Probably the biggest question one might have when one sees a title of this nature would be: "What in God's Name is a Dalek Saga?!"
And it's a valid one.
It's another one of those terms I came up with that no other fan really uses. From time-to-time, I have noticed that certain stories featuring Daleks strongly interlink with each other. Essentially, the smaller tales tell a bigger adventure. But, if I am to label things as a Proper Saga, they do have to be stories that are separate from each other. It can't just be one long adventure like The Dalek Masterplan (even though we could count Mission to the Unknown as a story onto itself that is distinct from the rest of the plot. But, because it doesn't feature the Doctor or anyone else aboard the TARDIS, I've decided it doesn't count!) A good Dalek Saga is made up of multiple stories that usually take place quite some time apart from each other. But, if you do watch them back-to-back, they display a nice ongoing arc.
With these strange, convoluted parameters in place, here are the Dalek Sagas we will be rating. In chronological order, of course:
The Intergalactic War With Earth Saga
Frontier In Space
Planet of the Daleks
The Davros Saga - Part One
Genesis of the Daleks
Destiny of the Daleks
The Davros Saga - Part Two
Resurrection of the Daleks
Revelation of the Daleks
Remembrance of the Daleks
The Cult of Skaro Saga
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Stolen Earth/Journey's End
The Recon Dalek Saga
Revolution of the Daleks
SPECIAL NOTE: If one is being pedantic (and, given you're a Doctor Who fan, you probably are!), one could almost say that all the stories in the Classic Series that feature Davros could be considered one long Saga. And I wouldn't dispute that point too hotly. They do connect together quite nicely as we follow Davros through a whole series of unfortunate events.
But, for various reasons, I do prefer to break them down into two parts. The most significant reason for doing this is that there is a huge shift in Davros' motivation between Destiny and Resurrection. The Mad Kaled Scientist still cooperates with his creations in his first two tales. But, after that, he actually conspires against them and works on creating a special army of his own that is obedient exclusively to him. To me, this constitutes a whole new Saga that should be considered distinct from the first two Davros adventures.
As usual, this is a REVIEW OVERVIEW not a BOOK OF LISTS. So we will be judging each Saga by certain points of criteria rather than just spewing complete unfounded opinion! In this instance, we will be looking at the strengths of five different elements that each Saga contains. In the last few essays of this nature, I've even attached a point value to these sort of components. This time, however, I will just discuss them in each review and make a call on them without going to such lengths as giving them a specific score.
Let's explain, however, which each point means:
A simple enough idea, really. But it is a problem that exists in some of the Sagas. Even though it's meant to be all about them, we don't actually see a whole lot of the Daleks for great chunks of the story. There is some justification for this, of course. They're "hiding" the Daleks for a big reveal at the end of an episode or something else of that nature. But, sometimes, a Dalek Saga just doesn't feel like one because there just aren't a lot of Daleks in it!
This one's inspired by a very interesting quote from Steven Moffat. It went something to the nature of: "There's no point in doing a Dalek story unless it reveals something new or different about them." And he's very right. Just having Daleks trundle along and shoot people up only works well for so long. Something has to exist in the plot that propels the idea of the Daleks ahead in some sort of way or reveals some hitherto-unknown nuance to their culture. Or, if you've got a really good writer working on the script, both of these things happen.
This one relates to the overall execution of the Saga. In some instances, it really does feel like the various stories flow into each other quite nicely. In other cases, the whole thing comes across as much more disjointed. The adventures seem as though they're held together quite tenuously. This can definitely damage the effectiveness of the Saga.
Execution of the Overall Theme:
Similar to Connectivity, but not quite the same.
There does seem to be some specific themes to every Saga. A sort of central idea that all the tales are built around. Some Sagas adhere well to that core issue and display it clearly. Others seem a lot more muddied. Sometimes almost to the point where we find ourselves wondering if we can really refer to them as a Saga. They almost don't seem to be telling a larger plot, after all.
Quality of Stories:
As always, one category is reserved for personal opinion. In this one, I simply discuss how I feel about the various adventures that make up the Saga.
So, we've made everything in this latest REVIEW OVERVIEW relatively clear, let's get on with actually rating the Sagas. We will start at the bottom and work our way up. Reviews will be quite comprehensive, so I will only tackle the worst two in this entry and do the other three later in the month. I do hate it if these things go on for too long!
The Cult of Skaro Saga
I can remember being just a tad frustrated with RTD back when he wrote for Doctor Who. One of the things that he did that really got to me was the way he never seemed to have much good to say about 80s Who (one of, if not, my favorite eras of the show). What irritated me even more about him was the fact that he still did certain things to emulate that period but failed at it miserably. It's one thing to denounce something. It's another thing entirely to imitate the thing you're deriding but execute it far worse than the source material did.
The Cult of Skaro Sago is one of the obvious examples of this phenomenon. It seems clear to me that he was trying to re-create the dynamic we first saw in the last three Dalek stories that came out in the late 80s (Resurrection, Revelation, Remembrance). There are all sorts of similarities in the way both Sagas are structured. The big difference between the two, however, is that the 80s Who stories are outstanding and Cult of Skaro sucks pretty bad!
