Monday, 28 May 2018

Resurrection of the Daleks

 Chapter The 88th... is a real low point.

The Daleks break in to a space station prison and release Davros to help them cure a virus that's wiping them out. Davros won't cooperate, so they quickly decide to kill Davros. But they don't manage to kill Davros. The Daleks also trap the Doctor and try to duplicate him to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords. But the Doctor gets away, and so they don't manage to do that either. The Daleks have also created lots of duplicates of Earth people who are going to infiltrate the planet, so they can invade. But the duplicates are unstable and can't stand the confusion in their mind, so they don't infiltrate the planet, and the Daleks don't invade. After escaping the duplication process, the Doctor decides - without much in the way of build up - that he's going to kill Davros. But he doesn't manage to kill Davros.

The only person who manages to actually achieve something is a likely kind of lad called Stien, a turncoat from the Dalek duplicates, who sets off the prison's auto-destruct and blows up anyone left alive. But this isn't that many people, as during all these previous half-events or non-events, almost everyone else has been killed, stupidly, brutally, and unnecessarily (some of them in ways that aren't suitable for a family audience). The only people left alive at the end are the TARDIS team and the three most amoral killers involved, who get away disguised as policemen no doubt to threaten many more innocent people in 1980s London. With hilarious consequences! Tegan is fed up with all this killing (although she didn't see the half of it) and decides to leave the Doctor and Turlough. Even she fails to go through with her decision, and runs back, just in time to see the TARDIS dematerialise and the Doctor leave her forever.

I watched the two-part version from the special edition DVD, the episodes separated by a week as per its first broadcast. Nobody in the house sat down at the beginning to watch it with me (we need Jodie's first season to be on television, I think, to inspire some enthusiasm for Doctor Who in them again), but my two sons (aged 8 and 11) came in partway through the first episode and watched to the cliffhanger. The eldest thought that the depiction of female characters who just get in the way and do nothing was "sexist stereotyping", and he and his brother had a long discussion after the credits about how the Doctor could easily have escaped from having a gun to his head at the end of episode 1, by using Ninja moves.

First-time round:
I first saw this story upon its broadcast debut on BBC1 in February 1984. The show was made as four 25 minute episodes, as was standard at the time, but because of scheduling changes necessitated by coverage of the Winter Olympics, it was broadcast weekly as two double-length episodes. I remember getting caught out by this: I would always do my homework once Doctor Who was finished, before going to bed; because of the double-length, though, there was a late finish, and I didn't have time to complete the homework, and got into trouble at school the following day. Another negative point about Resurrection of the Daleks! I may as well come clean: I don't like this story at all. When I saw it in 1984, though, as it had Daleks, shooting and explosions and I was eleven, I found it amazing. It didn't blow me away and stay in my memory like Kinda or Snakedance, though, which I hope means I had better taste even as a young 'un.

A lot of Doctor Who fans think - published polls will attest to this - that The Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani are the worst ever classic Doctor Who stories. But, those do at least have clearly defined villains, however rubbish their slug costumes or florid their dialogue; those villains have a plan, even if it's a plan as nutty as a squirrel's larder. Both have a hero, and in both that hero is actually the Doctor (who would have thunk it?!); he might be a bit wobbly, although there's a decent scripted reason for this in both instances, but in the end he pulls himself together to defeat the villainy which was reaching some kind of a climax. None of this is true, though, of Resurrection of the Daleks, which in my opinion is a good candidate for the worst ever classic Doctor Who story.

The Daleks in Resurrection don't have one clear plan, they have about four muddled ones; they're not the clear villain, because there's also Davros and Lytton vying for attention, scheming different and sometimes conflicting schemes from their domed co-conspirators. The Doctor isn't the hero; he skulks about barely involved on the outer boundary of the story for half the running time (this is often the case in writer Eric Saward's scripts), then spends another quarter strapped to a bubble-wrapped gurney. There are a couple of significant guest characters (the aforementioned Lytton and Rula Lenska's prison doctor) who he doesn't even meet. In the final quarter, none of the many plans are reaching any kind of climax: exactly the opposite, they're all being abandoned or going into reverse. If the virus is such a huge threat that the Daleks have gone to the trouble of freeing the potentially treacherous Davros to solve it, how come they can just abandon that plan and kill him when he won't play ball?

It's not just the plot structure that's bad, the tone is all wrong too. A small frivolous sidebar article in Doctor Who Magazine in the 1990s compared Resurrection to many movies written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It found that the Doctor Who story had a much higher body count than any of those violent movies. In the first two minutes of Resurrection, what appears to be three policemen have gunned down a dozen space people and one innocent bystander. Innocent bystanders get gunned down in Tarantino movies, of course: there's a great example in Reservoir Dogs, where the undercover cop who's got a little too deep into his gangster persona, fires back at a civilian shooting at him, and kills her. It's a devastating dramatic moment for the story and the character. The Doctor Who death, on the other hand, says more about the programme-makers than the piece; the old fellah lighting up his roll-up in a doorway being gunned down is just setting out the production crew's stall: look how macho we are, it chuckles at the viewer, look how callous and brutal this story's going to be - buckle up. It's adolescent. It's more callous and adolescent that anything Quentin ever produced, even at his most indulgent (not something to be proud of).

