Tuesday, 29 September 2015

FTA: Doctor Who Classic: Revelation of the Daleks and Mindwarp

This seventh volume of articles from Celebrate, Regenerate! covers stories from the later Sixth Doctor.(See here for more on this project.)

Revelation of the Daleks
(Main article.)

Even by the standards of Dalek stories, Revelation is just weird. Named after the frankly insane final book of the New Testament, the final story of Season 22 puts the focus on Davros for the first time since Genesis, giving Terry Molloy's version of the character the room to breathe. The result is a performance that invokes the power of the original, and is infinitely more fun and slimy. The same can be said for the rest of the story, which is brave in the way that it celebrates the grotesque parts of human nature. If Genesis of the Daleks was a BBC documentary, then Revelation of the Daleks is Horrible Histories.
      And yet it’s still funny, in a really sick way. Saward manages to perfectly balance a mix of horror, disgust and dark humour, making us reflect upon the less palatable aspects of human nature. Particularly striking is the scene in which Natasha has to kill her father -  a scene where music, lighting and the script come together to create a moment of genuine tragedy. (Made worse, in fact, by the realisation that she shares her name with Saward’s own daughter.)  And then there’re the little things; Jobel’s dismissal of the President’s wife as a foaming nuisance, the guard who picks his nose, Jobel’s death due to injection of embalming fluid.
     Sure, it’s not something that you perhaps want over your Saturday teatime, but the story itself is undoubtedly a work of genius. By sticking the Sixth Doctor and Peri on the outskirts, it gives the impression that the world of Who works fine without them, that there are forces of good and of evil, that this is a living world rather than one that only comes alive whenever the Good Doctor makes an appearance. We get colourful characters like the exceptional Orcini, or the creepy Jobel, or the tragic Tasambeker. Revelation is in itself a revelation, a revelation that a story doesn’t have to be focused on the Doctor to be good as long as the writing is up to scratch. Perhaps no one expected it to be Eric Saward that was delivering this message, but regardless of the writer, Revelation of the Daleks is a story to be celebrated – not just for its quality, but for its creative audacity too.

Mindwarp
(Main article.)

The second part of the Trial of a Timelord season, Mindwarp’s four episodes are characterised not only being very confusing, but for being deliberately. Where its spiritual prequel Vengeance On Varos sought to attack the use of excessive horror in television, Mindwarp takes it one step further by being deliberately manipulative in itself. On its own, its plot and story may make very little sense, but in the context of the Trial arc and considering the Valeyard’s manipulations, it quickly becomes one of the cleverest stories of the season.
     The standout of the cast is BRIAN BLESSED’s first and sadly only appearance in Who. While Blessed can do subtle performances, such as in the lauded I Claudius, I think he simply enjoys the more boisterous roles that he’s famous for. Mindwarp is no exception to this; Blessed gets to scream, shout and monologue, and he provides the story’s best line by far – “"Ok. Today prudence shall be out watchword; tomorrow we will soak the land in blood." He also allows the story to cement its theme of human brutality in all its different forms – the scientifically-driven evil of Dr. Crozier; the physical beast of Dorf; the banal commercialism of the Mentors; the uncontrollable actions of the cave-creature and the blood-thirst of Yrcanos. It’s all about the difference between evil actions committed because one wants to commit them, or as part of their immediate nature, and it asks the audience the simple question: which scenario describes The Doctor’s actions here?
     And, for the first time, Doctor Who uses the Unreliable Narrator trope. It’s actually really interesting to see the way in which the serial lets the Valeyard play to the audience’s expectations; we know now that The Sixth Doctor’s portrayal in the flashback as a heartless torturer was a manipulation of the evidence on the Valeyard’s part, but to an unforgiving public who already disliked the character, this would be perfectly believable. The serial, through the Valeyard’s manipulation, challenges the audiences’ view of the Sixth Doctor, ultimately trying to send him on the road to public acceptance. Not that Mindwarp succeeds in that aim. What it does do, however, is provide a really interesting piece of TV, and a brilliantly tragic end for one of my favourite companions.

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