An Analysis of Resurrection of The Daleks
With thanks to Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 301
"Resurrection of the Daleks" was broadcast as two forty-five-minute episodes on the 8th and 15th February 1984. The story was initially very well received, accruing high audience appreciation figures and later topping the DWM season poll for that year. The author, Eric Saward, however, was not happy about this honour, publicly stating that a vote for "Resurrection" was a vote for continuity, and that "The Caves of Androzani", in his opinion, was a much better story. As we shall see, not only did history prove him right, but an in-depth look at the serial reveals a script and production which were flawed from the outset.
"Resurrection of the Daleks" (originally called "Warhead", though also referred to as "The Return"), was troubled from the very beginning. The first problem arose when Dalek creator Terry Nation took against some of the ideas Saward had included in his script. The death of Davros, the introduction of a gold Emperor Dalek, and the fact that Daleks could be destroyed by automatic gunfire, were just some of the elements that did not meet with his approval. As a consequence, Saward was forced to make substantial rewrites.
The next problem came in the form of an electricians' strike. This necessitated extreme scheduling changes, which resulted in the story finally being recorded in late 1983 and broadcast in early 1984. Originally slated for the end of Season Twenty, "Resurrection" was, according to Terence Dudley, to have featured the shape changing robot Kamelion, revealing it to be a product of Dalek technology, and consequently under their control. The post-strike re-shuffle, however, meant that firstly, "Resurrection" was to be shifted into Season Twenty-One, and secondly, that the story would no longer be directed by Peter Grimwade, the job now falling to Matthew Robinson. This latter decision was apparently due to the director having not invited producer John Nathan-Turner out to a lunch with the rest of the story's cast and crew. As a result of this perceived snub, JN-T made the decision that Grimwade was never to direct for Doctor Who again.
Saward, who was then also Doctor Who's script editor, thought this action unfair and as a consequence commissioned Grimwade to write a script for Season Twenty-One, which would ultimately become "Planet of Fire". At some point Saward also decided to remove Kamelion from his Dalek story, and give the character over to Grimwade. Why this change took place has still yet to be revealed; however, the decision was to have a dramatic impact on "Resurrection's" structure and plot, which, together with the rewrites insisted on by Nation, and other behind-the-scenes pressures, was to result in a story shot through with logistical and ethical uncertainty.
1. The Doctor, Tegan And Turlough
It has often been noted that the Doctor and companions are given very little to do in "Resurrection", with Saward focusing far more on original characters such as Stien, Mercer and Lytton. The Doctor spends most of the adventure drifting around the margins, stalking Dalek creatures and looking for Turlough; he only really comes into the story much at all with regard to the somewhat redundant plotline about the Dalek plan to assassinate the Time Lord High Council and the Episode 2 confrontation with Davros (of which more later). Tegan and Turlough are similarly ill-treated; both are written out fairly peremptorily, with Turlough's wander about the Dalek ship and the space-station contributing little to the action (possibly because the character was originally meant to leave at the end of "Enlightenment"). Tegan, for her part, receives a small knock on the head and spends the next fifty minutes malingering on a cot; the fact that she effectively suggests that one of the soldiers should get into bed with her implies an unfortunate (possibly unintentional) ulterior motive for her actions. This inattention to the regulars is even more of a problem when we consider that a regular character's final story is usually very much focused around them; compare "Resurrection" with, for instance, "Earthshock", "Planet of Fire", and "The Caves of Androzani". True, the decision to write Tegan out came quite late in the day, but it still does not change the fact that all three of the alleged main characters are only perfunctorily involved.
