Resurrection of the Daleks

“Resurrection of the Daleks” is a bleak story, with a plot that doesn’t always hold together. Set in both a run-down warehouse in London in the present day and on a similarly run-down space station in the future, “Resurrection” details the plans and actions of the Daleks in the aftermath of their war with the Movellans, who were last seen in “Destiny of the Daleks”.

For those who remember that story, the Daleks were locked in a logical impasse with the Movellans which the Daleks hoped to break by reviving Davros. Never mind that Daleks are not logical and should never have been trapped in a logic loop at all, or that Davros should never have survived centuries exposed to the elements, no matter how sophisticated his hibernation system was supposed to be. Writer Eric Saward deserves credit for following up the earlier storyline and for having the Daleks lose the conflict due to their organic nature. The Movellans developed a virus that attacked Daleks, wiping out untold numbers and scattering them across the galaxy. It’s a bold move to have Doctor Who’s oldest enemies to be portrayed as such underdogs, and it’s interesting to see them employing humanoid soldiers, including the mercenary Lytton who leads the Dalek troopers. Having been defeated by biological warfare, the Daleks employ it in turn, attacking the human defenders of the space station with a gas that seems to dissolve flesh, killing the unfortunate victim soon after contact. It’s a nasty visual image, whatever it is.

The Dalek attack is intended to free Davros from his imprisonment so he can use his knowledge of Dalek physiology to devise a cure for the Movellan virus. The Black Dalek even goes so far as to say that without Davros, the Daleks have no future, and as such they are prepared to humor him and allow him to remain on the space station to work, despite the presence of surviving humans who very nearly set off the station’s self-destruct. The Daleks also provide Davros with engineers to assist in his work, as well as Dalek tissue to experiment upon. Of course, Davros being who he is, he immediately starts amassing his own power base and plotting to create Daleks anew rather than save the old version of his creations.

All of this is well and good, and follows nicely from events of the earlier story. Except for a few small details. Where does Davros get his device that controls the minds of humans and Daleks alike? He had no such device in “Genesis of the Daleks”, nor in “Destiny”, and it’s very unlikely that he was able to build it during his trial and certainly not during his cryogenic imprisonment. It’s a niggling detail that needed an explanation. And then there is the black Dalek’s sudden change of mind in part four when he orders Lytton to kill Davros, insisting that he must see the body to be sure Davros is actually dead. So do the Daleks have a future without Davros or not? They expend time and resources to rescue their creator, only to turn on a dime and decide to exterminate him at the first sign of trouble. Did they expect him to cooperate with no trouble? They had to have known better, and the fact that they apparently did not makes the Daleks look rather foolish. Either that, or they just can’t make up their minds.

And then there is the plan to hide the Movellan virus. The Daleks have obtained samples, which they store far away from themselves for safety reasons. Rather than pick a deserted planet or a safely sealed vault on their ship, they pick a densely populated present day Earth and hide the virus samples there. They then duplicate a bomb disposal squad sent to investigate and use them to guard the warehouse. So how long are the samples supposed to remain on Earth? Doesn’t it seem likely that the squad members will be relieved at some point by replacements or else just  want to go home for the evening, and will therefore be missed if they don’t? In other words, the bomb disposal squad could never be of more than temporary value. Their disappearance and radio silence would eventually be investigated, leading to the discovery of either the duplicate humans, the virus, or both. This subplot about hiding the virus cylinders on Earth is poorly thought-out in my view, and makes far less sense than any number of other options. It exists seemingly to allow the story to open on a bizarre note as the fleeing duplicates are gunned down in the street, and also to allow the story to be set up with one of those famous Doctor Who staples of a story taking place on both contemporary Earth and the future, which hooks the audience into watching so they can learn how the two storylines are connected. Really, the Earth sections of “Ressurection” make no real sense, despite several lines of dialogue attempting to justify them.

