“You cannot steal what has already been abandoned. No one is interested in the people here.” – Davros
I rather enjoyed this one on the re-watch. While the costuming is extraordinarily campy and almost every single character is quirky if not ridiculous, it works as a good story over all. It has some especially gripping scenes between the Doctor and Davros at the end. Even the visuals are thought out with tons of evocative colors and hues throughout: the blue winter clothes against the snow, the elaborate funerary display and peacock feathered flowers, the eerie tombs and tunnels.
There are lots of good story ideas too starting with the setting; a Necropolis with thousands of dead in suspended animation is a great place for creepy adventure. The idea of the cryogenic sleepers needing a constant stream of information fed to them is also good. (I hated the goofy DJ as a kid and it totally put me off the story at that time; it’s still silly but at least I now can appreciate the undercurrent of him as a low-grade actor who under his breath is muttering about his displeasure with the job.) Playing up the civil war of Daleks even more by unexpectedly having them appear in the mysterious spacecraft and learning that the unappreciated staff members had contacted them as a counter to Davros is great.
Speaking of Davros, he is in fine form here. Having him infiltrate Tranquil Repose and use the bodies as fodder for his Dalek army is a wonderful idea. (The swiveling head was rather silly so I am actually kind of glad it turned out to be decoy in the end. It allows a great moment for him to surprise us by appearing from behind Orcini too.) He’s off the charts as always, so it’s almost funny to see him try to stifle his blustering anger to sweet talk Kara. His true nature is made clear in how he manipulates poor pitiful Tasambeker into a murderous rampage of loyalty to him. It also just fits that he would eventually make use of the rest of the necropolis bodies to make food. (“Did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?”) Of course this is something disgusting that Davros would have no qualms about! Meanwhile, Colin Baker’s Doctor gets his best moment so far in the series because his cocky self-assurance is a perfect foil to Davros’s seething anger. It’s great as the Doctor walks is casual and bored at the slaughter all around and simply shrugs “I see you’ve been busy.”
There are a lot of other nice little touches in the story, all involving death: the tender way that Orcini pats the face of his fallen loyal squire Bostock asking the Doctor to “tell them how we died” as he readies to sacrifice himself as well; the dark humor of Grigory (“You forget I’m a doctor. When they slice me open, I’ll know the name and function of each organ that plops out.”); the interplay of Kara and Vogel and her stony face at his death as her comment “Do you know how difficult it is to find good secretaries?” seethes with unspoken anguish; and the way Natasha’s father goes from normal speech to the harsh and stilted rhythm of a Dalek and yet pitifully is still asking his daughter to kill him.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
The glass Dalek has no logical reason for existing within the story but it is instead there to highlight the very gruesome sight of Natasha’s father mutating into a lumpy scabby Dalek. I think the best surprise moment comes at the beginning when Peri throws her snack in the water and a decaying hand unexpectedly shoots out to grab it but for only the audience to see.
There are a few problems in the story both technical (hard to hear dialogue) and directorial (the battle scenes are poorly staged and rushed including what was meant to be the dramatic deaths of Natasha and Grigory as well as the DJ). The red herring of the Doctor’s funerary statue is kind of stupid in the end and very much confused me as as a kid. From a writing perspective, I especially regret how we see Davros before they even start referring to the Great Healer. There should have been a mystery to the identify of this person that everyone kept holding in awe until it was later to our surprise revealed to be him.