Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Story 104 - Destiny of the Daleks

In which K9 has a case of laryngitis, and Romana decides to trade in her old body for a new one. After trying out a few different forms, she settles on the likeness of Princess Astra of Atrios. The TARDIS materialises on a planet with high radiation levels. The Doctor and Romana must take tablets to counteract this. Exploring, they come upon the ruins of a city. There are strange earth tremors - which the Doctor identifies as man-made. Someone is drilling deep beneath the surface. They see a spaceship land. It buries itself into the sand. As they approach, it fires upon them and they are forced to seek refuge in one of the ruined buildings. A pillar collapses, trapping the Doctor. Romana goes for help, but finds the TARDIS has been buried by rocks. She becomes aware of someone following her. The Doctor is rescued by a party of humanoids dressed in white uniforms. They are Movellans, and it was their ship which he and Romana had seen land. He is intrigued by the ease with which they remove the concrete pillar. Back at their ship, he is horrified to learn that this is the Dalek homeworld of Skaro.

Trying to evade her pursuer, Romana tumbles down a shaft. She is unhurt, but a wall smashes open and Daleks pour through. She is captured and taken to their control centre. After interrogation, she is sent to work in the mines. The Doctor has discovered that the Movellans have been involved in a long-running conflict with the Daleks. They have come here to learn why the Daleks have returned to this planet - and what they are mining for. The man who had been following Romana is Tyssan. He has escaped from one of the slave worker parties, and had actually been trying to warn Romana. He tells the Doctor of her capture.
The Doctor joins the Movellans as they break into the Dalek control centre. He identifies the area they are tunnelling towards, and recalls a direct shaft which the Daleks do not appear to be aware of. They use this to reach the area before the Daleks and discover their target - the corpse of Davros. The evil genius is not dead, however. Their arrival triggers his life-support unit and he returns to life. They move him to another location, but find they cannot get him out of the city. The Daleks break through and start to execute slave workers - forcing the Doctor to retreat. He is reunited with Romana after she feigns death to escape from her work party.

Whilst Davros learns of everything that has happened to his creations since he was forced into suspended animation, the Doctor learns of the true nature of the Movellans. They are androids - as coldly logical as the Daleks. That is why they have come here. Both races have fought their war into a logical impasse - their battle computers in stalemate. The Daleks need Davros' creativity to break this - and Movellan commander Sharrel intends that the Doctor will do the same for them. They set up the Nova Device - which will incinerate the planet's atmosphere. Davros, meanwhile, sends all his Daleks with bombs attached to their casings, to surround and destroy the Movellan ship in a suicide attack. Tyssan and the other slave workers help to overpower the Movellans, whilst the Doctor tricks Davros into detonating the bombs prematurely to destroy the Daleks. Tyssan will take Davros to Earth to stand trial - first placing him in a cryogenic suspension unit. The Doctor and Romana free the TARDIS and depart.

This four part adventure was written by Terry Nation - his final scripts for the programme - and was broadcast between 1st and 22nd September, 1979. It is the first story of Season 17, and the first to be script-edited by Douglas Adams.
This marks Lalla Ward's debut as Romana. The regeneration sequence - a bit of nonsense designed to explain the change of actor - has naturally led to all sorts of continuity problems regarding regeneration limits. Are they all regenerations? Is this a precursor to anything can happen within the first 15 hours? Why did she regenerate in the first place? They could have simply introduced her as a new character - one of the freed slave workers. Or they could have had her arriving in an unseen story between seasons. As it was, they just weren't thinking along these lines. It was just supposed to be a bit of fun.
Expectations were high after the brilliance of Genesis of the Daleks. The creatures had not been seen for four and a half years. Sadly, at the time, there was mostly disappointment. The actual storyline is not all that bad. It is the production values that let the story down. First of all, Michael Wisher proved unavailable to reprise the role of Davros. David Gooderson takes over - and he isn't a match for his predecessor. It is the same mask and chair, but both have deteriorated over the years - having languished in storage or in exhibitions. Gooderson's voice is not treated in the way Wisher's was.
The Dalek props are in a dreadful state. On location, some very rough lightweight props are used. They are obviously being carried as they move across the surface - in one case the top half being noticeably ajar from the base.
Continuity-wise, the geography is all wrong, and the Doctor seems to imply that these Daleks are purely robotic - with no mutant within.

The Movellans prove that old adage that nothing dates more than the future. They are natives of the planet Disco (in the constellation of Studio 54). Metallic dreads and spandex costumes. They are a rubbish adversary. How they could almost defeat the Daleks when you can easily knock their limbs off remains a mystery to this day. To deactivate them, you simply lift their power unit off their belt - a serious design flaw you would think they might have done something about.
The one thing I do like about them is their ethnic diversity. Sharrel is played by Peter Straker, best known from Gerry Anderson's UFO series. Agella is Suzanne Danielle, and Lan is Tony Osoba - who would return in Dragonfire (and who it has just been announced - May 2014 - will be appearing in Peter Capaldi's first series).
Deaf actor Tim Barlow plays Tyssan, and David Yip (The Chinese Detective and  Bond movie View to a Kill) is prominent amongst the slave workers.
Episode endings are:
  1. Romana is trapped at the bottom of a shaft as the walls buckle and vibrate. A patrol of Daleks bursts through...
  2. Davros begins to stir back to life...
  3. Romana is trapped in the Nova Device as the countdown approaches zero...
  4. The Doctor and Romana leave Skaro in the TARDIS.

Overall, what should have been a big season opener proves to be a massive disappointment. Lalla, with her costume mirroring the Doctor's, is the best thing in it. In many ways, I wish Davros had stayed dead.
Things you might like to know:
  • Terry Nation was not at all pleased at the "why don't you try climbing up after us" comment by the Doctor - as it reinforced the old "can't get up the stairs" joke and diminished his creations. From this point onwards he would be far stricter with other writers using the Daleks.
  • Director Ken Grieve (a friend and one-time flatmate of Douglas Adams) claimed that the Hitchhikers scribe wrote "98%" of this story - something which Nation never challenged.
  • Tim Barlow was a leading member of the Graeae theatre company (pronounced grey-eye). Nabil Shaban was a founding member and it has always employed disabled artists and often puts on productions which challenge prejudice around disability. It is still going strong.
  • Douglas Adams gets a Hitchhikers reference in his very first episode as script editor (the Oolon Caluphid "Origins of the Universe" joke).
  • The diminutive blue body Romana tries on is wearing Zilda's costume - from Robots of Death. Other bits of costume from this story are used to dress the slave workers, as well as a Draconian's robes.
  • For some species, being exterminated is a laughing matter...
  • K9's laryngitic croak was supplied by Dalek voice man Roy Skelton.

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