Most of the trilogy has a very strong Dalek Presence. Army of Ghosts is the only exception, of course. But that's because they're trying to do an end-of-episode reveal. But suddenly including the Daleks in what appears to be a Cybermen story was a bit odd and really only worked so well. I was impressed, at least, that when we got to Davros in the final story, the Daleks didn't seem to take a back seat like they sometimes have before.
Aside from announcing the idea of the Cult of Skaro (but not really showing off that idea all that particularly well), we don't see a lot of that much-needed element that Moff mentions. There is a fair amount of Daleks just trundling along and killing people and not really doing much else in both Army/Doomsday and Stolen Earth/Journey's End. Only Manhattan/Evolution really shows the Daleks exploring something new and interesting.
The bridge between Army/Doomsday and Manhattan/Evolution does work quite well. It really does feel like the two stories link up nicely.
However, the very rules laid down in the first two stories about how an Emergency Temporal Shift works seem to get thrown out the window for the third installment. It's already established that Dalek Khan has drained himself of almost all his power from the first shift that he made in Doomsday. How, then, does he manage to break the time lock on the Time Wars and go in and rescue Davros? If his first trip through time forced him to hide in the sewers of New York because he has so little energy left, how can he accomplish such a monumental task?!
There are other stories in other Sagas that require you to imagine a bit of head cannon to get the links to work (Davros creating an Imperial Dalek Faction between Revelation and Remembrance, for example). Most of the time, it's not that hard to make the jump. But I do find this particular leap a bit difficult. To me, a time lock should be near-impossible to break. Certainly, a burnt out Dalek shouldn't be able to accomplish it. Even if the whole things seems to have wrecked his casing and made him insane (and, somehow, prophetic at the same time!)
Execution of the Overall Theme:
The actual theme of these three stories seems a bit muddy. Which speaks volumes of its execution, right there.
I was under the impression that it would be about the Cult of Skaro exploring new ideas that Daleks would never face before. We do get a bit of that in Manhattan/Evolution, of course. But, most of the time, the stories seem to be more about the Daleks trying to re-build their empire over and over but getting it wiped out by the Doctor every time.
Since this premise was already explored in Series One, this theme gets tired pretty fast. I am, in fact, quite thankful that Moff finally lets the Daleks succeed at doing this in Victory of the Daleks so that we can move on to other more interesting things.
Quality of Stories:
This is where I will ramble on quite a bit!
The first thing I noticed as I re-watched these stories together was that they really haven't aged well. When they first came out, I was a much easier fan to please. I was just so happy to see my favorite TV show back on the air. The actual content didn't need to be incredibly well-written, it was just great that Doctor Who had returned!
Now, of course, I'm much more discerning. And looking back at a lot of those early days can be a bit painful, sometimes.
The utter simplicity of Army/Doomsday is what I find the most underwhelming. Some Daleks and Cybermen are bleeding into our reality. The Doctor sends them back. That's, pretty much, the whole plot, right there. There are some subplots going on, but quite a few of them are cringeworthy. The worst being, of course, the Doctor and Rose saying goodbye. I have been known to just shut the story off once all the baddies have been thrown back in the Void. Those last few minutes of Doomsday are just too damned sappy for my tastes.
While most fans berate Manhattan/Evolution quite heavily, I actually like this one the most out of the three. Particularly since it tackles best what I thought would be the central theme of the Saga. It is still riddled with all sorts of problems, of course. Many of which have been pointed out endlessly by other fans, so I won't go into extravagant detail, here. I'll just simply say that RTD was mad to give Helen Raynor another two-parter involving a well-established monster from the Classic Series a season later. Her track record did not merit such a privilege. She deserved a second chance - as some of her writing did show promise. But she probably should have just gotten a single episode story with a new monster we've never seen before. RTD does seem a bit arrogant in this choice. Like he was saying: "Screw you, fans! I'll give you more Raynor even though you want less!"
While I do claim to be a less critical fan during the first few seasons of New Who, I was still not very impressed with the Series Four Finale. It seemed far too soon to be taking such a huge nostalgia trip. Particularly since the entire plot of Stolen Earth is, pretty much, just checking in on various old companions and spin-off characters at regular intervals.
There's also a lot of elements to the story that don't seem to be making a whole lot of sense. The Doctor suddenly being able to siphon off regeneration energy so that his appearance doesn't change would be one of the bigger ones. I'm still not entirely sure how his hand floating nearby in a fish tank, somehow, facilitates this process. Nor do I fully understand how it creates an extra copy of him, later. It all seems to be happening for the sheer sake of plot convenience.
I have literally tried to like this story. But there's just too much going on in it that makes me full-on wince while I watch it ("cringe" didn't seem to be a strong enough word - had to go for "wince"!). I would say it's the worst story of the entire New Series - but The Next Doctor follows immediately after it!
If we're going by story quality alone, The Cult of Skaro Saga really doesn't fare well. The fact that it's not doing good with some of the other points of criteria just worsens the problem. This Saga really didn't work It's a pity that RTD made it such a huge crux of his whole era. It gives his period as Head Writer a very unsatisfactory undertone.
