Okay, this one will be tainted ever-so-slightly with a sense of nostalgia.
This was, to the best of my recollection, the first complete Doctor Who story I ever saw. I had caught a few isolated episodes here and there (I do think the very first image I ever saw of "Who" was those crazy green Swampies in "Power of Kroll") but this was the first story I saw from beginning to end. And now, with some hindsight in place and a much more discerning opinion, I can see that this story does have an obvious flaw or two in it. But, in my opinion, it still holds up quite well.
The introductory scene with Romana (which made little or no sense to me when I first saw it but still seemed quite fun and interesting) is a nice start to the new season. We actually see just how skilled of a script editor Douglas Adams is in this moment. Within the span of four minutes he writes out Mary Tamn, brings in Lalla Ward and puts K-9 on hold for the story. And he does all this with some really witty dialogue. I love it when K-9 says "Aah" when he's not supposed to and the Doctor tells him to shut up! Just as funny as the "Oh look! Rocks!" gag!
Romana the Second is still, as far as I'm concerned, one of the best companions the 'ole Doc ever travelled with. Sure, I've still got a much bigger crush on Peri (what can I say? She's the Doctor's "chestiest" companion and I'll always be "a boob man"). And both Ace and Rose were "fleshed out" beautifully in the scripts. But the chemistry between Baker and Ward is fantastic, right from the get-go (no surprise that they eventually "got hitched" - even if it was just for a bit!). I love that the entire first episode is spent mainly with them wandering around learning about the planet they're on and getting into some trouble. I believe there have been complaints that Nation should have thrown a lot more into that episode in terms of plotting. I love that he didn't. Cause it gave us some nice time to enjoy some characterisation and some very straight-forward story-telling. Considering how overcomplicated the series could get by this time in its run, it's nice to see it go "minimalist" now and again.
All right, here's where I get in some trouble with a good chunk of you. "Genesis of the Daleks" is a great story and is a classic just by virtue of the fact that it tells the origins of the Doctor's greatest enemy. The "have I got the right?" and "out all evil some good must come" are some of the deepest philosophical moments the show has ever produced. But, you know what? Outside of this context, it really is only so great of a story. And though Destiny doesn't have some of the grandiose window-dressings that Genesis does, by no means is it the crushing disappointment fandomn sometimes makes it to be. At least, not in my book.
First of all, it is the only story involving Davros that really dresses a good balance between the Dalek creator's prescence in the plot and the Daleks themselve's. Genesis, Ressurection and Revelation are really more about Davros than they are the Daleks (particularly Genesis - whereas Ressurection does come close to getting the balance right). And though the surprise appearance in Remembrance is utterly fantastic, it does mean that his real prescence in this story is considerably small. Not so with Destiny. In this one, the amount of onscreen time between the Kaled meglamaniac and his master-race is almost equal down to the very minute. And this is one of the greater strongpoints of this tale. We can enjoy lots of really well-written banter between the Doctor and Davros and we can also enjoy lots of menacing moments with the Daleks.
Okay, now I go out on an even further limb. I really like the actor who played Davros in this particular story - even if the mask looked awful on him! I do feel that in some of the portrayals, Wisher and Malloy got a tad too OTT for my liking. Sometimes it's not even the acting so much as the dialogue (sorry guys, but the whole "if I had virus that could kill everyone" speech in Genesis is more silly than anything else - I mean, can anyone legitimately get that excited over just thinking about a virus?!). Whereas I really do like how the meglamania is a bit more subtle here. And gets downplayed even further by Baker's mockery of it ("You've misquoted Napoleon!"). Davros, to me, is at his best here because he's not just screaming and ranting about Dalek supremacy like he is in so many of his other stories. Or being so blatantly conniving that a blind fish could tell he was up to something. In Destiny, he has a few more dimensions or "shades" to him. And can actually seem restrained in places. Of particularly noteworthiness is his order to the Daleks to obey the Doctor when they think his self-sacrifice is illogical and, therefore, not possible. Other "incarnations" of Davros would've gone totally OTT in that moment. But our man stays cool in the delivery. And it gives such a nice "edge" to Davros because he does. A very nice piece of acting, as far as I'm concerned. I almost wish David Gooderson had reprised the role one or two more times. Yet another opinion I'm sure I'm alone in!
