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It has become moderately fashionable to criticise Eric Saward stories and, indeed, they exhibit a number of features that seem questionable when viewed from the general sweep of Doctor Who history: they tend to be graphically violent, feature plot lines that resolve in pointless deaths, are more interested in their supporting cast than the Doctor and his companions, and show a disturbing fondness for ruthless space mercenaries being ruthless. On the other hand, one can argue that they are also Doctor Who's first attempts to at high octane action stories. I'm sort of in two minds about that last claim since I think a lot of the UNIT era was reaching for the same thing just in the context of the 1970s rather than the 1980s but it's certainly true that Saward's stories tend to involve ambitious action set-pieces and their large supporting casts tend to be in service to a sweeping vision of squads of soldiers caught up in various kinds of war with a clear intention to both provide action-filled excitement and depict the horrors of war and the reality of violence.

When we watched Earthshock I thought it had an exceptionally good first episode and went downhill after that. I think there is lots to be said for the first episode of Resurrection of the Daleks (as shown, so 45 minutes) and while the second episode isn't as strong as the first, it actually remains pretty solid. You do need to allow for Saward's quirks - the effects of the poison gas deployed by the Daleks to take over the space station are unnecessarily unpleasant and this isn't a story many people get out of alive. That said the deaths of the supporting cast mostly are not pointless, as they edge the story closer to the final solution where Stein manages to blow up the space station. Even poor old Chloe Ashcroft's somewhat pointless death of her, frankly, somewhat pointless character Professor Laird is at least in service of a traditional Doctor Who capture-escape sequence. The Doctor and companions are also somewhat sidelined- the interesting action is happening on the space station and the Doctor doesn't even get there until the start of episode 2, promptly gets captured and then, in a moment that is not his finest hour by any means, decides he needs to kill Davros (as Tame Layman pointed out, this wasn't a good plan, or at least not if he was going to wimp out of it once he actually got there).

However, from the perspective of a 1980s take on a base-under-siege story Resurrection of the Daleks works pretty well. The story's characters mostly are not as unpleasant and nihilistic as they can be in Saward's work. I was genuinely rooting for the small group of survivors creeping around trying to get to the self-destruct console. Lytton's increasing frustration with the way the Daleks are bowing to Davros' whims is well-drawn and the factionalism and politics within the Dalek forces are an interesting (and at this point novel) twist - though it is odd that, after a story in which the Daleks repeatedly over-rule Lytton's advice to get away from the space station as quickly as possible because Davros is so important to them, they more or less turn around and say "stuff Davros, someone go hill him".

One can't help feeling that if Saward's sense of humour had not been quite so dark and his outlook at little less nihilistic (or at least his seeming tendency to get bored of characters and bump them off had been a bit better controlled) then his reputation would have survived the test of time better. Doctor Who needs its exciting action tales with fights and explosions as well as its more gentle and whimsical fare and when Saward was on form he was better at delivering this kind of thing than anyone else writing for Doctor Who in the early 1980s.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/580498.html.