Destiny of the Daleks ★★★

Davros returns and Lalla Ward is the new Romana in this fun, tatty and unintentionally hilarious Season 17 opener...

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Season 17 – Story 104

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“There is much to be done. You must tell me of all the victories the Daleks have won whilst I have slept. And all the defeats. I shall learn from your mistakes. The Daleks shall be made into perfect creatures” – Davros

Storyline
The randomiser sends the Tardis to Skaro. Romana, adopting a new form, and the Doctor discover Daleks mining the planet, using humanoid slaves. They seek their creator, Davros, hoping he will give them the upper hand in a war against the robotic Movellans. Their enemies, meanwhile, have sent a detachment to foil the Dalek mission. Davros revives, his life support having held him in stasis for centuries. As the Dalek and Movellan battle computers are locked in a stalemate, Davros sends a suicide squad to destroy the Movellan ship…

First transmissions
Episode 1 – Saturday 1 September 1979
Episode 2 – Saturday 8 September 1979
Episode 3 – Saturday 15 September 1979
Episode 4 – Saturday 22 September 1979

Production
Location filming: June 1979 at Winspit quarry, Worth Matravers, Dorset; Binnegar Heath sandpit, Wareham, Dorset
Studio recording: Studio recording: July 1979 in TC3 and TC1

Cast
Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Romana – Lalla Ward
Tyssan – Tim Barlow
Commander Sharrel – Peter Straker
Davros – David Gooderson
Agella – Suzanne Danielle
Lan – Tony Osoba
Jall – Penny Casdagli
Veldan – David Yip
Movellan guard – Cassandra
Dalek operators – Cy Town, Mike Mungarvan
Dalek voices – Roy Skelton (& David Gooderson uncredited)
(Interim Romanas – Lee Richards, Maggy Armitage, Yvonne Gallagher)

Crew
Writer – Terry Nation
Designer – Ken Ledsham
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Script editor – Douglas Adams
Producer – Graham Williams
Director – Ken Grieve

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Daleks! Davros! Skaro! New aliens! In what was to be Terry Nation’s final script for the show, the Doctor encounters his most implacable foes on their own “turf”.

Unfortunately Nation undoes much of the good work of his epochal Genesis of the Daleks. Back then we had free-thinking, dangerously autonomous Daleks and a creepily charismatic leader, the former severing the knot by apparently exterminating the latter.

So why now does the buckled, battered and blinking rabble that is supposed to be the superior force of the universe return on metaphorical bended knees? After their clinical deposition of their Hitlerian father figure, chanting, “We obey only Davros” just doesn’t ring true. And that’s not the only absurdity peddled by Nation’s story…

The mutated terrors and vicious struggles of the Daleks’ last outing seem light years away now. Robert Holmes’s muscular influence as script editor is long gone, and there’s a much lighter hand on the tiller – evident from the outset.

It’s hard to know which idea is the clumsier: K•9 having laryngitis or Romana trying out a few bodies before settling on that of Princess Astra from the preceding adventure. Of course, such levity is precisely the sort of thing Douglas Adams was brought in for, but neither of these cracker-joke diversions shows much respect for the audience.

In spite of her shaky introduction, Lalla Ward makes a fun “new” companion, retaining the know-it-all poise of Mary Tamm’s incarnation but injecting some girlish glee. She seems misdirected here, however. Whining and crying under Dalek questioning might be what companions of yore were expected to do, but Romana is a Time Lord, for goodness’ sake!

Of the guest characters, Tim Barlow’s Terrence Stamp-like Tyssan is the standout, but the production is hamstrung by a huge disappointment: Michael Wisher’s unavailability. David Gooderson does what he can behind the obviously damaged Davros mask, but Wisher was an impossible act to follow. And the sight of this ruthless megalomaniac jigging up and down along the corridor (his feet clearly going like the clappers under his Dalek skirt), or being pushed around by the Doctor like a wheelie bin, is unfortunately hilarious.

The Movellans in their Persil-ised tunics and beaded dreadlocks are very much a product of their disco-influenced era. The revelation of their robotic composition is a neat twist, but how can they possibly be the equals of the Daleks when they are overcome in such pathetically easy fashion – either by a blast on a dog whistle or the removal of their Duracell pack?

The story is rammed with silliness of this kind. The sight of a cobwebby Davros suddenly awaking, senses and health intact, after hundreds of years, is beyond idiotic. And after the many Dalek stories he’d masterminded, would Terry Nation honestly have penned the line “One race of robots fighting another”? As any fule kno, the Daleks aren’t and never were robots.

AND YET.
For all its flapping flaws and patched-up aesthetic, Destiny of the Daleks is clattering good fun; the type of tale children would have lapped up from the pages of TV Century 21 comic. It moves along at a decent lick and much of the action is well handled, from the initial burial of the Movellan ship to the climactic siege, plus the optical effects for the Dalek lasers throughout.

But the enjoyment doesn’t just derive from the straightforward, knockabout antics. The unease that the Doctor feels in upsetting the balance of power lends the caper surprising heft (paper-scissors-rock nonsense notwithstanding). And if it leaves the viewer with nothing else, three decades later, the image of the Daleks as suicide bombers has horribly disturbing resonance.

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Radio Times archive

We kicked off the 17th season with an interview with costume designer June Hudson.

Destiny of the Daleks ep1 article

The four episode billings and an ode from Roger Woddis. 

Destiny billings
Woddis
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[Available on BBC DVD]