The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough are drawn into the story by being ensnared in the Daleks’ time corridor at the end of “Frontios”. One assumes they were headed towards present day Earth at the time, otherwise the question of how the Daleks found them at the end of time and the edge of space would have to be raised. The Doctor breaks free and lands on Earth, going to investigate the origin of the time corridor that snared the TARDIS. And for two episodes he dithers around the warehouse, going nowhere fast. Certainly he spends episode two hunting for a lone Dalek mutant and so he’s doing something useful, but the main plot is taking place while he’s trapped in the subplot, which is frustrating to watch. When he finally does make it to the Dalek ship, he’s immediately captured and taken for duplication, where he’s shown already-existing duplicates of Tegan and Turlough. Just when did the Daleks duplicate those two, since neither are ever captured over the course of the story, and neither have met Daleks before? The Doctor insists that the duplication process will destroy his mind, and one is forced to presume that the same would be true for duplicated humans. But Tegan and Turlough are alive and well and in full possession of their faculties. The story contradicts itself badly on this point, and on any reason for having duplicates in the first place. Duplication of humans is meant to ensure total Dalek control thanks to a body and mind conditioned to obey, but the duplicate of Stein shakes off Dalek conditioning and helps the Doctor! So are the Dalek duplicates unwaveringly loyal creations or are they not? And why create a facsimile human and then brainwash the facsimile? Why not just brainwash the original? The duplicate subplot makes even less sense than the warehouse/virus subplot. The script tries to paper over this by noting that the duplicates are unstable, but would the Daleks put such an ambitious plan into action without testing the technology first? I doubt it.

Then again, the Daleks duplicate the Doctor so he can assassinate the members of the high council. They plan to attack Gallifrey and the Time Lords in their weakened state? Dalek arrogance only explains so much, so perhaps they really are stupid enough to employ unstable, unfinished technology in their grand schemes of conquest. That doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the Daleks though.

Several guest characters need to be discussed at this point. The return of Davros yet again was pretty much inevitable at this point, but given that the story picks up where “Destiny” leaves off, that’s more the fault of Terry Nation than Eric Saward. And to be fair, the presence of Davros is what generates the plot. Terry Molloy isn’t as good as Michael Wisher, but he improves on Gooderson and does a good job of portraying both Davros’ quiet intensity and loud insanity. Stein, the Dalek agent, is a puzzle since he’s an artificially created human who is fully aware that he’s a Dalek puppet. So why does he keep up his act of being afraid when there’s no one around to witness it? Why does his conditioning degrade to the point that he helps the Doctor? He’s an artificial lifeform, programmed by the Daleks to act in a certain way. He shouldn’t have free will. His behavior doesn’t make sense.

Then there’s Lytton, the mercenary who commands the Dalek troopers. He’s interesting to watch, given that he talks back to the Daleks and is smart enough to recognize that his number will be up one day, and he’d better prepare for that. He’s one of the few characters to survive the bloodbath that is this serial, and he’s last seen walking down a London street with this two henchmen disguised as policemen. Like Davros and Stein, Lytton is well-acted, which helps raise the character up above the stock mercenary character that he actually is.

I haven’t even touched on the regular characters yet. None of them really accomplish much, though they aren’t pushed to the sidelines as much as the Doctor would be in the next Dalek story to come along, also written by Eric Saward. The Doctor’s only real contribution to the plot is to try and kill Davros by shooting him at point blank range, something the Doctor is unable to do. Turlough manages to keep himself alive, but ultimately accomplishes nothing. Tegan is disappointingly short on good story material since this is her final story, but she gets an excellently written and acted departure scene, where she tells the Doctor that “it’s stopped being fun”. There’s precious little evidence on screen that Tegan ever found traveling with the Doctor fun, but the scene is still moving and effective.

So is “Resurrection of the Daleks” a decent Doctor Who serial? On some levels perhaps. It’s a mixed bag. The A plot about Davros is quite strong and a nice bit of continuity with the last Dalek story to be screened. The various details about the Daleks and their current status are interesting and worthy of exploration. On the other hand, the plot concerning the duplicates and the virus storage in the warehouse don’t really stand up to scrutiny, which makes “Resurrection” a story with a strong and a weak half that compete to make the overall serial weaker than it should have been. Some strong performances by the major guest characters probably save the episodes. Good direction and fairly strong production values also help salvage this story.

“Resurrection of the Daleks” is a victim of some ill thought out ideas, and really needed to go through some more revisions before hitting production.

Posted in 5th Doctor - Peter Davison

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