Masters of the universe indeed.

By way of an apology for their previous adventure, Destiny of the Daleks, Davros is revived for another roll of the dice – or roll of the castors anyway – with a new mask and a different wearer: Terry Molloy. But he still looks as though there’s a piece of stale haddock beneath his nose, and is still prone to gumbyish bluster. It’s a crying shame Arthur Mullard was never allowed to don the latex.

There are some acrobatically stupid deaths: two actors look like puppets whose string-pullers are having a coughing fit. Even Stien’s last, Lazarus-like lunge is chokingly unrealistic. Some of the design is a little too enthusiastic, too: those eyestalk helmets for the Daleks’ human allies belong in the “seemed like a good idea at the time” box.

But there is complexity in the story, and there are gnarly grey areas of the kind that we’re more familiar with in Moffat era. The Doctor fully intends to execute Davros, a stance that distresses Tegan in the same way the arachnicidal tenth Doctor would trouble Donna in The Runaway Bride.

It’s a brave, anti-sentimental departure scene, with a joyless companion exhausted by her travails. We’ve been here before, with Victoria (“I’m tired of one crisis on top of another”) and Sarah Jane (“I’m sick of being shot at, savaged by bug-eyed monsters…”) but this time Tegan seems genuinely angry with the Doctor, and disenchanted by his exploits.

She leaves, with the Doctor metaphorically slapped in the face. She backtracks, wanting a proper goodbye, but the Tardis has gone. There will be no closure.

Eric Saward went to great lengths to please the crowd by reaching back into Who lore: name any Dalek story you like and you’ll find elements here, from viruses and time travel to Time Lord mind-scanning. Incidentally, how lovely it is to see that companion roll-call sequence, but what, no Leela?! But parts of the plot seem tacked on and ill-considered: the whole duplicates business makes little sense.

And there is so much in the way of homage that Resurrection of the Daleks is less than the sum of its parts. Is it enjoyable? Yes. Does it feel like a proper story? Sadly not.

Radio Times archive material

John Craven’s Back Pages reintroduced Davros and the Daleks.

The RT mailbag (3 March 1984) featured concerns about child suitability, which were followed up in the RT mailbag (24 March 1984).

Part one billing    Part two billing

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[Available on BBC DVD]