Destiny of the Daleks

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Ken Grieve
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1979
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

Destiny opens with what is, I believe, the longest sustained scene in the series' history. (Though I could be wrong - didn't I read that in DWM once?) Even Billy Big Up was pacy compared to this, with a continuous 3m 14 second sequence. People complain about the scene because of Romana using up all her regenerations. Personally I don't think she does, it's all part of a single process ("The arms are a bit long, I can always take them in.") It's a bit silly, but I kind of like it. In fact, as this was the Who I grew up with, I assumed it was always like this. It's a bit too daft, but it has a spark and an appeal that the po-faced playground shenanigans of Genesis can't capture. The (clearly Douglas Adams rewritten) dialogue is a little indulgent, yet also quite witty.

Episode-wise, then there really isn't a lot of plot as it's a "pad it out until the Dalek cliffhanger" Nation special. Yet there's much innovation to this one, from the Ken Grieve direction which is a Hell of a lot better than its reputation - much better, in fact - the ceilings on sets and total absence of incidental music, replaced by industrial sound. The design is good, too, with the landing of the Movellan ship standing up astoundingly well considering the story's nearly twenty-five years old. Okay, the polystyrene block wobbles as Romana moves over it (and why does she keep pressing on it when the Doctor's underneath?), but how anyone can look at all the myriad of camera angles and techniques and still say Grieve isn't a good director is beyond me.

The Movellans are ethnically conscious robots - surely not unintentional? And as Oolon Coluphid is referenced, does this make it canonical with Hitch-Hikers? This first episode isn't deep Who, it's good-time Who, but well made all the same.

Prominent Fan Moans: The first story after the Doctor has installed the Randomiser, it takes him to a place he's already been fifty times. However - check it out - the Tardis had only landed on Skaro once before at this stage.
Pure Nation: Romana twists her ankle.
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The Daleks do look marginally tatty, what with those spokes in the centre of their domes and their scratched casing, but no more so than in all of the 80s stories (save Revelation). Most importantly, they're shot a Hell of a lot more intelligently than in any of those stories (save... well, you get the idea). Their dialogue is a little inane ("Seek - locate - exterminate!"), proving that Tel hadn't improved and Douglas couldn't be bothered. There is a crap dummy Dalek in the mining scene, but this is less notable than in the climax to the "classic" Genesis. One also "jumps" when it enters the lab.

There's an awful lot of exposition in this episode actually, and it does betray the fact that there's really not a lot of plot. Yet while people criticise the Movellans, they're a stylish lot, as is their craft. I'm not sure about the use of standing studio lights as ... standing lights, though.

I like Tom's performance here, though it's astonishing that a lead actor could be allowed to ham it up so wilfully.

Prominent Fan Moans: "If you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing up after us?" Isn't it more unrealistic to assume the Doctor hasn't noticed they can't climb stairs? Not to worry - Spanner-In-Chief Aaronovitch was only a decade away...
Pure Nation: The Doctor says "it's vital" three times this episode (and once in part three).
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Okay, David Gooderson isn't big enough (literally) to fill Michael Wisher's boots, and he lacks the same presence, but his vocal treatment isn't as good, his dialogue inferior and the outsized mask tatty. To my mind he does an okayish stand-in for Wisher, unlike Molloy who hammed it out of existence. And no Davros was as demeaned by the Doctor as this one, even if I did crack up at his "oooh, poor Davros!"

Other than a brief dramatic sting in episode two, this is the first time incidental music is used, with Dudley Simpson giving a comic refrain to Davros's movements. This is the weakest episode so far, where cheapness and silliness corrode the narrative somewhat. Just how many times do we hear a polystyrene squeak this episode anyway? And am I the only one pedantic enough to get irritated when the Movellan leader lists "Mutant Humanoid" - and it comes up as "Humanoid Mutant" on screen?

Some slate Tim Barlow as Tysson, but I've seen much worse actors in nearly every Doctor Who story ever made. But yes, the scene where the prisoners lamely fall over is crap. (Want a defence? They're said to be "zombies" in the first episode anyway. And maybe Grieve was homaging the stagy falls in the Odessa Steps sequence of Battleship Potemkin?) why is one dressed as a Draconian anyway?

This is the episode with the leaping Dalek case and Davros banging into walls. Yet Davros gliding expressionlessly past two exploded Daleks is cool. The Movellan that destroys the Dalek is pure plank, and yes, any race that keep their power source on their belts have to be pretty lame.

Prominent Fan Moans: The Daleks becoming robots. "Oh, but they aren't robots." Yes, maybe they weren't, but they are now. Their creator (Nation, not Davros), clearly identifies this in the script. And if he wants to change them, then who are we to argue? The Doctor even knows about it, picking up a Kaled mutant and observing how they'd changed.
Pure Nation: "How does it work?" Let's get that exposition on the road!
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The "jelly baby" scene is a much-derided one, yet I loved it as a seven-year-old, just as I did the Roshambo scene.

Even though this story really has nothing to say (The Movellans' single-minded destruction of the Nazi-like Daleks a vague commentary, perhaps, on the extreme reactions to extremism itself, with the Doctor the sense of reason in the middle) however it does - however unsubtly - confirm some of the basic tenets of the Doctor's character. He wins by illogic, wit and the belief in self-sacrifice. He's also lovably boastful and uses humour to mask his true intentions. Plus, "I'm a very dangerous fellow when I don't know what I'm doing" is a cool line.

Romana seems to accidentally grab a Movellan's genitals in this one, and just how does she kick his arm off? Yes, the dog whistles are silly.

Pure Nation: "Dalek Central Control in Space." I bet they practise space medicine, too.
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An extremely slight, yet very innocuous Doctor Who story. It has little or nothing to say, but is harmless enough. Sometimes cheap, often silly, it is nevertheless stylishly designed and very well directed. Maybe some of the innovation - such as the extreme lack of incidental music - would have been better suited to a more sombre story, but this is a refreshingly un-anorakky Dalek romp, just scraping a borderline:
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