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Resurrection of the Daleks - A Personal View

By Graham Howard

If surveys are anything to go by then Resurrection of the Daleks is one of the more highly regarded stories of the Davison era. For example, the 1991 DWB survey places it as the third most popular Davison (and 28th most popular of all Doctor Who stories). The TSV Fifth Doctor survey places it fourth. In fact I seem to recall placing it third or fourth in my own survey form - at first glance it does seem to be an exciting tale with plenty of action. However, some time ago I read a thought provoking article by Martin Wiggins in a British fanzine that made me reconsider my initial view, and in retrospect I now believe that whatever other merits Resurrection may have, it fails as a story.

On paper Resurrection seems to contain more than enough ingredients to guarantee a great story, if not an all-time classic. There are Daleks (of course), a Dalek virus, Davros, a 'time corridor', human-like duplicates under the control of an alien power (similar to Spearhead from Space) a 'present day Earth' setting reminiscent of UNIT tales, a plot to assassinate the High Council of Time Lords... Yet at the end of its screening I remember feeling somewhat confused and vaguely unsatisfied. Why was this?

To me, Martin Wiggins' explanation makes a lot of sense. In essence he claims Resurrection fails because "Saward's style presupposed an audience... which values a story according to what is in it rather than on its merits as a story" [my emphasis]. Throwing a lot of old ideas and concepts that have worked well in Doctor Who in the past into the story will not necessarily repeat the success of those earlier stories. There still should be a reasonably focused narrative pushing the story forward. As Wiggins notes, "situation can generate action, suspense, and tension, and it was on these elements rather than plot that the structures relied on for their narrative impetus". He further notes that "any opening episode will start with situation and promise plot... however in most stories situation does prove to arise from plot... whereas all we got from Saward was a plot placebo".

Taking a closer look at the structure of the story, and in light of Wiggins' comments, part of the problem seems to be that there are several poorly linked and developed plot strands running side by side. Even Eric Saward has indicated he felt the finished result was over plotted.

I believe the most readily identifiable plot strand and the one that was best suited to act as the central focus for the story, was intended to be the attempt by the Daleks to rescue Davros from his imprisonment aboard a space station jail (which ties in with Davros's previous appearance in Destiny of the Daleks). For some unspecified reason the Daleks believe that Davros may be able to find a cure for a virus that kills only Daleks, and which has been used by the Movellans to beat the Daleks in their war. The Daleks have so far been unable to find a cure. [I will call this "Plot 1"] It is when you try and add in the other two major plot elements that the problems begin.

The second "major" plot brings the Doctor and his companions into the story. The Daleks wish to capture the Doctor and use duplicates of him and the rest of the Tardis crew to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords ["Plot 2"]. However, this explanation is given in a throwaway line with no clarification or expansion as to how this is to be achieved or why it should be an objective for them given the predicament indicated by Plot 1. Clearly the Movellan virus would seem to be the more immediate concern and presumably the Supreme Dalek would be unwilling to free Davros unless things were very serious. Plot 2 simply doesn't integrate with Plot 1. It is almost as if Plot 2 belongs to an altogether different story. Yet because it is the sole reason for the Doctor's presence in the story (and accounts for a fair part of the running time), Plot 2 draws the viewer into thinking that it should be treated as a relevant and significant component of the overall story.

The only obvious connection between the two plots is the time corridor and yet even this is tenuous because, as Wiggins notes, "it serves two distinct functions in the two plot strands, but because it is a single device it makes them look related [when they are not]". To elaborate, the time corridor is intended firstly as some form of lure for the Doctor, and secondly as a way of storing canisters of the Movellan virus in the past. With a bit of background on the time corridor itself, and how it is able to act as a 'lure' for the TARDIS, the first of these functions could have seemed less flimsy. However, for the sake of argument let's assume the lure function to be reasonable. The question that then must be answered is why would the Daleks want to store these canisters in the past? Stein's glib explanation that doing this was thought 'safer' is not convincing - the universe is a BIG place - surely there must be a multiplicity of places that would be safer than the middle of London in 1984?! If the virus canisters were such a problem then why not just destroy them - why store them at all? I suspect the real answer is that the time corridor is simply a contrivance to allow the inclusion of a 'present day Earth' setting, while also deceptively appearing to link Plots 1-3.

