Destiny of the Daleks
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ou’d think that a season of “Doctor Who” script-edited by Douglas Adams would be a high mark in the show’s long history, but you’d be wrong. Season 17, kicked off by “Destiny of the Daleks,” was “Who” at its campiest and most goofy. Sometimes the formula worked, sometimes not -- “Destiny” is somewhere in between. It’s a noteworthy story, however, in that it was not only the last Dalek-penned tale from Dalek creator Terry Nation, but also the last story he ever wrote for “Doctor Who.” It also featured Lalla Ward taking over the role of the Time Lady Romana, and it begins with a jokey Adams-scripted scene in which she regenerates into her new figure by literally trying on new bodies until settling on one that fits. If the sequence weren’t so damn witty it’d be embarrassing, and it’s emblematic of the type of high wire act Adams had a hand in playing the entire season.
Once the regeneration’s out of the way, the story makes a left turn into bleaker territory. The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana arrive on an unknown, radiation-riddled planet, although the Doctor is sure he’s been there before. Numerous clues, including human slaves and a city in ruin, leave the viewer wondering how the Doctor could be so clueless as to where he’s ended up: Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks. But another race - the physically perfect Movellans - has also arrived. Despite what should be a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” for the Doctor, it turns out the Movellans have about as much regard for human life as the pepperpots. The two races are locked in a strategic stalemate and the Daleks have returned to their home world to find and resurrect the visionary they believe will help end the stalemate -- their creator, Davros (David Gooderson).
After viewing “Destiny of the Daleks” for the first time in ages, I came away from it feeling that it’s been unfairly maligned over the years. The Daleks hadn’t been seen since Baker’s first season offering “Genesis of the Daleks” - considered by many the greatest Dalek tale of them all. Five years had passed and expecting Nation to top “Genesis” was a tall order. He clearly doesn’t even attempt such a feat, and instead delivers a fairly basic tale of the Doctor caught between the two races. The first episode in particular is a compelling setup, and arguably it’s one of the better uses of the old “rock quarry subbing for an alien planet,” for which “Doctor Who” is infamous. The Movellans are also a standout, assuming you can get past the fact that with their braided, corn-row hairstyles and white spandex suits, they look set for a night of coke-fueled partying at a “Buck Rogers” disco. Yeah, by today’s (or indeed by any) standards, the Movellans’ appearance is laughable, but it’s also precisely the sort of thing that makes old “Doctor Who” so unique - no other series would have the balls to attempt something like this with a straight face. “Destiny of the Daleks” is neither a high nor a low point in the show’s history. There’s little that’s original about it, yet it doesn’t necessarily feel like a case of “been there, done that.” It is what it is, and that’s quite simply some inoffensive “Doctor Who.”
Special Features: A commentary track with Lalla Ward, David Gooderson and director Ken Grieve is above average, mainly because Ward is an intelligent lady who always brings something worthwhile to the table. “Terror Nation” is a wonderful and informative documentary covering Terry Nation’s many contributions to “Who,” as well as being a reminiscence of the man himself by people who knew him. “Directing Who” is a short piece with Ken Grieve speaking about directing the story. The disc also features the seamless branching option of replacing numerous cheesy video effects with updated CGI versions - always a nice bonus, especially for a mediocre story like this. A series of endlessly amusing Prime Computer ads that Baker and Ward did in character is a great addition to the disc – I watched them several times and will do so again. There’re also the usual continuity announcements, production notes option, Radio Times listings, an Easter Egg, and a coming soon ad for the “Beneath the Surface” box set that’ll be out this summer.