Classic Series Doctor Who Top 50

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 40: Revelation of The Daleks

revelation colin and nicola

The Sixth Doctor’s sole confrontation with the Daleks was broadcast at a time when I wasn’t watching Doctor Who – sulking after Davison, my Doctor, had been replaced by a new Doctor I did not care for at all. Without a novelisation or VHS release – and in the days before the internet – it remained a mystery to me until a repeat on BBC2 in 1993. At that point all I knew of the Colin Baker era had been gleaned from whatever tapes I’d bothered to buy and The Colin Baker Years, a VHS where Colin gamely tried not to write off most of the stories in his run as a load of old shit.


Unable to watch it live, I’d taped it and rushed back to watch this story which, to all intents and purposes, was brand new. And I loved it. It was funny, violent, sick, weird and operating on a level I hadn’t previously noticed in the series. I think what struck me the most was how rich Revelation of the Daleks was. The concept of Daleks roaming the catacombs of a necropolis, harvesting the best of the specimens held in suspended animation to turn them into Daleks and converting the rest into soup for an expanding galaxy, is irresistible. An ensemble of grotesques – variously vainglorious, smelly, preening, greedy, obsequious and violent – fits the bill perfectly. Rather like Androzani, there are no redeeming characters here, and the comparison is telling.

Saward was clearly indebted to Robert Holmes, with florid double acts everywhere. The thing is, Saward doesn’t quite have Holmes’ skill and the dialogue simply isn’t up to it on occasion, though Jobel’s horrible brush-off to Tasambeker – “I would rather run away… with my own mother than a fawning little creep like you” – is worth a chortle. But it reveals something that is at once a strength in the script and something utterly unsuitable for Doctor Who.

jobel's death

As unremittingly nasty, nihilistic and blackly comic as Doctor Who gets, Revelation of the Daleks doesn’t really belong in the series at all. Doctor Who has been violent – even vicious – before, but it’s never ladled it on with such glee. To recap, Eric Saward’s crowning achievement on the series sees Davros get his hand blown off, several scenes of torture – “I must mark her!” – genetic experimentation, a semi-converted human begging his own daughter to kill him, embalming fluid injected directly into a man’s heart, the most violent, screaming, writhing exterminations of the series and perhaps the most horrible murder.

The upside to all of this is that it allows Colin Baker to show some empathy, disgust and outrage – finally lending the Sixth Doctor some sympathetic traits. Saward famously wrote Orcini to show up how little he thought of the Sixth Doctor, which seems a bit like blowing up your car because you don’t like the colour – and the Doctor contributes literally nothing to the progression of the script.

But as a mood piece Revelation of The Daleks works fantastically. How much this is due to Graeme Harper’s direction – again wonderful – and the bleakness of Roger Limb’s minimalistic score, designed seemingly to ratchet up the unpleasantness and send children scuttling to the safety of the sofa’s backside, is debatable. head of stengos Once again Harper makes the most of what he has: shooting the Daleks in such a way that they reacquire some of their threat; attempting a few tricks such as scrolling through the floors of Tranquil Repose and attempting to show Daleks and Davros levitating, that are generally a qualified success. He also creates some stunning visuals with the series’ last ever film location shooting and assembles a superb cast (if you ignore Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker and any of the bits that involve Alexei Saye’s DJ).

Terry Molloy is arguably the star of Revelation of the Daleks. It’s become a received wisdom in fandom that Michael Wisher is unassailable in being the definitive Davros, but Molloy’s Davros is wheedling and even a little humourous here. He switches between sibilant and psychotic as he attempts to build a business empire parallel to his Dalek army – the template here allows for Lance Parkin’s quite excellent Davros play for Big Finish 20 years later – as the self-styled Great Healer, a nice Orwellian touch; it’s as if Davros relishes in the sly irony. There are inflections of other works and writers here too. The Loved One and Soylent Green are most obviously quoted with regard to Revelation, but Saward is good at mining sources and inspirations to flesh out his characters; their drives and motivations.

Clive Swift is the other performance of note and clearly receives most of Saward’s attention – the little vulgar asides that pepper his dialogue, all nose-picking, insinuations of necrophilia and corpses ‘beginning to froth’ – are quite horrible and it’s hardly a leap to imagine what Jobel might like to do to Peri. tasambeker It’s hard to think of many other moments in the series that require such an effort, for such little payoff, as the mortuary chief’s wig falling of as he expires.

