Aired 8 – 15 February 1984
Many of Doctor Who’s finest stories have been scripted by its various script editors, perfectly encapsulating the tone and spirit of the specific era while incorporating clever ideas and wonderful characterization. In regards to capturing the spirit and tone of Peter Davison’s final year, Eric Saward’s ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is unequivocally a standout success, managing to draw upon the franchise’s long history in its attempts to flesh out a darker and more complex plot starring a moral but fallible lead. Unfortunately, its reliance on spectacle and the past along with its inability to meaningfully navigate its many subplots with rather unhappy characters just as successfully highlights the flaws of the era as much as its positives.
Following the unqualified success of ‘Earthshock’ that brought back the Cybermen amidst a bevy of nostalgia, it’s understandable that the same type of approach would be taken with the iconic Daleks. As a direct sequel to ‘Destiny of the Daleks,’ there are many aspects carrying over from that story that work incredibly well, and the fact that the Daleks have lost their war against the Movellans due to a biological weapon against which they have no defense is immensely intriguing given the Daleks’ brutal and totalitarian past on and off screen. Indeed, the Daleks finding themselves in such an unfamiliar position and in desperate need of help provides the perfect reason for Davros to return, and the resulting power play that subtly ensues as Davros attempts to install himself as the leader of the Daleks while the Daleks plan to discard of Davros when he is no longer of use sets many potential storylines in motion. As the Daleks are written more traditionally as brutal and conniving creatures rather than simply as robots as they were in ‘Destiny of the Daleks,’ ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ has all of the elements for a successful story, tasking the Doctor with traversing a burgeoning civil war while protecting those caught in the crossfire.
However, the script overextends itself by giving the Daleks too many schemes and plots, each of which could have easily sustained a full story by itself. Accordingly, creating a duplicate of the Doctor to destroy Gallifrey’s High Council as well as the Daleks’ plan to conquer Earth by installing duplicates in key positions around the globe do not have anywhere near the necessary time afforded them to develop alongside the Daleks’ need to find a cure to their plague. In fact, this is true of many smaller elements of the Daleks’ plans as well, the ability to control humans and the presence of the time corridor seemingly alluding to past adventures without ever really developing in their own right to prove that they are vital for this particular story. Likewise, the suggested fact that humans many be susceptible to the Daleks’ plague is never thoroughly explored after being introduced.
Yet among the wasted potential of introduced storylines and repetitive scenes that don’t necessarily progress the plot is the intriguing notion that the universe is continuing to become a darker place around the ever-optimistic Fifth Doctor. Tegan’s declaration that traveling with the Doctor has stopped being fun as she decides to leave is a rather pointed declaration of this, but even the Doctor himself states that the brutality so often surrounding him suggests that he must mend his ways, intentionally or not a precursor to his oncoming regeneration. One of the big issues with this era, becoming ever more prominent as it progresses, is that the Fifth Doctor’s unwillingness to kill is treated as a character flaw rather than as an attribute to celebrate. His apparent admission that the Fourth Doctor’s unwillingness to kill the Daleks at their earliest state in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is a huge moment, and likely a controversial one, but the Fifth Doctor’s inability to carry through with his stated intent to kill Davros here while he idly offers no resistance to Davros’s rant about war being the natural state of the universe presents him a strangely ineffectual light, presenting events in such a fashion that the Doctor is written more as a coward and a hypocrite than anything else. The moral ambiguity at the heart of the story is an interesting angle, but like so much of the Daleks’ schemes it simply isn’t fleshed out enough to give it the needed gravitas and weight.
‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is, accordingly, an interesting story, one brimming with simply too many ideas but unable to effectively bring them all together into one satisfying and cohesive whole. Overambition and lack of depth ultimately plague the story, but there are certainly enough intriguing elements interspersed to make it a passably enjoyable tale nonetheless.