There are many more great little moments in this story that make it, overall, an above-average runaround. But I think the strongest testament this story has is that it "sold me" as a 14-year-old boy looking for a cult series to become obcessed with. Like all boys of that age - I was looking for someone to be my hero. And this story brought out the real sense of heroism I was looking for in a character. The Doctor, in Destiny of the Daleks, displays incredible wit and eccentricity whilst, at the same time, being brilliant and effective against evil when he needs to be. And the fact that a good chunk of the whole conflict is resolved by a well-placed throw of a hat just left me awe-struck! Seeing a gripping sci-fi tale end with just a neat piece of costume improvisation made me feel I had stumbled upon a really original T.V. show that I needed to learn more about. And that, I feel, speaks greater volumes about this story than anything else.
This is the one that got me hooked. Glad I saw it.
I must admit first off that it has been a considerable time since I sat down and watched this all the way through, so this review is based purely on memory. What I drew from this story the first time I saw it (about 5 years ago), and continue to find it dripping with (last time I saw it, 8 months ago), are allegorical referrences to the Cold War: two warrior races locked in a war lasting thousands of years (I believe, memory is sketchy) without a shot being fired.
The fact that Daleks are referred to as robots and logical may strike many as wrong, but think of the allegory for a moment. Both the Daleks (USSR, no offense to any russians, just the way it came across to me) and Movellans (US) entered the war on ideological/emotional/whatever grounds and then became stuck in the logic of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction: one side attacks, the other retalliates, both are wiped out). Waiting around for the moment of maximum advantage, a moment that will never come, is very reminiscent of 1979-80. By then the Cold War had dragged on decades without the actual war being fought, as both sides were in an arms race waiting for the moment where they could attack, and not be destroyed in the process. When Davros referred to the Movellans as "another race of robots," he seems almost mystified that both sides could become trapped in the logic of MAD, robotic slaves to wartime logic.
As for Davros himself, I feel that the portrayol of him is excellent, given the fact he has been sitting around on his own for eons. The last time we saw him he had run into the Doctor who provided, for once, some stimulating conversation, then his Daleks betrayed him and he was trapped for however long and the Doctor finds him. He may not be dripping with evil, but he seems glad of the company, while still remaining evil. Later on, in Resurrection-Remembrance, he has been out of his hole in the ground a while, but here in Destiny he has been freshly awoken.
Destiny may not be as dark as Genesis, but it is worth keeping in mind that, though a war is (not) being fought in the skies above, on the ground the Daleks and Movellans are stuck in the Logic of MAD, and as such do not want to kick-start the war (until Davros starts manipulating things). The idea that, at any moment, an action by either side could start one of the greatest wars in history creates a great deal of tension, which is sadly the downside of this story. That tension, the logic of MAD, Davros' weak showing, all of these are only apparant if you use your imagination to make them so; the script does not do a good job of supporting these ideas, other than a casual referrence here and there.
Overall, I feel this was a well done story that is only let down by the lack of explanation. Fortunately, this does not detract: you can make up your own explanations for missing expositions, you can't explain away obvious faults (as in some other stories). As the next story after the superb Genesis, I feel this story has been hugely underrated over the years as its faults are minimal, and the allegorical referrence to the Cold War (though it could have been better) was well done, coming as it did after the Nazi referrences in Genesis.
There is always that anticipation when a sequel to anything we hold in high esteem comes along. There are great expectations of how one is going to top what is considered a great work of literature or television or cinema. In the sixties, Terry Nation created the Daleks and with their first story, set them out as becoming as popular a character as the Doctor himself. When they returned one year later in the story, Dalek Invasion of Earth, Nation managed to create another epic that stood side by side with his original story.
