Thursday, 10 October 2013

Destiny of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by Ken Grieve

This story in a nutshell: Daleks, Davros and Movellans - oh my!

Teeth and Curls: There is a wonderful moment of pure slapstick at the climax to Destiny of the Daleks that illustrates the potential of Douglas Adams slapstick approach to Doctor Who. The Daleks are close to the Movellan ship, strapped with explosives and Davros has the destruct button ready to detonate. All very tense. And then the Doctor throws his hat over the eyestalk of the Dalek guard who is naturally disorientated and whilst the barmy Time Lord pushes it this way and that Davros is screaming out directions for it to follow. ‘To your left! To your right!’ he screams... and I was chuckling. But it was when he had the nerve to scream 'This way!' when I was wetting myself. The Doctor sticks an explosive to its side and throws it down a corridor with the glorious parting riposte 'Bye bye!' before it explodes. He turns on Davros with a mad glint in his eye and for that one moment you can see perfectly why this hyperactive, verbally uncontrollable nutter is feared by all manner of baddies. Grinning with a frightening amount of teeth he pulls back Davros' hand and forces the detonation and the Daleks explode in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics that are so powerful bits of a Dalek casing take over ten seconds to even start floating to the ground! I thought it was divine, somebody was finally recognising that the Doctor Who universe is a place of incredible fun and one where the Doctor can be dangerously unpredictable and daft at the same time. Adams had a wonderful vision of how Doctor Who could be played, humorously but with a very serious core and this story and in particular this loony Doctor climax expresses that in its purest form. Considering its abominable reputation this is a responsible take on the fourth Doctor in the Williams era. He shows appropriate amounts of seriousness in the first episode, even underplaying the much-reviled regeneration scene. I loved his small comment that he could never sleep at night if he left and never knew where they had been. He scoffs at factual books that claim knowledge that he knows is untrue, I can just imagine him whiling away many an evening with the Encyclopaedia Britannica and furiously scribbling in the margins arguing with the facts it possesses. Suddenly Baker is deathly serious when he stumbles on Romana’s grave and reveals the Doctor’s true feelings underneath all the bluster as he frenziedly pulls away the rocks. It is interesting to compare the Doctor and Davros’ interaction from his first and penultimate seasons, the scenes in Genesis were more powerful and dramatic but now he pretty much takes the piss out of him aside from a few moments of genius lunacy. The one major difference is that in Genesis he bottled out of killing Davros and in Destiny but now he has clearly learnt from that leniancy and activates his sonic screwdriver to detonate the bomb at the first opportunity in Destiny. Watch his furious temper when the Daleks start slaughtering their way through their slaves to force the Doctor to surrender Davros. This is not a man that you want to get on the wrong side of. His reaction to the logical impasse, sheer delight that the ultimate equation for peace has been discovered, is delightful.

Lovely Lalla: What can I say about the regeneration scene that hasn’t been analysed, insulted, discussed, dissected and put everybody in a big grump. It’s a bit of a laugh, isn’t it? What makes me giggle more than the silly scene itself is the reaction to it as though the writers of the show aren’t allowed to muck about with continuity because fandom (I use the word to describe that portion of the crowd who gets wound up when they can place a story into it's rightful place in canon or spasm at the thought a pop star playing a companionin a hope that it doesn’t apply to you) like it set in stone. Besides which look at what we could have ended up with instead of luscious Lalla? Imagine the Doctor travelling the universe with that buxom babe? If you have the ability to change your form and certain induviduals can manipulate that process to mould into whatever they choose, why not take on the template of a beauty you have previously admired and it is highly unlikely that you will ever cross paths again? So long as they are galaxies apart and neither ends up a celebrity (What’s that? President of Gallifrey you say?) where’s the harm? Lalla’s body is warm, sensible and wears well (and that from the lips of Tom Baker!). Look at how hard she is working to make these Daleks seem scary when the props really aren't up to much. Romana’s plan to escape the Daleks by faking her death shows that she hasn't lost her touch and it is an excellent use of her Time Lord skills which no other companion could have achieved. We get to experience a taster of Tom and Lalla’s marriage when they have a blazing row in front of the Movellans. Sorry Tom, my money is on Lalla. I know this wasn’t her first story as Romana (witness a far more tentative performance in Creature from the Pit) but Ward has already put her stamp on the show by the end of Destiny and she looks fantastic. Come City of Death, she is Romana.

