Doctor Who review: Revelation of the Daleks is a bleak but brilliant Davros story

We continue our look back at the long history of Davros with Revelation of the Daleks, a Doctor Who story that’s both horrific and hilarious in equal measure.

Some stories take some time to grow on you. The first time I watched Revelation of the Daleks back in 1999, what leaped out to me were its grim tone and high level of violence. As such, I too easily associated it with Eric Saward’s earlier serial Resurrection of the Daleks – a story that was and still is one of my least favorite Dalek stories.  And that was unfair. Because on rewatch, Revelation of the Daleks stands out as a far stronger story by comparison.

Watching the story as an adult, the first thing that stands out about Revelation is its many characters. There are so many key characters in this story that stand out in their own unique way. Every single one has an extremely distinctive personality and feels memorable. Jobel; Orcini; Kara; the D.J., and so many others come across as real and three-dimensional.

And this is a key reason why the violence works so well in this story. Because when these characters get killed off, you have a strong reaction to their deaths. It could be horror, it could sadness, it could even be satisfaction. But regardless of how you feel, the violence in this story – and keep in mind, there is a lot of violence – always has an impact.

Humor

There’s another reason why Revelation of the Daleks stands out as a far superior story, and it’s a rather surprising one: humor. Despite the overall bleak tone, Eric Saward absolutely fills his story with plenty of moments that can genuinely make you laugh out loud. Even when characters are killed off, Saward writes some good lines in (a highlight is Kara complaining how “inconvenient” it was for the Daleks to kill Vogel, her extremely good secretary).

While it would be natural to assume that someone as colorful and over the top as the D.J. would get the best lines of the story, (especially when they’re played by comedian Alexei Sayle,) it’s actually the assassin Orcini who gets the funniest moments. Played seriously by William Gaunt and giving the character a lot of depth, Orcini gets so many quotable lines. Not in spite of how honorable and noble he is but because of it. One noteworthy example is the following bold proclamation:

Only fools would take the risks I do!

Davros

What also stands out about Revelation is Saward’s treatment of both Davros and the Daleks. In this story, the Daleks’ role is significantly reduced, especially when compared to Resurrection. But it makes sense – particularly in how the story focuses on Davros creating a new race of Daleks, one that’s completely loyal to him.

Saward also knows how to write Davros as an effective villain, too. In fact, it’s one of the best depictions of the character since Genesis. We get a sense of his grand scheme, of which luring the Doctor to him is only a part of. We also get him at his most horrific – if turning bodies into Daleks wasn’t bad enough, he turns the rest into food! It’s a sick moment, but it also highlights Davros’s warped sense of morality. After all, to him, it was an effective way of solving the galaxy’s famine problem – even if it was best not to tell everyone what they were eating in case of “consumer resistance”.

Terry Molloy’s performance is extremely strong in this. He’s clearly more comfortable with the role since his debut in Resurrection of the Daleks, and while Davros is still very much an evil, spiteful character, Molloy still gets to play some of the subtler, quieter aspects of the villain, at least.

Casting

One final thing I need to mention is the excellent casting of this story. Everyone feels suited to their roles, and everyone gives great performances. There’s no casting that feels out of place or inappropriate. Even the stunt casting works extremely well. While several stories in John Nathan-Turner’s run as producer suffered from the strangest of casting, (just the following season, we’d see the Carry On actress Joan Sims cast as a warrior queen,) Sayle’s casting as the D.J. felt appropriate, at least.

Overall, Revelation of the Daleks is one of the stronger stories to feature Davros, especially in such a crucial way. It may not be quite as strong as Genesis, and with its rather bleak tone, it perhaps shouldn’t be a typical example of the show. But it’s a fantastic story in its own right, one that’s well made and extremely well-written. A real highlight for both Davros and for the Sixth Doctor’s era on television.

Have you seen Revelation of the Daleks? What are your thoughts on it? Do you think it stands out as a strong Doctor Who story? Let us know in the comments below.