Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.
Since one of the very first posts on this blog was an opinion piece on how good Remembrance of the Daleks is, it seemed only fitting for me to attempt to write a similar piece on the previous Dalek episode from the 80s, the ‘prequel’ to Remembrance, the Sixth Doctor story Revelation of the Daleks. Whilst this episode is visually fantastic, and features some great direction by Doctor Who legend Graeme Harper, there are some serious and glaring narrative flaws with this story – and given that writer Eric Saward is due to publish the novelisation of this story for the first time this year, it seems fitting to take a look at some of the narrative missteps in such an important episode in the Dalek chronology. So, without further ado, let’s get right into how to fix Revelation of the Daleks.
Totally Rework the Focus of the Story
What is perhaps most interesting about Revelation of the Daleks as a Doctor Who story is the lack of focus on the Doctor himself – in fact, the Doctor doesn’t even get involved in the main plot of the story until the second part (technically the third part, had Revelation used the standard classic series format) and this creates a strange feeling of disassociation for the audience. Whilst the denizens of Necros and the goings-on of the strangely technicolour funeral parlour are interesting, and the in-depth look at Galactic politics and the activities of scheming assassins even more so, Revelation seems to put what should be the primary focus of any episode of Doctor Who – the Doctor and the companion – on the back seat, behind even the most minor of secondary characters. For those who have listened to Big Finish’s Dalek Empire series, which depicts stories of other characters fighting the Daleks without the Doctor, the feel is somewhat similar for the first part of this episode, aside from when the episode cuts back to the Doctor and Peri.
An unfortunate side effect of this is that scenes of the Doctor and Peri trudging around the exterior of Tranquil Repose seem like little more than distractions from the main story, as if Doomsday had frequently cut to scenes of Canary Wharf janitorial workers, or if Blink had frequent scenes involving the man who owned the video store watching his crime films. Whilst Doctor-lite episodes have worked in the past, Revelation is not wholly committed to the idea, and so the first part ends up a bit jumbled. Had the episode been written by someone who was more appreciative of Colin Baker’s Doctor, then ideally the Doctor and Peri should have had far more screen time, and perhaps got involved with the main story a little sooner, in order to link the various plot elements together in a way that the audience will understand. Although the scenes inside Tranquil Repose are well shot and feature some great actors and actresses including Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift and Colin Spaull, the audience is thrown into this strange world without a reliable guide to lead them through the complicated story. However, the scenes featuring the Daleks themselves, particularly the Glass Dalek, are the most chilling of the early scenes. Talking of which…
Put More Emphasis on the ‘Revelation’
Whilst Resurrection of the Daleks was named almost as a pun, reflecting the fact that the Daleks had not been used in the show for some time beforehand regardless of the fact that there was no ‘resurrection’ of any kind in the episode, Revelation of the Daleks does at least have some kind of ‘revelation’ involved – the idea that Davros has created a whole new faction of Daleks, an idea that would be critical in the setup for Remembrance. Unfortunately, this idea is somewhat buried in amongst the sheer mass of plot elements going on in this story. To briefly summarise, the first episode devotes somewhat equal time to at least 3 different subplots – the activities in the funeral home surrounding Jobel and Tasambeker, the mission undertaken by Natasha and Grigory to find her father’s body (now metamorphosed into the Glass Dalek), and Davros’ plan to manipulate Kara and her company into distributing his cannibalised food in the guise of the ‘Great Healer’. However, there are also other sub-subplots, including the Doctor and Peri’s jaunt through the exterior of Necros and Kara’s subsequent plan to hire Orsini to assassinate Davros.
This is a lot of ongoing plot threads to be contained within one episode, and this isn’t even mentioning the isolated Dalek scenes, or the jarring broadcasts of the infamous DJ (more on him later). Ultimately, the episode suffers from the two-part format that was in use at the time – ideally, the story could have condensed Jobel and Tasambeker’s story into the first episode, with the Doctor’s involvement being accelerated so that he meets Natasha by the end of the first part. Also, whilst they are excellent, Davros’ interactions with Kara should have fed into the cliffhangar of the second episode – perhaps have the ‘Great Healer’ persona be a more effective disguise for Davros instead of simply a rubber duplicate of his horribly deformed and instantly recognisable face – so that the reveal of Davros is more of a surprise. This would ultimately lead to the ‘Revelation’ of the new faction of Daleks being a more critical plot development rather than simply being buried in the mix.
Hang the DJ
Perhaps the most complicated element to this story, the ridiculous DJ character – who seems so distinctly bizarre and out of place that even characters in the story comment on his borderline anachronistic intrusions into the episode. Played by Alexei Sayle, this character does actually have some intriguing depth to him that is gradually revealed as the story goes on, particularly once he meets Peri. However, for most of the time before that, his scenes are jarring to say the least – although he contributes to the wacky and deranged nature of Tranquil Repose, many viewers now might be put off by the character.
However, he does contribute to some great action scenes in the second episode, with his sonic cannon of “pure Rock’n’Roll” being used to destroy several Daleks in spectacular fashion. We are also given a surprisingly tragic death for this character, who by this point had somewhat redeemed his odd introduction by opening up to Peri as perhaps the only truly sane human in the episode, who just wants to try to connect with Earthern culture after being stuck on Necros for so long.
Overall, Revelation of the Daleks a troubled masterpiece. Whilst the episode in its current state stands at a respectable 6 or 7 out of 10 according to the majority of fans, the concepts and ideas along with most of the characters and plot developments should have made this story a solid 8 or 9. Unfortunately, bad pacing, lack of clear focus and an abundance of subplots drag this story down. Hopefully this installment of How to Fix can give an idea of what could have been…
So that concludes the latest How to Fix, I hope you enjoyed and if you did be sure to leave a like. Check out the links below for more Doctor Who related content and other installments in the How to Fix series. Thanks for reading!
How To Fix
- How to Fix – Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks
- How to Fix – Star Trek: First Contact
- How to Fix – The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End
- How to Fix – Attack of the Clones