The most obvious explanation for this is JN-T's attitude to the characters. JN-T had viewed the previous lead actor, Tom Baker, as being out of control, and consciously went to the opposite extreme with Davison and his co-stars. This can clearly be seen in the way the main characters are dressed; the Doctor, in his clean, pressed beige outfit, stands out like a sore thumb in the company of Stien, Colonel Archer and Professor Laird, in their lived-in, functional clothing. The same can be said of his companions; Turlough, the "sly schoolboy", has been wearing the same school uniform since "Mawdryn Undead", and Tegan, although she had been allowed more variety in her style of dress, has always been placed in outfits intended both to highlight her character as a brash, somewhat obnoxious Australian and to, as it were, appeal to the dads (although, given JN-T's no-hanky-panky policy, it is very much a case of look but don't touch). Unlike the other women in the serial-- and a bit oddly for someone who spends her time either fighting or fleeing monsters-- Tegan is dressed in a leather skirt, a sleeveless top, high heels and far too much makeup even for 1983. The way in which all three actors are costumed thus highlights JN-T's efforts to control, not only the characters, but also the actors themselves.
These efforts to control bled into the relationship which the writers, production team and actors had with each other. According to Matthew Robinson, in an interview printed in DWM (issue 232), at one point during the location filming of "Resurrection" he had spoken to Saward about a shot he had intended to do, which wasn't strictly in accordance with the script. However, when JN-T saw them speaking to each other he threw a temper tantrum, "and absolutely tore me to pieces!" recalled Robinson, "He said that I had no reason whatsoever to discuss shots with the writer and if I wanted to discuss shots I should do it with him. The only thing I could discuss with Eric was the script," Robinson continued. "Well, I thought it was an absolutely ludicrous point. You might have those sort of divisions in Hollywood, but you certainly don't have them in BBC television drama. He was very, very angry, shaking with anger. I literally thought I was going to get the sack. I wouldn't have minded really. Frankly I almost walked off the show. You can't go around treating people like that, it's quite ridiculous." As well as explaining how Saward got away with employing, and giving the Kamelion storyline to, Peter Grimwade (as JN-T would have been unable to legitimately complain about Saward's decisions in the scriptwriting area), this self-imposed demarcation reveals much about the way in which behind-the-scenes politics affected the production. It is not surprising, therefore, that Saward chose to sideline the regular characters and concentrate on the ones over which he, personally, had more control.
It would, however, be unfair to pin the blame entirely on JN-T's personality. Saward is well-known as something of a Darwinist, in the sense that he is drawn to characters with a kill-or-be-killed, survival-of-the-fittest mentality. The fifth Doctor was, however, explicitly characterised as a liberal, a philosophy which Saward had difficulty in coming to grips with: frequently, Sawards' scripts have the Doctor dithering and then engaging in a violent act, strongly suggesting Saward's conflict between his desire to write a story featuring a Darwinist action-hero and his knowledge that the character should be portrayed as anything but. Saward's avoidance of the Doctor therefore does not merely stem from his desire to prevent further conflicts with JN-T, but also from his discomfort with the character in and of himself.
JN-T's efforts to keep control over the production and Saward's dislike of the character of the Doctor, consequently, meant that "Resurrection" is a story which could easily have been written for Terry Nation's abortive Daleks-and-SSS series. Rather than pit the Doctor against his old enemies, the script sidelines him for the most part, concentrating on such original characters as Mercer, Lytton and Stien.
The characterisation of Stien, however, incurs almost exactly the opposite difficulty to that of the regulars. Where the Doctor and companions are portrayed along very strict, controlled lines, Stien's behaviour is almost unbelievably inconsistent. It is never made clear whether Stein is consciously working as a spy, whether he is unconscious of the fact that he is a Dalek duplicate, whether his role as a spy inadvertently invoked his original personality, or perhaps some combination of all three. Furthermore, although Stien's demise is one which points to Saward's fascination with Darwinist principles-- the message ultimately being that the species survives not through the peaceful resolution of difficulties with its enemies, but through the blowing-up of space-stations-- this is again not really articulated. The author appears to have either run out of time to make the character of Stien work, or to have no real interest in doing so.