The Good Stuff: I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this considering I have never forced myself through more of the story than half of episode three since I have owned the DVD. How formidable does the TARDIS look in that outcrop of rocks and for once we have the ruins of a city that genuinely look like the ruins of a city. The first episode is pretty eerie overall; the lack of music, the rock burial, the slowly descending ship burying into the ground (a typical example of imaginative tech in the Williams era), the explosions in the sand that chase the Doctor and Romana (as good as anything we saw in Androzani)… This is Terry Nation's stength coming through in Destiny, that first episode atmosphere that he excels at before he gets bored. That’s the best damn looking Dalek control room we have ever seen with those claustrophobic ceilings, pulsating interrogative globes and all manner of freaky sound effects. The mine scenes are great because they look authentic (real ruins, real ceilings and real mines) and really sell the idea of the reach of the Dalek Empire with prisoners from a hundred worlds slaving away, side by side. The camera is often at ground level pointing upwards and the Daleks look especially good (despite their careworn shells) looming over the sand dunes. The brutal logic of the Daleks is to murder their hostages to get the Doctor to hand over Davros, the callous bastards. They know exactly how to play the Doctor after all this time and his reaction is haunting. I love the two Daleks who hold hands to detonate the bomb and save Davros, bless them. Look at that smoking Dalek – imagine marketing that as a joss stick style feature…Dalek mutant scented smoke for every break up occasion of your choice. The story is layered so there is a lovely big budget back story to the small budget action taking place, the latter pivotal to the former (two awesome battle fleets trapped in an impasse of logic and the Doctor and Davros two opposing, defining elements to ignite that flame of war and fire the first shot). Dalek suicide takes on a whole new level in Destiny of the Daleks as they proudly trundle off laden with bombs and happy to sacrifice themselves to blow the shit out of the Movellan ship. Suicide bombers, anyone? Davros strokes his bomb activation switch like you would caress a lovers face. He really does love being in control, doesn’t he? Even though the concept is a bit daft I love the depth of the shot of the Daleks on three levels heading towards the Movellan ship. Ken Grieve is always thinking about how to make this story look good and he is fortunate enough to do so at the point where there is still some money to spend (at the beginning of the season). Romana gets down’n’dirty when she chases after Laan and his Nova Device, it gets really muddy and violent and I love how she isn't afraid to dismember him with a good kick. Episode four is full of excitement and tension; Romana trapped in a cell with the Nova Device, the Doctor a Dalek hostage, a bloody great battle that ends in a massacre and some spectacular Dalek explosions. Are you sure Eric Saward didn't write this?

The Bad Stuff: The trouble with Destiny of the Daleks is that there is almost an equal amount of elements that the story gets wrong. How can a robot catch laryngitis? The ‘Psychic?’ ‘Like it’ interplay is trying to be funny but surely with the geniuses at work here (Baker, Ward, Adams, Nation) they could have thought up something more imaginative than this. Surely whoever designed the Movellans was taking the piss? I have seen the Daleks make some pretty impressive entrances in my time; rising out of water, coughing out of sand, capturing Babs in their sight and advancing menacingly towards her and even invisibly emerging from a jungle but tearing through a thin shiny layer of black cling film does not rank up there as one of the best. Tyssan has all the personality of plaster of Paris. The Doctor states that this plan is too fantastic even for the Daleks. What, drilling a hole and digging up a body? To restore universal balance whereas the Dalek control room looks fantastic, the Dalek city corridors are horrendous, the budget stretching to nothing more than a black cloth and some weird looking supermarket cages holding rubble. Davros' awakening is greeted with a extreme amount of limp wrist shaking, after all those years he felt the need to camp it up straight away. Both the Michael Wisher and David Gooderson Davros’ are written in the precisely the same way and  yet the latter lacks the icy precision and lust for power that Wisher brought to the role. Gooderson’s Davros is literally a raving megalomaniac and nothing more. Shoving Davros down the corridors to that boppitedy-boo Simpson music is exactly how I would imagine a comical sketch of Doctor Who would be like. It's as farcical is Destiny comes and shows what happens when nobody takes the series seriously. What is up with Davros’ mouth? It looks as though it has been smeared with something very nasty. The pace seems to stutter with the music missing. It is a healthy reminder that Simpson's music really does glue the scenes together and add some drama and pace. The weird purple gloop that the Doctor discovers in the sand is the cheapest Dalek mutant on record. The surrealist mime of the Movellans once their power packs are exhausted might have seemed like a good idea in theory but I don't think it is going to catch on. Godderson really is the campest Davros, isnt he? He's all bling bombs and disco balls. Wouldn’t the logical impasse be a better plot device for the emotionless Cybermen than the ‘toys out of the pram’ squealing Daleks?

The Shallow Bit: Somehow, somehow they managed to replace Mary Tamm with somebody even more beautiful.

Result: Beneath all the trappings there is a sound science fiction story at work here and clearly Douglas Adams has had a huge impact on Terry Nation’s original script, for good or for ill. There is a disquieting first episode, which is slow but dripping with atmosphere and an exciting, visually impressive concluding episode that ends the story on a good note but it’s the humdrum middle episodes that really let this story down. How can any story can be this dynamic (fantastic camerawork, effects and action) and this dreary (the majority of the performances, the plodding script) at the same time baffles me. Tom Baker seems almost subdued in the early episodes in a story that refuses to give him all the usual pantomime schtick to play about with but soon finds his comfort zone when the Doctor is reunited with Davros and he can spend some time winding him up. Lalla Ward looks resplendent and whilst she is still easing her way into the role has an easy chemistry with Baker that already rivals that of Tamm's and would be far superseded in the next story. Destiny of the Daleks has a bottom of the barrel reputation but as usual the truth is that it is no where near as bad as people make it out to be. At the same time it isn’t the Dalek spectacular that should have opened the season and could have done with double the budget thrown at it and the script given another once over to iron out any conflicts in tone that keep cropping up. Completely unrepresentative of the Williams era, Destiny trades wit and imagination for flashy visuals and set pieces and it also has one of the best DVD covers too. Flawed but fun, all told: 6/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

I thought Romana's regeneration scene was great. Some fans may sniff about it not seeming 'canonical' enough, but I don't see how. I mean, there wasn't really a canon when it came to regeneration, was there? The First Doctor was seemingly 'renewed' by the TARDIS. The Second was given a non-consensual face lift by the Time Lords. The Third was 'pushed' into regeneration by an apparently Buddhist Time Lord that, incidentally, was not only able to choose his own next face, but had it walking around doing his bidding before it became him. And though it hadn't happened yet at this point in the show, the Fourth Doctor would have his own next regeneration basically stalking him. The fact that Romana wants to put on a regeneration fashion show hardly seems that far out of the norm at this point in the show.