CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Destiny Of the Daleks

Season 17

Destiny Of The Daleks

September 1979

I have mixed feelings about the advent of Douglas Adams arrival as script editor for the 17th season. I can understand that he's lumbered from the outset with previously commissioned scripts and his frustration is evident at not being able to shape the series to his own satisfaction. I think what we end up with is a set of stories that have their own deficiences and pit-falls either due to poor scripts or the by now very apparent squeeze on the budget and a leading man who was intent on having his say and getting away with it.

There is is one shining example of Adams stamp on the show with City Of Death. It's the one script he really managed to get his hands on and rewrite from the ground up over a desperate weekend just before taping began. It carries all his predeliction for humour in the face of crisis, complex but barmy plotting and a brave attempt to give the bad guys a very good reason for their attempts at world domination. That he didn't manage to get a chance to carry this through the rest of the series in a more radical way is perhaps a shame in some ways. However, it's evident that his relationship with Williams would perhaps steer the show into an area where a deprecating humour ended up making the show a self-parody.

If there's a good example of Graham Williams inconsistency as a producer then Destiny is as good as any. It really isn't worth bringing back the Daleks unless you can re-affirm their core values not just in terms of a competent script but also in getting money on the screen. What's evident from this four-parter is that the budget didn't stretch to doing that. But more of that later... The Doctor and Romana (the Lalla Ward version) arrive on Skaro where they discover the Daleks have returned to their home planet to seek out their creator Davros. They're at an impasse in a war with the Movellans. First off...Romana's regeneration. I remember at the time that I felt this was all wrong. Granted, they hadn't been able to write Mary Tamm out of the programme and were left with having to introduce Lalla. However, the way they achieve this is symptomatic of their approach to the series as a whole. Thus far we know regeneration is either a desperate and traumatic act of self-preservation or is something used as a punishment/condition whilst undertaking an exile on Earth. You don't just go and randomly shuffle through a number of different bodies to suit you. That opening scene is just so wrong.

It's Time Lord narcissism. Gallifreyan porn.

It continues the mid to late 70s obsession with crapping on the authority and mystery of the Doctor and his people and their effective solution to seeking longevity. It makes a nonsense of it all when it shouldn't. This casual flippancy not only harms the show but makes the audience do a double take and disinvest their appreciation of the series. Not a good sign for those of us who do like our established continuity - I didn't like it when I was 16 and it still irritates the hell out of me now. Beyond this awkward introduction, Lalla Ward is actually a breath of fresh air. Mary Tamm never really made Romana appealing enough for me whereas Lalla creates something new with the character, making her the female equivalent of the Doctor in a much less antagonistic manner. However, I would say that she still fails as a vehicle for audience identification with the relationship between the Doctor and Romana evolving from the master/pupil one to more of a pair of very self-obsessed friends who can finish each others sentences!

The audience has for some time been placed outside of the central characters' relationship and we are remote viewers watching two very clever people solve problems. It could even be said that Romana even eclipses the Doctor as a character later in the season and beyond. What's lacking is an emotional involvement. They're clever and they get into scrapes but it's not the Sarah-Jane/Doctor axis of Time Lord protecting human from the terrors of the universe and it's not even the frustration of Barbara and Ian in the Doctor's failure to get them home. It's Time Lord narcissism. Gallifreyan porn.
They're battered, warped, chipped and badly painted mongrels.

Anyway. There's a lot more that's wrong with Destiny than the Doctor/Romana relationship. As a production it actually looks pretty good and truly awful in equal measure. The money's been spent on the interiors of the Movellan ship and the ruins of the Kaled city. They've even got a Steadicam in and that ups the pace and creates a moody ambience for the goings on. But the Daleks look really awful. They're battered, warped, chipped and badly painted mongrels. There are the sequences when they're advancing on the Movellan ship where it is plainly obvious the operators are walking whilst carrying the casings along. After the utter triumph of Genesis where good lighting and design convinces you that these creatures are thoroughly nasty, we're down to this rather uninspiring approach that effectively diminishes them for a very long time. And bringing back Davros for a cough and a spit wasn't really worth it unless you have an actor at least as good as Michael Wisher. David Gooderson just can't capture the immense subtlety of Wisher's work and he struggles to make an impact. Even the original Davros mask is looking a little lacklustre here. This is also the beginning of some tedious Dalek continuity that gets ever more complex when the show gets into the mid-80s but we only have hindsight to make that relevant today. And of course, Nation's stipulation that the BBC couldn't have the Daleks without Davros didn't help either.

The Movellans. Looking like a Bo Derek influenced dance troupe really doesn't come across. And the fact that you can disable them by removing their batteries is very lame indeed and why the Daleks hadn't spotted that one makes very little sense. They don't pose a threat at all despite having a nice, modern looking, white spaceship interior. For logical creatures they're presented in a very illogical manner. Just as illogical as the logic trap they're apparently caught in. Tom and Lalla sparkle away with very appealing performances despite that dreadful regeneration scene. The supporting cast are fairly dull all round - most of the Movellans are forgettable - but Tim Barlow's OK as Tyssan and David Gooderson tries hard. Ken Grieve's direction is spirited, especially when he's got the Steadicam going, and there are lots of lovely low level tracking shots but it's obvious that he was up against the clock to get the studio stuff done. The location work is adequate but ruined by those 'walking' Daleks.

