REVELATION OF THE DALEKS

"Why did I ever allow myself to be talked into this folly?"

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The Sixth Doctor's stories suck, right?

Whoa there, dude. Wrong-o. OK, they're not all Genesis or Blink. But there's lots of fun stuff there mixed in with the dross (pretty much like every other Doctor, in fact). And Revelation Of The Daleks is actually bloody good.

Eric Saward hadn't exactly hit 'em all out of the park by this stage. But for Revelation, we can almost forgive him for The Visitation and Earthshock. Okay, maybe not. But we're certainly prepared to defrost a bit towards him.

So what's so great about Revelation? Actually, heaps of stuff. First of all, after too many new Who stories where the plot is handed to us on a spoon, all mushed up for easy digestibility, what we find as refreshing as a shock of cold water in Revelation is the sheer complexity of the thing. Give it a few minutes to get going, then count up the plot threads: there are at least six. Six. There's the DJ - an interesting device in itself, as he's like a one-man Greek chorus, and that's something novel for the franchise. There's the Doctor and Peri. There's Jobel and the other workers. There are the so-called bodysnatchers. There's Kara and Orcini. And there's Davros and the Daleks. Phew. And guess what? We're not scratching our heads, hopelessly entangled in the thicket of subplots, either. See? Who needs to underestimate the audience?

We also love the cleverness of the structure. We're used to the Doctor and his companion being a pair, of course, but here that's very nicely mirrored in the other characters. Kara and her, er, secretary, Natasha and Grigory, Jobel and Tasambeker and especially Orcini and Sancho Panza, sorry Bostock, have an almost (Robert) Holmesian feeling about them - and that's a good thing.

And we love, love, love the humour, so black you'd trip over it on a moonless night. "I hope we're on time, she's already started to froth." "We do not have a suitable vessel into which he could be ladled." "You're the first live client I wouldn't mind tackling." Great stuff. The non-black lines, like "Are you picking your nose?" and "It would take a mountain to crush an ego like yours" are great too. And our favourite, this hysterical conversation between Kara and Orcini, is a knockout one-two punch of writing and delivery:

"We prefer to stand."

"Of course, how foolish. As men of action, you must be like coiled springs, alert, ready to pounce..."

"Nothing so romantic. I have an artificial leg with a faulty valve. When seated the valve is inclined to jam."

Lovely. It all does its inspiration, Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, proud.

And it's not just Saward who's firing on all witty cylinders, either. Nicola Bryant's ad-libbing as she painstakingly clambers down a snowbank in heels is funny as well as totally in character. And she and Colin Baker play that hilarious conversion about how he hardly ever uses it and will learn to live without it perfectly.

(Oh yeah, and about that. Revelation blows the myth that while new Who's laden with sex the classic series is as pure as the driven snow right out of the water. As well as the watch conversation, there's the high camp of Vogel's "I'm a past master of the double entry". Ooh, matron.)

And it's not only the humour that's black. Making humans into food? Pretty intense theme for kids, isn't it? (Yes, we know, Soylent Green, but last time we looked that wasn't a children's film.) And the making over of humans into Daleks not only anticipates Daleks In Manhattan by more than twenty years, it goes it one better. Not only do we see the genuinely shocking sight of the Dalekified Stengos pleading with his daughter to kill him, she actually does it. Patricide: ooh, heavy. Good, huh?

There are deaths by the bucketload, too. One of the characters remarks "You'll be lucky to be alive at the end of this", and he's right: there are few survivors.

What's more, this is a very dark Doctor. No pondering over whether he has the right: this Doctor cheerfully dispatches a minion to destroy the Dalek nursery without a second thought. He also aids and abets the bomber ("I have a bomb and I would like to explode it." Tee hee!) despite the fact that the building's full of people - you can even hear them screaming after the bomb goes off. And not only does Davros's hand get blown off, the Doctor makes a joke of it. (And bloody funny it is too.) So much for Doctor Jesus.

We know the Sixth Doctor gets a lot of stick for the violence in his stories, but that just makes us shrug. Not all of them are going to have exactly the same attitudes, after all. The Sixth Doctor's got plenty of compassion when it counts, and since none of the others' hemming and hawing and trying to spare the Daleks' lives has ever netted them anything more than redoubled pepperpot mayhem in the future, we can't say we blame him.

