Doctor Who review: Resurrection of the Daleks is a violent but soulless story

After a gap of five years, Davros and the Daleks finally returned to Doctor Who in Fifth Doctor story Resurrection of the Daleks. Was it worth the wait?

It’s funny to think that, after having to wait over four years for Davros to return in Destiny of the Daleks, fans had to wait even longer for Davros’s third appearance. Five years after Destiny and nine years after his first appearance in Genesis, Davros finally came back in Fifth Doctor story Resurrection of the Daleks in 1984. It was definitely long overdue – especially considering that Peter Davison left Doctor Who just two stories later. But was it worth the wait?

Theoretically, Resurrection of the Daleks should have worked. Production-wise, it looks good, and certainly comes across as an improvement from Destiny. Casting’s pretty good, especially Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, Rula Lenska as Styles, and Rodney Bewes as Stien. And of course, we have Terry Molloy making a decent debut as Davros.

On top of that, the story was also written by Eric Saward. Along with being the script editor during this era of Doctor Who, Saward also brought back the Cybermen just two seasons previously in Earthshock. And he did it brilliantly, too. In many ways, that story stands out as a real highlight of Peter Davison’s era. So Saward seemed like a natural fit to bring the Daleks back with a bang.

So why does Resurrection of the Daleks feel so unsatisfying as a story?

Soulless violence

The first thing that stands out – and I do mean that it’s literally the first thing you’ll notice about the story – is the violence. Now, I’m usually all for violence in Doctor Who. In fact, my favorite era of the show was when Philip Hinchcliffe was the producer and Robert Holmes was the script editor. Together, they gave us so many stories that were filled with violence!

But at the same time, they combined that violence with horror. Characters that were killed off were often ones that you cared about, or at least, came across as three-dimensional. Even the opening scene of Genesis – where we see several soldiers suddenly gunned down – has a clear purpose. Namely, to illustrate the horrors of war and to set the tone of the story.

By comparison, the violence in Resurrection feels soulless. Hollow. Characters get killed off left, right and center, but very few that we actually care about or feel for. It’s just there to shock, and it doesn’t work. Many characters got killed off in Genesis, but those deaths always had an impact – even the entirely off-screen ones.

Standout characters

Thankfully, there are still some characters that we care about and are interested in. The one that stands out the most – one that never actually meets the Doctor, surprisingly – is Styles. A ship’s doctor put into a desperate situation, she not only turns out to be a strong survivor. She also gets some of the best lines of the story, and comes across as brilliantly blunt and sarcastic. The character is made even more memorable by Rula Lenska’s excellent performance.

Stien’s an intriguing character, one who has many different sides to him. Initially coming across as a coward, we then learn that there’s much more to him than that. He arguably has the most interesting development in this story, as he goes through a great deal of personal conflict.

It’s interesting seeing Maurice Colbourne as Lytton. He’s certainly cool to watch, but that’s more down to Colbourne himself than anything in terms of writing, at least at this point. Honestly, Lytton feels more rounded and interesting in his next appearance, Attack of the Cybermen. He certainly gets some amazing lines in that one. At this point, there’s potential, but he’s not quite as strong as he could be.

Terry Molloy

Of course, we can’t talk about characters and performances without talking about the biggest thing that Resurrection brings: the first-ever performance of Terry Molloy as Davros. The man who’s played Davros more than anyone – in fact, he returned to the role just last month in the Eighth Doctor box set Time War 4 – Molloy’s Davros is perhaps the most recognizable. As a result, seeing him play the role for the first time is undoubtedly fascinating. How well does he handle it?

Overall, he does a pretty good job. While the performance can lack subtlety during the character’s LOUD SPEECHES!, he’s still excellent at handling Davros’s quieter, contemplative and cunning moments. It’s not Molloy’s best performance in the role, in fact, it’s possibly his weakest. But considering this is his debut, that’s not really a bad thing, especially when considering how strong his debut is.

It also helps that Saward handles Davros relatively well. In some ways, the same is true of the Daleks, too. They’re dangerous and ruthless, and have one or two devious schemes in mind. So this story should work smoothly.

But sadly, that’s not the case. Resurrection of the Daleks is one of those key stories where there are many decent elements that stand out well on their own, but somehow don’t gel together into a strong and cohesive story. As a result, it’s quite possibly one of Davros’s weakest stories on television.

Next: The Doctor faces Daleks, Davros and Movellans in Destiny of the Daleks

What are your thoughts on Resurrection of the Daleks? Do you think it’s a strong story for the pepper pots? Or do you think it could have been improved in crucial areas? Let us know in the comments below.