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Epitome of Violent Doctor Who - Part 1

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

What is the most violent Doctor Who serial too date? Anything from season 22 (1985) are worthy candidates, each serial more violent than the last. Attack of the Cybermen (1985) with some gruesome imagery, the decapitation of a Cyberman, the crushing of Lytton’s (Maurice Colbourne) hands by a couple of Cybermen, and The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) blasting the Cyber Controller (Michael Kilgarriff) to death. Vengeance on Varos (1985) and its infamously crude scene where a couple of Mortuary Attendants (Gareth Milne and Roy Alon) met a grizzly end in a bath of acid, and The Sixth Doctor’s merciless reaction. The Two Doctors (1985) with Shockeye (John Stratton) and his desire to dine on human flesh and his subsequent comeuppance at the hands of The Doctor and a jar full of cyanide, perhaps pushed the boat out too far.

Violence and Doctor Who are no strangers to one and another, the renowned and ‘critically acclaimed’ renaissance era (1975-77) produced by young and extremely ambitious Philip Hinchcliffe pushed the show away from its comfort zone, and into the deep end. The show saw increased levels of violence and horror, with many serials taking inspiration from classic Universal Pictures Monster Movies from the 1930s-50s. The two short years in which Hinchcliffe helmed the show became a horror showcase; the mutation of Noah (Kenton Moore) into a fully-fledged alien parasite in The Ark in Space (1975), the crushing of poacher Ernie Clements (George Tovey) in Pyramids of Mars (1975), the reveal of the android double of Sarah Jane Smith in The Android Invasion (1975), the one-handed Condo (Colin Fay) being blasted to death by his master in The Brain of Morbius (1975), The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) drowning in The Deadly Assassin (1976) – the moments captured by use of a freeze frame, embedding the image in the mind longer after viewership, the strangulation of Taren Capel (David Bailie) in The Robots of Death, and the nightmare inducing face of Weng Chiang (Michael Spice) in The Talons of Weng Chiang (1977), the list goes on, and on, for all eternity.

All this didn’t come without repercussions, Mary Whitehouse, a firm critic of Doctor Who berated the show for scaring children and causing emotional and psychological problems for their young minds. The freeze frame of The Doctor drowning was not well received, now writing this in 2021, we know The Doctor gets out and lives to tell the tale, but to young viewers in 1976, the result was something that wouldn’t be answered for 7 l-o-n-g days. After Hinchcliffe’s departure, the show returned to good old fashioned family entertainment for Tom Baker’s final four years as The Doctor. An exception can be made however for Horror of Fang Rock, The Invisible Enemy, Image of the Fendahl and The Sun Makers (all 1977) all of which include remnants of horror and gothic values held with high regard during the renaissance era.

When Peter Davison took over the role as The Doctor late in 1981 (his official debut occurring in January 1982), the show was overseen by producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward (Antony Root handled three serial from 1982). Now, Eric Saward, as well as serving as script editor also wrote for the series; Earthshock (1982), Resurrection of the Daleks (1984), Attack of the Cybermen and Revelation of the Daleks (1985) all have two things in common. One, they are all excessively violent, to the point where even the most violent of violent Hollywood blockbusters would pale om comparison. Two, they all have extortionate body counts, where the chances of survival are almost zero. There would seem to be a fascination that Saward had in writing up a scenario, where almost every character is destined or whose’ purpose is to die before the final end credits – we’ll come back to this later on.

There is another fine example of the ‘high body + high level of violence = good storytelling’ formulae – The Caves of Androzani (1984). An epic war story with drug smuggling, arms dealing, a mad but brilliant scientist controlling the shots, a corrupt politician, a deadly disease with threatens the life of The Fifth Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant), a monster which lurks in the shadows, two factions closing in all sides, goes on. Unexpectedly, only one character (apart from The Doctor and Peri) survives, so why one would ask is The Caves of Androzani not the epitome of violent Doctor Who?

