The TARDIS lands on Necros, location of the sprawling corporate funeral home Tranquil Repose. The Doctor (Colin Baker) is attacked by a mutant (Ken Barker) and Peri kills it. Before dying, the mutant says the Great Healer used him as a genetic experiment, thus his appearance and his hostility. He thanks her for killing him, which upsets her so terribly that even the Doctor comforts her. At Tranquil Repose, a Disc Jockey (Alexei Sayle) plays music and talks to those who are in suspended animation. Natasha (Bridget Lynch-Blosse) and Grigory (Stephen Flynn) have snuck in looking for Arthur Sengos, Natasha’s father. They discover that his suspended animation capsule is empty. They find a room filled with pulsating Dalek brains.
Kara (Eleanor Bron) is a pawn of the Great Healer, who turns out to be Davros (Terry Molloy). She has hired the mercenary Orcini (William Gaunt) and his squire Bostok (John Ogwen) to kill Davros. Natasha and Grigory have found Arthur Stengos, her father, who is now a head with red flesh growing over it inside a glass Dalek shell. He tells Natasha and Grigory that the brains of everyone in Tranquil Repose are turned into Dalek mutants. He asks his daughter to kill him, which she does, but she and Grigory are captured and interrogated by henchmen Takis (Trevor Cooper) and Lilt (Colin Spaull).
The Doctor and Peri meet Mister Jobel (Clive Swift), the Chief Embalmer, and his assistant Tasembeker (Jenny Tomasin). Peri goes off with Jobel to meet the DJ, while the Doctor investigates further. Orcini destroys a Dalek and Davros is notified. He knows that Kara has sent the assassins for him, so he orders Daleks to bring her in. Tasembeker, who is spying on Jobel at Davros’ behest, tries to warn the Chief Embalmer out of love for him. When he spurns her advances, she stabs him with embalming fluid and is instantly exterminated by Daleks.
The Daleks capture the Doctor and lock him up with Natasha and Grigory, but they are rescued by Orcini. Orcini and Bostok arrive at Davros’ laboratory and attempt to kill Davros, but fail, and Bostok is killed by a Dalek. Kara is brought in, Orcini betrays her to Davros and stabs her. Natasha and Grigory are unable to destroy the brains ready for metamorphosis. Davros orders Peri captured. The Doctor is caught trying to save her, and they are taken to Davros’ lab. Davros boasts of creating a new Dalek army.
Daleks loyal to the Dalek Supreme arrive in a spaceship from Skaro. Takis leads the dark grey Skaros Daleks to Davros, where they encounter his loyal cream and gold Daleks. In the battle, Davros’ only good hand is shot off, and the grey Daleks take him back to Skaro for trial. The wounded Orcini, over the body of his dead Squire Bostok, warns the Doctor and the others to run for their lives and detonates a bomb, destroying all of Davros’ New Daleks.
A hell of a lot happens in this story, which is bizarre and action-packed, filled with black humour and rich characters. It was inspired by The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh, not quite so creepy as that satire on the funeral business, but more gruesome, and was criticized for that. Jobel, the Chief Embalmer, is based on the supercilious and effeminate Mister Joyboy from that book. Elenor Bron’s Kara is dressed like the Evil Queen from Snow White and she plays it that way. She holds her own with Terry Molloy’s brilliant Davros. When he kills her loyal assistant, she says, “Do you know how hard it is to get good secretaries?” We think the Davros head under glass is the only Davros until it is blown up, and then Davros appears in his chair, which levitates, until he is hauled off screaming by the Dalek Supreme’s minions.
Porcini, of the Grand Order of Oberon, and his Squire Bostok are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. William Gaunt is wonderfully elegant and underplayed, a welcome bit of nobility in a story filled with deplorables. Natasha and Grigory run around endlessly with machine-guns, in the marble halls above ground and the dark catacombs below. Takis and Lilt, the mausoleum security guards do Laurel and Hardy routines they worked out between them until they confront Davros, who has made their job no longer fun. The DJ rocks the inane patter of American radio rock-and-roll disc jockeys and is both irritating and hilarious. The idea of him playing music for the dead does not even seem strange in this weird story.
The Doctor and Peri had little to do with it, which could almost have gone on without them. This was the first time Daleks (and Davros’ chair) were seen hovering. The DJ plays Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller, A Whiter Shade of Pale by Proco Harum, and Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins. Grigory says, “I’m a doctor, not a magician.” The creation of food protein from people is reminiscent of Soylent Green. The success of this three-ring dark circus comes down, no doubt, to the brilliant director, Graham Harper.
The glass dalek was an old idea but had always been considered too expensive. Laurence Olivier was offered the small role of the mutant. Robby Coltrane and Phil Collins were considered for the role of the DJ. Julian Glover, Patrick Stewart, and David Warner were considered for Orcini. After this, Doctor Who went on hiatus for 18 months, and it almost never came back. But it was followed eventually by the Trial of a Time-Lord—four stories covering an entire season, culminating in Colin Baker’s regeneration into Sylvester McCoy.