Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 104 – Destiny of the Daleks

Written By

Terry Nation

What’s It About

Romana, bored with her current form, regenerates. Afterward, she and The Doctor get caught between The Daleks and the Movellans, who are at a stalemate in their long war.

Seek, Locate, Do Not Deviate
Romana 2
Another positive for this story is the clever costume for Romana, which is a play on The Doctor’s costume. (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright 2013 by BBC.)

Fan opinion, with a few exceptions, considers “Destiny of the Daleks” to be a poor story. And while I am always happy to go against fan opinion, in this case I would have to agree. “Destiny” has a lot of problems. While it has a few things that I enjoyed, they are not enough to redeem the story for me. Strikes against this story, the regeneration scene (which was a necessary plot point since Mary Tamm had left, but it was played for humor—to mixed results), the recasting of Daleks as logic-based robots rather than anger-based mutants, an overly-simplistic attempt to convey a Cold War stalemate, and a production that was at times extremely half-hearted. The last two items on this list are mixed for me. I like what Terry Nation was trying to do. The Daleks and the Movellans were at an impasse, neither able to gain an advantage against the other since both sides used logic in their strategies. Granted, this would have worked better with the Cybermen, not the Daleks, but overlooking this, it creates an interesting twist on the Cold War: neither side can attack due to nuclear armaments, the only way to gain an advantage is to embrace self-destruction. It is an idea that has been explored in different stories (in film: War Games, Star Trek VI, and in the horrendous Superman IV). It is natural that Doctor Who would give it a shot. In fact, they had just one story earlier in “The Armageddon Factor.” And while I didn’t enjoy that story, it did explore the metaphor better.

As for the half-hearted production, there were a number of things at work here. The sets were a mixed bag, many of the background performers obviously didn’t take the story seriously, Tom Baker varied wildly in his performance, and the money just didn’t seem to stretch as far. But what impressed me is the direction. It wasn’t perfect, but Ken Grieve made great use of the steadicam. This resulted in some great panning shots and Grieve made good use of frame-in-frame. He seems to have done the best he could with what he had to work with. Grieve’s efforts help this story, but not enough to make it a success, as far as I am concerned.

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – The Android Invasion

Doctor Who Story 083 – The Android Invasion

The android Sarah attacks The Doctor.
Source: The Tardis Index File. Copyright 1975 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: The Doctor and Sarah arrive on what they initially believe in Devesham, but they soon discover it is actually a replica filled with androids. Why has a replica of a sleepy British village been created on an alien planet?

In some ways, this is an unsurprising story from Terry Nation. Many of his stories have a 1940s-1950s science fiction feel. And when I think about this story, it reminds me of an old radio show X Minus One, which was a sci-fi anthology. In one episode, astronauts arrived on a planet that had a replica of an American town, and each astronaut found family members living in the town. In both that story and this on, the replicants had malicious intentions. But the point is that Nation’s stories are from an earlier era of sci-fi, an era that has faded away by the time the Fourth Doctor comes around. So The Android Invasion is a bit of an odd story, being places smack in the middle of a series that has increasingly been focused on horror. This story plays with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe which gives it a bit of a horror feel, but for Nation, the pulpy sci-fi bits are always more important. This holds true in part four, when Nation’s roots begin to show in earnest.

The Android Invasion isn’t a bad story. In fact, the first three episodes are atmospheric, chilling, and they keep you guessing. Sure the androids are a given, but how Sarah and The Doctor are going to find their way out of the village and back to the TARDIS, which has left them, is a mystery. It is part four that hurts this story, although not as badly as some would say. It moves from atmosphere to action, then rushes toward a resolution. I almost wonder if concluding episodes were Terry Nation’s weak point. They all seem to be a bit rushed, now that I think about it.