What does it mean to be the epitome of violent Doctor Who? Unneeded death and violence are key factors, the glorification of guns and gun violence are useful devices, and The Doctor participating in and encouraging violent acts must be included in the plot. The Caves of Androzani would give The Fifth Doctor enough excuses to participate in the wartime activities ravaging Androzani Minor, without the viewer losing their respect for him. Both he and Peri are hours away from certain death, and due to unforeseen, unfortunate circumstances, they become entangled in a web, which is slowly binding them together within the clutches of those who wish to see them dead. The Fifth Doctor is thrown into a situation that is not the result of his constant interfering meddling, but out of pure curiosity, as he says in Black Orchid (1982), ‘why do I always let my curiosity get the better of me?’ The Doctor’s mere presence is the factor which brings the war on Androzani Minor to an end, an unnecessary war on all accounts which would otherwise have ravaged on had he not appeared. The Doctor takes no part in the war activities, and the downfall of both factions bear no consequences on his behalf. All of the characters in The Caves of Androzani are the antagonists, so why would anyone want them to survive? Shouldn’t good triumph over evil like it always does? The use of guns is commonplace in the war genre, if it were not for the fact that Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) and Morgus (John Normington) secretly dabble in arms dealing and spectrox trading, to keep the warfront alive how would the story take place? If certain plot points are vital for a story’s progression and structure, then there is little to find fault in, but if a story is violent for violence’s sake …. then the question must be asked, is any of this necessary? This brings us to the epitome of violent Doctor Who, one of the weakest Daleks stories, a little four-parter called - Resurrection of the Daleks.

Resurrection of the Daleks opens in an abandoned complex of dock warehouses, an intricate maze of walkways and disused streets, left to decay in the midst of time, a forgotten landmark to the human race. An Elderly Man (Albert Welch) appears in frame. but the peace and eerie tranquillity of the warehouse complex is soon disturbed by the sounds of screams and the appearances of two men; Galloway (William Sleigh) and Stien (Rodney Bewes). Dressed in futuristic clothing, the strange men hurry away, when a group of bewildered Escapees (played by Various Artists) hurry out of a warehouse. Dazed and confused, the Escapees attempt to barricade a warehouse door, which is thrust aside by Two Policemen (Mike Braben and Michael Jeffries) and another Policeman – Lytton. Attempting to flee from their executioners, the Escapees are sitting ducks, vulnerable to the wide open street, and no barriers to put in their way. One by one the Escapees are gunned down in a matter of mere seconds. Oblivious to the goings on, played out in front of him, the Elderly Man meets the same fate, and slumps to the wet ground beneath his feet. The opening scene has been backlashed for its depiction of Policemen gunning down supposedly innocent citizens in the streets. Lytton is a callous piece of work, as we will later see, he’s not a fainthearted person, where killing people is like second nature to him. The brutality of the execution of the Escapees does seem like a step too far, isn’t it an act of cowardice to shoot an enemy in the back?

The only survivors of the Escapees are Stien and Galloway, attempting to find the time corridor, which they came through, to get to Earth is interrupted by the sound of another presence in a warehouse. Armed with a metal rod, Galloway commands Stien to flee to safety. Stien, huddled on a stairwell, awaits for his friend to join him, but things are cut short when a Trooper emerges from the dark shadows. Armed with a pistol, and taking aim at Galloway, we see the horror and fear in Galloway’s eyes, before the sound of two rounds of bullets echoes to Stien, the Trooper vanishes, leaving to be forgotten about for the rest of eternity.

Amongst the scenes of shooting down defenceless Escapees we’re introduced to an important location to the plot, a futuristic prison some centuries into the future. A dilapidated, crumbling, festering excuse for a prison, houses one of the most evil and brilliant minds the universe has ever known, Davros (Terry Molloy). Davros, who has been held in suspended animation for 90 years since the events of Destiny of the Daleks (1979) is on the brink of rescue. Under attack by another spaceship, the crew are left defenceless as the Captain and ½ the crew are blasted to death off-screen. The rescue party coming to release Davros fail in their attempts with the direct frontal assault on the air lock, but they are not going out without a fight. The ship locks with the prison, and the remainder of the crew are ready to fight to the death.

Congregating at an air lock, the crewmembers shield themselves behind a barricade of fallen pieces of the prison, a lukewarm attempt to shield themselves from their attackers. The door is blasted to smithereens, and the Daleks and their Troopers march in ready to fight. The battle commences, but it’s the Daleks their Troopers who have the upper hand. Two Crewmembers are disposed of within seconds of each other, reassuring that a change in the course of action is paramount for the Crew’s survival. The Daleks themselves suffer casualties as carefully placed explosives are detonated, destroying a majority of the casing of two Daleks, resulting in a withdrawal of the attacking party. Displeased with the failure of the battle front, the Supreme Dalek grudgingly obliges for Commander Lytton to use his battle tactics to overpower the prison station. A lone Trooper emerges and drops a capsule on the floor which immediately takes effect. A strange gas is released, and the crew begin to succumb to the gas. Suffocating, Styles (Rula Lenska), Mercer (Jim Findley) and Two Crewmembers (Lindsey Turner and other) flee from the devasting effects of the mysterious gas. As the Daleks close in, two other Crewmembers are left defenceless, whilst another already dead Crewmember’s corpse begins to rapidly dissolves at the face and hands. The horrific imagery of biological warfare fills the screen, reassuring that the Daleks will take any necessary action to overcome their enemies. The rest of the Crewmembers do not fare any better and are all exterminated with little chance to defend themselves.

