Resurrection of Fear
by Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 494
If there’s a single trait that arguably defines the Saward era, it’s that it always has one eye on the past. In his thoughtful article on colonialism in classic Doctor Who, which can be found in the edited volume Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, Alec Charles argues that in this period the series sank into a kind of toxic nostalgia, mining its own past and continuity in a misguided attempt at giving the audience what it was perceived to want (2007: 110-111). More favourable reviewers have also commented on how early-to-mid-Eighties Who revisited its own history in many different guises: from sequels ("Warriors of the Deep"), to revivals of monsters which hadn’t been active in some time ("Earthshock"), to original stories containing extensive continuity festivals ("The Five Doctors") to, well, whatever you want to call "Mawdryn Undead".
"Resurrection of the Daleks" seems set firmly in this tradition. A sequel to "Destiny of the Daleks", and the first time the Daleks had appeared in the series since 1979, with a few crafty continuity references to earlier Dalek adventures thrown into the mix. But when people talk about the story and the structure, they often look away from Doctor Who, drawing comparisons with Alien and the mid-1980s trend for gory SF-horror pieces with diverse, often female-led, casts. All this is true. But one key source for the structure, appearance and content of the narrative has been frequently overlooked.
"The Web of Fear", like "Resurrection", follows directly on from a previous story, to open with the Tardis caught in the grip of an external power that its three crew don’t entirely understand (see image 1A and 1B), and which forces them down into a location on the periphery of the action. This proves to be an iconic piece of the London landscape, which is strangely deserted. Before long, the crew have met up with a squad of soldiers investigating alien activity (who seem remarkably unsurprised, in both stories, at the possibility that the Tardis crew might come from another time), together with their female scientific adviser (see image 2A and 2B), and learned that they are up against an old enemy of the Doctor’s, one who he thought he’d neutralised for good during their last meeting.
In both cases the story then actively splits up the Doctor and his two companions — the Doctor himself being either literally, or effectively, absent for the duration of an episode in each — with the regular cast joining up with groups of around four military personnel who are trying to complete their missions following a brutal surprise attack. In both stories the non-regular cast are wiped out almost to a man by the end of the adventure. Both feature cowardly soldiers as pivotal figures (see Image 3A and 3B) and, at their climax, a confrontation between the Doctor and an enemy whose modus operandi all serial has involved taking over other people’s minds; and an expressed, if ultimately thwarted, desire to drain the Doctor’s own mind of knowledge (see image 4A and 4B). The ending of both adventures allows for the possibility that a key villain will return.
The choice of London Docklands as the setting for "Resurrection" also takes on more significance when you start drawing parallels between the stories. It’s not just that they are an iconic London location which makes for an eerie, atmospheric backdrop to events as both the Underground and Covent Garden do in "Web", but, at the time "The Web of Fear" was made in the late 1960s, Covent Garden, like Docklands in the 1980s, was a down-at-heel district of neglected Victorian warehouses, which would be reclaimed and refurbished for shopping and tourism a decade later (see image 5A and 5B). Similarly, although Saward has been criticised for writing scripts in which the Doctor is not the focus of the action, in this case he may be channelling authors Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, as whole scenes of "Web" take place with none of the regulars present.
Then there’s the Dalek duplicates. It’s easy, on first viewing, to assume that the Daleks’ duplicate army is a one-time conflation of the robot Doctor from "The Chase" and their common habit of using human fifth-columnists like Mavic Chen and Theodore Maxtible. However, a closer parallel for the duplicates is the Great Intelligence’s agents. While "Web" makes much more of the fact that it’s hard to tell who is genuinely on your side (with Camfield shooting Lethbridge-Stewart at sinister angles to suggest that he might be hiding his allegiances, and the question of whether Driver Evans is a genuine coward or cleverly disguising an ulterior motive being unresolved almost to the end of the story), the revelation that Quartermaster Sergeant Stien is a Dalek agent is a comparable twist to the reveal of Staff Sergeant Arnold as the vessel of the Intelligence in "Web". Both stories feature different kinds of subversion, with some being under mind control (Travers in "Web", Kiston in "Resurrection"), and some being under more extensive control (the Dalek duplicates apparently being analogous to the Great Intelligence’s use of Staff Arnold, albeit with the ability to regain self-control under the right conditions). Both narratives also play with the reversal and realignment of this conditioning, with Anne, Jamie and the Doctor’s reprogramming of the Yeti spheres paralleled by Davros’ re-conditioning the Dalek troopers, and later actual Daleks, for his own purposes. In both, also, we have different and opposed factions attempting mind control on each others’ agents.
Even small details seem to echo between the stories. The Tardis is brought out of peril in both cases by using a special switch on the console; the regulars’ meeting with the soldiers is instigated when a member becomes separated from their party (Turlough in "Resurrection", the Doctor in "Web"). The Doctor is urged to stay and help on the grounds that he is the only one who knows how to fight the aliens. The injured Staff Arnold sports a white plaster on his head not unlike Tegan’s (see image 6A and 6B); everyone in both adventures seems obsessed with making cups of tea; the corpse of the news vendor at the start of "Web" is visually echoed by the death of the flat-capped vagrant at the start of "Resurrection" (see image 7A and 7B). One can even find an odd echo of Evans’ tobacco habit in the tramp’s roll-ups and the cigarette Osborn smokes on the bridge of the space station. The captain of the space station dies offscreen in "Resurrection" in the same way that we join the Goodge Street operation in "Web" after the offscreen death of Colonel Pemberton. There are visual parallels between sequences of military personnel donning respiratory equipment (see image 8A and 8B), and, arguably, between the Yeti balls and the Daleks’ spherical visualiser device. Both stories even involve scenes of someone using silver protective gloves inside a transparent case in order to examine an alien object (see image 9A and 9B). The scene in which the Doctor and Victoria discover the web-covered corpses of the soldiers in Episode 4 is echoed by the scene in which Turlough discovers the bodies of the gassed space station personnel (see image 10A and 10B).