I think the biggest strike against The Android Invasion that it appears in the same season as Terror of the Zygons. Zygons is the superior story; it did many of the same things The Android Invasion did, and it did them better. Sadly, this makes Terry Nation’s story seem rather silly. If it had been in an earlier era—say the Hartnell or Troughton eras—then it probably would have been received better. As it stands, it doesn’t quite fit the Tom Baker era. I like the B-movie sci-fi feel, but I just can’t help but feel this story could have been better than it is.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 078 – Genesis of the Daleks

Davros demonstrates his new creation: A Dalek.
Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1976 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: The transmat beam that was supposed to take The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry back to Nerva is intercepted by the Time Lords. They want The Doctor to undertake a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks.

Few stories in the classic era inspire as much adoration as Genesis of the Daleks. And, after watching this show in context, it is hard to disagree. This is a story that is quite unlike anything that came before. It is dark and moody; it has a tight plot; the performances are spectacular, with Michael Wisher and Peter Miles dominating the story; and the story brings up an interesting theme about the good that can be derived from hardship. The moral core of this story is summed up when The Doctor is confronted with the reality of destroying The Daleks at such an early state. If you know the future, is it ethical to commit murder (or genocide) to prevent future bloodshed? Or, in preventing this reality, do you create another, as yet unknown reality? Maybe a galaxy without The Daleks would be a better place. Or maybe it would be worse. The Doctor raises a very good point: that the civilizations that found unity in a common goal (survival against The Daleks) would now lack that unifying force. Maybe war would still exist, only now with different sides.

But ultimately, David Whitaker’s version of time travel wins. The Daleks, despite a last-minute attempt to destroy them, continue to survive. The revision of history cannot exist. But now it may be altered. Fan convention states that history was changed so that the early Dalek stories either didn’t happen, or happened differently. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to retcon all the early Dalek stories, but it is an interesting idea. I am especially intrigued by the new series retcon which suggests that Genesis of the Daleks is part of the Time War (perhaps the first shot fired in the Time War). This creates an interesting bit of symmetry as The Doctor was supposed to be the first weapon used in that war. He failed, but ultimately, he did end the war, thus becoming the final weapon.

But all this revisionism is incidental to the story itself. The Daleks are scary again, something they haven’t really been since the Troughton era. But center stage in this story is Davros, the creator of The Daleks. Casting Michael Wisher as Davros was a stroke of genius. Prior to this story, Wisher had been a Dalek voice actor, and he brings that background to this performance. We hear the fanaticism and anger in The Daleks, and we now know it comes from Davros. But even more chilling is the mind that rests in his scarred, devastated body. Davros is cold and calculating. He is hungry for power, but his main expression of power is his scientific supremacy. Davros is not so interested in ruling people; he is interested in proving his scientific theories, even if those theories lead to total destruction. As villains go, this is a completely impractical goal, but it is the strength of Wisher’s performance that, for the duration of the story, you believe it.

Peter Miles also shines as Nyder, Davros’s second-in-command. Why Nyder shows such unwavering devotion to Davros is never stated, but again, the performance never wavers. You never question Nyder’s devotion.

I suppose the question left to ask is: Did we really need an origin story for The Daleks? In truth, not really. I would say that the quality of the story justifies its own existence, but if Genesis had failed, we would lament the very attempt at an origin story. Since it succeeded (spectacularly), it has opened the door to all sorts of other origin stories: Spare Parts, The First Sontarans, countless stories that speculate on the origin of The Master and The Doctor, and the occasional new series episode that fans theorize being the “Genesis of the X” (I remember Waters of Mars being theorized as Genesis of the Ice Warriors; Some thought The Almost People could be the creation of the Autons; and I’ll throw my own hat in the ring with The Snowmen having an almost Genesis of the Great Intelligence vibe). But more than an origin story, we needed a Dalek story that really re-emphasized why we like the little pepper pots. We needed a story to make them scary again, even if we had to visit their creator to do it.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Doctor Who – Dungeon Crawl of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 072 – Death to the Daleks

Gypsy gets ready to beat down a Dalek. (Source: screen capture. Copyright 1974 by BBC.)
Gypsy gets ready to beat down a Dalek. (Source: screen capture. Copyright 1974 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About:

I’ve become a Role Playing Public Radio Actual Play junkie.