Thereafter, the script is studded with wannabe hard-boiled dialogue and cynical moments, which clunk and clank. There are no good guys here: the bomb disposal team look like they might step up to be plucky ordinary heroes, but then they all get killed. "Then they all get killed" must be typed out in the script's stage directions so many times. There's the cynical prison station's officers, but - no - they all got killed. Lytton's mercenaries look like they might be starting to turn on their Kaled bosses - no, they all just got killed. What about the Play School presenter? No, she deaded too. The worst bit of all, towards the end, is when the Doctor decides to commit an extra-judicial execution of Davros, for seemingly no other reason than that he might help the Daleks to survive a plague (which he only really knows from hearsay anyway). This is a huge step from all his previous moral quandaries about having the right to kill the Daleks or not, and light years from his normal moral standpoint. That he chickens out of doing it doesn't make it right, particularly when he's wholeheartedly blowing up Daleks with no qualms only seconds later.

Why is Resurrection better regarded than those other two 80s Who stories that sit in the relegation zone of every poll? Maybe a lot of fans are eleven-year-old boys at heart? Maybe anything with Daleks rates higher than anything without? Myself, I think it's about production values. Resurrection's are not as embarrassing as those other two stories mentioned above; in fact they're excellent: score, direction, locations, pacing, model and special effects work, all great. The cast are playing blinders too, given the material. An elegant gift box, then; it's just a shame about the contents.

Another story which picks up from a cliffhanger from the last broadcast show, and another where the Doctor has two companions, one girl and one boy. In both stories, the TARDIS lands by the waterside not far from docks.

Deeper Thoughts:
Is Lytton a duplicate? It probably won't light up anyone's imagination as much as the decades of the 'Is Deckard a replicant?' debate, but this latest was the first watch of Resurrection of the Daleks where I noticed the script may be suggesting that Lytton is just another of the Dalek duplicates, like Stien. As Lytton recounts to Davros, the Daleks now have need of humanoid troops because of the large number of Dalek casualties in their recent war with the Movellans. The Doctor later finds that the Daleks are operating a duplicating programme, seemingly at some scale, for the purpose of infiltration, but also for populating these troops. He asks Stein "Are you all duplicates?", to which Stien says "Yes". "Interesting, " replies the Doctor, "I wonder what happened to the real you?" Probably killed, if the treatment of the bomb disposal squad is anything to go by. This would also be an explanation for who the escapees were in the first scene, kidnapped victims to be duplicated and become troops, and that would explain why Lytton is annoyed that they have been slaughtered rather than just stunned.

This subjugation and mental control of their victims to expand their manpower is not a new trait of the Daleks, it's something they've done a few times before, most memorably the Robomen they hypnotically press gang in the 1960s; it's also something that's picked up in later stories too, with Dalek duplicates seen in Asylum of the Daleks, eye-stalk erections periodically emerging from their foreheads (Resurrection's troops have to make do with having their phallic extensions as part of their hats). Lytton's high status doesn't preclude his being just another duplicate either. There's later dialogue confirming that Stien, definitely a product of Dalek technology, is a member of Lytton's special guard; so, why shouldn't the Daleks' overall commander of troops also be a duplicate? Well, there is the issue that the process is unstable and the duplicates revert to their old personalities. If they are all unwilling conscripts, then this is a huge risk. Why are the Daleks taking such a risk? Let's say they are too arrogant to accept the flaws in their own technology - that fits both with their history and some comments made during this story. But would they really leave someone in control of their entire humanoid army if he might mutiny at any moment?

This is why I've always assumed up to now that Lytton is exactly what he appears to be: a hired mercenary, paid to lead the duplicate troops, who might be killed by the Daleks any minute (and he knows this), but who's currently surviving as he's useful to them in advising on tactics (and is presumably allowed free will so can give this advice effectively). This would fit with the implicit need they have to use organics for more emotional thinking, to break the logical impasse they've got into in their wider war. And every scene Lytton appears in is consistent with this; if he's under their control why would he be in conflict with them about what actions to take, and why would he be so keen to justify himself to them; if he's under their control, why bother giving him a command role at all, why not have a Dalek do that, and have every duplicate just be a grunt? At one point, the Black Dalek gives Lytton a mission with which to "redeem" himself for his past failures - is that really how you motivate someone you have under mental control? But then, towards the end, there's another line from the Black Dalek "Lytton grows too arrogant; his mind resists our control".

So, Lytton at some point was under their control. This, coupled with the explicit declaration that "all" the troops are Dalek duplicates, seems to leave no doubt: Lytton is a duplicate. This leaves only two possible reasons for how the Lytton scenes throughout the story have played out: either he's only just started to break free of control and revert to his old personality, and rather than kill him the Daleks have put up with this because of the need for his expertise at a key moment of their plan; or, he's always had slightly more sense of himself than the other duplicates, in order to fulfill his command role, but the Daleks now know he's breaking free even of that. Either way, though, logically it looks like the real Lytton must have been a mercenary anyway. So, they've duplicated someone to be a gun for hire, when he was already a gun for hire, and in so doing have created a dangerous instability in the commander of their troops. What it also means, more intriguingly, is there could be another real Lytton surviving out there, or at least an old life and old cohorts of his waiting for the duplicate to re-engage with. He's one of the very few to survive the story, so there's the possibility of a sequel which could be very interesting indeed...  oh.

In Summary:
An elegant gift box containing a turd.

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