Doctor Who
Destiny of the Daleks

Starring: Tom Baker
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 26 November 2007

The Doctor and Romana arrive on Skaro and discover that the Daleks are using a group of humanoid slave workers to search for their creator, Davros. A stalemate has arisen in an interplanetary war that the Daleks are waging against the robotic Movellans, and their hope is that Davros will be able to give them the edge...

If a large group of reasonably sane Doctor Who fans were to participate in a poll for the best Dalek story ever produced in the history of the show, you could safely bet your house and your entire TARDIS-shaped bubble bath collection, that Destiny Of The Daleks would be languishing somewhere near the very, very bottom.

It certainly doesn’t compare favourably with Genesis Of The Daleks, Tom Baker’s earlier encounter with the deadly inhabitants of Skaro. The brutal, claustrophobic and relentlessly grim atmosphere of that classic is replaced here with shouty catchphrase Daleks, a bunch of rival aliens who look like they’ve just got back from the disco, and enough cheap silver foil to cover an entire planet.

The story kicks off with a deeply unpromising start in the form of a comedy regeneration scene for Romana, which introduces Lalla Ward as the new incarnation of the Doctor’s assistant. This seems a rather abrupt and silly way to deal with the sudden between-season departure of Mary Tamm as the original Romana, especially as Tamm now claims she would have been willing to come back and film a proper regeneration scene had somebody bothered to ask her.

Instead, we see the character cycle through a series of wacky bodies before settling on her final form. The whole concept of regeneration, usually depicted as a costly struggle for life renewal, is played for laughs here, as if Romana has simply decided to go shopping for a new outfit. I’m a lover of well-crafted humour in Doctor Who, but not when it goes against the grain of the entire show.

Sadly, this sets the tone for the rest of the story, as the comic influence of new script editor Douglas Adams brings a much-loved British institution perilously close to sending itself up, with nobody at production level keeping much of a grip on the reins. I’m sure there was an honourable intention to gently poke a bit of fun at the show, but often the self-mocking goes about three steps too far.

One example is the infamous scene in which the Doctor climbs into a ceiling duct and taunts the Daleks below by pointing out that the supposed superior race of the universe are unable to just climb up and get him.

We also learn that the best way to defeat these world-dominating creatures is to simply put your hat on it’s eyestalk, which will make it go bonkers.

It seems quite criminal to belittle the show’s most popular and menacing villains in this way, and completely removes any sense of threat or credibility the story may have had. Not so much a ‘gentle poke’, more a severe kick in the groin.

Destiny of The Daleks heralds the first return of Davros, and this in itself is a bit of a shame. The story of the Dalek creator seemed so brilliantly complete in Genesis, with a suitably fitting end in which he is exterminated by his own ruthless creations, and it seems largely pointless to bring him back from the dead just for the sake of it.

It gets worse too, as Michael Wisher was unavailable to reprise the role that he played to sinister perfection in Genesis. David Gooderson steps into the wheelchair, hampered with an ill-fitting mask and no voice modulation, and spends much of the story being wheeled around against his will by the Doctor, resulting in a rather watered-down and feeble portrayal of the evil genius.

It’s not all bad news. For a start, there are three wonderful cliff-hangers. The first appearance of the Daleks as they come crashing through a glass wall at the climax to the first episode is a stunning and iconic moment. And whilst I have my reservations about the needless return of Davros, I have to admit that the underground discovery of his cobwebbed corpse at the end of the second episode is quite chilling, especially when the hand starts to twitch, and the artificial eye flickers into life...

The first episode is easily the best of the four, carried almost entirely by Tom Baker and Lalla Ward exploring the desolate surface of Skaro, and in fact it’s all hugely reminiscent of the very first Dalek episode back in 1963, even down to the same atmospheric sound effects that were used in that original classic serial.

With such welcome and knowing nods to continuity, it seems ridiculous that basic glaring errors were made in the rest of the story, and Destiny often contradicts itself within the same episode, as the production team sometimes seem to forget that the Daleks are living creatures rather than robots. This proves to be particularly troublesome, as much of the plot resolution unfortunately hangs on this unforgivable lapse of memory.

The partnership of Graham Williams and Douglas Adams would often see the show strike a rich balance between cracking comedy and thrilling adventure (as in the following story City of Death) but they’ve simply got the balance all wrong here. There are occasional thrills and spills, but not enough to save it from very probably deserving the tag of Worst Dalek Story Ever.

The disc does feature some terrific special features though, including an opportunity to view the story with seventeen brand new CGI effects. I imagined these would look completely out of place here, but they remain remarkably faithful to the original feel of the story, and whilst they may not enhance the ropey script, it’s certainly refreshing to view a clunky old production with modern effects.

Commentary is provided by Lalla Ward, David Gooderson and director Ken Grieve, the latter of whom also appears in a revealing interview in which he sheds new light on his working relationship with Graham Williams and, in particular, his good friend Douglas Adams.

We get a 30-minute documentary which examines the career of Dalek creator Terry Nation, with contributions and insight from the likes of Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, Philip Hinchcliffe and 60’s director Richard Martin. It’s interesting stuff, if a little too celebratory. I would have liked to have seen it delve a little deeper into some of the more controversial aspects of Nation’s involvement with the show - such as his constant obsession to extract every possible penny out of his pepperpot creations, or his decision to take them out of Doctor Who altogether in a failed bid to launch a Dalek series in America, a decision which could very easily have destroyed Doctor Who as early as 1967. Most of this is gently glossed over, and we instead learn that Nation was an incredibly charming man who enjoying drinking expensive champagne and dining at the Ritz.

The special features also include the full run of marvellous Prime Computer adverts made for Australian television which feature Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in deliciously playful mode, as well as the lengthy trailer for the 1979 Doctor Who season - a specially-shot sequence which sees a mysterious voice waking up The Doctor from his summer hibernation to warn him of the impending return of the Daleks. I’ve been waiting years to get the chance to see this, and it’s a little bit of magic when gems like this finally surface on DVD.

Completists should lap up this special material then, but extreme caution is advised to the more selective fan - it’s not always fun to see a much-loved show slapping itself in the face.

Danny Salter

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