Aired 23 – 30 March 1985
Doctor Who, like any long-lasting programme, changes along with the times to better resonate with the audience and drive home its message. With that mindset, it’s unsurprising that the show in the 1980s would start to go down a darker and bleaker path, one that threw aside the rather black and white lines of good and evil that had defined the show for so long. Unfortunately, the writing often let down the realization of some very clever ideas and instead focused on unwarranted violence and brutality, an aspect brought to the forefront with the characterization of the Sixth Doctor. With the show coming under increasing pressure from the BBC, the return of the Daleks provides a momentary reprieve that ends Colin Baker’s first full season on a relatively high note.
It’s telling that the Doctor is something of an observer throughout ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and that events likely would have occurred in the same fashion if he had never shown up. Perhaps this was a purposeful attempt at shaking up the storytelling dynamic, but it is intriguing that a story in which the Sixth Doctor less prominently focuses seems to flow much more naturally and less abrasively. This is, of course, not down to Colin Baker who is entirely engrossing with the material he is given, but his character is simply written as far too unlikable with no balance to ever be a dynamically heroic character even when surrounded by other unlikable characters, and the relationship with Peri is simply too one-dimensional and sometimes bordering on abusive to ever effectively capture the audience’s imagination. With the DJ making sarcastic remarks about the happenings around him, Davros scornfully sneering as he watches events from afar, and the Doctor being crushed by a giant stone sculpture of himself, it’s quite fascinating in retrospect to see how symbolically aware of Doctor Who’s status and current reputation Eric Saward and this serial are, whether that was the intention at the time or not.
While the violence is just as gruesome and prevalent here as in earlier stories, the darker overall tone of ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ actually seems suited fairly well for the violence on display rather than using it simply as a visual aesthetic. The entire nature of the Daleks and Davros is built upon an inherent blackness, and so black comedy and violence fit quite well into a story featuring Davros furtively feeding dead people to their relatives while converting other dead people into Daleks. Wisely, the focus is more on Davros than on his creations here, and the secretive games he plays with the staff of the funeral home under the guise of the Great Healer work surprisingly well. There’s something quite satisfying about Davros using capitalism and a surplus of population to fuel his means, and the character comes to life as a breathing entity much better than in any story since his introduction as a result even if he is still prone to brash bouts of megalomania.
Although ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ is hardly perfect and suffers from many of the same issues that plague this era on a regular basis, the foreboding tone, the generally good supporting cast, and the focus on Davros as an actual character rather than a generic plot device elevate the story above the gratuitous violence and purposeful irascibility of the Doctor that a few short moments of a more sentimental nature can’t redeem. While continuing to push the changing Dalek culture into unexplored territory, ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ is certainly one of the more enjoyable and intriguing stories of Colin Baker’s tenure and has unsurprisingly maintained a meaningful and lasting legacy.