Judge Eric Profancik prefers his Dr. Who episodes to have Dr. Who in them.
"Now listen, you guys. I don't wish to alarm you but there's some pretty weird things goin' on out here."
Back in the day when I used to have such conversations, when asked who my favorite Doctor is, I would end up saying Colin Baker. On the whole, he's usually considered the least favorite of all regenerations, so why do I vote for him? Was it his winning taste in fashion? Was it his interesting and aggressive personality? Was it his yummy companion Perpugilliam Brown? It has something to do with all of those—and one other thing. When Doctor Who came back after its eighteen-month hiatus, that season featured one story arc, "The Trial of a Time Lord." I vividly recall sitting in front of my 13" television at Miami University with my buddies Jason and Craig when that glorious opening shot of "The Mysterious Planet" started. That one perfect special effects shot, of the camera flying around the Gallifreyen space station, was so fantastic that I've given Colin Baker my vote because of it. "The Trial of a Time Lord" arc being pretty solid doesn't hurt, either.
Facts of the Case
The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Necros to pay final respects to a friend of the Doctor, a famous agronomist. Necros is the home to Tranquil Repose, a facility that puts those with the means into suspended animation until such time as they can be cured. Soon enough, the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the middle of a diabolical trap set forth by the Great Healer, the head of Tranquil Repose. We quickly learn that the Great Healer is Davros, creator of the Daleks, one of the Doctor's greatest enemies. It seems that Davros has usurped Tranquil Repose and is using its inhabitants in his latest evil scheme.
I do like my Doctor Who, and after watching Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, I might even say I love my Doctor Who. I'm also ready to change my answer and state that Eccleston is my favorite Doctor. But if we ignore that and focus on my affection for Colin, I realize he does have his faults; foremost of which is that some of his stories are big clunkers. The biggest of which is this one, "Revelation of the Daleks." Though I first saw this story some fifteen years ago, I recalled most of it today. Those memories weren't all that pleasant and this reviewing didn't enhance anything.
Imagine my surprise then to see so much praise in the bonus materials for this episode. Is it just posturing for the DVD, or is it true admiration for a lackluster episode? Much to my dismay, I think it's the latter. So, while people will call "Revelation of the Daleks" an excellent story that has withstood the test of time, I call it a bad episode that should have been put on the backburner and not released on DVD before many other stories (namely "The Trial of a Time Lord").
Why don't I like this story? Glad you asked, for there is a bounty of reasons:
• The show is called Doctor Who, so why is the Doctor is a secondary character in this story? What does he do to save the day? How does he outwit Davros? He doesn't do much, and he just fumbles into Davros' "trap" on Necros. When compared to Davros, Orcini, Kara, and even Peri, the Doctor is simply along for the ride. But he shouldn't be.
• But why is the Doctor not at the forefront? A large reason for that is because the Doctor doesn't arrive at Tranquil Repose until part two. Why did he land the TARDIS in a field way outside the walls of the Repose? Why not have him land inside and immediately thrust him into the action? (The answer to this is that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant (Peri) were unavailable due to another project they were working on.) Having the Doctor outside the action for half the story is silly.
• The one piece of action the Doctor encounters on the "outside" is the confrontation with the mutant. And what's the point? So we learn about the Great Healer and his experiments, but it's trivial and could be jettisoned. (Again, all of part one could be jettisoned to get the Doctor into the thick of things.) Perhaps, more oddly, is the overall reaction to Peri killing the mutant. This is a fantastically huge moment where a companion has killed someone. Granted, she saved the Doctor's life in the process, she laments a moment, but the Doctor's response and how quickly they forget about it show you it's irrelevant in the grand scheme. But it shouldn't be.
• This is a Dalek story, but why don't they feel menacing? It's because they are mostly confined to the catacombs of Tranquil Repose and don't exude any danger outside this small realm. Daleks have tried to take over the universe, but now they're stuck under the rocks. Further, they have numerous run-ins with the Doctor yet they never kill him. It's a classic example of bad plotting when you have a golden opportunity to destroy your nemesis but you let him live.
• While Davros' plan for the next generation of Daleks is intriguing, it goes nowhere. What happened to the "new" Daleks? More importantly, why did Davros contrive this "trap" to bring the Doctor to Necros? What purpose was he to serve? Was the Doctor's brain going to be used inside a new Dalek?
• On a simpler note, "Revelation of the Daleks" contains an astounding array of bad and hammy overacting. The supporting characters are trying way too hard, and it's not working. Luckily, there are a few bright spots with Orcini, Kara, and Vogel.
