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3 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 641: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

Today feels extra special. It’s the start of a new story, the return of the Daleks after a five-year absence from the programme (brief cameo in The Five Doctors notwithstanding), Tegan’s final story, and it’s almost double-length! Yes, I’m going to be watching Resurrection of the Daleks in the 45-minute version that it was shown in on first broadcast (altered because of the BBC’s screening of the Winter Olympics, I think?). I’m not doing it this way because I’m trying to go for exact historical accuracy in this marathon, but more for nostalgic reasons. Having rented Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the local library in the autumn of 2003, my interest in Doctor Who had been sufficiently piqued. I’d rented out a few more tapes of the series (and for an idea of the effect that they had on me, I can’t remember which ones they were…), and had a read up online. I knew, therefore, that the Doctor’s greatest foes were the Cybermen… and the Daleks.

The first two DVDs of the programme that I purchased therefore were this story and The Tomb of the Cybermen, because I thought that they would give me a good idea about these two most famous of villains. I also wonder if this initial choice made an impact on the fact that I’ve always been more at home with 1960s and 1980s Doctor Who than the 1970s stuff that goes on in the middle? The original DVD release of this story came out with the as-broadcast two episodes, so that’s how I remember experiencing this tale the first time around. I’ve seen it maybe twice more since then, and I’ve been really looking forward to reaching it in the marathon.

There’s certainly a lot to like about this opening episode, isn’t there? We open with that gorgeous shot of the warehouses, the girders overhead, and then pan in to a man lighting up a cigarette. Already, thanks to the direction, there’s something somewhat eerie about all of this… and then a bunch of people dressed in ‘futuristic’ clothes come running in terror from one of the buildings, pursued by a group of policemen, who proceed to shoot them down… and take out the man with the cigarette too, just for good measure. I think I’m right in saying that Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest on-screen body count of any Doctor Who serial, and this opening scene certainly sets that stock out early on.

From there, the episode doesn’t let up, and I think the crowning moment is probably the crew of a space-prison setting up a barricade to fight from behind as the Daleks come blasting aboard the station. It’s the first time that we’ve ever seen the Daleks treated in such a manner - dropping them in to the kind of ‘gritty’ and ‘macho’ science fiction that was popular in the 1980s. The last time we saw them, in Destiny of the Daleks, they were trundling round a quarry and trying to save Davros from bombs. Here, they come gliding through the safety barrier and into the ambush, where they immediately manage to dispatch a couple of their opposition.

But then we get a couple of Dalek casualties, too! Seeing the two blown up in the entrance to the airlock is lovely, as is the way that reinforcements come along and just push these shells out of the way when recommencing the attack. And then you’ve got the destruction of the Dalek in the warehouse - which we get to see pushed out of a second-floor window and explode as it hits the street below. As if that weren’t enough, you then get the terror of the Dalek mutant, too, which prompts even the Doctor to take up arms. This certainly isn’t your standard Dalek tale.

Quite often, people talk about Eric Saward’s scripts for the programme being very bleak. This is, I think, the first time that we’ve really been able to see that in action - it’s certainly a lot bleaker than The Visitation was, and you can sort of track the through line from Earthshock to here. This is Saward taking the same starting point, and just really feeling free to go all out with it. I don’t think I’d want Doctor Who to be like this all the time, but having this type of tale peppered through the programme now and then is always nice, just to break things up a little. It’ll help make Tegan’s decision to go in tomorrow’s episode all the more relatable.

Today is also the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros. He’ll be seeing us through another two Dalek tales after this one, and I have to admit that I’m a fan of this ‘incarnation’ of the villain. I’d imagine it’s probably because I was first introduced to the character through Molloy’s portrayal (I’d seen all of his stories in the roll long before seeing either Wisher or Gooderson fill the part), and also because I’ve had the provalidge of seeing Terry give a performance first hand. When I was studying for my degree, we had to make a lot of short films, each one showing off a different technical aspect of film-making. For one of the pieces, we had to put together a trailer.

Of course, I decided to go ahead and create a Doctor Who trailer. We could only use footage that we’d created ourselves, though, so I set about getting shots in various locations that could be used. The crowning moment of the trailer was to be the TARDIS arriving, the door opening, and the light spilling out to illuminate Davros, sat alone in a dark space, ruminating on the mistakes he’s made in life. I wrote a short piece, and Terry was kind enough to come along and record it for me (in the back room of the shop I worked in at the time!). Just hearing him deliver the lines in a cold and calculating way (a performance honed by years of working with Big Finish, I’d guess, because it was incredibly subtle and nuanced, was a real joy, and when he finally broke out in to full on ‘rant’ mode… absolutely beautiful. For an hour afterwards, Terry crouched down behind the original Davros mask and operated the mouth, while I took shots of various angled and we synched it to the dialogue. It was something of an odd day, but a real highlight of the degree!

There’s a lot to like in Davros’ revival here, but it’s not quite as good as I remembered it. One of my favourite shots in this serial is the big ‘cryogenic chamber’ lifting up, and the smoke pouring out around Davros, revealing the scientist. I’d remembered it being the big introduction of Davros to the story, and thought that the chamber had appeared entirely filled with smoke up to then. Actually, though, he’s visible in the background of shots for ages before that happens, and it does lessen his arrival into the story. It reduces him to simply being a bit of the furniture that happens to be there, as opposed to exciting me about his return. I’m also somewhat baffled by his musing that he’d have loved to have seen the war between the Daleks and the Movellans… but he did! In his last story! Ninety years in suspension has obviously been playing a little with the grey matter! 

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