William Gaunt, John Ogwen, Eleanor Bron and Hugh Walters are all quite excellent, though Takis and Lilt don’t really come off – absurdly we’re expected to view them starting to rebuild Necros as a farm as a happy ending, an episode after we saw them torturing Natasha and Grigory. And once again, you’re forced to wonder what exactly JN-T was on at the idea that Laurence Olivier might have been interested in playing the mutant, who has a fight in the snow with the Sixth Doctor before being beaten to death by Peri over about 90 seconds.

As a whole Revelation of The Daleks is rather grand guignol: bleak, gory, slightly hysterical and building towards a massacre that kills off virtually every character we’ve been introduced to, bar the regulars. It’s ironic that it hit the screen around the time that video nasties were the centre of a debate in Britain; watching it back it’s hard not to agree with Michael Grade’s assessment that the series had lost its way. kara orcini Still, it remains an impressive, stylish outlier in the series’ canon.

Saward’s Doctor Whos get progressively more unpleasant, as if reflecting the man’s descent into a sort of private Hell. As a sign-off to Doctor Who it may not have been perfect, but it surely reveals the inner torment and ambivalence towards the programme that Doctor Who’s script editor was going through at the time. But it did deliver us his best script and one of Doctor Who’s most nasty-minded and horribly enjoyable stories. Spiteful, cruel, twisted, lascivious, empty, ultimately pointless and unabashedly hate-filled – Revelation of the Daleks is Saward’s portrait in the attic.

New Series

Caves and Twins: Waters of Mars

I found myself watching The Waters of Mars the other day, the Tenth Doctor’s penultimate adventure that was screened during 2009.

RTD had cleverly lowered expectations for the Autumn special with the pleasingly forgettable The Dangerous Planet. It wasn’t actually called The Dangerous Planet but that’s as much as I can remember about it, apart from the fact that it was utter shit.

Still, Waters of Mars had given us what was perhaps the best trailer of them all from the new series – a proper balls-out terrifying 30 seconds of H2O-based frights – alongside the knowledge that Tennant’s run was coming to an end, and all the attendant myfficism.

Expectations were running high, but was RTD through the looking glass by this stage? Was it utter Underwater Menace or was it stupendously Curse of Fenric.


Scares – Only once or twice during its return – The Empty Child, Blink or Midnight, perhaps – has Doctor Who dared to be this terrifying. The Flood-infected members of Bowie Base are a triumph of make-up, SFX and acting. They are designed and played to be bloody frightening, and so they are.

Time Lord victorious – I never warned to Tennant’s Doctor, truth be told. He was too shouty, too smug, too wacky. After three years of shouting and try-hard wackiness we finally see something interesting happen with the Tenth Doctor. A Time Lord gone rogue, shades of the Valeyard and the Master, is a fascinating development and an understandable one, given The Doctor’s recent experiences in the TIme War and his possibly-unstable Ninth incarnation.

Lindsey Duncan – Playing a bit of an archetype, but brings a believability to a role that the series was crying out for after two halfwit lovelorn goons and a comedy grotesque.

The Doctor’s moments with Adelaide at the end of the story are electrifying and quite wonderfully played by Tennant. WHen it is all taken away from him by Adelaide’s death and the appearance of Ood Sigma it’s equally riveting television.

Cast – Prett much all good, particularly the people playing the flood.

Dalek – An oddly dream-like moment that’s probably pivotal to the story

Ice Warrior reference – Nice little throwaway lines that will mean little to 99.9 per cent of viewers, but so much to fans

Barry Letts tribute – Right and proper and lovely


Murray Gold. Sorry to sound predictable, but any action sequences are totally undermined by Gold’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks via Scooby Doo music. A couple of sequences that aren’t great in the first place – The Doctor and Adelaide riding the Gadget Gadget thing and the Doctor standing around looking solemn while everyone does ‘busy’ acting are made much worse by Gold’s appalling audio.

Graeme Harper – Despite generally good stuff here, Harper is to blame for a few really duff moments. If there was such as thing as a Doctor Who auteur (there wasn’t, but bear with me) it was Harper with his interesting angles and superb action sequences. In the new series he was just another hack – in the trust sense of the word.

Gadget Gadget – Is that what it’s called? An odd, jarring note in a sombre, ominous story. Even (!) Doc Ten hates it.

Waters of Mars is one of the least typical NuWho stories of the run and, as such, it’s a welcome relief. Not since Logopolis has been the slightest angst over a forthcoming regeneration and it shows us a side of the Doctor rarely seen.

That WoM is, in itself, a strong, scary story is also in its favour. Deservedly won RTD and Phil Ford a Hugo award and suggested an epic, groundbreaking climax.

Predictably it was business as usual, like a final, weary wank from Davies following a Queer as Folk box-set for End of Time. Ho hum.