Role Playing Public Radio is a podcast devoted to pen and paper role playing games. They have a second podcast that is devoted to actual play, which means they record gaming sessions. When I first found out about it, I wondered how anyone could find an actual play interesting. A few months ago I was sick, so I had to stay in bed for a couple of days. Having nothing else to do but listen to podcasts, I finally check out one of RPPR’s actual plays and was instantly hooked. Honestly, it got me interested in pen and paper RPGs. I’ve always enjoyed PC or console RPG video games, but I never gave the original incarnation much to a try. Since getting hooked, I’ve run a couple of sessions with a friend and my wife as players. I’m hoping to find a few more people to add to our gaming sessions. My goal is to do some Doctor Who RPG sessions. As such, I’ve started analyzing the episodes I’ve been watching from a game plot perspective.

Death to the Daleks works extremely well as a dungeon crawl. A dungeon crawl is when a group of players (typically Dungeons and Dragons, but other fantasy-based games work just as well) explore a dungeon. They must fight monsters and disarm traps. The ultimate goal is to find treasure and gain experience points. Survival is probably a distant third, where goals are concerned. In episode three of Death to the Daleks, the story becomes a dungeon crawl. First, The Doctor and Sarah escape The Daleks and the city-worshiping Exillons, they enter a cave that has a monster. They must find a way to avoid the monster, with the help of the exiled Exillons. Later, The Doctor and Bellal enter the ancient Exillon city, which consists of room after room of traps. They must get through the city before The Daleks catch them. Sounds like a dungeon crawl to me.

Apart from the RPG elements, Death to the Daleks is your typical Terry Nation b-movie silliness. It is good fun and has some directorial flourishes in the first episode (and I particularly like the idea of Daleks using projectile weapons), but it recycles elements from previous Dalek stories and the plot never quite achieves any depth. Great design (the caverns, the Exillons) goes side-by-side with poor design (the “root,” the interior of the city, the logic puzzles). Honestly, I enjoyed the story, but at just four episodes, I never felt like I was wasting my time. If it had been longer, it would have been dreadful. And, visual effects aside, it is more along the lines of what I would expect from a mediocre episode of new Who.

My Rating: 3/5

Doctor Who – Planet of the Daleks

The frozen Dalek army on Spiridon.
(Source: Screen Capture from the Dalek War DVD. Copyright 1973 by The BBC

Doctor Who Story 068 – Planet of the Daleks

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: In the aftermath of the Earth/Draconia conflict, The Doctor and Jo arrive on Spiridon, where they find a Thal taskforce, invisible natives, and an army composed of thousands of Daleks.

It seems strange to say that I’ve missed Terry Nation, but I think I have. He never wrote my favorite episodes, but Planet of the Daleks works for me. Planet stands out from Frontier in Space because Frontier was slow in places. Jo and The Doctor were imprisoned, then escaped, then were imprisoned, then escaped again, and so on. In Planet, however, the story moves along. There is a lot of stuff going on. It’s almost as if Terry Nation discovered pacing at somewhere along the way. Even the Dalek story is interesting and not quite a rehash, although we do have recycled elements: Thals vs. Daleks, The Daleks plan to contaminate the planet. But the idea of a frozen Dalek army is just plain interesting, and knowing that the army is still buried is chilling.

My only real complaint about the story is its relation to Frontier in Space. The connection between the two seems tenuous. Daleks appeared at the end of Frontier as the masterminds behind the Earth/Draconia conflict, but Planet had almost no connection with the previous story. It seems the Daleks were only brought in to Frontier as a good cliffhanger, but not because of any active part in the conflict. The previous story was hardly even mentioned. I guess I had built up a strong connection in my mind since the stories were released together on DVD. Taken on its own, however, this was an enjoyable story. I thought it was fun.

My Rating: 3.5/5