• Certainly the most heinous affront in this story is the character of the DJ. I certainly remember this man from fifteen years ago, and his atrocious personage ruins the story. He's meant to be comedic relief, but he's just an idiot. All that bluster, all those awful voices, and all that time he's given is a waste. Why is he here? What purpose does he serve the story? Delete his character and you've lost nothing, but you will have gained a better, less farcical story.
If we were to strip all this rubbish away, at the heart of "Revelation" is an interesting story. If we could have gone into more detail of what Davros was doing with the people at Tranquil Repose, seen more of his genetic experiments and had that tying more tightly into the origin of the Daleks, and then tossed in more action in a less claustrophobic environment, "Revelation" would have been a great episode. But as it is, we have a story with promise that just misses that mark on a multitude of points.
This DVD from the Restoration Team is below par. (I strongly encourage you to read the information they provide on their website for each of the Doctor Who DVDs.) The full frame transfer doesn't feel as strong as previous releases, with a soft, somewhat fuzzy transfer. The colors are subdued, details lacking, blacks not very crisp, and it's just an overall flat presentation. (This could be a result of the source material and not necessarily anything the Team did.) The Team probably did its usual top-notch work, but the DVD doesn't look any better than an old VHS. On the audio front, we are treated with two tracks: the original 2.0 mix and a new 5.1 mix. The latter mix wasn't properly balanced and I found I had to turn my center channel up quite a bit to hear more clearly the dialogue. Concurrently, the subwoofer felt washed out in this mix, and the surrounds only had modest use—that is, you didn't get a lot of punch from them as they were used more for ambience.
As we've come to love and appreciate, this DVD comes filled with a nice bevy of bonus features:
• Audio Commentary by Nicola Bryant (Peri), Terry Malloy (Davros), story writer Eric Saward, and story director Graeme (pronounced Graham) Harper: Saddened that Colin Baker wasn't available for this commentary, I was underwhelmed by the discussion. What threw me off most was the constant delight they found in the episode, which as you know, I do not agree with. On the whole, I didn't learn much here, and there was not enough cheeky dish being served.
• Text Commentary: This commentary is merely average. This time I did learn quite a bit about the episode, but I wasn't all that much interested.
• Isolated Music Track: Honestly, I did not listen to this option (as I didn't want to watch the story a third time in two days), but when I did notice the score, I did find it well done.
• "Revelation Exhumed" (45 minutes): An informative and detailed look at all the facets of "Revelation of the Daleks." Note this feature was originally entitled "Necrosphiliac" but was rejected for obvious reasons.
• "Behind the Scenes" (15.5 minutes): A closer look at the raw footage of several of the action scenes from the story with running commentary by Graeme Harper.
• CGI Effects: The Restoration Team cleaned up some of the shakier special effects, but, as always, they give the fans the option to view the episode as it originally aired, sans tweaking.
• Deleted Scenes (2 minutes, 15 seconds): There's only one scene of note, and that's the first one involving Tarkis, Lilt, and Tasambeker. This scene was a bad cut as it featured some excellent, biting dialogue amongst the three characters.
Rounding it all out are the BBC continuity announcements (3.5 minutes), a photo gallery (6 minutes), and one Easter Egg.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Filled with interesting characters, inspired satire, witty repartee, great action, and the Daleks, this story easily defeats the passage of time and is as memorable today as it was when it first aired over twenty years ago. The intriguing commentary on life and death will stir conversation, as soon as you rescue the kids from behind the couch.
"Revelation of the Daleks" was the last story aired before Doctor Who was forced into hiatus. Was it a good note to end on? I don't believe so, as detailed above. While it does have something at its heart, a few odd chuckles, and some clever, insulting banter, "Revelation" doesn't hit the mark. The idea has potential, but too many things go astray and we're left with a story that doesn't go anywhere. It just goes in circles, like a Dalek with a broken eyestalk. Perhaps the most grievous transgression from this story has yet to be mentioned, and that would be the transformation of Peri from beautiful to blueberry.
As a Whovian, you've already made up your mind about the episode, so this will not be a blind recommendation for you. If you like the story, then do you want the DVD? The transfers are wanting as are the bonus features, but it is far from a total loss. I'll give a guarded recommendation if you want to add this one to your collection. For the rest of you, perhaps we can get together and debate the logic of this release coming before the far superior "Trial of a Time Lord" stories.
"Revelation of the Daleks" is hereby found guilty of failing to be especially revealing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Audio Commentary by Nicola Bryant, Terry Malloy, Eric Saward, and Graeme Harper
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