Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks DVD

By Jim Smith on 26 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Revelation of the Daleks’ is, to quote a famous description of ‘That Was The Week That Was’ a ‘low, sexy thing’. Superbly directed and beautifully acted throughout, its scripts are brutal, cynical, heartless and cold. They were written by the series then script editor Eric Saward – a man who was more interested in the universe in which Doctor Who lived than in Doctor Who himself – and the serial’s lack of involvement from the series’ titular character is remarkable.

On a world where the dead and the dying go to be buried or frozen and have their heads pumped full of updates by a fat scouse DJ who is obsessed with Americana, the severed head of an infamous war criminal is plotting the death of an old enemy. He’s also planning the resurrection of his monstrous creations and playing mind games with the love lives of his staff, the latter seemingly purely for his own sick amusement.

Sick amusement is, essentially, what the viewer is going to take away from ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ which is the ‘Doctor Who’ story which comes closes to the capturing the appeal of the horror movie. By that I mean it works by a combination of shocks and black humour, sustaining audience interest through alternating between grim chuckles and moments that make one go ‘ick’. It’s certainly the ‘darkest’ serial of the 63- 89 ‘Doctor Who’ series (it is, after all, set in a mortuary and takes unrequited sexual obsession as a major theme) but it’s dark in an immediate way; no viewing is going to give an audience member The Fear ex post facto or lead to night terrors due to it ‘dealing’ with difficult concepts, but it is alternately bleakly amusing and brutally thrilling while one is actually viewing this.

It’s because of this approach (and the aforementioned superb acting from a supporting cast that includes Clive Swift, William Gaunt and Eleanor Bron) that the simplistic plot and lack of involvement of the Doctor himself matter so little. The production’s atmosphere of brooding dread, interrupted by yucky jokes about eating people and eloping with your own mother, compensate for the abandonment of these more traditional elements of ‘Doctor Who’. That’s not to say that the series would, should or could be like this every week. Or even ‘ever again’. ‘Revelation’ is a triumph, but it only works as well as it does because of its status as a unique example of a brooding, mercenary, death-obsessed version of ‘Doctor Who’.

Primary DVD extra ‘Revelation Exhumed’ is a solid ‘Making Of’ and clearly a product of vast enthusiasm for the serial. While such excitement is welcome, it provides an odd contrast with the awkward, gangly beauty of the piece itself. Of those actors and production personal interviewed all have interesting things to say. Trevor Cooper is especially articulate and writer Saward manages, for the most part, to reign in the overt bitterness that has marred his contributions to some ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs. The absence of Colin Baker is only surprising until one reflects on the near absence of his character from the serial.

There are also, and this something rare for ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs and indeed for TV DVDs generally, some ‘deleted scenes’: all are brief, and all are character moments for the programme’s smaller players. Two give Trevor Cooper (Flower Arranger and Security Chief Takis) chances to add a more compassionate edge to his character, while another seems to have been excused because Jenny Tomasin (playing the extraordinarily difficult role of the wholly unsympathetic, obsessive bully Tasambeker) blows the take, soaring sourly over the top in the process.

Tomasin’s overacting (she is excellent in the serial as broadcast in an, as intimated, obviously difficult part) may be part of the reason that these brief, but useful, scenes haven’t been incorporated back into the body of the programme, which on this release, sports a sparkling new Dolby 5.1 mix (which is brilliant) and spanky new CGI special effects. (Or there may be a technical reason I’m ignorant of, that kinda thing happens.).

Over extras include TV continuity (announcements and adverts surrounding the original and repeat transmissions of the show) and a fascinating chunk of ‘Behind the Scenes’ video showing the stories production. A commentary featuring director Graeme Harper (due to return to ‘Doctor Who’ next year) and much of his cast is insightful and intelligent, and fortunately not marred by the awful ‘moderation’ (i.e. ‘Talking over the contributors’) that despoils some of these releases.

A worthwhile presentation of the only truly first rate ‘Doctor Who’ story made and shown in a period spanning nearly five years, this is a terrific product which demonstrates a level of enthusiasm and commitment which is above even that you’d normally associate with the BBC’s consistently excellent ‘Doctor Who’ DVD range.

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