Sex, Death & Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Curious Orange, before he got the Lee & Herring gig.

In the mid-1980s, Doctor Who (perhaps influenced by a cultural context in which a strict matriarchal figure was punishing the British people for their own submerged desires) developed a habit of delving into surprisingly murky and morbid corners… and no story has corners quite as murky and morbid as ‘Revelation of the Daleks’. The undercurrents in this strange tale include unrequited love, lust, suicide, alcoholism, putrefaction, mutilation, cannibalism and even – obliquely – necrophilia. This is a story that has a perverse, sexless, destructive, sado-masochistic anti-romance at its core, relegating all the stuff about galactic conquest to the sidelines.

Naturally, displaying obtuseness that is almost customary, most commentators have missed this and worried volubly about the least of the story’s delectable sins: the onscreen violence, which is only startling when judged against the largely implicit jeopardy of the Davison era and hardly compares to the extremes of, say, ‘The Brain of Morbius’. But ‘Revelation’ looked tame even then, even by the standards of material made for kids. Have you seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? It’s torture porn for finger-painters.


The literary novel that we’re *supposed* to talk about in connection with ‘Revelation’ is, of course, Waugh’s The Loved One… but, while I don’t dispute the Waugh connection, the book that I always find myself thinking of when I watch ‘Revelation’ is Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is a novel that seriously worried some people at the time of its publication, not just because of its determinedly ambiguous morality and gay undercurrents, but because of its sheer, unbridled (and supposedly un-British) sensuality; its focus upon physical details, upon heady emotions and upon lavish descriptions of colours, fabrics, flowers and, most especially, aromas. The eponymous Dorian even spends some of his long life dedicated to the study and enjoyment of perfumes.

We encounter smells in many Saward scripts. In ‘The Visitation’, the TARDIS crew encounters the smell of sulpher and then of the alien gas soliton. In ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, the bacteriological weapon used against the staff of the prison ship causes the infected to stink even as their skin bubbles and drips off. In ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, the defrosting Telosian tombs give off the smell of bad meat. In ‘The Two Doctors’, which Saward script-edited, the Doctor launches into a little soliloquy about the evocativeness of smell as he and Peri stand in the kitchen of the deserted space station, sniffing the rotting food and – it is implied – the corpses that the Sontarans left in their wake. In ‘Revelation’ we have Bostock who stinks “like rotting flesh” because his personal philosophy forbids him to wash. The smell of the butcher’s shop window is heavily implied by Stengos’ appearance.

Also, as in Dorian Gray, there is a noticeable emphasis on flowers. The Doctor and Peri walk through banks of them on their way to Tranquil Repose; Jobel and his staff are first seen amidst floral decorations; Tasambeker is offered a flower in a cruel parody of a compliment.…

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