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13 May 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 133: Daleks: The Destroyers

Dear diary,

Oh, this marathon has changed me. I try not to quote myself too much, but I think today call's for a bit of a flashback. January 6th, 2013. Day Six of The 50 Year Diary. The Daleks, Episode Two…

“My name is Will, and I don't really like the Daleks… Give me a Cyberman any day.”

Why, then, 127 days on, does it bother me so much that the Daleks take a bloody age to show up in this story?! We've got a fantastic cold open, which sets the scene nicely, introduces a couple of characters, then implies a Dalek massacre in which they shout 'Attack and destroy!' a couple of times, and then… nothing! It's a further twenty minutes until we hear another Dalek talking properly. My god, I'm fickle. It's all about the pepper pots, now.

Way back when I was drawing up my schedule for this marathon, at the end of last year, this story and Farewell, Great Macedon were both added in between seasons. Macedon was included because I was interested to know how a story written at the time - but not made - would fit with the established history of the show. It was an interesting experiment, though I know some people weren't keen to see me going 'off book' for the week. Hopefully you won't mind today's little side step, and will be glad to know that I'm not planning any departures from the televised stories when we reach Troughton's Doctor.

The Destroyers was slotted into the schedule because, well, it's always fascinated me. Terry Nation's desire to get the Daleks their own show minus the Doctor is well documented. We're told about various pitches to America, which will be the reason the Daleks soon disappear from this marathon for quite some time. Mission to the Unknown could almost be viewed as a back-door pilot for the series (even if it wasn't made that way).

But then there's The Destroyers. A pilot for a Dalek-based series that actually got approved by the BBC. Sets were under construction to actually produce this one, before the plug was pulled. We very nearly had this series - or, at the very least - this pilot. Is there any wonder it's always been of interest? I figured that this was the best placement for it on my journey because, while it would have been produced and aired some time after Troughton took on the role, it features the return of Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, and revolves heavily around the Space Security Agency. It's very much from Season Three.

The story serves very much as a set up to the potential series, reintroducing us to Sara, and bringing in a few other members of the SSS, including Jason Corey, and android Mark Seven. The trio have arrived on an asteroid where a base has recently been attacked by Daleks, and they've captured Sara's brother, David Kingdom. Thankfully, she's not given a chance to kill this one.

What follows gets us fully up to speed on everything we need to know for the series to work. We're given some background on the SSS and the Daleks, and we end with the trio arriving just too late to save David from being taken off-world by the Daleks. In the closing moments, we're given the shocking news that they're planning an invasion of Earth!

It's all a bit lightweight, with the story full of typically Terry Nation set-pieces (of course carnivorous plants play a vital role!), but that's pretty much exactly what you'd want from this series. I want it to be a serial that doesn't take itself too seriously, which you can put on and just enjoy. I imagine that it would have worked well almost as a televised Dan Dare, with several 12-part stories tying into a larger, ongoing narrative. This could have worked especially well if the series had run year-round, like Doctor Who of the time.

Crucially, it feels as though Mission to the Unkown could be an episode taken from this series, used to set up a story in which Sara, Mark, and Corey arrive on Kembel, to stop the Daleks from forming the Galactic council. Mavic Chen could even become a recurring foe throughout the series, discrediting them with Earth! The more I think about everything this series could be, the more I want it to actually exist.

The only problem is that in my mind, it's being made on film, with the production values of some of the ITC serials of the time. Done in that way, The Daleks could be something really very special. I fear, though, from past experience, that being made as a BBC co-production would mean it never quite lives up to what it should be. I can already picture the scene early on, where Jean Marsh narrates that they're 'surrounded' by Daleks. There's be cardboard cut-outs everywhere.

On the whole, I've enjoyed The Destroyers, and I'd have loved to see it made at the time. There's an awful lot of potential in here, and it's a real shame that there won't be any more of it.

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