THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO BOOK "THE
STEALERS FROM SAIPH"
AND THE TV STORY "CITY
EITHER 'DESTINY OF THE
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
OR 'THE DAVROS
COLLECTION' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
WHEN THE DOCTOR AND
ARRIVE ON A
THE TIME LORD HAS THE
SKARO - ORIGINAL HOME
TO THE EVIL DALEKS. BUT
WHO ARE THE
MOVELLANS AND WHAT
ARE THE DALEKS
SEEKING? THE ANSWER
LIES DEEP BENEATH THE
1st september 1979 - 22nd September 1979
The 1979/80 season saw Doctor Who abandon the umbrella theme that had proved quite a success with the foregoing “Key To Time” season in favour of returning to the more traditional format of self-contained serials. The first story to be broadcast as part of the show’s seventeenth run would be Terry Nation’s four-parter “Destiny of the Daleks”, a serial that to this day holds the distinction of attracting more viewers than any other Dalek story in the show’s history, new series included.
Graham Williams had originally approached Nation with the idea that he script a Dalek
serial to open season seventeen, however Nation only agreed to do so on the condition that he could resurrect Davros, the Daleks’ crippled creator first seen five years earlier in the classic six-parter “Genesis of the Daleks”. This serial would ultimately prove to be Nation’s last contribution to the show that he helped to make such a resounding success, and so accordingly the DVD release dwells heavily on the life and times of the Daleks’ real life creator.
The DVD’s flagship documentary, “Terror Nation”, runs for just under half an hour and looks at each and every Dalek story that Nation scripted for the series, beginning with the original 1963 Dalek serial and ending with “Destiny of the Daleks”. In truth, much of the content is very similar to that seen in “The Dalek Tapes” documentary that formed part of the “Genesis of the Daleks” DVD bonus material. The interviews all appear to be newly-shot, however a lot of the anecdotes are much the same. Do not get me wrong, there is certainly some new stuff to be found here – Terrance Dicks tells a quite amusing (albeit second-hand) story about the delivery of the first draft scripts for “The Daleks’ Master Plan” and Big Finish’s head honcho Nicholas Briggs sets the record straight as to his views on “The Chase”, but beyond that there is not all that much fresh material here. And so on balance “Terror Nation” – a name coined by Briggs’ Grandmother, it seems – is a well-produced and perceptive documentary, but if you already own (as practically every Doctor Who fan in the world does) the “Genesis of the Daleks” DVD, then this documentary has little to offer you.
The “Directing Who” featurette naturally focuses more on “Destiny of the Daleks” and its production. Director Ken Grieve recounts the making of this story in a manner that provides us with technical insight into the logistics of late-1970s television production, but also quite a bit of interesting, personal stuff about Douglas Adams, the series’ then-script editor.
The rest of the special features are somewhat less special, but are well worth a look nonetheless. Included is a unique trailer originally broadcast on BBC1 just a few weeks prior to the transmission of “Destiny of the Daleks”. Specially shot on the “Nightmare of Eden” set, this trailer sees disembodied voice warn the Doctor about his impending encounter with the Daleks, before wiping his memory of the whole conversation! When watching these contemporaneous trailers and continuity titbits, I always find it astonishing just how badly these things have dated when compared to the actual televised episodes themselves. The glut of Prime Computers adverts included on the DVD are perhaps even more palpably a product of their time, though I did still find the ‘marriage’ skit quite amusing!
Last but not least comes the commentary. Lalla Ward (Romana), David Gooderson (Davros), and director Ken Grieve are all on board to share their reminiscences about the making of the story, but lamentably without the uproarious presence of Tom Baker the whole thing feels a little dry. All told, I think that the commentary is quite representative of the
bonus material on the disc – competent, but far from spectacular.
