Friday, April 30, 2010
You don't realize it at the time, but the scene where Orcini destroys a Dalek with a machine gun fitted with bastic heads (his words) is quite historic. Not only because a Dalek is felled by a mere machine gun, but because it's the last scene in the classic series to be shot on location using film. For the last four season of classic Who, everything on location would be recorded with Outside Broadcast (OB) video cameras. What was gained in uniformity between studio and location footage came at the expense of visual texture. Doctor Who, for better or worse, would never look the same again.
The overall look of classic Who would also never again see the vast talents of director Graeme Harper, who directed his second of two stories with Revelation of the Daleks. Harper's work in this story isn't quite as stunning as it his earlier work in The Caves of Androzani, but it's still furlongs ahead of anything else in Season 22. Revelation is perhaps a more subtle piece for Harper. Harper's strength as an action director often overshadow his ability to underplay a scene. Look at how both the Daleks and Davros are introduced in the opening scenes of Episode 1. The first shot of a Dalek is from behind as one trundles down a hallway, flirting with disappearing off the screen entirely, to give his report to a strange console at the heart of which lies a head. The head spins round - it's Davros in long shot. Cut to the next scene. The camera doesn't linger or celebrate the fact that the Daleks are in this, are an entirely different colour to what we're used to, and that Davros is now reduced to a head in a jar. After decades of overbearing cliffhangers designed to introduce the very monsters which the episode is named after, this sharp left turn into nonchalance is perhaps the most shocking Dalek introduction of them all.
At the heart of this story is Davros, though, and Harper's direction, coupled with Terry Molloy's performance, makes this possibly the best Davros story ever (yes, even rivaling Michael Wisher's turn in Genesis of the Daleks). Molloy was in full rant mode in Resurrection of the Daleks because the script required it - a macho story required a macho villain. In Revelation, Molloy almost whispers his lines to the point where he's almost inaudible (a pervading echoey audio mix doesn't help matters), aided by some extremely tight close-ups to further dial the bombast down. It's a stunning performance, and when Davros is revealed in his usual form towards the end, the contrast between that and his decoy self is shocking. Harper shoots the real Davros from below, just as he often does with the Daleks, making the withered, wheelchair bound scientist look like he's in full control of the situation. Later, when he's hovering in midair, zapping a prone Orcini with Emperor Palpatine-like electricity from his fingers, Davros almost ascends to one of the most powerful and frightening villains ever seen in Doctor Who.
It's obvious that I'm a Graeme Harper fan, but his work commands such respect. I had the very great pleasure to interview the man on Radio Free Skaro #187, an interview that the podcast team is so fiercely proud of that I heartily recommend you listen to it now (find it here). In it, Harper describes his directorial style during the interview, particularly his decision to direct from the studio floor as opposed to overseeing everything from the upstairs control room. Being able to interact directly with his cast and floor crew, as opposed to relaying his instructions from the gallery, simply saved time, which allowed for more time to be spent on lining up more artistic shots that would have been impossible to do under the standard style favoured by most directors. Yes, Harper had a flair for the artistic and the dramatic, but it was only because of efficient time management skills that he was able to pull off some of the most dazzling sequences in Doctor Who history.
Revelation of the Daleks is quite probably the high point of Colin Baker's abbreviated time in Doctor Who, and easily the best thing that Eric Saward ever wrote for the programme. By the end of the next season (which finally aired 18 months after Season 22's conclusion), both Baker and Saward would be gone from Doctor Who for varying reasons. That last shot of Colin Baker looks so tragically hopeful, in retrospect. It's of a Doctor confident in his future, knowing full well where he's going and what he'll do when he gets there. Outside forces beyond his control were the only things that could stop him.
"All right, I'll take you to --"
A quick BBC editing job cuts off the Sixth Doctor, and Doctor Who in general, in mid-sentence. In more ways than one.
Posted by Steven at 3:10 PM