Not an inspiring start to the new season. As a 16 year old this left me feeling unimpressed and my allegiance to the show was going and as a 46 year old all I can see is a script editor chucking bits in from his own work to desperately make Nation's script workable, a producer spending money unwisely on sets and costumes when the 'big bad' are in need of an upgrade and the self-obsessiveness of Tom and Lalla growing by the second.

The DVD edition features:
  • Commentary - With actors Lalla Ward and David Gooderson, director Ken Grieve.
  • Terror Nation - documentary about writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, and his work on Doctor Who. With contributions from producers Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe, script editor Terrance Dicks, director Richard Martin and Dalek voice artiste Nicholas Briggs.
  • Directing Who - director Ken Grieve recalls his time on this story.
  • CGI Effects – providing the option to watch the story with seventeen of the original video effects sequences replaced by CGI versions.
  • Trails and Continuity - BBC One trails and continuity announcements from the story's transmission, including the specially shot trailer heralding the return of the Daleks.
  • Photo Gallery - production, design and publicity photos.
  • Prime Computer Adverts - Australian TV adverts for Prime Computers, starring the Doctor and Romana.

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6 Responses to “CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Destiny Of the Daleks”
  1. I have recently seen this again myself and agree with you on almost every point.

    I liked the design of the Movellans - yes, killer disco androids seem silly now but at the time I was wondering why a race of humanoids would build a series of robots that wasn't pretty.

    The weakness of the Movellans, like all the easy outs of various science fiction stories, is annoying. Why on earth would you clip a battery to your belt, externally? Why? It's the sort of thing that haunts the genre today - in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you can prise the controlling chip out of a T800 series' head with a flathead screwdriver. Why such a design flaw? Of course, the real flaw is the reliance on logic, but this isn't exploited as a way of beating them. Plus, the use of rock, paper scissors is strange. All the Doctor manages to show is that two robots that are programmed the same way can't beat each other. But the Daleks aren't robots and the premise of the whole story is broken.

  2. Ah Destiny! What a clunker it truly is.

    The first episode does a half decent job in setting up the scenario and the outside filming is not too shabby (for a quarry) but things take a turn for the worst after that.

    I had very strong memories of this as a kid (I'm about a decade younger than you) but when I revisted this on its VHS release I was slightly less than impressed.

    Still, Lalla is gorgeous in her pink doppleganger~Doctor suit and their relationship is quite beautiful.

    Poor Duggy A having to deal with S17. Though, having said that, I've just made my way through Full Circle on DVD and it surpasses, Creature, Nimon and Eden for awfulness.

    Now, let's watch those Prime adverts again...

  3. Dave and Cameron,

    Happy New Year, guys. Your comments, as ever, are spot on.

    I actually think episodes one and two ain't bad at all in that they generate a very tense atmosphere that culminates in that terrific bit where the Daleks burst through the wall to grab Lalla. After that, it all falls to pieces and looks shabbier and shabbier.

    And the logic stuff just doesn't work at all when you start to pull it apart.

    Ah, well. 'City Of Death', next!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, one of my sisters gave me Battlefield for Christmas as I really wanted to see that again and since Destiny of the Daleks was cheap on amazon I asked for that as well. My memory was that it was pretty dire but I thought (hoped?) perhaps it would be better than I remembered. It would seem from frank's review and the comments that I might have been better asking for, I don't know, a couple of tea towels or something...

    Never mind, I did thoroughly enjoy rewatching Battlefied.


  5. Andrea, Happy New Year!

    Destiny is worth a view but just ensure you've had a few glasses of something first. The first two episodes are OK, in my opinion, but after that it goes rapidly downhill.

    Tea towels...Destiny Of The Daleks...which is better? There's only one way to find out. Fiiiiggggghhhhhtttt!

  6. Gigshaft says:

    What's strage is I watched "Genesis" and "Destiny" back-to-back with some uninitiated fans of the new series not too long ago. The unexpected surprise: "Genesis" fell a little flat, while "Destiny" played itself out as a nice little adventure.

    It was a strange experience. "Genesis" came off as plodding, padded, and leaving the Doctor with little to do. We found the main storyline was really about the scientists rising up against Davros, while Doctor is so ancillary to the plot that they have to invent things for him to do like rescuing Sarah Jane from a rocket miles away from the story.

    "Destiny," meanwhile, was a tight little adventure, well-directed and, while not particularly deep, shockingly satisfying. The horrible production gaffes of the time -- battered Daleks, "slime-with-worms," etc. -- didn't stand out as anything worse than "Genesis," and the then-ridiculous Rick James Movellans actually came across with a weird sense of style. There were even moments of really effective tension, not the least being Romana trapped in the glass tube.

    The big lame points: 1. Essentially implying the Daleks were robots. (I know, you can wiggle around it, but that was the gist.) And 2. The Movellans wearing their "off-switch" on their belts.

    But all-in-all it was a shocker. The classic heavy-hitter had lost some of its shine with the passing years, while the traditional last-place loser held its own.

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