The prison now under Dalek control (for the most part), two Crewmembers, Osborn (Sneh Gupta) and another unnamed crewmember (John Adam Baker) attempt to do the only thing they can do, destroy Davros. The act of executing a prisoner, no matter who it is, is both horrendous and cowardice in nature, but the nature of the situation would arguably justify their actions. Attempting to carry out what will no doubt be their last act, Sneh notices a strange smell in the room, but takes no notice of it, until she finds out what the smell is. The biological gas has followed them, and the other Crewmember has fallen victim to it. His face melting to the bone, and disfiguring him into a horrendous monster, he pleas for help, but Osborn executes him in cold blood. The first act of killing one’s own that we will see. The killing of the Crewmember proves to be Osborn’s undoing. Lytton and a party of Troopers coincidentally pass by the holding cell area. Her cover is blown, and with nowhere to hide, Osborn open fires, and kills one of the Troopers, an addition to the plot which seems arbitrary at best. Osborn is soon disposed of, both her and the Crewmember’s lifeless bodies are taken away, and Davros is released from his cell. The prison has fallen, the crew have been slaughtered, and more destruction is sure to follow.

During all of the bloodshed, gun violence, biological warfare and unnecessary killing, The Doctor has been separated from Turlough (Mark Strickson) – who has found himself onboard the prison in the far future. The Doctor’s presence has aroused the attention of a bomb disposal squad whose ‘importance’ to the plot we’ll come back to later. Allying himself with the dishevelled Stien, The Doctor plans to find out the nature behind the time corridor which ended the previous serial Frontios (1984). Their cover blown, after Tegan (Janet Fielding) makes her presence known, as a strange purple glow materialises in the warehouse depositing a Dalek sent to execute The Doctor. Taking cover with whatever the warehouse can offer, the Dalek descends on the group of humanoids. The camera pans into The Doctor’s face, the look of desperation in his eyes, as his iconic foe edges nearer and nearer off-screen. As the credits roll, the Dalek gives one last cry of EXTERMINATE!, with the iconic catchphrase fading into the classical Doctor Who theme music.

The Dalek in question is quick to dispose of one of Colonel Archer’s (Del Henney) Soldiers before continuing to open fire to complete its orders from the Supreme Dalek. The Doctor, an expert in Dalek anatomy, orders for the members of the bomb disposal squad to ‘aim for the eyepiece,’ The Doctor willingly encouraging violence and the swift removal of The Dalek. The Soldiers comply and The Daleks’ eyestalk is destroyed, which leaves The Dalek an unstable condition. The Doctor instructs for a door to be opened on an upper landing of the warehouse, where the imminent destruction of The Dalek swiftly follows. The Dalek falls to the ground below, to be destroyed in an explosion, debris of its casing scattering the ground below, a victim of a merciless disposure. The Dalek Mutant, a product of genetic engineering, a creature full of hate and a desire to kill anything which isn’t a Dalek, is no more, its remains scattered on the cold, wet ground of a disused London Dock street.

On the space station, Mercer, Styles and the two remaining crewmembers are the sole survivors of the Dalek attack, and it’s taken its toll. Styles comments, ‘I'd rather die quickly than painfully of dehydration’, an interesting juxtaposition statement, considering that Styles herself did not see the devasting effect of the Dalek gas. She has no foundation to determine whether or not dying by the gas will be quick rather than painful. Mercer, believing that Styles has given up the fight, asks her what they can do to defeat the Daleks, to which Styles replies, ‘Have you forgotten? This station has a self-destruct system.’ In a space of a mere minute, Styles has brought up the topic of suicide in two separate statements. This is an extreme and often problematic issue, which is absent from Doctor Who over its fifty-nine year broadcast.

