‘If someone had treated me the way he has treated you, I think I would have killed them.’ It’s stylish, macabre and occasionally quite funny. It’s also another Saward massacre where each of the characters introduced in the first episode are picked off. Orcini might wax lyrical about honour, but there’s little of the heroism of the fifth Doctor’s fatal struggle in The Caves of Androzani, and so ultimately it just becomes a much better take on Attack of the Cybermen, where the deaths may lack meaning but at least it’s fun to watch.
A strength of this over many of Saward’s previous scripts is that the Doctor and Peri get to meet most of the other characters, even if only briefly. Jobel lusts after Peri (and the DJ doesn’t); Tasambeker tells the Doctor to mind his own business; Grigory and Natasha fill him in on Davros’ plan, and he gets a better final moment with the dying mercenary Orcini than he did with Lytton. The upshot is even though they don’t actually do much, at least they play some role in the story – and the Doctor’s suggestion of the solution to the galaxy’s famine problem means he leaves having done some good.
Mostly, this seems to be Saward letting rip, putting into practice what he’s learned from Robert Holmes. I suspect the Jobel/Tasambeker relationship is a snide parody of the Doctor and Peri (some of the dialogue in their final exchange, which I won’t reproduce out of politeness, definitely sounds to me like he’s enjoying a private joke). In the wake of Return of the Jedi, Davros (Darth Vros?) is written more like the Emperor than ever – tempting people to the Dark Side, building clone bodies, using Force Lightning and cackling at his own evil plans.
It’s also full of fun, if underdeveloped, ideas – like zombie Daleks, Soylent Green, and the Daleks themselves turning up to save the day while the Doctor watches from the sidelines (it would be easy to suggest their failure to recognise the sixth Doctor is a comment on Saward’s own indifference to the character, but that’s probably a reach too far). If this had been the last episode of the series, as planned, it would have finished on a similar note to Survival, with the Doctor and companion planning their next trip.
It looks good, too. I stand by my view that it’s not as well directed as The Caves of Androzani. In particular, I don’t understand what is supposed to be going on in the scene where Grigory and Natasha are exterminated (they couldn’t see a Dalek was in the corner and it blows up because it shoots them?). I also think the DJ’s death – when he wanders out for no apparent reason in front of a Dalek and gets gunned down – needed some better blocking. These moments stand out, though, because the rest is very stylishly done.
It’s also a fitting climax to Season 22. The cancellation hangs over this, the accusations of inappropriate violence and awful stories mean it’s hard now to watch it without consciously looking out for things that justify (or refute) that verdict. I think there’s an element of truth to them, even if they were retrospective justifications for a decision already made. But it’s not like Season 21 wasn’t filled with victories “at a terrible cost”, or badly plotted and scripted episodes. It’s a shame Season 22 doesn’t have an evident success to point to (there’s nothing as good as The Caves of Androzani or Snakedance in it), but if Joe Public hadn’t been told by the BBC that their programme wasn’t very good anymore, I don’t think they would have noticed a massive slide in quality.
On the rewatch Season 22 is better than I think. The things I’ve disliked the most are scripts that feel like a long way from finished (Timelash, The Two Doctors and Vengeance on Varos in particular); a lot of dull direction, and, worst of all, the failure to establish a good Doctor/companion dynamic. Without that, the show doesn’t work nearly as well.
Next episode: Slipback