Destiny of the Daleks
by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 336
"Destiny of the Daleks" is not generally regarded as one of the high points of the Baker era, having upset fans at the time with its irreverent approach to series continuity, and having attracted critical comments for its handling of the return of Davros and the Daleks. However, although not in the league of its predecessor "Genesis of the Daleks", "Destiny" does provide interesting insights into the development of Dalek history and the way in which Doctor Who was made at the end of the 1970s.
The story is well directed overall, with some stunning low-angle shots of Daleks, and some particularly good use of steadicam in the location sequences. The action sequences, particularly the scene where a Dalek crashes through a wall, are also noteworthy. The sets are well lit, with the only problem being the presence of stage lights in areas of the Kaled city where the Daleks have not penetrated, with no other explanation given for their presence at all (unless this is some kind of advert for the durability of Kaled technology). The sets also, unusually, have ceilings. The costume and design demonstrate that, when suitably restrained, June Hudson can produce material which is attractively elaborate without being as ludicrously inappropriate as most of her work for Blake's 7 Season Two, and there is additional entertainment value to be had in spotting costumes from earlier Doctor Who stories (and Blake's 7: Shadow): identified ones include "Planet of Evil", "Frontier in Space" and "The Pirate Planet" as well as some Sisterhood of Karn dresses from "The Brain of Morbius" and two costumes from "The Robots of Death" (Zilda's hat on one of Romana's new bodies, and Dask's tabard on the dead pilot). The Movellans in particular are quite splendid-looking, combining as they do then-contemporary disco fashions with then-innovative Rastafarian hairstyles on a racially diverse and universally attractive group of performers.
The story also draws inspiration, not only from the stage play The Curse of the Daleks (in which the Daleks carry black boxes which supply them with both power and their orders of the day, much like the Movellans here), but certain Terry Nation Season One Blake's 7 episodes: "Project Avalon" featured a apparently human character being revealed to be a robot, which was then reprogrammed by the protagonists; "The Web" had a pair of beautiful and seemingly benign humanoids who turn out to be constructs with an ulterior motive, "Space Fall" featured a sequence in which a group of prisoners are executed one by one in an attempt to get the heroes to surrender, and the Daleks' line "Seek, locate, exterminate" references the Blake's 7 episode "Seek-- Locate-- Destroy." As in Blake's 7, also, this story features strong roles for women, with Romana fighting and beating Sharrell, and Agella being showcased as a beautiful and intelligent character. Nation once again returns to his familiar idea of flagging up to the viewer that something is wrong through a character's peculiar behaviour, in this case the Movellans' refusal to allow outsiders to see their "dead."
"Destiny" is of particular interest to followers of Dalek history, as it marks the point at which we first see the effect that the changes brought about in "Genesis of the Daleks" have had on the species (see our "Resurrection of the Daleks" article). Rather than the evil, twisted geniuses that they once were, the Daleks are now two-dimensional automata, driven by the limited computer programme that was hastily implanted into them by Davros in the earlier story. The fact that they have not evolved their survivalism, determination to rule the universe and hatred of other species naturally, but have had these programmed into them in haste, means that, while the Daleks have the same feelings and impulses as they did before, they do not challenge them or consider why they are acting as they are, but simply go through the motions of being Daleks. If the Daleks seem in this story to be less cunning and Machiavellian than they were in earlier stories, then, as various commentators have noted, the answer lies in the events of "Genesis".
Another result of this change is that, while the Daleks of this story can be described as logical, they are by no stretch of the imagination rational. For instance, although the Daleks can evidently programme battle-computers every bit as logical as the Movellans-- resulting in an extended stalemate between the two forces-- it appears to have taken the Daleks several hundred years to get through their programmed hatred of the unlike and admit that Davros, at least, might potentially offer them something that they do not possess themselves which they could use against their foe, whereas the Daleks of earlier stories had no qualms about making use of humans, even up to letting the humans think that they had the upper hand over the Daleks, in order to get what they want (cf. "The Daleks' Master Plan," "The Power of the Daleks," and so forth), being complex and rational enough to recognise that hatred of humans did not necessarily preclude temporary collusion with them. The Daleks are thus now logical, but irrational, creatures, lacking in understanding of other species, and Davros' reference to the Daleks as being a "race of robots" thus not only suggests that the mutant is now a less prominent part of the cyborg creature, but also that the Daleks are now dominated by their programming above all else.
This can also be seen in the Daleks' inability to understand human illogic, impulsiveness and lateral thinking. Whereas the Daleks of "Master Plan", "Power" and "The Evil of the Daleks" displayed a keen awareness and understanding of the human mind, the Daleks of "Destiny" dismiss the Doctor's threat to blow Davros up as an empty one, on the grounds that they regard self-sacrifice as illogical and therefore impossible. Ironically, this viewpoint is actually less logical than the Daleks claim: the purely logical and rational Movellans willingly commit self-sacrifice on occasions where this is deemed necessary for the success of the mission; however, the Daleks, programmed by a man who put personal survival above all other concerns, appear to regard personal survival as the prime motivator for all species. While the Daleks have visibly realised that humans care enough about each other that they will capitulate, despite the cost of this capitulation, when faced with a situation in which hostages are being killed, they have not extrapolated from this that humans are capable of irrational behaviour in defence of their own.
This might seem odd in light of the fact that the Daleks are deliberately seeking out Davros in order to gain an advantage over the purely logical Movellans (indicating that it is his humanoid capacity for illogic they are seeking) they do not appear to be totally aware of what exactly they want Davros to provide, as evidenced by the fact that they are willing to sacrifice themselves (thus going against their stated belief that this is illogical) simply because he says so, without questioning him or demanding to know his plan. The Daleks are thus, since the events of "Genesis", lacking in self-awareness as well as the awareness of others.
