Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks

Part One

“Oh, look. Rocks!”

So, K9 has laryngitis (no behind-the-scenes reasons for that, I’m sure…) and has to stay in the TARDIS. That’ll be Terry Nation not wanting a fight between the Daleks and K9 then.

Lalla Ward is here to stay (yay!) although not without a certain amount of faffing about. I refuse to make any great play out of the fact she seems to try out four bodies as the whole thing’s supposed to be a laugh, and the whole thing seems a lot less worrisome continuity-wise since the Doctor grew that hand back in The Christmas Invasion. Which, of course, hasn’t happened yet, so pretend I didn’t say that.

Incidentally, just as significant as the change in lead actor is the fact that Romana’s still hanging around after the quest for the Key to Time is over.

Anti-radiation pills- yep, it’s definitely Terry all right. And as the Doctor and Romana step on to the planet we hear a very familiar background sound instantly telling those in the know that it’s Skaro. It’s all thanks to “special sound” chap Dick Mills, I suspect, that such touches are still there sixteen years after The Daleks. And let’s see… a ruined city; part one spent exploring; slave workers… already this is looking like Terry Nation’s Greatest Hits Part II (Planet of the Daleks being Part I, but you knew that). And then we have a spaceship landing and the line “Well, at least it’s not a flying saucer.” Is Nation mocking himself or is new script editor Douglas Adams doing it for him, I wonder? On the subject of our new script editor, incidentally, I couldn’t help noticing the Doctor saying “bye bye” rather a lot throughout this story.

Terry gives us some more of his standards as Romana is followed by a mysterious figure who, let me try out a wild guess, may well turn out to be a goodie, and access to the TARDIS is blocked by some less than solid-looking rubble. The scenes are familiar, but the dialogue is notably wittier than usual for a Nation script, and the Doctor’s reading a book by Oolon Caluphid. The contrast in style between Adams’ dialogue and Nation’s doing his usual stuff really makes it hit home just how dated and, frankly, tired the usual Nation stuff feels by this late stage.

The Doctor is captured by disco dancers from space (I have to say that cos it’s 1979) and Romana gets the Dalek cliffhanger. There’s one thing I’m not sure of, though- do the Daleks want Romana to move or not?

Of course, the best bit about it is that Romana only falls into the Daleks’ path after our mysterious figure walks towards her menacing and doesn’t say anything to her for some reason.

Part Two

“If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”

The Doctor’s captors are called the Movellans and they’re actually quite nice- or are they? Whatever, I like their hair. And they give the Doctor someone to boast that he knows the Daleks “better than you can possibly imagine” to. Romana’s captors are definitely baddies, though, and their lair still has that cool throbbing sound after all these years. Thank you, Dick Mills!

Romana seems quite frightened during her interrogation, perhaps a little less self-assured at this stage than when she was being played by Mary Tamm? The Daleks, meanwhile, demand to know if she’s in the employ of a “space power”. We’ll be hearing about an awful lot more space thisses and space thats. I suspect they amused Douglas adams as much as they amuse me so he left them in. Good call.

Romana’s sent to work as a slave, but it’s immediately apparent that she doesn’t fit in, as she’s clearly the only person present capable of saying anything that isn’t 100% exposition. So she fakes her death and escapes, hopefully to find a better standard of conversation elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Daleks are burrowing deeper into what we now learn is the same Kaled city from Genesis of the Daleks. Heh. That Dalek just said “penetration”.

The big reveal is Davros, apparently perfectly preserved (we can’t see much of the lower bit of his mask yet) and coming to life…

Part Three

“What were we talking about?”

“Your inevitable destruction.”

“No. no, no. we had that conversation the last time we met.”

Davros opens his mouth. Oh dear. The voice is possibly the most important aspect of the character, and David Gooderson just isn’t any sort of replacement for Michael Wisher’s alternately ranting and silky tones. These scenes are well directed, mind- I particularly like the lighting with all the green, and the fact the Daleks are always shot from slightly below to make them look bigger.

The doctor has a bit of a chat with Davros, and it’s him who has to do all the work to keep the conversation as Davros is a bit of a bore, and the bottom half of his face is all rotten to boot. The Daleks clearly want Davros and approach, but the Doctor has a bomb (well, he’s always using weapons, after all) and so off they all spack. We have a bit of a stand-off, with the Doctor managing to negotiate hard even after the Daleks start killing prisoners- suddenly they’re Nazis again.

The Movellans turn out not to be so nice after all, but as the Doctor and Tyssan (and what a well-rounded character he is) easily defeat one by playing catch they’re obviously not much of a threat.

The moment the story goes very badly wrong is where the Doctor finds a Kaled mutant and comments that the Daleks are just “another” race of “robots”, about which more next episode. But first we get two countdowns (clichés duly counted) and a cliffhanger.

Part Four

“Vision impaired! Vision impaired!”

Interesting to see that Davros seems very much in control. There’s apparently still a Supreme Dalek but “That is a title I shall dispute most vigorously!”

Lan points out that the Movellans need someone to stay behind to guard their bomb and is immediately volunteered for this suicide mission, to his complete equanimity, as he’s a robot. But here’s the problem- this episode reveals the whole crux of the story to hinge around, as the Doctor puts it, “one race of robots fighting another”. No, no, no! The cool thing about the Daleks has always been their personality. They’re not logical creatures- they’re cruel, they’re arrogant, they can be quite anal, they can throw a right mardy every now and again, and most of all they’re sneaky and Machiavellian. Making them just robots takes away all their character, and is a thousand times worse than what was done to the Cybermen in Revenge of the, er, Cybermen

So we have a logical deadlock- two battle fleets, two computers calculating the optimum moment to strike, and not a shot fired- as the Doctor puts it, the perfect recipe for eternal peace. This is actually a brilliant idea which would work fantastically if one of the two sides didn’t happen to be the Daleks.

We move to the scissors paper stone scene, which seems to go a bit too neatly- how come the Doctor always beats Commander Sharrel? Then Davros has the Daleks turn suicide bombers while the ex-slaves start doing stuff. Only Tyssan ever says anything, of course. A couple of spots of bother with bombs from Sharrel and our suicide bomber Daleks are dealt with by the Doctor and Romana respectively, and that’s it. It’s a good job the Daleks happened to reveal their plans to an eavesdropping doctor, mind. A rather neatly plotted ending, I admit, but it’s treatment of the Daleks is just wrong wrong wrong.

The way the Daleks have suddenly turned into robots is wrong on all sorts of levels. Having said that, though, they don’t behave particularly more like robots here, and the plot’s sound. But the problem is that the story consists of a load of things we’ve seen before from Terry Nation one after the other, and it all suddenly feels very tired. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh (Planet of the Daleks was very very silly and a load of old tosh but I enjoyed it, and that was comprised of similarly recycled Terry Nationage) but this only gets a 2/5, narrowly avoiding a plasce in my bottom 10. I suspect this story is one of those that lose out from being watched as part of the Marathon.

Still, I suspect I’ll like the next story better!

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