There may be a few production missteps (tatty looking Daleks, David Gooderson squeezed into Michael Wisher’s old mask) and scenes which should have gone to a second take (“spack off!”) but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Tom’s on fine form, switching from playful to serious in a heartbeat (for example, the moment when the Doctor learns he’s on Skaro). The Doctor might have plenty of gags, courtesy of Douglas Adams, but there’s also a pleasing somberness about him, especially in episode one as he and Romana explore the mysterious planet (the lack of incidental music increases this sense of unease).
Ken Grieve’s low-angled shooting favours the Daleks but it’s also used to good effect elsewhere. And these low angles make it clear that several sets, including the TARDIS, have ceilings – which is very unusual, especially during a period when the series was rather cash-strapped (you’d have assumed it was an extravagance the show could ill afford).
Lalla Ward is Romana. Within a few minutes any thoughts of Mary Tamm have been banished and although Romana II might be somewhat hysterical at times (especially when confronted by the Daleks) possibly we can put this down to post-regenerative trauma.
But her fear and panic during the Dalek interrogation scene does help to sell the notion that the Daleks are powerful and dangerous opponents, something which is rather negated as the story progresses. The nadir of this comes with the unforgettable sight of the sad suicide Daleks shuffling awkwardly across the Skaro plains.
Terry Nation ends as he began, with a trip to Skaro. Familiar Nation tropes are given a final outing – such as an obsession with radiation and the sight of the TARDIS made inaccessible. Although it’s a little bizarre that the radiation subplot goes nowhere (the Doctor warns Romana that they have to take radiation pills regularly, she’s then separated from the Doctor and the pills, but no matter since they’re never mentioned again). Also, it’s a little irritating that Nation seems to regard the Daleks as purely robotic, a far cry from David Whitaker’s devious schemers.
Holding back Davros until the end of episode two was a good move, since it gave the second half of the story fresh impetus. Although it does mean we have to consider the Davros problem.
It seems that poor David Gooderson has never been regarded with a great deal of affection by the majority of Doctor Who fandom, although in his defence he was dealt a pretty rough hand. His Davros doesn’t have any of the signature moments that Wisher enjoyed and this – together with the reused mask – ensured he was always going to come off second best. But he’s by no means bad and is certainly closer to the original than Terry Molloy’s frustrated Ena Sharples from Resurrection was.
It may be comfortable and rather predictable, as only a Terry Nation story could be, but there’s plenty to love across these four episodes. So long Terry and thanks for all the scripts.