In the seventies, Nation wrote Genesis of the Daleks, a story that was supposed to reinvent, of sorts, the history of the Daleks. In creating the character Davros, Nation once again created a character that has proven as popular as the Doctor and the Daleks themse lves. And that’s where Destiny of the Daleks and most future Dalek stories fail.
Davros, while indeed a great character and when written correctly can be a great foil for the Doctor, tends to overshadow the Daleks whenever he is used in a story. The Daleks become mindless drones with one obsession - restoring Davros so as to help them in their war with the Movellans. The Daleks have conquered earth and have developed their own form of time travel with an understanding of transcendental dimensions, and yet they keep coming back for Davros, looking for help. The Daleks don’t appear as threatening as they did in the sixties.
This does present an interesting plot twist in the story though as the Movellans try to even the sides by engaging the Doctor for his aid. We are given some great moments as the Doctor explains to the robotic race how they will always be at a stalemate with the Daleks through the demonstration of the game, “Paper, Rock, Scissor s.” The interplay between the Doctor and Davros is excellent once again, but David Gooderson doesn’t drip with evil the way Michael Wisher or Terry Malloy does in their turns as the Daleks’ creator. So we not only have the Daleks watered down, but Davros’ presence isn’t strong enough to strike some tension into the story.
The lack of music throughout most of the episode, in particular during some of the more dramatic scenes, also tends to take away from the story, especially when you add Gooderson’s performance into the mix. It appears as though Tom Baker’s trying desperately to make it work, but he hasn’t anything to interact with effectively.
Lalla Ward premieres in this story as the character of Romana. Having played Princess Astra in the previous season, she is trying to find her way into the character and she appears more as the demure Astra then as the more outgoing Romana in this story, though we see some hope with her stopping the Movellan commander f rom detonating a nova device in episode four.
I also found it jarring to see the BBC wardrobe department being raided to clothe the slaves of the Daleks. I spotted outfits from The Mutants, Colony in Space and Frontier in Space. I also believe Michael Keating wore Tyssan’s outfit in an episode or two of Blake’s 7.
Overall, Destiny of the Daleks is a great idea with a great story, but it becomes only a good story when you consider what it has working against it. This is not a sequel that stands up to the original, Genesis of the Daleks as Dalek Invasion of Earth did with The Daleks back in the sixties. Not the best way to lure viewers into the 17th season of a long running television series.
Let’s get a few things out of the way right at the start. The Daleks are in a shocking state. Broken slats, wobbly, ill-fitting domes, chipped paintwork. They’re less supreme conquerors of the universe, more earthbound, ropey BBC props. Secondly, Romana’s regeneration. The worst thing is that the pace is a bit off; it feels like a rehearsal rather than a take. But, otherwise, it’s quite fun. It’s an appropriate appetiser for the new team, Tom and Lalla, the intergalactic sophisticates. I really can’t get worked up about it at all. But surely nobody does anymore, do they?
Anyway, look, Episode One’s great! It’s really rather eerie. I know it’s Terry’s well-worn first episode template but so what? It’s well done here. There’s precious little dialogue or incidental music throughout, which feels really odd, but it works. The location filming’s great. That lovely tracking shot when they’re talking about concrete. None of this I appreciated at the time, of course. I was only five. Romana fell down the shaft, the Daleks burst through the wall and I almost dropped dead from fright. 1st September 1979. I was petrified.
And the Movellans. I love the Movellans. They look unlike anything else that ever appeared in the series. What does the Television Companion say? Their appearance leaves a little to be desired? Who are these people? They look great. I love the whole 1979-ness of this story: the white leatherette and bent aluminium tubing. That’s exactly what their spaceship would look like. It’s the future. It gleams, it dazzles. The TARDIS in the 1996 TV Movie should have looked more like this and less like the Batcave, but that’s by the by. The exterior looks great as well; it really imposes itself on the quarry. And then they find Davros. And when their backs are turned he wiggles his fingers. I couldn’t breathe. 8th September 1979. I could not breathe.
