‘This is madness!’ The centrepiece of Davison’s final season aims to do for the Daleks what Earthshock did for the Cybermen, restoring some credibility after a fairly derided previous appearance, and reinventing the monsters for a new generation. It will probably be obvious to anyone following this pilgrimage that I’m not the world’s biggest Saward fan, but even I have to admit this is quite powerful and stylish, from one of the show’s strongest cold opens, as Metropolitan Police officers gun down what look like refugees from Blake’s 7 on the rain-lashed streets of London, to the Daleks’ first appearance on board the prison ship, and the image of the new Davros, swathed in blue fog.
The bits that work work very well indeed. Molloy’s Davros is a step up from Gooderson’s. He’s not the cold, calculating scientist of Genesis of the Daleks, but has been reinvented as a comic strip villain complete with a truly, memorably grotesque mask that makes him look more like something from The Evil Dead than Dan Dare. To be clear: I think this is broadly a good thing. Davros worked in Genesis because of the grim realism of that story. He works here because it’s sci-fi horror and a smaller, subtler performance might have been a bit lost in the mix. His minor stroke when he’s told the outcome of the Movellan War immediately gives Molloy the chance to debut his signature gurgling splutter. It’s marvellously horrid.
Generally, the spaceship stuff works quite well, certainly as well as it’s ever been handled in Doctor Who. The Daleks bursting into the prison ship and gunning down the crew immediately gives them some oomph, and another chance to show off the exploded Dalek effect that debuted in The Five Doctors – this time, with two Daleks. Saward also tries to establish that even out of their casings the Daleks are deadly as one repeatedly necks Mike “Kinda hostage” Mungarven’s soldier (who can blame it?). The deadly airborne toxin that melts flesh and bone is gruesome and well realised and gives the events in space a real sense of danger, and Maurice Colbourne looks great as he berates his inferiors and commands ‘battle speed.’
True, the dialogue is either hammily melodramatic (‘Your bile would be better directed against the enemy, doctor’) or just very odd (‘I’d give anything for a glass of cool, spring mountain water’), and everyone seems pointlessly antagonistic without good reason. But the bits that really don’t work are – broadly – the scenes on Earth, and the plot. In turn: everything in the Shad Thames warehouse is annoyingly distracting from the real action in space. Keeping the Doctor there for half the story, having him waving a gun and joining up with the army while Tegan lounges round in bed and Rodney Bewes does his stuttering business is hard to marry up with the Daleks’ plot to resurrect Davros and restore them to power.
I think that’s a problem with the plot, though. The idea of the Daleks seeking out their creator to help cure them of the Movellan virus is straightforward, but on top of this the Supreme Dalek seems to have other, much fuzzier plans involving duplicates and the Doctor which is harder to fathom. In fact, everything the Supreme Dalek does seems baffling. Rather than instruct Lytton to bring Davros to the Dalek spaceship, ‘I have a plan that will force Davros to leave of his own free will.’ Why? It correctly identifies that Turlough will be useful bait for the Doctor, but then, ‘Allow the boy to roam freely.’ Why? Wouldn’t it be better just to take him hostage? And to add insult to injury it has the worst voice this side of Day of the Daleks. There are still 45 minutes to go, and perhaps time to untangle the plot threads Saward’s caught himself in, but as a first episode this has already undermined the elegance of it’s A-plot with too many convolutions.
Next episode: Resurrection of the Daleks – Part Two