Friday, 10 June 2011

The Destroyers written by Terry Nation (adapted by Nicholas Briggs & John Dorney) and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: When the crew of Explorer Base One is attacked by the Daleks, Space Security Agents Sara Kingdom, Mark Seven and Jason Corey are sent to investigate. They discover a plan that threatens the future of the entire galaxy…

Space Agent: Very beautiful, very efficient, an operative of the Space Security Services. She is very concerned about her brother David – a shame that she wasn’t quite so fond of her other brother whom she murdered brutally. She is torn between stopping the Daleks and saving her brother at the climax but really that is the one single character beat in this otherwise Dalek pornography.

Standout Performance: Already proving once again what an outstanding character actress she is in the companion chronicles range, Jean Marsh picks up Sara Kingdom’s story with such ease you would think she had never been away. What’s more she completely understands what is required of Nation’s script (well Briggs’ adaptation), the narration has to be forceful, masculine and right up close and personal. Everything about this story screams of macho danger and Marsh acquits herself superbly bringing the story to life with growling flair.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A scene of total destruction and devastation…’ pretty much sums up this tale.
‘The tiniest sound would lead to discovery and discovery lead to instant death’ – yeah you heard me…not just death but instant death. That’s way scarier. I love this adventures penchant for melodrama!
‘The cave is damp and eerie, their every footstep echoing crisply in the air, a chill wheeze drifts around them wafting gently the myriad of cobwebs that festoon every rock face with their delicate, treacherous beauty’ – sometimes I am taken aback at how visual audio can be.

Great Ideas: A big butch (can a building be butch – yeah it can in a Terry Nation script) base in the middle of nowhere with a buzzing security fence and massive penis envy towers stretching into space. Exactly how I would picture a Nation scripted macho Dalek epic pitched to the Americans! Tom Wayne, solid and dependable – that’s exactly the sort of character I would expect in a Nation script USA pleasing Dalek epic! Oho! The force of Dalek firepower is so strong it would burn the negative of the corpse onto the retina of any human onlooker. Its wonderful how the Daleks aren’t a sudden loud force but nerve-rackingly quiet as they work their way into the base – oddly for an audio which depends on sound that makes them even more frightening. A planet of traps with fiery trees and boulders with eyes – could this story epitomise the Daleks creator any more? Androids that are perfect copies to the human eye with pedantic speech circuits and an unemotional detachment. There are two recorded occasions when the Daleks penetrated our galaxy; 70 years ago they slaughtered the garrison on Alpha Millenia and 6 months after that a Dalek ship has been reported near Mars. Naturally the Daleks do not glide balletically around their control room…oh no they glide menacingly. I’m not sure how you do that but if any one can then the Daleks will give it a go in a Nation script. Tentacles from the trees reaching out to grab them! Phase One of the destruction of Earth and its colony planets is completed! The Daleks escape with David as their prisoner and Sara swears to find him.

Audio Landscape: Buzzing security fence, an unearthly shriek, prodding the security barrier, electronic equipment working on the shield, awesome Dalek extermination effect, Daleks humming into movement, pools gurgling and bubbling, walking through squelchy puddles, crackling flames licking at the sky, a crumbling wall, I always squeal when I here the Dalek heartbeat, ooh these Daleks sound very gravelling and nasty (except the stupid sounding one of course!), the bushes stretching and reaching out for prey, you can even hear the eyestalks roving around, clicking on the torches on the echoey caves, tossing a stone into an abyss, the hungry chittering of the spiders, spitting out masses of globby webbing to consume her, a Dalek screaming as it plummets into the abyss, Dalek alarm, the Dalek ship screaming into the atmosphere.

Musical Cues: If any release deserved an isolated musical score it is this one because its one of the most memorable for an age and the way it teases atmosphere and excitement from the script is masterful. A dark, menacing score opens this tale and drags you kicking and screaming into an uncomfortable world. A dramatic sting reveals the Daleks pouring into the base. This one of special has an awesome upbeat, crazy theme tune that channels everything from the Prisoner to the Avengers and right back round to Department S with its banging drums and frenetic pace. I love the wham bam score as the Dalek incursions are discussed and the impressive vocals bleed into the music. The Daleks move out to attack with a full marching band fanfare (with deadly undertones, naturally) – the guitar in this piece gives it a touch of the first Cushing movie.

Isn’t it Odd: A purely aesthetic complaint but can either the first Doctor or second Doctor box set actually be called a box set? It’s the same issue I have with the DVDs when they release a pair of stories and make a big splash about them being a box sets. Surely these should have been called Farewell Great Macedon and The Prison in Space with bonus features? Frankly they both make better titles!

Standout Scene: The story is full of big dramatic touches but I really liked Sara’s horrific reaction to the flames licking against the skyline that shows base one entirely consumed by Dalek firepower. Argh, giant spiders swamping, drowning, cocooning Sara in thick sticky webbing in the dark and dank cave…that is really nasty! The climatic final scene of the Earth spinning harmlessly in space being approached by Daleks is a masterpiece of appetite whetting and has some outstanding music.

Notes: I am a huge fan of Nick Briggs’ Dalek Empire series and it is remarkably clear that this pilot has influenced his work to a strong degree. Dalek Empire also began with building up the Daleks as an impressive threat before letting them blow the fuck out of the galaxy, there are similarly gorgeous alien locales, butch names for the characters, a sequence where two characters discuss the recent Dalek incursions and the promise at the end of this tale of a full blown Dalek invasion to come. Does this make The Destroyers a pointless blind alley because Dalek Empire has mined this genre so successfully? Not to me, in fact this almost feels like a behind the scenes extra to the Dalek Empire series, a bible of how it should be done and of Terry Nation tropes to be followed.

Result: Regardless of Sara Kingdom’s involvement, The Destroyers channels the gripping and insidious atmosphere of the 13 part Dalek epic that thrilled audiences in season three. What I love about this piece is that the homicidal pepperpots hardly appear and they are given so much unnerving build up you are literally gagging for them to make an appearance by the end. Astonishing how much menace they can create by their absence. It might be far shorter than The Prison in Space but the sound design and music are both far superior and this story comes to life with a you are there ambience that the Troughton farce can only look on at in the distance enviously. Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, kick ass Daleks and lashings of danger and atmosphere…how did America turn this down? Okay so there isn’t a great deal of character work involved but that’s not why we’re here…its main purpose is to kick start a series that will rock on and get people to want to come back next week which it achieves superbly. It’s a big, bold punch of sixties Dalekmania that got me insanely excited at places and I love it to pieces: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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