London, 1984. Two policemen armed with automatic weapons fire on a group of people running from an abandoned warehouse. Two dressed in space suits escape and head toward another building where they hope to find a time corridor. It’s this same time corridor that has trapped the TARDIS. With help from Turlough, the Doctor manages to break free, only to find they are traveling alongside it. The crew materialize near some dockside buildings, and, since something anachronistic is going on, naturally the Doctor goes inside investigate. They are soon joined by one of the two space-suited men, Stien, and encounter a bomb disposal squad sent to diffuse what were mistakenly identified as explosive devices. They are all surprised, however, by the sudden appearance of a Dalek. Meanwhile, on board a prison transport ship, the crew are under attack from a Dalek ship, come to collect their cargo: Davros, creator of the Daleks. The crew are prepared to destroy Davros before letting him fall into Dalek hands, but the Daleks are too powerful. And with the help of his creation, Davros can now avenge the Daleks against those that fought them. But the Daleks have other plans, ones that involve the assassination of the High Council of Gallifrey, which the Doctor will be persuaded to do on their behalf…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
To accommodate the BBC’s coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, “Resurrection of the Daleks” was first broadcast as two 46-minute weekly episodes, as opposed to the usual four episodes. Subsequent re-broadcasts spliced it up into a traditional 4-parter. Nevertheless, the two-part format works very well for this. Fans of New Who, used to 45-minute episodes, will feel quite at home.
The story picks up where the previous adventure, “Frontios,” left off, with the TARDIS being sucked toward the center of the universe. We discover that it’s actually being drawn down a time corridor operated by the Daleks. Usually, a returning monster is given a surprising reveal, as with the Cybermen in “Earthshock.” Given that this is called “Resurrection of the Daleks,” the surprise is clearly not that it’s a Dalek story. The surprises are, I think, two-fold. First, the return of Davros, virtually picking up from the last Dalek story, “Destiny of the Daleks,” at the end of which Davros was being carted away to stand trial for his crimes. Only we’re now 90 years on (story-wise, that is; “Destiny” was broadcast in 1979, a mere five years previously). The other surprise is the fact that the Daleks are actually under the leadership of the Supreme Dalek. Davros thinks he controls the Daleks, but he soon finds out they’ve moved on, and only intend to keep him alive for as long as he’s useful. Pitting Dalek factions against each other makes for an interesting twist to the story, and adds a layer of complexity–it’s not simply the Doctor vs. the Daleks. In fact, both sides want the Doctor, but for different ends, so he’s caught in the middle.
For the benefit of viewers who haven’t seen “Destiny of the Daleks,” Davros is given a recap of the stalemate that existed between the Daleks and the Movellans: two logic-driven forces unable to out-maneuver one another because they both act in logical, predictable patterns. The Daleks dug up Davros to give them an irrational advantage (Davros only being part-Dalek), while the Movellans tried to enlist the Doctor to help them think outside the box. The trouble is, Davros knew all this, so the recap is very obviously for the viewers. The bit he is told that none of us knew is that the Daleks lost the war against the Movellans. It seems the Movellans found another way to attack the Daleks: a biological weapon. Davros’s task is now to develop an antidote to the weapon and breed a new race of Daleks immune to it. He can then use these Daleks to get revenge on everyone that has wronged him. The Supreme Dalek has much more modest plans. He simply wants to clone the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, and send them to Gallifrey to assassinate the members of the High Council. Naturally, Davros’s antidote would be useful to them, but the Supreme Dalek doesn’t seem too impressed with Davros’s objectives. Or Davros himself, in fact.
Speaking of Davros, the Dalek creator is here played by Terry Malloy, who played him in “Destiny.” The original Davros, Michael Wisher (“Genesis of the Daleks”), was to return to the part, but the filming was rescheduled and he wasn’t available. That’s a pity. Malloy does a fine job, but his Davros is way too shouty for my liking. Wisher’s interpretation was in that grey area between genius and bonkers, so Davros’s rants had a manic edge to them, and yet he could turn on the soft-spoken contemplation of a curious scientist. There have been a few other Davroses since Wisher, but his will always be my favorite.
“Resurrection” is notable among Classic Who stories for its high body count. There is a lot of gun fighting, and much death, some controversial. The two “policemen” at the beginning who pull out automatic pistols and start shooting at people received criticism for potentially increasing public fear of the police. Also, the Doctor, who generally hates guns and tries to find a peaceful solution to things, carries a gun without much objection, and even shoots multiple times at a Dalek blob. He tells his companions that he intends to kill Davros, finishing a job he failed to do before when he had the chance (i.e., stopping the creation of the Daleks back in “Genesis of the Daleks”). The Doctor points a gun at Davros’s head and tells him he has come as Davros’s “executioner.” Of course, Davros wheedles his way out by informing the Doctor he intends to reprogram the Daleks to have emotions, even compassion. I’m sure the Doctor is doubtful, but nevertheless he lowers the gun. Perhaps the Doctor’s comment at the end, that he left Gallifrey because he had grown tired of the lifestyle, and now “I must mend my ways,” is a reference to all the death and destruction he had been a part of over the course of the story. This was, after all, the breaking point for Tegan, where traveling with the Doctor ceased to be fun. Maybe this is akin to the point at the end of the Tenth Doctor story, “The Waters of Mars,” where he realizes he’s gone too far. If so, I guess that justifies showing the Doctor to be uncharacteristically violent. And, like the Tenth Doctor, he reaches this conclusion only a few stories away from his regeneration.
Tegan’s departure is well done, I think. This was a particularly tense adventure and, as she says, a lot of good people died. It’s hard not to sympathize with Tegan, and Janet Fielding’s performance is right on the mark. As usual for Classic Who, she leaves with handshakes and sad faces, not hugs and tears. But there’s no sense that she could have just got over herself and changed her mind.
On the whole, the acting is good, aside for a bit of woodenness from some of the extras. The initial gun battle between the Daleks and the crew of the prison ship is a bit one-sided, and not very convincing. The make-up on the dead people, with faces distorted, is gruesomely good. Stien’s final sacrifice was a great way for him to go, and a nice way to turn apparent defeat into success.
On the whole, I’d say “Resurrection of the Daleks” is a borderline classic. Certainly one of the best of the Fifth Doctor era. Must-see Who? Close. Certainly one you shouldn’t ignore.