Doctor Who complete reviews: Destiny Of The Daleks
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Doctor Who starts season 17 with an ill-advised attempt to recapture a past glory...
After the 26-episode story arc of The Key To Time, things get free and easy for season 17, a season that’s paradoxically had something of a turbulent press.
On the production front alone, six stories are whittled down to five, as the dreaded strike action kicks in for the season finale. Behind the scenes, the main man Tom Baker is starting to rule the roost, allegedly booming at Graham Williams, who himself is plagued by last-minute script rewrites, cost problems and directors going AWOL.
No wonder the behind-the-scenes friction shows in some of the final results. Season 17 has not had the best press from fans, who have taken brickbats to some of the stories for being too lightweight and flippant or shoddily made. However, the dust has settled, as fans have recently started to reappraise the season. Looking at the stories again, the season contains a frustrating mix of genius and ineptitude. For every City Of Death, you get a Horns Of Nimon. For every well-meaning story like Creature From The Pit, it’s ruined by a giant green blob with a dubious phallic appendage.
Destiny Of The Daleks kicks off the season in appropriately ramshackle fashion. Being brutally honest, this is one of the lesser stories of both the season and of the Tom Baker era as a whole. Ironically, it’s let down by the one constant of the season - the humour.
"Destiny Of The Daleks can’t make up its mind whether it’s straight drama or high comedy. And as a result, it fails drastically on both counts"
With Anthony Read having left the script editor post, it was now left to Douglas Adams to take over the mantle - Adams was of course one of the most celebrated writers in the country, not to mention being a good friend of Lalla Ward.
Who takes over as Romana in this story. What are the chances, eh?
One of the reasons that Adams was so revered was on account of his own unique brand of humour, which he brought - to an extent - during his brief stay with Who. However, some of this works, some of it doesn’t. And this is glaringly obvious in Destiny Of The Daleks, which can’t make up its mind whether it’s straight drama or high comedy. And as a result, it fails drastically on both counts.
The jokey tone is established right from the outset, as K9 inexplicably gets laryngitis, while a regenerating Romana can’t make up her mind on which body to choose. Quite why Romana decides to regenerate is a mystery, since she’s not critically injured or at death’s door. The implication seems to be that Romana’s got sick of her snotty Ice Maiden persona - no more than that. The whole sequence was probably devised to get diehard fans’ knickers in a twist.
But at least Lalla Ward shows definite signs of improvement after Mary Tamm’s mixed performances. Say what you like about Ward and her rotten commentaries, but at least her Romana is more relaxed and has (unsurprisingly) a better rapport with Tom’s Doctor. She is more of an equal to The Doctor, with her own similar costume, independence and quick thinking. She’s also more of a convincing screamer - quite why she’s blubbing at the sight of two giant pepper pots isn’t clear, but the scream as she falls down the shaft in episode one (yeah, they’re called episodes for this story) is much better than Tamm’s Can’t-Be-Bothered whine. And best of all, Romana Two is much more likeable, snooty when appropriate, but also with a quick grin and a twinkle in her eye.
But even if the new model’s an improvement, the overly jokey tone quickly starts to rankle, since it just defuses the tension. “Ooh, look! Rocks!” bellows The Doctor as the TARDIS scanner quickly opens and closes in parody fashion. Many of the stories in this season do get the balance of humour and drama right, but in Destiny Of The Daleks, it’s like putting Kate Moss on a see-saw with Giant Haystacks. What’s worse, Destiny isn’t actually that funny. Lame in-jokes about Adams' novels go hand-in-hand with ripping the piss out of the Daleks.
OK, it’s easy to extract the Michael out of the Daleks. At this point, they can’t get up stairs. They’re humourless. They’re easily prone to attack. But actually recognising these factors and pointing out them on screen just reduces their potency further. The infamous line about climbing up after The Doctor is quite funny, but it’s just one step too far, since it’s making the main threat look like a complete farce. And so, all the tension in the story just disappears in a puff of smoke.
