Where’s Romana? Where’s K9’s voice? What happened to Anthony Read? By all accounts, the making of Season 16 was an ordeal behind the scenes, even if a lot less of the turmoil was obvious on screen. But the turnover of regular cast and production crew, and various stories of Tom Baker’s increasingly demanding behaviour suggests the show wasn’t necessarily the happiest place to work at the end of 1978. Once again, then, Graham Williams has to start a season with problems to solve (even if, as this was made third, these are largely in-story fixes for things that had already been sorted).
There’s no over-arching quest theme this time, but there’s tight continuity with The Armageddon Factor – by necessity, given Lalla Ward’s the new Romana (although Russell T Davies got away with pretty much the same with Freema Agyeman). It’s obviously a shame Mary Tamm doesn’t cameo for the regeneration sequence, but it works fine as a light, jokey introduction both to the new season and the new companion. It helps that, under incoming script editor Douglas Adams’ guidance, Romana is written almost exactly as in The Armageddon Factor – the same insouciance and casual brilliance, albeit more disciplined and easily spooked than the Doctor (forget being buried alive or threatened with explosives, it takes the reveal that they’ve arrived on Skaro to snap the Doctor out of his glibness). She also deduces concrete from a lick test (very David Tennant, that). The matching his and hers costumes are a bit on the nose, but they’re so fun it doesn’t really matter.
Skaro itself looks less grim than in Genesis of the Daleks, and the location filming lacks the sense of desolation and scale as David Maloney’s. I suppose the nuclear war has been over for centuries at this point, and nature is healing. But Terry Nation still tries to include the same omnipresent dangers as in the very first Dalek story: high radiation levels; survivors in the wasteland, who could be friend or foe, stalking the heroine; a race of perfect humanoid specimens locked in deadly struggle with the Daleks (who make their appearance known, as is traditional, at the end of the episode – this time dramatically smashing through a wall). It’s all fairly familiar, and the show doesn’t even have the excuse of not trying this for ages given The Armageddon Factor also featured a wrecked planet, Lalla Ward threatened by high radiation, and a battle computer fighting the war. This gets a pass because Douglas Adams has rewritten Terry Nation, in one of the unlikeliest co-writes in the show’s history, and the result feels both funnier than anything Nation ever wrote for the show, and more traditional than any of Adams’ other stories.
Next episode: Destiny of the Daleks – Episode Two