Eric Saward’s previous scripts (The Visitation, Earthshock, Resurrection of the Daleks and Attack of the Cybermen) had all been fairly straightforward action/adventure yarns. So back in 1985, Revelation of the Daleks (a black, black comedy concerned with various forms of death) was unexpected, to say the least.
Saward hadn’t been particularly happy with the way Resurrection had turned out (as he felt he’d been strait-jacketed into adhering to previous Dalek continuity). Revelation is very much his own story and is all the better for it. Although, in fact, it’s not really a Dalek story as they only appear briefly throughout. Llike Genesis, it’s very much Davros’ story.
Terry Molloy is spellbinding throughout. Despite being stuck in a perspex tube for most of the two episodes, he’s a constant, malevolent presence. Graeme Harper tends to shoot him largely in close-up and this helps to create a sense of claustrophobia. Harper is also skillful in dealing with the Daleks. Seen head-on, they’re never that impressive – so Harper elects to shoot them close-up (so we only see a part of them gliding through the frame) or from low-angles (which makes them loom over people). Another interesting shot is when Davros offers Tasambeker immortality as a Dalek – and a Dalek eye-stalk comes into view on the right-hand side of the screen.
Although Harper’s direction isn’t as immediately impressive as The Caves of Androzani, there’s still more than enough interesting visual touches to mark this as something above the norm. And like Androzani, he’s assembled a first-rate cast.
As a devotee of Robert Holmes, Saward seems to have inherited one of Holmes’ familiar story traits – namely that of the double act. Indeed, Revelation is full of them (Kara/Vogel, Tasambeker/Jobel, Takis/Lilt, Orcini/Bostock, Grigory/Natasha as well as, of course, The Doctor/Peri).
Saward obviously enjoyed writing for these combinations and the only drawback is that the Doctor is pretty much superfluous to the first episode. He and Peri arrive, get attacked by a mutant, climb over a wall and then a statue appears to collapse on top of the Doctor – that’s the end of part one and we’re half-way through the story. In fact, the Doctor could have turned up a minute before the episode finished and it probably wouldn’t have impacted the story at all.
He has slightly more to do in the second episode, but it’s the likes of Orcini that Saward seems to be much more interested in. As is probably well known, Eric Saward never really cared for the Sixth Doctor and Revelation (either consciously or unconsciously) has virtually written him out of the narrative. His infamous Starburst interview from 1986 was the first time it became public knowledge that he didn’t consider Colin to be Doctor material and this was enough to sever their relationship forever. So for example, you knew that if Eric Saward was present for a Sixth Doctor DVD commentary, then Colin Baker wouldn’t be.
But if the Doctor struggles to make an impact, the rest of the characters fare much better. William Gaunt is lovely as the world-weary assassin Orcini, wishing for one final, honourable kill, accompanied by John Ogwen as his grimy squire, Bostock. They are hired by Kara (Eleanor Bron) and her fawning, obsequious secretary, Vogel (Hugh Walters) to assassinate the Great Healer (aka Davros). The initial meeting between Kara and Orcini is a good example of Saward’s new-found comic touch.
VOGEL: Be seated, gentlemen.
ORCINI: We prefer to stand.
KARA: Of course. How foolish. As men of action, you must be like coiled springs, alert, ready to pounce.
ORCINI: Nothing so romantic. I have an artificial leg with a faulty hydraulic valve. When seated, the valve is inclined to jam.
VOGEL: Perhaps you would like one of our engineers to repair it for you.
ORCINI: I prefer the inconvenience. Constant reminder of my mortality. It helps me to keep my mind alert.
KARA: Oh, Vogel, we have a master craftsman here. I feel humbled in his presence. Oh, no wonder your reputation’s like a fanfare through the galaxy.
ORCINI: I take little joy from my work. That I leave to Bostock. I prefer the contemplative life. It isn’t always easy to find, so, to cleanse my conscience I give what fee I receive to charity.
KARA: Such commitment. Oh, you are indeed the man for our cause.
Davros has been busy since we’ve seen him last, and when he and the Doctor finally meet he (like all villains down the ages) is more than happy to explain his evil scheme in great detail.
DAVROS: I am known as the Great Healer. A somewhat flippant title, perhaps, but not without foundation. I have conquered the diseases that brought their victims here. In every way, I have complied with the wishes of those who came in anticipation of one day being returned to life.
DOCTOR: But never, in their worst nightmares, did any of them expect to come back as Daleks.
DAVROS: All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition. They would understand, especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!
DOCTOR: With you as their emperor. But what of the lesser intellects? Or will they be left to rot?
DAVROS: You should know me better than that, Doctor.I never waste a valuable commodity . The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein. This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems.
DOCTOR: You’ve turned them into food?
DAVROS: A scheme that has earned me great acclaim.
DOCTOR: But did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?
DAVROS: Certainly not. That would have created what I believe is termed consumer resistance. They were grateful for the food. It allowed them to go on living.
DOCTOR: Until you take over their planets.
If some of the plot doesn’t really hang together (it’s hard to believe Davros would have rigged up the collapsing statue that pretended to crush the Doctor, it’s really not his style. And why was Tasambeker exterminated after killing Jobel? That’s what Davros told her to do) the overall experience is certainly a rich one and something tonally very different from the norm.
There are plenty of highlights, for example Alexei Sayle as the DJ broadcasting to the dead and Alec Linstead as Stengos, encased within a glass Dalek and slowly turning into a monster. It’s a pity that just as the series had hit imaginative new heights it was taken off-air for eighteen months. But the style that S22 had pushed all year had clearly gone too far for some at the BBC, so that when Doctor Who returned in 1986 it would be a radically different series.