Of course for many, the “Destiny of the Daleks” DVD will be just one disc of the eight that make up the “Davros Collection”, which has been released concurrently. Now I am not normally one to spend a lot of time lurking in the numerous Doctor Who forums that are out there, but I have to confess to being quite fascinated by the strong and conflicting opinions that many fans have voiced about this release. In a nutshell, the “Davros Collection” contains all of the previously released ‘Davros’ DVDs and Big Finish audio plays, plus a new
two-disc special edition of “Remembrance of the Daleks” (including two all-new
documentaries) and an exclusive Big Finish play entitled “The Davros Mission”. So far as value for money goes, if you do not already own any of the material contained therein then the “Davros Collection” is absolutely amazing value for money but, if like myself you have already purchased all of the previously released ‘Davros’ DVDs and CDs, it is hard to justify forking out the best part of a hundred quid just to gain a couple of new documentaries and
an exclusive play, particularly so soon after the release of the pricey “Key To Time” and “Complete Third Series” DVD box sets. Personally, I think it is nigh on inconceivable that both this two-disc special edition of “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “The Davros Mission” will not be released independently within the next few years, and so I for one am holding out, on principle if for nothing else! I will tell you what though, one thing that does please me about this “Davros Collection” is the fact that Big Finish are finally given some mainstream exposure – it is going to be even harder for their detractors to claim that their stories “don’t count” now that they form part of an official BBC DVD release.
Now to look at “Destiny of the Daleks” itself, first and foremost it has to be said that this serial suffers tremendously from being pulled in one direction by the writer and in another by the script editor. Much of the story is incredibly dark – look at the Daleks’ systematic extermination of the prisoners in Part Three, for example – whilst bits of it are downright silly. Now I should make it clear that I am a huge fan of Adams as a writer, but as a Doctor Who script editor I am not so sure. Some of his little touches are inspired – the gag with the book about the origins of the universe, for example – but then some of his other contributions - like K9’s opportune bout of laryngitis and Romana’s wacky regeneration - are unspeakably horrendous.
Romana’s regeneration scene is so often lambasted by fans, and with damned good reason. From the production team’s point of view, it made perfect sense to explain away Mary Tamm’s sudden disappearance by having Romana regenerate. In itself this was far from contentious. However, the execution of this renewal all but destroys everything that makes the process so special. Romana ‘tries on’ bodies like there is no tomorrow – typical woman! – before settling on someone else’s; she does not appear to suffer from any post-regeneration trauma; hell, her personality does not even change all that much. Some writers have since tried to explain this bizarre regeneration by implying that Romana belongs to a ‘New Blood’ house that can regenerate as often as they change their clothes, and some have even suggested that all Time Lady’s can regenerate on a whim. Personally, I would rather forget that this scene ever happened at all, though I suppose it could have been worse – I hear Williams and Adams toyed with the idea of casting a different actress to play Romana in each story!
Turning to Davros, it has to be said that Gooderson’s performance is the weakest of any actor ever to play the role. It is not so much that his performance is bad in itself; it is more that it is merely a middling imitation of Michael Wisher’s wonderful portrayal of the character. In fairness, Gooderson’s scenes with Baker’s Doctor are very good indeed, particularly in the last episode where they debate the stalemate in the Dalek / Movellan war, but even so Gooderson does not seem to have either the uniqueness of Wisher or the sheer passion of Terry Molloy.
However, the concept of “Destiny of the Daleks” is certainly a captivating one if you are prepared to indulge Nation’s penchant for human-looking androids. We have the Daleks
and the Movellans locked in a cold war – one battle computer against another, each predicting the next move before it is made and so consequently neither side makes a move. Ever. Of course, this notion does heavily imply that the Daleks have evolved to a point where they are now entirely robotic and utterly incapable of feeling, something that does not really sit right with me. Part of me cannot help but think that “Destiny of the Daleks” would have worked far better as a Cyberman story, but I suppose you have to at least give Nation some credit for the innovative manner in which he demonstrates this intriguing impasse - paper / rock / scissors: “Paper wraps… jelly baby?”
On the whole, I do not think that “Destiny of the Daleks” stands up anywhere near as well as any of the other Davros stories (both on television and on audio), and were it not for 2 Entertain’s desire to release the aforementioned “Davros Collection” DVD box set I do not think that this serial would have seen the light of day on DVD for some considerable time. Nevertheless, Ken Grieve shoots it beautifully and, save for the notable exception of “City of Death”, this serial is without doubt a cut above anything else that the 1979/80 season had to offer.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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