Yes there is a "Plot 3" and it is the most confusing of all. This appears to involve an invasion of 1984 Earth by the Daleks at the other end of the time corridor. As part of this plan, human duplicates of key world figures have been installed in strategic positions around the globe. These will act to destabilise the world prior to the launch of an invasion. Yes, it could possibly explain why the Daleks wanted a time corridor to 1984 Earth, but it creates an anomaly with Plot 1 in that if they were so fearful of the virus canisters to want to store them in the past, as Stein suggested, they would hardly want to invade the very place where they were being stored. Moreover, no thought seems to have been given to the serious temporal distortions that would result from such an invasion. It would be almost possible to ignore Plot 3 as the only overt reference to it occurs at the very end of the episode 4. No matter how tempting it might be to ignore this plot strand, the reference in episode 4 makes this difficult, if not impossible to do.

Some time before the end of the story proper, Plot 2 and to an extent Plot 1 fizzle out. The Daleks suddenly decide Davros is (surprise, surprise) unreliable so they will no longer try to get him to provide them with a cure. Plot 2 is effectively forgotten about once the Doctor (unconvincingly) escapes the Daleks' mind transference machine. What could be called the climax in the warehouse at the end follows on from a development in Plot 1. Instead of searching for a cure for the virus Davros begins to take control of Dalek troopers and Daleks. Total loyalty to Davros has been obtained via the surreptitious injection of a drug. The intention is that with this nucleus of supporters he will work to create a new race of superior Daleks... [Plot 4?]. When the Daleks find out what is going on they send Daleks to destroy Davros and the altered Daleks and Dalek troopers. This results in the final battle at the end of episode 4. But then, with Plots 1-2 (and 4) effectively over, the Supreme Dalek talks about the invasion of Earth (i.e. Plot 3) as if all along this was supposed to have been the main objective, and by implication the motivation for the preceding action!

As far as I can tell, Plot 2 has a beginning and a middle (of sorts), but no real ending, while Plot 3 has an ending (again of sorts) but no beginning or middle. Add to this numerous minor subplots and the cohesiveness of the overall story, if there ever was any, is lost. If Plot 4 can be assumed to be part of Plot 1 then this is the only plot strand which is more or less satisfactorily resolved.

As the episodes stand one might wonder whether Saward started with the elements he wished to include in the story and then tried to fit the story around these elements, perhaps hoping that the presence of these alone would result in an acclaimed story/classic. Martin Wiggins: "Eric Saward used a type of narrative that had no conventional claim on our attention, no plot, no visible means of support." The story contains a series of situations which, because there is a lot if action, appear exciting, but because the situations don't logically flow from the narrative of the plot they are ultimately emotionally unrewarding. If viewing a story more than once one would normally expect things which are not clear on the first viewing to begin to make some sort of sense. But with Resurrection repeated viewing makes the incoherence of the narrative become even more apparent. It may be possible to somehow conjure up convincing linkages to the various plot strands. But as presented on television they seem, to me at least, to be utterly disparate. This is exacerbated by the fact that two of the plot-lines did not seem to be complete. Which accounts for the confusion and the lack of satisfaction after my first viewing.

I admit Resurrection can still be entertaining to watch - I would sooner watch Resurrection than Four to Doomsday any day. And perhaps this article overstates my negative feelings towards the story. But I have to agree with Martin Wiggins - whatever the story's claim to our attention it certainly isn't the plot!


Star Begotten 18: Eric Saward and the Art of Narrative Levitation, by Martin Wiggins
DWM Fact File: Resurrection of the Daleks
DWB 96
TSV 18: Fifth Doctor Survey Part 2

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).

Index nodes: Resurrection of the Daleks