Now, Davros is rubbish, I’ll give you that. Not then, of course. God, not then. But now… well. Look, Michael Wisher wasn’t available, so there we are. It’s all been said before. Have we talked about Romana’s costume, though? It’s the best joke of the season (well, we’ll always have Paris). It’s witty and stylish. I love it. And Lalla’s great too: world-weary and aloof but look at the way she goes for Sharrel at the end. Can you see Mary Tamm doing that? No, quite.
But before that they stick her in a tube with a bomb! Ken Grieve is inspired here. The Steadycam stuff is fantastic. It looks wonderful and makes you wonder why it wasn’t used more often on the programme. 15th September 1979. Can’t remember that one at all. But, come on. It’s the least terrifying cliffhanger, to be fair, and just meant I had something to look forward to when I was older. And to an adult eye it’s the most satisfying. So everyone wins!
Now, what haven’t we mentioned? Well, Roy Skelton spends most of the story veering perilously close to Zippy – just listen to Romana’s interrogation in Episode 2. The prisoners die in a really rubbish way. I suppose they’ve been shovelling rock and they’re exhausted and that’s why they… flop. But, still. And spot-the-costume’s an old game but it’s still funny to see the one dressed as Jon Pertwee walking around. And there’s the Chinese Detective! And one of the Movellans is called Cassandra. Just… Cassandra! (I love daft credits. What’s that other one? ‘Tarpok – Vincent Brimble’. Terrific!)
So that’s about it, isn’t it? It was my first story proper (I remember running away from the title sequence prior to this and have vague memories of Roy Castle – that confused me for years) so of course I love it. I don’t always like it but I’ll always love it. It’s brilliant. It is. Oh, if you don’t agree you can just spack off.
Having left behind the quest for the Key to Time, Doctor Who returns to its usual format, as the Doctor's meanderings are left to the randomizer, which promptly returns him to Skaro. The first Dalek story for some considerable time, 'Destiny of the Daleks' should have been a triumphant return for the Doctor's perennial foes, but instead is marred by the unwise decision to resurrect the most successful aspect of their last appearance and a rather half-hearted feel throughout.
The opening scene in the TARDIS is rather at odds with the subsequent tone of the story, as Douglas Adams' script editing makes itself felt with Romana's off-camera regeneration. I generally like Adams' sense of humour, but here it falls rather flat, possibly because Mary Tamm's sudden departure makes recasting her role a work of desperation. Romana's silly regeneration wastes several minutes and fails to be amusing, despite would-be funny lines, such as during the Doctor and Romana's bickering about character versus appearance, and the brief conversation they have from different rooms, during which they both repeatedly mishear one another. This silliness is enhanced by the nonsensical reason used to both remove K9 from the rest of the story so that Terry Nation doesn't have to fret about his creations being humiliated by a robot dog and also to recast its voice later in the season, due to John Leeson's (temporary) departure. The entire scene reeks of contrivance and just doesn't really work, although points are gained for the Doctor's inexplicably hilarious "Oh look, rocks!"
After this dubious opening, the humour is considerably toned down as the story proper begins. And what a pedestrian story it is. Nation should have long ago realized that if his stories are going to have the word "Daleks" in the title, spending the first episode building up to their supposedly dramatic revelation is utterly pointless. Nevertheless, this is what happens. In all fairness, we do have the mysteries of who the pilots of the mysterious spacecraft are and what the zombie like humanoids are doing, but even so the episode feels like it's treading water. Even when the plot starts to develop in Episode Two, there's something very lethargic about the whole thing. I can't help feeling disappointed by the lack of impact that the revelation that the setting is Skaro has on me either. Skaro has in the past been a nightmarish place, from the weird petrified forest and the mutant filled swamps of 'The Mutants', through the cold and unwelcoming Dalek stronghold of 'The Evil of the Daleks', to the depressing war-torn wastelands of 'The Genesis of the Daleks'. Here, it's just a rather scenic grassy place with old and ruined barns lying around and the odd gravel pit. There are half-hearted references to high radiation levels in Episodes One and Two, but after Romana's heart-stopping performance in Episode Two, this is completely forgotten.
