Right, first of all, let’s get it out the way. I didn’t mind the regeneration scene. I’d probably have preferred a proper regeneration, with Mary Tamm present and an actual reason, and I had a nagging voice in my head throughout telling me that the way she’s burning through those incarnations is sick and wrong, but sod it, it was funny, and Tom and Lalla are great together already. They instantly feel like a proper little team of friends, more so than with Romana I. She’s even got her own ridiculously long scarf.
Their first task is to explore an absolutely beautiful location, which is very well directed. Between the scenery and all the low-angle steadicam shots, Skaro has never looked so good. Some of the studio sequences let it down somewhat, with some battered looking props and unconvincingly bare sets. Why have the Daleks got so many studio lights knocking about?
But despite their casings looking a little worse for wear, it is good to have the Daleks back after such a long time – the gap between this and Genesis is almost as long as the gap between Evil and Day. I couldn’t help but grin when they smashed their way into the story. There really is no monster quite as good as them.
The drama ramped up nicely throughout the first two episodes, peaking with the reveal of Davros. But sadly, it all went downhill with his introduction. This is not the Davros I recognise. Quite aside from the complete lack of wit, machiavellianism or subtlety in the writing, he didn’t even have the right voice. Had the new actor not bothered watching Genesis? With the Daleks subservient to this rubbish impression of Davros, someone powerless to prevent the Doctor pushing him around like something out of Weekend At Bernie’s, the story fell apart fairly quickly. Although I did very much enjoy the Doctor telling some Daleks to “spack off”.
The Movellans were fairly interesting, and I liked that one of them was McClaren from Porridge. More could have been made of the idea of two computer-controlled superpowers locked in a logical stalemate – mirroring the mutually assured destruction aspect of the Cold War, just as that was all about to flare up again in real life. But ultimately they were defeated extraordinarily easily – they’re supposed to be on a par with the Daleks, but they keep their vital batteries loosely strapped to their hips?
I can’t help but come away disappointed after those first two episodes (yes, “episodes”, not “parts”, apparently) were so good. Also, any story that sidelines K-9 to such a degree is always going to put my back up. On the plus side, you can really see Douglas Adams’s influence shine through, especially with the Doctor reading a book by Oolon Colluphid, which made me laugh and applaud.
Oh, and here’s an idea. You know when Romana fakes her own death to escape from the Dalek mines? What if it had been Mary Tamm’s Romana up until that point, and she’d actually died from radiation poisoning, having been separated from The Doctor and his supply of anti-radiation drugs? Then she could have regenerated into Lalla Ward shortly after being buried. Damn, now I’ve thought of that, the actual regeneration just got worse in comparison.