‘This is lunacy!’ What is the main story of this? Is it the Supreme Dalek’s attempt to revive Davros coming up against Davros’ own plans for the destiny of the Daleks? Or is it the Dalek plan to conquer Gallifrey and Earth using duplicates? Either would have been ok, both just makes this into a tangled mess, denying each the chance to develop into anything interesting. The easy fix would have been to eliminate the duplicates plot as it’s the less interesting of the two, and to build out the possibility of Davros reengineering the Daleks. That’s the concept Saward explores further in his next Dalek script, and that’s picked up again in Remembrance of the Daleks. Here, because it’s so unfocused, it feels as throwaway as the invasion of time being reduced to an off-hand comment by the overly chatty Supreme.
Even the Daleks seem confused about what they’re meant to be doing. Given how crucial the Doctor’s duplication seems to the Supreme’s plan it beggars belief that it’s only Lytton’s casual intervention that stops a squad killing the Doctor and putting paid to the assassination of the Time Lord High Council. Meanwhile, the Supreme seems to have forgotten his promise last week that he will manipulate Davros into leaving the prison ship, and instead decides he needs to be exterminated.
I don’t like this. I don’t like side plots that abruptly stop when the last person dies. They seem futile, and there to kill time. I grasp that they’re supposed to demonstrate the implacable ruthlessness of the Daleks, and that could work if this was as focused as RTD’s Parting of the Ways script. But the way they’re presented here is a mess.
I don’t like Saward’s inability to write for the Doctor, a shocking weakness in the show’s lead writer (to be fair, there’s a glimmer of hope in the line, ‘To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to do with an army’ – which seems to have inspired Death in Heaven). The Doctor’s confrontation with Davros is meant to be the moral centrepiece of the episode: the Doctor so consumed with hatred and fear that, to Tegan’s horror, he abandons his own code to ‘murder’ Davros – and then is made to look weak when he can’t pull the trigger. Again, RTD handled something similar in The Parting of the Ways (‘Coward, any day’) but there it came across as the ninth Doctor’s final act of defiance against the Emperor; his Luke throwing down the lightsabre moment. Here, the Doctor gets mocked, distracted, locked out of Davros’ lab, declares himself an imbecile, and wanders off as if he’s lost interest. It’s possibly the worst characterisation of the Doctor in the entire series to date.
It’s the most egregious moment in an episode that also contains some of Saward’s more amusing macho/camp dialogue (‘Self-destruct chamber’; ‘What are you going to do?’; ‘Guess!’). The Supreme Dalek gets the most painful ever Dalek dialogue, sentences like, ‘He must be exterminated as soon as it is convenient to the Daleks’ and ‘Everything in the warehouse must be exterminated, including Lytton and his troopers’ seem to go on for weeks. Predictably, it all ends in another poison gas massacre for the second time this season. As the body count rises and Tegan declares it’s stopped being fun, it’s hard not to nod along.
On the other hand, Matthew Robinson rises to the implications of the script, with some decent visual storytelling (the pile of soliders’ corpses in the Dalek ship reinforcing the fact that the ones on Earth are duplicates). He makes the Dalek-on-Dalek scenes largely more interesting and dynamic than just two props shooting each other, and uses the same effect Graeme Harper applies to the fifth Doctor’s regeneration when Stien does his slo-mo death leap. This looks as good as anything in the 1980s so far. Most of the performances are decent too. Rodney Bewes gets a lot of flack, and ‘I can’t stand the confusion in my mind’ is a badly delivered bad line, but he makes an effort to both physically and vocally vary his performances as Stien depending on whether he’s meant to be a secret agent, a Dalek ally or a free man, while Chloe Ashcroft is convincingly clipped and professorial as Laird. So it’s basically stymied by a dreadful script, surely the worst from an incumbent script editor. A script that gives Janet Fielding fewer interesting things to do in her final story than Kamelion gets in his.
Next episode: Planet of Fire
Copy editing by Robert Dick. Thanks, Boaby. Thoaby.