With its grim but so quintessentially '80s opening of a shabby and wet London docklands street that ends with a mass shooting of fleeing humanoid figures, Resurrection of the Daleks sets its tone with sheer glee.


This lean and violent serial was part of a more experimental era for Doctor Who, one that experimented with serialised plot lines and character arcs perhaps more than ever before.

We can’t ignore the impact of the much-lauded Earthshock before this two-parter, which similarly took the Doctor to darker depths than before.

Penned by Earthshock scribe Eric Saward, Resurrection of the Daleks was always due to be pivotal for this dramatic era for Who.

The story serves as the only encounter that Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor has with iconic villains the Daleks while boasting the second return of their creator Davros, and also serves as the exit of popular companion Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding).

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Following on directly from the events of Frontios, the Doctor, Tegan and the enigmatic Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) land near a dreary Thames and soon become caught up in a violent clash between the Daleks and their mercenary army and the jailers of the Daleks’ creator, Davros (a shriekingly memorable Terry Malloy), who is in a cryogenic stasis.

It turns out that the Daleks are suffering from a virus at the hands of their enemies the Movellans, and want to revive Davros to find a cure for them. Of course, as always, Davros has ideas of his own - and soon goes rogue.

With a large ensemble of guest characters with shallow characterisation but memorable actors - Rula Lenska! EastEnders icon Leslie Grantham! - Resurrection of the Daleks churns through plot and action set-pieces like nobody’s business; if anything, it’s too busy.

Mind control devices, poisonous gas, time corridors and sci-fi exposition babble - the easiest to follow, this is not.

However, its creativity and guts are there. Saward’s script is morbid, full of body horror, death, the cost of war and an overall sense of nihilism that feels at home with the darker themes of the political and narrative context of the show at the time.

Amid the social turmoil of the Thatcher years and the latter-stage Cold War, and in a Doctor Who era that boldly killed off a lead companion in the form of Adric, Resurrection of the Daleks feels like a window to a different time, but also one not afraid to potentially horrify its audience - this is a Saturday evening family show, after all!

The season's ethical quandaries also rear their head when the Doctor contemplates murdering Davros for a greater good - horrifying Tegan with his temptation to contribute to further violence and acting as his conscience in this moment.

Janet Fielding as a sad Tegan Jovanka with a plaster on her forehead and a white, black and red patterned blouse in Doctor Who.
Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) departed Doctor Who under tragic circumstances. BBC

Finally, the crowning sadness of Tegan’s departure is perhaps the most depressing exit for a companion outside of the deaths and tragic mind-wipes.

One of the most vibrant and feisty lead cast members in Doctor Who's history is reduced to a nervous wreck who is traumatised by her experiences and unable to continue her travels in the TARDIS. It is rushed, but feels natural in a story afraid of haphazardly delivering an appropriately nasty end.

The added note of melancholy of Tegan missing her second chance to say a sweeter goodbye with her "I’ll miss you" is perfectly judged from Fielding, too.

Resurrection of the Daleks is messy, violent and soul-crushing. Imperfect it is, but it remains the epitome of Doctor Who's willingness to take risks.

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