dubdobdee (dubdobdee) wrote in diggerdydum,

belated missed-ep “Lytton must be exterminated when it is convenient” ketchup

In which 5IVE and disgruntled chums help a revenant* but unrepentent DAVROS to infect his multitudinous metal brood with MORGELLONS the MORVELLAN DISCO VIRUS, as a reward for getting him out of jail. Or something.

*Fancy word for RESURRECTION, tho the Daleks themselves are merely (as usual) returning


A notoriously very-hard-to-follow DO-YOU-SEE allegory for the utter lack of honour among the galactically villainous. Doesn't help that from the off it's a switchback of mistaken identity via doubles: meaning that coppers and soldiers and even daleks are not who you immediately think they are. Doesn't help that I watched it more than a year ago, before various distractions intervened and derailed me, and haven't revisited (bcz my "method" does not allow me to). So instead of discussing the plot in any detail, I'm going to bore on abt the Daleks, turning the tables you might say hohoho *sigh*

The setting: two places and two time (Butler's Wharf and a prison ship in space; 1984 and THE UNSPECIFIED FUTURE ) have been superglued together by a time-corridor. The prison ship is under attack by a space cruiser.

The upshot: a four-or-more sided battle where everyone can seemingly suborn everyone else, no one knows whose masterplan is what, or why anyone is doing anything.

The cast: it is STIFF with cameos from the famous of face -- at least one (Leslie Grantham) misleadingly, since Den was not yet Dirty. Plus an ex-Likely Lad battling wildly against typecasting (and losing). And RULA LENSKA.

dalek-clockworkThe story: experts informed me this story was literally incomprehensible. It is certainly very easy to get muddled (in fact some of the characters do). Actually the real problem is an interestingly grown-up one, not that common in pulp SF. Plenty of SF -- and plenty of Who -- takes the bodysnatcher form: in a threatening us vs them situation, are you still US or are you now THEM? But this is a four-way war: as well as the Doctor, there are two kinds of dalek, and FOUR kinds of human = defenders, attackers, Tegan and Turlough. You absolutely can't recognise someone's allegience from their face or uniform (or pimply metal carapace). It's a fog of doubles: the daleks are busy making zombie-replicas of humans for their purposes; Davros has a kind of USB bodkin clip that converts you (human or dalek) into his bellowing slave. Defender humans disguise themselves as attacker humans to sneak through the lines. And -- this became canon but was I think in this ep still something of an emergent surprise? -- the Daleks and Davros are really not NOT ON THE SAME SIDE . Anyway, several minor reveals depend on characters not knowing which side someone (human or dalek) is on; problem being, we the viewer often don't either (I think there are always visual or contextual clues but they are VERY EASY TO MISS).

(Turlough: what can you say about Turlough? He mooches around in a sinister gingerly way, to no apparent purpose. Hurrah!)

dalek-rolykinsThe Daleks: unlike many reading, I am actually older than the doctor, and so for a while lived in a world in which Daleks were unknown. I cannot of course recall this world: I was 3 when they first went on telly, and their cultural omnipresence and readability was instant (cf the "De Gaullek", from the Daily Mail, Dec 1964). Always when I visited little friends or relatives as a tiny, they would have some little plastic or clockwork dalek that I coveted: my cousins had a magnificently elaborate bath sponge in yellow and blue layered sponge, real Claes Oldenberg stuff. So what so what you ask? This: I love them like anyone my age -- in the sense that they are utterly indelibly there in my affective system -- but I AM SO OVER THEM AS PRIMARY STORY FUEL. What made them so tremendous so quickly actually cements in tremendous limitations and inflexibility, tactical and strategic, logistical and logical.

The consequence of this is a shifting effect. Because they cannot get more insanely unbendingly genocidal, the only way to make them more "interesting" is to "humanise" them. So you vary the stories by giving them allies, and viewer-interest switches to where the uncertainly -- meaning the thrilling peril -- lies: the non-Dalek baddies. There've been attempts to in-build complexity: Genesis was fascinating anyway, as a "Childhood of the..." type story, but it also brought in two new modes of less-Daleky Dalekdom. Davros was an insane human (ok ok Kaled) who built them as he himself desires to be: a becoming-Dalek, if you like. And (as part of the same plot) we got in under the metal shells to view the organic mutant-Kaled Dalek-baby residue that drives them, all squiggly and yucky and spiteful, but not terribly threatening. Which was a twinned reveal, exciting and intriguing as a variant -- and (if anything) even MORE of a tiresome, terrible burden for unboring plot-devisement since. (So much of it DNA-related as well: as in "let me just alter your DNA by standing near you...")

dalek-adBy Destiny = second series-appearance of Davros, the shine was off the new trick. If you wanted intriguing nuance, deft cunning or conflict-of-passions complexity in or near Dalekdom, or the allure of a character changing his or her mind (except as a transparent ruse), you were certainly looking past him. If anything, his triple-trump trick -- UTTER EVIL, UTTER SELFISHNESS, UTTER SCIENTIFIC GENIUS -- actually works to make the Daleks en masse slightly more interesting (potentially). They know they have to approach DaddyDavros at tongs-and-plunger length, to use him best -- they always seem smarter than him, which suggests they've evolved a faint sense of irony. (Dalek-irony: "Davros is an malicious untrustworthy anti-Dalek idiot because he's EXACTLY LIKE US EXCEPT MORE SO. SELF-EXTERMINATE?")

Written out, this actually suggests ways the Daleks needn't be such a colossal bore: if they were treated more as a feature of the landscape than a primary (evil) character. (The way THEY treat Davros!) Our attention anyway wanders towards those non-Daleks palling up to them by choice -- such as Commander Lytton here. Assuming he's not himself a programmed zombie, he must be a mercenary or other villain of independently cynical motive, and MOAR PLZ, such people are watchable and fascinating. (We don't get much more: he appears in one later story, battling the Cybermen, and dies -- bravely enough for the Doctor in question to admit he wasn't a mere one-note baddie.)

(Actually real name Gustave Lytton, so the internet tells me).

dalek gunAt the heart of all this is the balance of RELIABLE DARK THRILL-POWER (eg cliffhanger reveal of Dalek entering room bellowing exterminate) vs SUSTAINABLE WATCHABILITY. Daleks can't be allowed to plot-explosition at one another: never exciting (Daleks shout quite slowly). And Dalek-Irony, surely far more scarily fruitful a tool of future mass-death than legless spongy naked unshelled squiggliness, is just way outside canon. Actually -- The Master aside -- very few Who-villains have any kind of a sense of humour. It's one way (possibly the main way) that we know it's OK to watch all these on-screen kids-tv DEATHS: most of them happen to people (or creatures) who are resolutely, programmedly charmless. With -- of course -- the occasional stark and shocking exception, a companion-death, or a recently encountered and likeable "our side" character. If not Dirty Den, then Rodney Bewes (whose comedy was less in the script than his in resume).

Jokiness -- in various modes -- has gradually become the default in-TARDIS sensibility. It's a way of coping (it's also a wise-ass trope that's gradually -- since Bond in the 60s -- eaten into any genre which also features guns and explosions and serial plight). It's a way -- as I've just argued -- of codedly pre-sorting the deserving-of-death rom the rest...


And it isn't always enough. Probably the thing this show is best remembered for is the leaving of Tegan, exhausted, fed up of endless violence, and no longer able by camaraderie and banter to hide from her feelings the snuffing out of so many, so many, so many

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