Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 529: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Three
Ah, of course. How did I manage to forget about the central premise at the heart of Destiny of the Daleks - that the Daleks are robots, and thus they’ve had to return to their living (just about) creator to resolve their troubles. I’ve not actually watched this story before now, so I didn’t realise just how prevalent that is throughout, but this episode is filled with references to the Daleks begin robot creatures. Romana claims that the Doctor knows more about the Daleks than anyone… so the Movellan captain claims that he must be an ‘expert on robotics’. As if to hammer the point home to us, the Doctor even finds some kind of gooey Kaled mutant out on the wastes of Skaro and muses that the Daleks were ‘originally’ organic creatures…
It really does just sit uneasy with everything else we’ve ever been told about the Daleks over the years, and that it comes so out of the blue - in a story written by the man who invented them - just feels really bizarre. Still, I’m not entirely sure that it’s impossible to reconcile this notion with the rest of Doctor Who history. It’s generally accepted that the Cybermen of the classic series ended up branching off into two separate castes (some remaining ties to Mondas, and being reduced to skulking about the galaxy once it gets blown up, and the others relocating to Telos), and we know that by the late 1980s, the Daleks had developed a plot and started fighting amongst themselves.
I think there’s an argument to be made (almost) that a group of Daleks, perhaps most prominent in Skaro’s ‘local’ part of space, could have slowly developed themselves into more and more robotic creatures, until they went almost Cyberman with their approach, and ended up stripping out everything. Emotions gone, flesh gone, and - in the end - the little bubbling lump of hate gone, too. This particular group of Daleks could have ended up caught in this current impasse while the rest of their race are off ravaging the universe with the little mutants locked away inside their casings as normal. I think, unless anything comes along to contradict that in future Dalek stories, this is how I’ll be choosing to think of this situation from now on.
I’m more dismayed to see them being reduced to lesser characters again in this episode, now that Davros has woken up. They don’t need to fill the role of ‘bad guy’ in the story anymore, so whereas Episode Two saw them shouting and interrogating Romana while gliding around looking powerful, this episode reduces them almost to being Davros’ personal guard, out patrolling the surface of the planet, and wandering down corridors on the hunt for their creator. It does mean that we get a great few minutes in which the Doctor threatens his greatest enemies with a bomb (it’s not often that we get to see the Doctor do something quite as… powerful, as this, so it comes as quite a nice shock), but even that then dissolves into the Daleks gingerly picking the bomb off their father’s casing and then getting blown up for their troubles. All that great Dalek action from yesterday seems to have well and truly petered out now!
My biggest complaint, though… there’s a lovely scene in The Stolen Earth, when Davros looks up at the screen, with the Doctor’s ‘Children of Time’ all massing, preparing their own solutions to end the Dalek occupation of Earth, and several other planets. He looks up, sees Sarah Jane Smith peering round the side of Captain Jack and muses that she was there on Skaro, at ‘the very beginning’. I love that moment. It’s such a nice little addition, and it makes it all feel so much richer as a result. There’s a few pages in Russell T Davies’ The Writer’s Tale, where he toys with losing the line because he’s so short on space in the episode, but I’m glad it managed to survive the cut, because it’s just so lovely.
That line has slightly spoilt Destiny of the Daleks for me, because when Davros awakens here, knowing that he’s been entombed for several centuries, and finding the Doctor baring down on him almost instantly, he doesn’t even flinch. He’s not surprised to find the Time Lord there waiting for him. He’s not yet locked into his on-going battle with the Doctor that will span several lifetimes for the both of them, so it feels like a real shame that he doesn’t pass comment about the fact that this person is still meddling in his life. I assume that Terry Nation was trying to simply make this a direct continuation from his previous Dalek tale, and so didn’t want to make the point that the Doctor had been gone for so long between them, but it just feels… lacking as a result.
But for all the slightly odd little dissapoinments in this story… I’m enjoying it! For a start, and as I’ve said before, it does look gorgeous. I’ve already praised the Movellan spaceship, but we get some nice shots of it again today, so it’s worth mentioning again. Then you’ve simply got the flair of the story. Because it’s the first Doctor Who story to use a steadicam (I think I’m right in saying that it’s the first BBC production to use one - as a trial to decide if they corporation wanted to go ahead and buy some!), even scenes of the Doctor running around in a quarry are looking more impressive than they might usually do.
It’s also helped by director Ken Grieve having a good eye for certain shots - there’s a few lovely moments when the Doctor is evading his hunters, and we get to see some pretty extreme angles looking up at both our hero, and the Daleks patrolling the tops of the cliffs above him. It’s perhaps not the most original image a Dalek story has ever given us (and in a Terry Nation script, would you expect anything other?), but it certainly works well, and I think the visual feel of this story is going to stick with me after I’ve finished it more than the narrative itself will…