The story only really gathers momentum during Episode Three, with revelations about the Movellans and the return of Davros. Unfortunately, I have issues with both. Whilst I like the look of the Movellans (nice arses in tight spandex) and their spaceship (and the model shot of their spaceship burying itself is quite impressive), they are generally rather unimpressive as a race. Their main problem is that don't seem particularly threatening, and this is painfully obvious in Episode Four; despite the fact that Agella is strong enough to survive being buried under rubble in Episode Two, several of the Movellans are overpowered by slaves who have spent considerable time working for the Daleks under presumably debilitating conditions. Worse still, Commander Sharrel seems to be astonishingly badly damaged by a minor blow in his spaceship, resulting in Romana being able to literally disarm him with a kick near the end. As for the fact that snatching a tube from their belt can deactivate them, it can of course be argued that a Dalek could not do this, but it still renders them less than impressive. They are all acted well enough, Peter Straker's softly spoken Sharrel especially of note, and it's also nice to see a multiracial cast in the series, but as villains they don't have much impact. This might not seem to be a problem given the presence of the programme's most enduring monsters, but due to an unwise development in their characterisation, they too suffer badly…
Terry Nation's decision to restyle the Daleks as total machine creations is a grave mistake. Suddenly, they are a race not of psychopathic blobs in mobile war machines, but a race of robots, slaved to logic. The Daleks have never been a race of logical machines; they have always been paranoid xenophobic sociopaths motivated by a fierce hatred for any species other than themselves. Cunning and ruthless, they have worked because they have been portrayed as Nazis or used as an allegory for the horrors of war. Reducing them to the status of bargain basement Cybermen lessens their potency as a force for evil by a massive degree. It isn't even handled well within the confines of 'Destiny of the Daleks' itself; the Daleks state that self-sacrifice is illogical, but they have a history of doing so when it benefits the race as a whole, and here we see two of them risking themselves to save Davros from the Doctor's explosive device for that very reason (although I would like to point out that their self-sacrifice in order to destroy the Movellan ship doesn't necessarily conflict with this, since Davros orders it and by this point they have agreed to obey him because he can advise irrational actions and thus end their stalemate). In addition, I find it hard to believe that given the urgency of their mission to Skaro, it is really more logical to use humanoid slave labour than more efficient machinery, a point that Romana actually raises. Tenuous logic abounds in Episode Four as the Doctor uses a game of scissors-paper-stone to illustrate the deadlock between the Daleks and the Movellans (and whilst we're on the subject of dubious logic, why do the Movellans need comfy chairs on board their ship? Do they regularly entertain guests?), but as The Discontinuity Guide points out, this is an inappropriate example, since there is no logical advantage to choosing any one of the three options. Ultimately, the Dalek/Movellan impasse is introduced for the sole reason of giving the Daleks an excuse to resurrect Davros.
Which brings me to the Daleks' insane creator. When I reviewed 'Genesis of the Daleks', I highly praised Davros as a character and described him as one of the finest villains ever to appear in the series. The production team of 'Destiny of the Daleks' clearly agrees with me, since they elect to resurrect him in this, the very next Dalek story. It is arguably a mistake for several reasons. Firstly, Davros' undoing by his own creations at the end of 'Genesis of the Daleks' was entirely appropriate, as in his last moments he realized that he had made them too pitiless ("have mercy!"). After that, bringing him back feels rather gratuitous and in addition the lesson he learned in that final moment is conveniently forgotten as he awakens delighted to see his homicidal progeny and confident that they will obey him. Secondly, he's far less impressive here due to recasting. I feel that David Gooderson is not as bad in the role as some critics have claimed, but he has a very, very hard act to follow and he just doesn't pull it off. His Michael Wisher impersonation works sporadically, but it often sounds like he's trying too hard and it doesn't help that he's wearing a second hand mask that doesn't fit properly. Thirdly, Davros cheapens the Daleks. As a one-off in 'Genesis of the Daleks', this didn't bother me, but his return marks a change in the nature of Dalek stories that remained constant until Big Finish entered the picture. Gone are the scheming manipulators of the black and white Dalek stories, as the Daleks from this point on in the television series are only ever concerned with either obeying Davros or trying to destroy him. The ambitious conquerors of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth', 'The Daleks' Master Plan', and the 'The Evil of the Daleks' are replaced by watered down petty factions. Most of this will come later, but for now we get blindly obedient Davros henchmen.