"Destiny Of The Daleks is a classic case of why you should never bring a character back from the dead to appease the fans"
Same goes for Davros. Destiny Of The Daleks is a classic case of why you should never bring a character back from the dead to appease the fans. In Genesis Of The Daleks, Davros’s death was poetic justice, and what’s more, the performance from Michael Wisher was so good that just one appearance was enough to stick in the memory. However, by bringing back Davros, you lose all that credibility, especially when Wisher’s not available to return.
In fact, all of Davros’ subsequent appearances are a bit daft, with the possible exception of Julian Bleach’s turn in The Stolen Earth. In Destiny, Davros is played by David Gooderson, who does his best, but he’s not even in the same park as Wisher, sounding like your average joe in the pub doing an impersonation of Davros. And worse still, he doesn’t fit in the bloody chair, bobbing around like an adult riding a kid’s tricycle.
So why bring Davros again anyway? Just for some half-arsed reason that the Daleks can’t win the battle against a load of camp androids. The Daleks could probably win the fight blindfolded, but it takes a lot of dramatic licence to suggest that the Daleks need Davros for this task.
Drama isn’t that high on the agenda anyways in this story, especially when you have rubbish characters like the Movellans to beat. They look daft, like Boney M impersonating Stevie Wonder. Or a robotic band of Amii Stewarts. Appropriately, Stewart was riding high in the charts in 1979 with a lame cover of Knock On Wood. And wooden performances are the order of the day with the Movellans. OK, so they’re robots, but that’s no excuse for such weak performances from Peter Straker, Suzanne Danielle and Tony Osoba (who without the dreadlocks is a dead ringer for current show runner Steven Moffat). The Movellans are no good anyway, and hardly constitute credible baddies, since they can be defeated by removing a power pack from the belt. Which is a bit like having your heart on the outside of your body. Rubbish all round.
The only other main player in this nonsense is Tyssan, the standard Nation cliché of making an apparently bad character turn out to be good. Tyssan stomps around looking like the walking dead in a boiler suit, and sadly, Tim Barlow’s acting is a bit on the false side too. Although the story about him partially regaining his hearing on the accompanying commentary is quite sweet.
So with the comedic side of the story taking precedence, the dramatic side of Destiny leaves a lot to be desired. Nothing much really happens. The first two episodes are moderately entertaining with The Doctor and Romana investigating the mystery of underground drilling and then what the Daleks are after. However, from episode three, the whole dramatic aspect falls off the radar, as characters are reduced to talking in barely disguised bored tones about stalemates. The Doctor and Romana are reduced to Gallifreyan footballs which are kicked between the two opposing sides. And since both sides are easily defeated, this doesn’t give the story the memorable ending that it desperately needed.
On the up side, Ken Grieve’s direction is fabulous. The direction really looks good with some well-thought out twists such as filming the Daleks from down below. The location filming also looks marvellous, with the debut of Steadicam cameras making for more fluid action. Shame that the story’s filmed in the bright Summer of 1979, but the camera work makes up for this. The interior designs are generally well done and are nicely lit, especially when The Doctor and co are traipsing the Skaro corridors. Intriguingly, this story hardly has any incidental music, there’s a couple of snippets in the first two episodes, what sounds like a pinball arcade version of Love Of My Life by Queen when Davros is being waltzed around in episode three and nothing in the last instalment. Bet Murray Gold would have had a heart attack if he’d discovered that he and his pompous choir were denied their usual fingerpainting.
Still, good direction can’t save the story from dullsville. Even Tom Baker’s a bit bored here, uttering wisecracks at inappropriate moments, although his angry confrontation with the Daleks is as good as any “Angry” moment he’s done before (And I love the insult of “Spack off!”). But for a Terry Nation swansong, this is a disappointment. It’s trying too hard to be a comedy when it’s not very funny, and so as a result, the drama’s lost. A somewhat shaky start to the season…
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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