Monday, 3 December 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Destiny of the Daleks (Revisited)

The Daleks take a course in intution from Davros. They are
unfortunately unable to make any notes.
See here for my previous look at this story.

Doctor Who - Season 17, Story One - Destiny of the Daleks
Written 8/9/12

Terry Nation is one hell of a figure when it comes to Doctor Who. He brought us not only the everlasting Daleks, but also many other stories for the first four Doctors. An equal figure outside of Who is one Douglas Adams, the writer of the widely popular Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and one of the wittiest men in history. Together, they came together to try and start the 1979/80 season with a bang, by reintroducing not only the Daleks, but also their incredibly popular creator, Davros.
     Having fitted a randomiser to escape the Black Guardian, The Doctor is busy fixing a sore K9 when Romana announces that she has regenerated, into the form of the previous story's Princess Astra. (Lalla Ward.) He's not very happy at first, be after she "tries on" several bodies he accepts the Astra body as just right. They find themselves on a rocky planet that The Doctor feels like he's been to before. There, they meet a landing party of the disco-esque Movellans, who reveal that they are on Skaro. The Daleks have been fighting a war with the Movellans using battle computers, and so both sides have become so logical that neither can outwit the other. The Daleks have returned to Skaro to dig up Davros in the hope that he has some answers, but The Doctor gets there first. Davros, when he awakens, takes the power a bit to his head, and sends out suicide daleks to blow up the Movellan ship. The Doctor, luckily, leads a group of Dalek slaves to incapacitate all of the equally homicidal Movellans and blow up the Daleks before they do any harm. The slaves fly away, Davros is cryogenically frozen until next time, and The Doctor and the new Romana pop off of their travels.
      The story's biggest problem is that it takes on the ideas of a very much-loved story (Genesis) and then performs them in a way which, despite being to the best of its ability, inevitably fails to live up to those past glories. The imposingly bland corridors of the Kaled Bunker are now green and purple affairs littered with sugar-glass and lit by what appear to be stage lamps that have been deliberately left in shot. The grand, majestic battlefields between the Kaled and Thal domes are now replaced by a standard BBC Quarry. Davros as played by David Gooderson is no longer the calculating schemer we know and love but now a generic, shouty villain who spends the vast majority of his airtime either being pushed around on a joy-ride by the Doctor. If it was being taken entirely seriously, then we might be able to forgive this - I respect Warriors of the Deep for the fact that it still manages to convey its themes despite its crippling studio problems - but Douglas Adams' additions to the script make it just knowingly self -aware enough to be a problem.
     That isn't, though, to say that the story is without merit. The direction, using the new Steadycam technique, is actually quite impressive and does its best to make a quarry look like a rolling landscape. The concept behind the Daleks and the Movellans' impasse, if one ignores Nation's apparant lapse in memory about the Daleks' organic nature, is actually quite an interesting sci-fi idea and feels similar to the arguments about logic's value from Two's era. There's nothing wrong, fundamentally, with the story's concept, but it's all in the execution. At times, with its winking humour that pokes fun at both Doctor Who and the Daleks, Destiny feels very much like a parody of the series rather than a season opener.
Oh look! Rocks!
     Aside from the whole Davros thing and the fact that only four Dalek models were left (all of which have very recognisable damage marks from previous stories/handling) the other thing this story is famous for is being the story in which Romana II appears. Mary Tamm, who had played Romana as introduced for the previous season's Key To Time arc, declined to continue playing the character, and so they hired Lalla Ward, who had played character Princess Astra in the previous serial. I personally prefer Tamm's Romana, although I've seen a lot more of Romana II than I have of Romana I (six serials to one) so I don't really have an opinion yet. While rather strange and certainly without Watsonian reason, the regeneration scene (written entirely by Adams) is a fun bit of script that covers the changeover nicely.
     Adams' first contribution to Who, and Nation's last, Destiny is a good indicator of the stories that the troubled production of Season 17 had to come. And of course you've heard me go on about troubled productions over and over again, you know I have. But Season 17 was a time of greatness and a time of camp self-awareness that forced the show into reverse gear for the next few years. Destiny of the Daleks could be called So Bad It's Good, but luckily the calibre of Adams' writing means that it just scrapes into an "OK" category. And OK Doctor Who is usually more fun than other programs anyway.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: Paris gets called a rude name. Monty Python makes a cameo. The Doctor and Romana go on a date.

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