The Intergalactic War with Earth Saga
This is, of course, the first real attempt at a Dalek Saga. So I am a bit more forgiving of it, in places. Still, there are a few problems with this Saga that we can't make excuses for. Although I'm much more satisfied with it than I am Cult of Skaro.
This is a tricky one, of course. We only get the briefest of cameos at the end of Frontier in Space. But such a low Dalek presence in this story makes total sense. The surprise of the Master appearing on the ridge with Daleks in tow is one of my favorite moments of the Pertwee Era. And the fact that we still have some Dalek Presence in Frontier allows the two adventures to be labeled as a Saga. I heavily considered putting The Long Game and Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways onto this list. Long Game is, after all, part of a huge plot by the Daleks to re-build their army. But since the episode contains absolutely no Daleks, I decided it didn't qualify. Frontier, at least, gives us Daleks for a few minutes. And their lack of presence in the other five parts makes total sense.
Continuing to hide the Daleks in Part One of Planet of the Daleks, however, is downright silly. We know, already, that this is a Dalek story. Not just because the Doctor explains to Jo at the end of Frontier that he is following the Daleks into the next story, but also because the tale actually has the word "Dalek" right in the title! So why are we waiting til the Cliffhanger at the end of the first episode to bring the Daleks in?! (I lament about this quite a bit in another recent entry. Check it out if you want: https://robtymec.blogspot.com/2021/08/complete-and-utter-silliness-few-more.html)
While we might look at the Saga now and not see much in the way of shedding new light on the Daleks, it does actually accomplish this if we view the story more contextually. This is the first real story that shows the military presence that the Daleks have in the galaxy. Yes, we did see them invade worlds and act in a militaristic fashion in other stories. But those cheap Dapol models in a polystyrene cave gave an atmosphere to the Daleks we had never seen before. Up until this Saga, their army was talked about here and there. Finally, we actually witness their forces in their full miniaturistic glory!
This is definitely one of the sore points of this Saga. There is even some dialogue slipped in during Part Four of Planet to try to highlight the idea that the stories really are intertwined. But they do feel pretty separate from each other. Like they almost don't need to be connected at all. The plots of the stories are just so different from each other that the link between them feels very weak. In some ways, it's nice to have two stories that are so diverse still telling a larger adventure. But, in many other ways, this seems to work against the Saga.
Execution of the Overall Theme:
This is a great illustration of how this category is different from Connectivity. While the two adventures don't join together very well, we are always thinking at the back of our minds how the Doctor is fighting to save 26th Century Earth and its various associated colonies from the evil clutches of the Skarosian Conquerors. Which is the central theme of the Saga. So, as far as I can see, the theme was well-executed all the way through.
Quality of Stories:
While I do say that I am happy with this Saga, Frontier in Space does actually make it a bit difficult for me to truly feel that.
The plot is threadbare. We need about two episodes to tell it - not six! To compensate for the deficit, we get endless captures-and-escapes to mark time (It actually breaks a record! Read about it here: https://robtymec.blogspot.com/2019/11/complete-and-utter-silliness-capture.html). The story, itself, just drags and drags and drags...
There are some good points, of course. Like the Silurians, Malcolm Hulke creates another three-dimensional species in the Draconians. And I've already mentioned that great reveal of the Master and the Daleks working together at the end of the story.
But I will have to say that I find Frontier more disappointing than enjoyable.
Planet of the Daleks is not without its flaws, either. While it took me years to genuinely see the similarities, it is a bit of a re-tread of The Daleks. It also follows a bit of a formula that Terry Nation is trying to exploit so that his job as a writer can be much easier. Death to the Daleks follows a lot of the same patterns that he first establishes in this tale. (There was a temptation, by the way, to include Death in this Saga since I do believe it takes place at the end of the War these stories are foreshadowing - but I did feel that the connection between the stories just wasn't strong enough).
But Planet does rise above its flaws and tells us a very entertaining story. Most of the time, the constant peril that the characters seem to be in works quite well and gives the whole adventure a nice "edge". It's quite nice to see the Thals back, too. I wish we'd get more of them. The fact that a complete anti-thesis of the Daleks lurks on their own planet is an interesting concept that bears further investigation. One imagines that the Thals are either wiped out by their enemies or emigrate to another world. It'd be nice to find out what their ultimate fate was. But Planet, at least, builds nicely on their mythology.
Because Planet is a vast improvement over Frontier, the Saga, in general, works fairly well. It's weak enough in places that it ranks pretty low in the list. But it's still better than the mess that is The Cult of Skaro Saga.
Well, that's enough for now. Not sure if you agree with my sentiments, thus far, on the Sagas that I've covered. You may love the whole Cult of Skaro thing or think Frontier In Space is a work of art. If so, sorry if I offended you.
Anyhow, I'll be back in here shortly to cover the other three stories...
If you like REVIEW OVERVIEW essays, here's some links to a few more:
Actors in Multiple Roles - Part One:
Actors in Multiple Roles - Part Two:
The Very First REVIEW OVERVIEW of Them All!