There are also areas where the parallels are similar, but distorted or reversed. Where one story took place forty years after its prequel, the other took place ninety years, more than doubling the length of time elapsed. The opening of "Resurrection" actually conflates two separate threats to the Tardis seen in "Web" (the doors having been opened at the end of "The Enemy of the World" as well as the craft itself coming under the influence of the Great Intelligence). The Movellan virus is a reversal, rather than a direct parallel to, the web (the virus being only fatal to Daleks and the web, only to humans). It’s also tempting to wonder if the Movellan virus’ central role in the plot of "Resurrection" might not have been inspired by the scene in "Web" in which Corporal Blake theorises, incorrectly as it happens, that the web is a form of bacteriological warfare. "Resurrection" features two separate groups of potentially-friendly military figures (Mercer’s crew on the station and Colonel Archer’s crew on the ground) rather than the scattered parties of regular army wandering around Holborn, Monument and so forth. Some of these may be coincidental, but could well have bled through from the earlier to the later adventure.
At this point it’s worth pausing to note that, in "Resurrection", the Doctor and companions meet a Colonel Archer, who just happens to have the same rank as Lethbridge-Stewart in "The Web of Fear" (see image 11A and 11B), and his squad, yet the Doctor and companions don’t so much as mention UNIT. Considering the fondness for continuity referencing of producer John Nathan-Turner’s era, one would expect UNIT to at least get a gratuitous namecheck. In this case, too, a reference would be justified, given that alien activity is usually UNIT’s speciality, and that both the Doctor’s companions had encountered the Brigadier the previous year in "Mawdryn Undead". And yet nobody suggests that, perhaps, the bomb squad ought to call in the alien-invasion experts, or provides a legitimate reason why not. A strange detail… unless it’s one which come in, tacitly, from "The Web of Fear", in which UNIT doesn’t yet exist.
One of the most spectacular sequences in "Web" is the battle between the army and the Yeti in Episode 4, a brilliantly choreographed set of scenes showcasing Douglas Camfield’s directorial strengths, as the soldiers fight back heroically, but are ultimately overwhelmed by the alien robots. This also appears in "Resurrection", but split into three Docklands-set sequences: the turkey-shoot at the start, the attack by the Dalek that bridges the Parts One and Two cliffhanger, and the final battle at the end of the story. Both serials use the claustrophobic confined space of the warehouses and the streets between them, and the contrast between the familiar setting and the alien participants, to heighten the sense of panic and make it clear that the humans in both cases are very much outmatched. Similarly, "Resurrection’s early set piece where the Daleks lay siege to the space station has strong parallels with "Web"’s battles between soldiers and Yeti in the Underground tunnels, even down to the way in which the webs from the Yetis’ guns cover the soldiers’ faces being echoed in the disfigurement of the station personnel affected by gas (see image 12A and 12B). Watching "Web" in this context, also, it’s worth remembering that whereas Saward may have a reputation for killing off his characters left, right and centre, writers Haisman and Lincoln were certainly capable of giving him a run for his money.
On a more negative note, the comparison can also show up areas where "Resurrection" could have done better. Although the soldiers in "Web", for the most part, get about as much character development as the space station crew in "Resurrection", they feel more well-rounded, mainly because they are continually trying to make sense of their situation and to figure out, individually and collectively, what to do about it. While we get some idea of Styles, Mercer and Osborn’s characters at the start of the adventure as they complain about their jobs and argue over how to deal with the Dalek invasion, once they’ve agreed to blow up the space station their reactions become inhuman. They don’t show fear, or sadness, or indeed any sign of having come to an agonized decision that, despite all they have to live for, it’s worth destroying the station to eliminate the threat to humankind. While "Resurrection" may have borrowed "Web"’s structure and details, then, it has absorbed much less on the thematic and character levels.
So what can the viewer take from all this? One might argue, not much. While, under Andrew Cartmel’s direction, the series would later start to knowingly parody and pastiche earlier stories as a deliberate narrative device (for instance in "Remembrance of the Daleks"), "Resurrection" doesn’t seem to have such postmodern ambitions. It’s not trying to draw a sophisticated parallel between the 1960s and the 1980s, or the Troughton era and the Davison era. However, it does reveal something about Saward’s writing style. Although Earthshock’s most obvious antecedent is "The Invasion" and "Revenge of the Cybermen", it also draws heavily on "Doctor Who and The Silurians" in other ways; similarly, elements taken from "The Evil of the Daleks" and "Destiny of the Daleks" hide the fact that much of the story is provided by a different source. But in both cases, the borrowing is structural, rather than thematic, leaving us with a serial which picks and mixes details from an earlier one, without giving us anything new to think about.
The nostalgic influences of the early 1980s, while they may have been criticised, weren’t always obvious or intrusive, nor were they always to the series’ detriment. "Resurrection of the Daleks" gains tension and complexity by underlaying itself with "The Web of Fear"’s structure and motivations, albeit failing to bring out the characterisation and to have the same ear for dialogue as the earlier serial. However, comparison of the two stories does show that Doctor Who’s relationship to its past in the early 1980s went way beyond the simple insertion of continuity references or reviving old monsters, to the point where it actually informs the structure, setting, content and conflicts of the JNT era serials on a deeper level.
Reference: Charles, Alec. 2007. ‘The Ideology of Anachronism: Television, History and the Nature of Time’. In Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who. Ed. David Butler. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 108-122.