(Oh, you don't believe us about the compassion? Look at his and Peri's exchange after she kills the mutant, which is one of the most affecting and powerful moments in the show. Peri, forced to kill the mutant to save the Doctor, is nevertheless understandably upset about it: "I killed him, and he forgave me. Why did he have to be so nice about it?" If the Doctor were the person he's sometimes painted, we'd expect some offhand callous crack in return; instead, he replies firmly "You had no choice." Perfect.)

What's more, the Doctor is pleasingly alien in this story. According to Tom Baker, one of the things that makes the Doctor different from humans is his sense of proportion (and he's absolutely right), and the Sixth Doctor shows that off here beautifully. OK, the hand in the lake is rather more hilariously Excalibur-grasping-ish than scary, but it's meant to be frightening. Rather than responding with fear as Peri does, the Doctor's response is much more measured - and as a result exactly Doctorly.

Not that we see a lot of him in Revelation, because there's so much going on. And that's OK, because the other stuff is so well handled. Davros is, for once, hardly ranty at all (and his attempts to make nice are hilarious). And the Daleks are sprinkled in as seasoning (pepper?), which works very nicely.

Of the other plots, the assassination one is probably the most effective. Eleanor Bron as Kara and Hugh Walters as Vogel invest their roles with an intriguing ambiguity as to exactly what the hell's going on between them. Saward, with his perennial interest in mercenaries, fleshes Orcini out well, and William Gaunt more than makes the most of it, injecting a mournful gravitas that transcends what's on the page.

The other important relationship, that between Jobel and Tasambeker, has enormous potential, but fizzles like a damp sparkler due to Jenny Tomasin's truly appalling acting. Even Clive Swift (returning a couple of decades later as Mr Copper in Voyage Of The Damned), who flings in a hilariously OTT performance (his toupee is practically a character in itself) can't save it. That's a real shame, because with a Tasambeker who could actually get over the hopelessness of her doomed love and her humiliation at Jobel's haughty putdowns, Jobel's death could have been practically a Shakespearian tragedy. Points for trying, though.

The thing looks gorgeous, too. The fortuitous snowfall makes the opening scenes simply breathtaking, and the exterior shots are fantastic. Yes, we know how dumb the whole Doctor's gravestone falling on him thing is, but at first sight the gravestone is a real sock in the eye. The interiors, with the suggestion of Egypt and the peacock feather arrangements (peacock feathers traditionally bringing death, it's a nice touch) make a little bit of cash go a long, long way. The fake Davros in his little box is agreeably gruesome. The transparent Dalek (why had nobody ever done that before - or since?) is absolutely beautiful. And Graeme Harper makes the most of all this with some excellent direction. Of course, not everything is a winner. Davros's loony plan to kill the Doctor by dropping a gravestone filled with fake blood on him is bizarre beyond belief. And just how did Davros muscle his way into Tranquil Repose, anyway? Did he buy shares?

While we like the idea of the DJ, we're sadly not so enthralled by Alexei Sayle's delivery, and the rock and roll beam is the pits. And the ending, with the Laurel and Hardy double act taking over, is insanely sugary considering what a pair of thugs they are.

Overall, though, it's a little cracker. And when it comes to Davros and the Daleks, we don't say that every day.

MORAL: You can get blood out of a stone.

OUTTAKES

IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?

The Doctor's cloak does make him look like a children's entertainer, but at least it covers his costume. And Peri's jacket, once she takes that nasty blue coat off, is very chic.

IF IT WASN'T SCREWED ON

The statue in Davros's lab with its upside-down head in its lap is a wonderfully disturbing sight.

SURPRISE!

The two-part format may have its faults, but at least it means they can't use the Daleks yet again as an episode-ending big reveal.

HEAVE HO

When Natasha and Grigory are trying to get the tomb open, it irises open, but after a second the flap on the right suddenly comes out a lot further. Presumably it didnít open correctly and someone behind it gave it a shove.

ALL BECOMES CLEAR

So why is the Dalek transparent, anyway? (Not that that's a fault. As long as you can happily answer "Why not?' we always give them a pass.)

OH, IT'S YOU

Peri doesn't react much to finding out the Doctor's not dead, does she?

THEY SAY IT DIFFERENTLY ON GALLIFREY

The Doctor pronounces sepulchre as sepulcha.

I SURRENDER

We'd forgotten how often the Doctor gets beaten up in classic stories. The poor old Sixth Doctor has a particularly bad time of it here, being overpowered on several occasions.

EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES

And yet again, the Doctor merrily blasts away with a gun.

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