The problems with Stien are encapsulated in the opening sequence. Although the scenes of the policemen gunning down the Dalek slave-workers is beautifully done, playing on 1980s concerns about police brutality, it sacrifices consistency for spectacle. If Stien is intended to be a duplicate, then the only possible explanation for the sequence is to lend credibility to his "escape" for the benefit of outsiders, or else to convince the conditioned Stien that he really is a fugitive. However, since no one survives to witness the escape, the first explanation is rendered invalid, and in the second instance, one does have to wonder why Lytton subsequently appears to lie to a member of his personal guard about the purpose of the exercise, complaining that the prisoners should not have escaped and lamenting the loss of "valuable specimens" rather than reporting that Stien is now in position (and why use machine-pistols, which could easily have wounded or killed Stien?). One also has to ask what the point of introducing the slave-workers is at all; they are never shown or referred to subsequently. It would appear that Saward is attempting to work in elements of the abandoned Kamelion storyline with a "Destiny of the Daleks"/“The Dalek Invasion of Earth”-style plot about a Dalek slave-worker uprising; the result, while visually appealing, is inconsistent and poorly strung together.
The problems with the portrayal of Stien tie in with wider inconsistencies in the Dalek duplicates plotline. The Daleks can apparently duplicate the soldiers in next to no time (twelve seconds elapse between Sgt. Calder's capture and his duplicate's appearance) but take most of Episode 2 to duplicate the Doctor. They have duplicated Tegan and Turlough's bodies without even meeting them. The process appears to be a fairly lengthy and pointless one, also, in which the original person's mind is recorded on reel-to-reel tape, a duplicate body made and the recording played into the duplicate; why the Daleks do not simply play the recording, suitably altered, back into the body of the original, is never explained.
Significantly, however, these inconsistencies would not have occurred had Saward stuck with the original Kamelion plotline. The soldier, being a Kamelion-style robot, could have changed his appearance instantly, and the recording scene would therefore become simply an effort to drain knowledge from the Doctor's mind, in an elaboration on "Genesis of the Daleks". The replacement of the Kamelion plotline with the duplicate one also raises problems of consistency. One has to ask why an embattled force desperate to ensure their own survival are wasting time and resources on making duplicates at all when, as demonstrated in numerous Dalek stories, people are quite willing to work for the Daleks if the price is right; were they simply too tight to pay Lytton his usual fee? It also seems a little pointless for a species in their desperate position to be engaging in elaborate and ill-thought-out schemes to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords (and it is never explained how exactly Davros and the Daleks have learned of their existence); a similar parallel would be for Hitler to start implementing plans to wipe out the British Royal Family while hiding in his bunker during the 1945 siege of Berlin. Also, as the Time Lords would simply appoint a new Council if the old one were to be assassinated, one wonders why the Daleks didn't instead establish the duplicate Doctor as a fifth column on Gallifrey (he is after all the Time Lords' President) to pass information and technology on to them. The problems with the duplicate plotline can effectively be summed up by the conversation between the Doctor and the Supreme Dalek at the very end of the story. For no apparent reason, the Supreme Dalek contacts the Doctor and boasts about how there are Dalek duplicates all over the Earth; while this idea is a clever one which raises a few story possibilities (as well as explaining why Britain has been governed by control freaks for the past twenty or so years), these are never developed, and in fact it seems like a fairly pointless activity for the Daleks to engage in at this juncture.
Saward's difficulties with "Resurrection" thus do not simply stem from on-set personality conflicts or inability to empathise with the story's protagonists, but with his problems in performing necessary rewrites to an acceptable standard. Had Saward retained the Kamelion plotline, these inconsistencies would never have appeared; had he rewritten it another way, it might have made a different sort of sense. As it is, Saward's lack of interest in the Stien/Dalek duplicates plotline means that it is poorly written, inconsistent and, ultimately, achieves nothing.
