There are so many great aspects of Revelation of the Daleks I could write about. Davros’ (Terry Molloy) evolution from fascist dictator to corporate tycoon. The grotesque exploration of sex and the body (covered here in expert detail by Jack Graham). And how, through the DJ (Alexei Sayle), the Doctor’s (Colin Baker) adventures are viewed and evaluated on-screen; a recurring theme (Vengeance on Varos, Timelash, The Trial of a Time Lord) in an era when the show was under continual scrutiny, and pressure to prove its worth as television entertainment. But instead, I’m going to cover what I think are the script’s shortcomings and point out how they could be fixed, because that’s the kind of thing I like to do.
Firstly, the Doctor features far too little. I know this is an oft-repeated complaint, but it’s true, and especially irksome as the solution seems so evident (to me anyway). Revelation features many great characters, but there are a few too many, and they rob the Doctor of valuable screen time. One of them is a doctor himself, which makes it all the more bizarre that it didn’t seem obvious that the Doctor could have been given many of this character’s duties within the story. The character who most easily could have been cut is Natasha (Bridget Lynch-Blosse). Her sole function within the story is to infiltrate Tranquil Repose and find out what has become of her father, Arthur Stengos (Alec Linstead). When she discovers his mutilated head inside a Dalek casing, she is given the big emotional scene of the story, as she faces the horrific results of Davros’ experimentation, and is forced to surrender to her father’s demands as he begs her to take his life. The scene is very affecting due to the performances and grisly special effects. We’re able to sympathise with Natasha, even though we haven’t really got to know her, and can imagine the horror and injustice of witnessing a loved one being robbed of all they are; their body reduced to a grotesque parody of the human form. Even so, this scene should have really been the Doctor’s. He is at Tranquil Repose for the exact same reason as Natasha, to discover what has become of his old, dear friend, Arthur Stengos, and we’re far more invested in him as a character. We would feel far more for the Doctor than Natasha if he was given this big emotional moment, and I’m certain Colin Baker would have acted his multicoloured socks off. Imagine how much more powerful that scene could have been with the Doctor being forced to kill his old friend rather than let him suffer the fate of being turned into a Dalek. I’m certain it would be talked about for years to come as one of the great moments in the show’s history. We’ve already seen the Doctor’s moral outrage over Davros’ experiments and his desire for justice after he encounters the Mutant (Ken Barker). A darker, more vengeful Doctor is hinted at when Peri (Nicola Bryant) mourns the fact she was forced to kill the mutant in defence. The Doctor gives an angered look and replies, “YOU had no choice”, with the emphasis on “YOU” indicating that the person who is responsible is in a whole heap of trouble when the Doctor gets hold of him. Witnessing an even grislier fate befall his friend would have only increased the Doctor’s fury. The Doctor is the script’s protagonist (or should be), and if you’re going to send your protagonist on an adventure to discover the fate of his friend, and end with him being outraged at the horrors he’s uncovered, he has to be there when his friend’s fate is revealed. It could have served as a key emotional beat in a story about a morally outraged Doctor setting out to avenge the deaths of innocent people and friends. Again, I’m sure Colin would have relished this acting opportunity, and it would have fitted perfectly with his unique, darker, more emotionally unstable interpretation of the character.
So if we cut Natasha, don’t we have to cut Grigory (Stephen Flynn), Natasha’s alcoholic, medically minded, grave-robbing accomplice? Would that not mean we’d also be robbed of such gloriously grotesque lines as, “When they slice me open, I’ll know the name and function of each organ that plops out”? Again, there is an easy solution to this. Another character that really bothers me is Lilt (Colin Spaull). Lilt is a sadistic maniac who tortures people for fun. He is best friends with Takis (Trevor Cooper); a more sympathetic character, who loves flowers, and secretly plots to depose Davros from his position as the head of Tranquil Repose by reporting his location to the Daleks loyal to the Supreme, and thus returning Tranquil Repose to the happy workplace it once was. At the end of the story, the Doctor, after revealing that the flowers that grow in abundance on the planet, when refined, produce protein, leaves Takis and Lilt in charge to farm the planet and help alleviate famine in the galaxy. Wait a minute. He leaves who in charge? Takis and…Lilt? Lilt the sadistic maniac? Yes, that’s right, the Doctor leaves a man in charge whom we’ve previously seen begging for permission to cut open a woman’s face. I’d like to see someone argue that this isn’t a bit of an issue with the script. My solution? How about give Lilt, Grigory’s characteristics? Tranquil Repose is a mortuary, yes? So why can’t Lilt be an attendant who is friends with Takis, knows of his plans to depose Davros, and is fearful for their safety? His fearfulness would give him the same nervous disposition as Grigory, justifying his drinking habit, and his position would explain his medical knowledge, allowing him to spout the same colourful dialogue.
Lastly, that episode one cliffhanger and that dodgy polystyrene statue falling on the Doctor. Is there anyone who likes that? What’s the point in it? Davros says it’s another part of his scheme to lure the Doctor to Tranquil Repose. But he was coming anyway, wasn’t he? Because he was suspicious about Stengos? I think that’s incentive enough, Davros ole buddy. You should have saved your money; the Doctor says that thing must have cost a packet (perhaps the galaxy has a shortage of polystyrene as well as food). Okay, so they needed a cliffhanger to episode one. Well, if the episode had been rewritten so the Doctor and Peri sneak into the catacombs to discover Stengos, instead of Natasha and Grigory, which makes perfect sense as they’re there to investigate his death, and snooping around catacombs seems a very Doctory thing to do, then it could have ended with the Doctor faced with the dilemma of whether to kill his old friend and end his suffering or let him live as a Dalek. Classic cliffhanger material, surely? Don’t get me wrong, the Doctor discovering the planet where he dies and having to face his own mortality is a great idea, but it’s another case of Eric Saward stuffing his scripts with too many underdeveloped ideas (I’m looking at you Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks); the concept deserves more than just a dodgy cliffhanger. Moffat did three series about it, didn’t he?
An extra note. Why didn’t Graeme Harper cut to a shot of this from a better angle? If you’re going to have the Doctor administering some ballistic therapy to a Dalek, Arnie-style, you wanna get a good angle. Missed out on a great shot there, Grae.