The other most memorable aspect of 'Destiny of the Daleks' is that it introduces Romana's second incarnation, and the chemistry between the two leads results in a much closer relationship between the two Gallifreyans than that which existed between the Doctor and the first Romana. Lalla Ward's performance as Romana is highly endearing, and the character gains a warmth that Tamm's icy incarnation lacked. Ward's Romana also seems more vulnerable, especially when being interrogated by the Daleks for example, but she retains her previous pluckiness as evidenced by her tackling of Sharrel in Episode Four. Tom Baker actually takes his role quite seriously in this story, with much of the humour played down in comparison with the rest of the season, and the Doctor's intense dislike for Davros is palpable, especially when he tries to blow him up in Episode Three. The feeling is clearly mutual, but what is also evident and which works in the story's favour, is the grudging respect they bear each other, each realizing that the other is more than clever enough to solve the impasse between the Daleks and the Movellans. There is even a "let us put aside our differences for a while" moment, which whilst only a pale imitation of the superb scene between the pair in 'Genesis of the Daleks' in which Davros contemplates unleashing a hypothetical virus that would wipe out all life in the universe, is at least an attempt to characterize Davros as more than just an ranting madman.
Overall, 'Destiny of the Daleks' isn't as crushingly bad as I remembered; it's just very half-hearted and mediocre. The production doesn't really help, with tatty Daleks and a generally drab feel. I also find the presentation of the Dalek city rather dubious, since at first it seems to be deep underground, but later there appear to be windows leading in and out all over the place. This gnaws away at my suspension of disbelief throughout. Some of the supporting cast members further weaken the production; Tim Barlow is rather wooden as Tyssen, but does at least make an effort, but the others are atrocious. Most of the extras used don't even get speaking roles, simply being cast as cannon fodder, but they can't even fall over convincingly and I'm sure that one or two of them start giggling when they get exterminated in Episode Three. In summary, 'Destiny of the Daleks' is a disappointing start to Season Seventeen; fortunately however, what follows next more than makes up for it…
Like The Armageddon Factor this is another show where "the memory cheats". When I was a kiddie, this was my all-time favorite Dalek show. Now it's an episode that causes headaches while watching it. A lot of things don't make sense. Davros explains how and why he was able to come back, but it all sounds like baloney. There are lots of unanswered questions and plotholes you could herd a fleet of Drashigs through. After the Daleks "killed" Davros at the end of Genesis, it looks like they rolled his body into the Dalek equivalent of a broom closet, so how does the Doctor know exactly where to find him? Why did the Daleks save his body anyway? Why does Davros "wake up" the moment the Doctor finds him? Since when are Daleks slaves to logic? How can K9 catch laryngitis? ARGH!
There are other things that give this story a tacky look: Davros wobbles a lot whenever he moves, the Dalek operators are constantly re-adjusting their upper casings, and the fight scene between the escaped prisoners and the Movellans in Episode Four just looks sad. Then there's the Movellans themselves. Looks like they're going to a disco after they leave Skaro.
Anything good? Yeah. Lalla Ward in her debut as Romana is great. Well, apart from the scene where she blubbers in front of her Dalek interrogators. I don't think Mary Tamm's Romana wouldn't have done that. David Gooderson is also good as Davros. His scenes with the Doctor are the highlight of the story.