The thing to remember about Eric Saward's script and was the script editor who helped to set the tone for both the Fifth Doctor and Sixth Doctor is that sometimes it is hard to tell if he ever actually liked Doctor Who. The worldview he seems to bring to the show is dark, grim and bleak, so full of violence and gore and spends much of the time portraying the Doctor and his companion as incompetant, almost seems to depth-charge the whole idea behind the show out of the water.
And I don't think that point is untrue. In the eighties, sci-fi was full of dark, nilihilistic and punk-infused satire that the gleaming and hopeful view of the future in the sixties was almost sneered at. Granted it seemed for a while that the eighties were going to end in a nuclear holocast but uncomplicated heroism and optomism where seen as unfashionable and even though Doctor Who had never been a show that was so cut and dry, it does make sense that the show would start to go in that direction as it has always changed with the times.
The Sixth Doctor, (Colin Baker) and Peri, (Nichola Bryant) feel a little blue when they arrive on Necros.
So in 1985, we got a series full of black-comedy and stories like Vengeance on Varos which skewered captailism and the way media controls the world, The Two Doctors which briefly turned the Second Doctor into a cannibal and Revelation of the Daleks which fires at consumerism, our fear of death and what these things create in us. It also commentates on how we sometimes talk about our dead and treat the dead and our ignorance when it comes to the unpleasent side of how our foods are made. And it comes complete with a twist at the end which, at least as an idea, twists a knife into one of Doctor Who's core concepts.
So, in theory this story should sound great? Well, its not. Again, the problem is that Eric Saward never was a strong enough writer to pull all this stuff off and he fails to give us good dialogue and any well thought out plot concepts that otherwise might have made everything else work. It also seems that he believed anyone watching Doctor Who shouldn't have any fun. Indeed, at the very end Peri asks to be taken somewhere fun and the Doctor acts like this is a stupid request. Like far too much of the 1985 series, this is a story full of grim and depressing plot threads. It shouldn't be a surprise that this was the last story to be broadcast before the show went on its eighteen-month hiatus.
The story begins in usual Doctor Who fashion, with the TARDIS arriving on an alien planet. In this case it is the Sixth Doctor, in his bright clothes and brash attitude and his suffering companion, Peri, whose role was reduced to just being someone standing around and moaning and gets perved at by sleazy men. In this case, the story has Jobel played by Clive Swift. The planet is Necros, which serves as the universes' funeral planet or the galaxy's near dead who are placed in suspended animation until medical science can heal them. The Doctor has arrived to attend the funeral of his friend Arthur Stengos. But the whole thing is actually a trap set up by Davros, the insane creator of the Daleks, who wants revenge for all the indignaties done to him. Secretly though, Davros has been using the bodies of the dead to create new Daleks and everyone else is turned to green jelly which sent out across the galaxies to feed the starving.
The Sixth Doctor and Peri come face-to-face with the dreaded Daleks.
As the Doctor and Peri get attacked by a zombie-like escapee, several other sub-plots begin to spin out. Davros is being betrayed by his buisness partner Kara, who, to kill Davros, has hired the noble assassin Orcini and his revolting partner Bostok. Then there are two other people who want to find Arthur Stengos, his daughter Natasha and her friend, the surgeon Grigory, who both correctly suspect that something is going on. Thirdly, the staff of the funeral centre is waiting for the body of the president's wife, lead by the sleazy Jobel and her second-in-command Tasambeker, who has a secret crush on her boss, who Davros will use later to his own advantage. And finally there is the DJ who broadcasts old-time music to those in suspended animation, while privately sneering at what passed for their lives.
Those are a lot of subplots to juggle and Saward handles them just as well he did in his last script, Resurrection of the Daleks. Which isn't very well. With a few limitations, all the plots never really converge or build towards the conclusion and once again throws in some interesting ideas without ever really doing anything with them. It makes you wonder if he even knew he had done it. The plot with the President's wife fizzles out once she arrives, which is the golden opportunity for the politcal satire thrown out of the window. How would she have reacted to Davros's offer of becoming a Dalek? Would she have been horrified, tempted or both at once? Meanwhile Tasambeker is tricked by Davros into killing Jobel, which is pointless since the Daleks kill her not long after. Both sub-points are snuffed out before anything can be made of them. They both would have been terrific opportunities to explore the transformation. But that is the only reason I can think of for him wheedling Tasambeker into turning into a murder - he could easily have done it himself, but he notices her anger, shelfishness and pettiness and thinks she is already half-way to being a Dalek. If she kills Jobel she earns a place in his army, she might even have liked it. Especially if Tasambeker had gladly volunteered for conversion and that would have been the real sting in the dark comedy, by showing how wrong life decisions can be alienating.
The chilling glass Dalek - one of the creepiest moments in Doctor Who history.
Davros also mentions turning the Doctor into a Dalek, but just like his scheme to clone the Doctor in Resurrection of the Daleks, the idea is dropped without further elaboration. But other than observing the events around him, the Doctor and Peri spend much of their time not involved in the story. They just try to get into Tranquil Repose and only meet Davros ten minutes towards the end. This is another example of Saward's look at Doctor Who. He also has a distastful thing about glorifying killers and assassins like Orcini here and Lytton in Attack of the Cybermen.
Saward seems to have a thing about making the Doctor not the star of his own series, he gets delayed, he wanders around half-the-story, he stands by and watches once he arrives and often ends with a deus ex machina that barely involves him at all. This happened in Vengeance on Varos, The Twin Dillemma and Resurrection of the Daleks. I really didn't understand what this was meant to accomplish. Here though that deus ex machina does have an acidic resonace, since it is actually the Daleks who save the day. They sweep in to wipe out the new models. That is either the most incompetant or the most bitterly cynical deus ex machina in the history of the show.
Can the Doctor and Peri thwart the plans of Davros, (Terry Molloy)?
I'm not entirely sure what to make of it but the notion that there is real and false Daleks is something the show has handled in the past. Natasha's father's body is a fake, the white Daleks are fake, Davros's severed head is fake, Orcini's leg is fake and Kara and Vogel are both fakes. Davros believes himself to be the true leader of the Daleks but the grey ones refuse to acknowledge him. And why shouldn't they. He may have created the Daleks but the show created them long before they created him. And after his introduction in Genesis of the Daleks, his storyline overshadowed all the Dalek stories in the rest of the classic era. I can certainly see how the Daleks resent him.
So what does work with this story? Even if Arthur Stengos wasn't the ideal choice to be the person we see being transformed into a Dalek, the sight of what has happened to him truly is creepy and a powerful scene. His daughter has to watch in horror as her father loses what is left of his humanity in a glass Dalek shell and is wracked by spasms as Davros finally converts him fully. It is such a powerful scene, it is a shame that the rest of the story doesn't really live up to the rest of it.
Terry Molloy's Davros is one of the best incarnations of the characters ever, in my opinion, he is even better than the original Michael Wisher performance. He plays the part well-over-the-top but that is who the character is and he brings in the different tones that capture the several moods of Davros. His gloating arrogance, his bursts of psychotic rants, his sneakiness and his ability to get everyone to get people to do what he wants by playing up their weaknesses.
And, though I am surprised that I found him entertaining. I liked some of the scenes with Alexei Sayle's DJ. Destroying the Dalek with a focused beam of rock and roll is a pretty good idea and his interactions with Peri, when he drops his Elvis impression. This scene shows us getting something this era didn't do very often. Two characters befriend each other. This is the only moment of pure happy human emotions in Revelation of the Daleks and maybe even that entire series. And this is something they wanted to avoid?! Why...