Meanwhile Turlough, in a desperate attempt to find his way out of the Dalek Battle Cruiser, stumbles upon the corpses of the Escapees. They too have, have fallen victim to the Dalek gas, even in death, they are being punished for a second time. Their peaceful bodies, now turning to literal living-dead products, like an Egyptian Pharaoh whose’ mummification has gone horribly wrong. Almost suffocating, to the point of certain death, Turlough has precious moments to find an escape route from the horror show lying out before him. Successfully finding his way into The Daleks’ Duplication Room, two Daleks are watching his presence. One of The Daleks quickly suggests that he should be exterminated – would you expect anything else? However the Black Dalek has a different idea, ‘He would be better used as bait. The Doctor is sentimental and emotional. He will come after the boy.’ The Black Dalek is familiar with sentimental and emotional emotions, and only a Dalek full of hate, and devoid of humanistic feeling could phantom a plan where human ‘weaknesses’ are used to better aid the enemy.

Still finding their way to the self-destruct room on the space station, a group of Dalek Troopers are approaching Styles’ party. The Troopers themselves are modelled from a Dalek design, a dome shaped helmet with an eyestalk sitting out of the front, and the colour of their uniform being a direct facsimile of the Supreme Dalek. Taking aim at an interjection of a corridor, Styles’ party take aim and one by one the Troopers are taken down. The Troopers here, simply walk into the direct line of the enemy’s fire, with little chance and opportunity to defend themselves. In what is a macabre scene, is a fine example of the kind of writing Eric Saward often found himself producing. Having a group of humanoids being taken down in a preposterous scenario, and little remorse from the those responsible for the killing.

On Earth, the Dalek mutant has survived the explosion of its casing. Nearby is a lone Soldier, whose quickly falls victim to the wrath of the Dalek mutant. Latching itself onto the Soldier’s neck, the Soldier cries out for help as he is strangled to death. The Doctor, Sergeant Calder (Philip McGough), and Stien arrive on the scene, but The Doctor warns the others that the Dalek creature will kill again, if given the chance. Searching the warehouse, The Doctor gives Sergeant Calder, a graphic description of the Dalek Mutant, ‘Oh, you won't mistake it. The moment you find it, it'll try and kill you.’ It isn’t long until Sergeant Calder notice a strange movement beneath a pile of rubbish. Taking precautionary steps, The Doctor whips back a sack, while Sergeant Calder prepares to open fire, only to reveal a stray Cat. A moment of relief spreads amongst the warehouse, until the sudden reappearance of the Dalek mutant attracts their attention. Taking shift action, The Doctor whips the mutant off the neck of the Soldier, throws it to the ground, and then proceeds to put an uncomfortable amount of bullets into its body. A violent action which goes against The Doctor’s morals and a bloodthirsty action. The Dalek mutants death (although concealed by a sack) can be summed up in one word – brutal. The Doctor does redeem himself, in a manner of speaking, by getting rid of the weapon he just used. Possibly disgusted with his actions, he wishes to distance himself from the weapon he so craved not to use in the first place. Stien asks, ‘Is it dead?’ to which The Doctor replies, ‘Would you care to take a look?,’ not even The Doctor himself can bear to take a look at the carnage which he is partly responsible for.

Meanwhile Sergeant Calder, attempting to communicate with the outside world, stumbles upon the Two Policemen from before. Asking if he can borrow their radio, since the nearest telephone box has been sabotaged, only ends in the Sergeant’s demise. When the Sergeant realises that the radio he has been given is dead, he attempts to hand it back, only to have a pistol directed right at his forehead. We never learn what became of the Sergeant, did he attempt to flee, only to be killed like the Escapees? Was he taken to the Dalek ship and exterminated there? Was he shot dead right there and then in what would have been a painful last seconds of life? It is an uncomfortable question that is best left unanswered.

Sergeant Calder also falls victim to the Daleks (off-screen). After three Daleks are send to the warehouse, the Sergeant is left defenceless as the Daleks descend upon, and possibly exterminate him in the process. The Sergeant’s death is nothing more than a figment of imagination. Tegan, recognising the sound of gunfire, attempts to flee along with Professor Laird (Chloe Ashcroft) but their attempts are futile. Their escape route is blocked by Colonel Archer, Sergeant Calder and two Soldiers, all of whom are blank-faced, and in actuality Dalek duplicates. The sudden change of appearance of Colonel Archer does not go unnoticed by Tegan who comments, ‘That's not Colonel Archer. He gave the Doctor his gun belt, yet he's wearing one’. The prospect of sudden death is not far away, the duplicate of Archer says, ‘This warehouse is under martial law. Attempt to leave, and I'll have the pair of you shot.’ A strong statement and a worrying scenario for the two characters, left alive.