The character of Lytton, by contrast, is virtually impeccable. Where the scenes with the Doctor are clumsily scripted, Lytton's pragmatic sense of realism is well portrayed; the sequences between Lytton, Kiston and Davros almost make up for the flaws in the rest of the story. Where Stien is poorly characterised, Lytton's motivations are clear throughout. Saward's interests visibly lie, not with the Doctor's liberalism or Stien's divided loyalties, but with Lytton's amoral pragmatism.
The choice of the late Maurice Colbourne for the role added considerably to the character. Although Saward did not recognise this and later criticised the performance, Colbourne was known for being a subtle actor who placed a good deal of emphasis on subtext; as well as receiving critical acclaim for playing the lead in the complex and surreal series Gangsters and for his role in the powerful 1983 coming-of-age story Johnny Jarvis, he had worked in the past with the likes of Alistair Sim, Ridley Scott and 1960s avant-garde playwrights David Hare and Jim Haynes. This background consequently means that Colbourne imbued the character's every scene with unspoken motivations; in Episode 2, for instance, a more conventional response to Stien's "How long before it's your turn?" might have been surprise or anger, but Colbourne smiles slightly at the words, implying that the character has anticipated the Daleks' plan to destroy him even before they themselves have formulated it. Lytton's reactions to his conversations with the Supreme Dalek make it clear that he has little respect for its tactical ability-- in this area, he is well ahead of the Daleks-- and, without saying anything, he also manages to convey that he realises that the Supreme Dalek is sending him into a trap towards the climax of Episode 2. Lytton is self-serving, and makes no effort to ensure the survival of any of his guard (even shooting one of them before making his own escape); he suspects Davros' plans early on, and openly argues with the Supreme Dalek. The characterisation of Lytton is unusually clever and subtly done.
Lytton is also strongly in keeping with the ethos of the 1980s. What we have in "Resurrection" is a once-great institution which now depends on hiring freelancers whose sole thought is ensuring their own survival. Lytton's name recalls the 1983 teleplay "Lytton's Diary" (which was made into a series in 1985) about an unscrupulous journalist; the character himself is in keeping with the theme of amoral, selfish, profit-driven individuals exemplified by such 1980s classics as American Psycho, Wall Street and Working Girl. Even if the character is, in fact, a Dalek duplicate, the metaphor still reads, as Lytton's betrayal can therefore be seen as a stab in the back from a corporate insider. Lytton is thus very much a character for his time.
The only real problem comes in the confusion of whether or not he is, in fact, a duplicate. The balance of evidence suggests that he is: Stien confirms, when asked, that everybody on the ship is a duplicate, and does not amend this with "except Lytton"; the Daleks say that "[Lytton]'s mind resists our control," implying that he, like Stien, is a duplicate going rogue. On the other hand, Lytton argues with the Daleks right from the start, and does not show any signs of having received Dalek conditioning (in contrast to Stien, who alternates rapidly between obedient Dalek automaton and somewhat perplexed quartermaster-sergeant). This confusion seems to stem from the writing problems mentioned above; it is safe to assume that, before the replacement of the Kamelion plotline with the duplicate plotline, the Dalek troopers were originally intended to be ordinary mercenaries. As with Stien, then, the flaws in the portrayal of Lytton come from the fact that Saward's rewrites to the story were done in a fairly half-hearted manner.
In the case of Lytton, it is fair to say that Saward does produce a character with depth, motivation and relevance to the social and ethical concerns of the day. Significantly, however, Saward is only able to achieve this when left to his own devices; faced with outside problems or interference, the plotting and characterisation of the story suffers as Saward fails to rise to the occasion.