Davros, the author of this situation, therefore replaces the Daleks themselves as the main antagonistic figure. In some ways, he also incorporates twisted aspects of heroism: there are elements of the legend of King Arthur slumbering for centuries to awake at the time of his people's greatest need in the way in which his relationship with the Daleks is portrayed (although precisely how he managed to survive for hundreds of years in a sealed underground room is something best not considered too closely). Despite these heroic antecedents, the driving force behind Davros' actions appears to be an overriding inferiority complex, presumably developed during his long centuries in isolation with nothing to do but consider how he wound up in his present predicament. This sense of inferiority becomes focused on the Doctor: because the Daleks and Movellans are easily matched, Davros quickly comes to realise that the Doctor is his main competitor, but, rather than proceeding rationally on this assumption, he appears afraid of the possibility that the Doctor might actually be better than he is. Consequently, rather than attempting to outthink the Doctor, he simply reacts to the situation without thinking things through and fails as a result, as symbolised in the sequence in which the Doctor apparently reaches for the detonation switch, Davros moves to block him, and the Doctor pushes against Davros' hand and lets go, causing Davros to destroy the Dalek task force. He even appears to try to imitate the Doctor at times: his attempt to use the Daleks as suicide bombers echoes the Doctor's earlier tactic, and the idea of detonating by remote control was also originally the Doctor's. Gooderson's performance contributes to the impression of Davros as on the back foot and consumed with irrational fears, being more of a broad-stroke, megalomaniac where Wisher had portrayed the character in a way which allowed him more subtlety as a politician. Davros comes across here as a politician who has lost the plot, clinging to inconsequential details and imitating rather than outthinking his opponents.
Furthermore, Davros now appears to be incapable of abandoning a course of action once he has begun it. He insists, for instance, on carrying out his attack on the Movellan ship even after he learns that the ship is no longer under Movellan control and that the Doctor is not aboard. The best course of action for Davros to have taken would have been to order his attack force of Daleks to return to base, and, as the Doctor's very existence clearly posed a serious threat to the Daleks, have him exterminated; however, instead he spends his time gloating over the Doctor's predicament, ultimately authoring his own defeat as a result. Once again, Davros appears to have lost some of his earlier cunning and become a more driven foe.
The Movellans provide an intriguing and mysterious foil for the Daleks. There is no indication of where they come from, or how they have developed: they recall the Thals of "The Daleks" in being beautiful, perfect humanoids on Skaro, but whereas the beautiful people of the 1960s were tall, blond and a bit sexist, the vision of the ideal human culture supplied by Nation in the 1970s is consciously ethnically mixed, and displays gender and ethnic equality, indicating a different ideal of beauty to that of the previous decade. Also, whereas in the earlier story the Thals' beauty was intended to symbolise their goodness, here the Movellans' beauty is deceptive, intended to lull the viewer-- and any people they might encounter-- into believing that they are, as it were, the good guys. This fact, incidentally, explains the sequence in which Lan crumbles a rock in apparent boredom: although, being a machine, he is incapable of such emotions, he is, like the other Movellans, putting on an act of being a beautiful and unbelievably strong humanoid for the benefit of any observers. Although this idea is slightly let down in the execution (namely, a small amount of beard growth is visible on the male Movellans in the location sequences, and, when the Doctor incapacitates a black female Movellan, the "body" visible when he pulls open her costume has white "skin" and no breasts), the concept of the Movellans is a clever twist to ring on the association of physical beauty and strength with heroism of "The Daleks", making for a more complex scenario.
The story is enlivened, finally, by the fact that it contains some of the more memorable lines of the Baker era, with the dialogue between the Doctor and Romana being particularly reminiscent of the better John Steed/Emma Peel The Avengers stories. The Doctor's characterisation also comes through strongly from his dialogue and mannerisms: when he realises that he is up against the Daleks, for instance, he instantly stops joking and becomes deadly serious, and, when he whistles "Colonel Bogie" idly out of habit, he inadvertently causes one of the Movellans to become inactive, providing a clue as to how they can be overcome. While a number of fans were, admittedly, irritated by the Doctor's joke about the Daleks' lack of climbing ability, it is hardly the first time this joke has been made in the series, and so it does seem rather unfair to single out "Destiny" in this area.
The other major irritant to fans is, of course, the infamous sequence in which Romana "regenerates." According to an interview conducted with Graham Williams at Panopticon in 1985, this sequence came about because there was at the time increasingly an air of mystery and sanctity surrounding the show's mythology about regeneration, Time Lords, and so forth, which he and Douglas Adams were keen to shake up, and consequently they came up with a scene which violated everything which had been previously established on the subject. Despite this, Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood point out in About Time 4 that, ironically, the regeneration sequence does have an explanation within series continuity: the alternative Romanas we see could be projections, like Cho-Je in "Planet of the Spiders". However, the question of why she is regenerating (as she did not seem that badly traumatised by her experiences in "The Armageddon Factor", nor is she particularly old as Time Lords go), beyond simply wanting a change of look, remains a mystery. The sequence therefore is still problematic (although for reasons of motivation rather than lack of continuity); however, it has to be said that its creators intended it to be so.
Appreciating "Destiny of the Daleks" thus requires an open mind towards the production team's attitude to Doctor Who continuity and Dalek history. However, as a snapshot of Doctor Who at a particular moment in time, it is worth a second look, particularly for its design, characterisation of the lead characters, and the changes it rings on earlier Dalek stories.
Effects courtesy of Maureen Marrs and Fiona Moore