4. The Daleks
The portrayal of the Daleks also exposes these limitations. Saward appears to pick up on the implication, made in "Genesis of the Daleks" and continued in "Destiny of the Daleks", that the Doctor has, through his actions in Davros' bunker, changed Dalek history. The fact that the Kaled council have been persuaded to halt the Dalek project means that Davros is forced to precipitate events; after betraying his people to the Thals, he sends out twenty Daleks, which are prototypical and unstable, and fitted with a computer programme as a temporary compensation measure, with instructions to destroy the Thals and return to the bunker. Once there, he then orders them to kill the Kaled scientists disloyal to him, in contravention of the single-function programme; the unstable Daleks, their programmes corrupted, go on to shoot Davros, and ultimately take over the bunker. The next time we see the Daleks, they, while in control of a large battle-fleet, are no longer the Machiavellian creatures of "The Daleks' Master Plan" or "The Evil of the Daleks"; they are seemingly incapable of three-dimensional thought, poor strategisers and are forced into a stalemate with a race of robots. The implication is that the Doctor's actions do appear to have affected Dalek development, making them a much weaker force than the ones prior to "Genesis".
The Daleks we see in "Resurrection" are consistent with this. The powerful fleet seen in "Destiny" is now broken by the deployment of the Movellans' anti-Dalek virus; the few survivors have scattered across the universe to find a cure (although they would appear to be in touch with each other, as otherwise they wouldn't know when the cure was found). These efforts have proved unsuccessful; they have apparently tried several plans before the effort to free Davros, with no luck. The Daleks do not appear to have been a viable force for some time; the disrepair of the station and negligent attitude of the crew suggests that the humans do not consider the possibility of an attempt to rescue Davros to be one worth spending much money or effort on preventing. In fact, the Daleks are more fearful of the humans than the humans are of them; the force capable, in the previous time-stream, of conquering the known universe now does not believe itself capable of holding a space-station against a task force. The Daleks are also reliant on human mercenaries/duplicates even for the most trivial raid; Lytton criticises, argues with and ultimately double-crosses the Daleks, succeeding where the likes of Mavic Chen and Theodore Maxtible have previously failed. Furthermore, the Daleks are very much afraid of Davros; when Lytton suggests removing Davros from the space-station by force, the Supreme Dalek instead urges him to play along with Davros and cater to his whims. In keeping with "Destiny" and "Genesis", then, the Daleks we see here are defeated, dependent and running scared.
This plotline is, however, subverted by later events in "Resurrection". After the Daleks do in fact attack the station, the time-serving guards and medics suddenly become dedicated soldiers, determined to go to any lengths-- up to and including their own deaths-- to destroy Davros, suggesting that the Daleks are in fact a major power. The most likely explanation for this inconsistency is that it is the result of one of Terry Nation's requested rewrites. While we don't know all the details of what the rewrites entailed, we do know that one of the things that Nation was unhappy about was the ease with which the Daleks could be dispatched (although it is true that Nation appears to have been the instigator of the idea that the post-"Genesis" Daleks were a weakened force, in order to give more of a leading role to Davros, it seems likely that it was not the weakening of the Daleks per se to which Nation objected, but the idea that they were on the verge of extinction). Following on from Nation's objections, it is possible that Saward was trying to make the Daleks seem more of a force to be reckoned with; given that the scenes with Styles and Mercer are some of the most poorly written ones in the story, it is tempting to speculate that they are the result of a hasty and half-hearted rewrite of an earlier plot in which the fleeing characters were trapped by circumstances in the self-destruct chamber and, trying to hold off the Daleks and their troopers, threaten to use the device, in a "Destiny"-style Mexican stand-off. Once again, then, Saward's difficulty in coping with external pressures means that contradictory elements are introduced into the storyline.
Davros' portrayal is also consistent with Dalek continuity, up to a point. The character is imprisoned in cryogenic suspension at the end of "Destiny"; here, the implications of that are elaborated on in interesting ways. Effectively, Davros spent ninety years in solitary confinement, incapable of movement, and remarks bitterly that his sentence was considered "humane" treatment; there was no attempt at rehabilitation, simply of waiting for him to die. There are interesting parallels here with the treatment of war criminals, in particular of those top Nazis who escaped the noose; Terry Molloy's explicitly Hitleresque portrayal of Davros is very much in keeping with this theme. Once released, however, Davros does become a force to be reckoned with; initially, he splutters that his Daleks could never be defeated, but a scene later, he is speculating on the possibilities of their position, and how to restore the Daleks to greatness. Again in keeping with the idea of the Daleks being on the verge of extinction, he decides that the best way to do this is to eradicate the extant Daleks and start again from scratch. The character therefore picks up on and develops themes established in earlier Dalek stories.
The point at which the break with continuity occurs is, however, with the appearance of a small hand-held device which induces loyalty to Davros in the mind of anyone to whom he applies it. He visibly does not possess the device in "Genesis" and "Destiny", or else he would have used it, and the idea that the humans would imprison him with a weapon of this sort would be rather like locking Rudolf Hess up with a loaded revolver. It seems astonishing that Saward, whose attention to detail with regard to Dalek continuity occasionally verges on the slavish, could have allowed an inconsistency this major; nevertheless, here, continuity-- indeed, credibility-- is abandoned for the sake of a plot device.
Finally, there are also problems with the Doctor/Davros confrontation scene in Episode 2. Stien tells the Doctor that the Daleks had come to rescue Davros so that he can provide a cure for a virus that is destroying them, at which point the Doctor asserts that he must kill Davros: "Once before I held back from destroying the Daleks; it is a mistake which I do not choose to repeat." Following on from Saward's original idea, then, it would seem that the Doctor accepts that the Daleks are on the verge of extinction and plans to administer the coup de grace. Nation's objections to the idea of killing Davros, however, meant that Saward could not resort to a Darwinist solution of this nature. Instead, the scenario presented becomes one of a "Genesis"-like moral dilemma: when it comes to the crunch, the Doctor cannot commit genocide by destroying the Daleks' last hope.
The moral possibilities of this action are, however, in no way highlighted in the scene itself. The dialogue revolves around whether or not the Doctor is too cowardly to shoot Davros at point-blank range-- one could argue that Davros poses no immediate threat to the Doctor, but the same could be said of the Daleks whom the Doctor blows up in the warehouse. Later, the Doctor says "The Earth is safe, until the Daleks find a cure for the Movellan virus," which doesn't necessarily suggest that it will come from Davros. Consequently, although this is unlikely to have been Saward's actual intention, the Doctor's confrontation with Davros comes across as racist; as implying that the Doctor will not kill Davros because it would be killing a fellow humanoid.
The second bone of contention comes in the Doctor and Davros' exchange about the morality of conquest. Davros argues that his intention to render the Daleks more efficient would make them a positive force; "--for destruction," the Doctor counters. The exchange continues:
DAVROS: The universe is at war, Doctor. Name one planet whose history is not littered with atrocities and ambitions for empire. It is a universal way of life.
DOCTOR: Which I do not accept.
DAVROS: Then you deny what is real.
The Doctor at no point counters this argument; he could say that it is people like Davros who perpetuate the cycle of death and destruction, but instead, he simply freezes. By extension, one can see why the Doctor did not shoot Davros; however, at no point is this articulated to the viewer. In fact, the audience is left with a disturbing parallel between the Doctor's refusal to execute Davros, and Davros' original captors' abdication of responsibility. Saward therefore did not exploit the possibilities opened up to the script by Nation's refusal to see his creation destroyed, and instead wrote himself into a moral dilemma which he apparently could not write himself out of.
To sum it up, then, "Resurrection" has a number of problems, which arise partly from on-set politics, partly from JN-T's approach to production, and partly from Saward's discomfort with the regular characters, difficulty in coping with setbacks, and unwillingness to perform the rewrites necessary to bring the story into its final form. Consequently, the result is a serial which does have some sparks of genuine brilliance, but is let down by inconsistent characterisation and plotting, ultimately leading to a scenario which fails to resolve the moral dilemmas posed by the storyline.
Effects courtesy of Maureen Marrs and Fiona Moore