Doctor Who episode 509: Destiny of the Daleks – Episode Four (22/9/1979) on
I’ve found this one of the most frustrating stories in this pilgrimage. It’s got a level of competence and polish that continues the upward trajectory of Season 16, and the script, I imagine thanks to Douglas Adams’ builds, is more straightforwardly fun than anything Terry Nation’s contributed since the 1960s. I like that it doesn’t just replay the greatest hits from Genesis of the Daleks, but subverts them (the Doctor refusing to entertain Davros’ delusions, or to engage with him intellectually; the Daleks deferring to Davros rather than conspiring against him; the “beautiful people” turning out to be as bad as the Daleks, in a way Genesis toyed with).
It’s really well made; the Dalek assault on the Movellan is dynamic and convincingly chaotic, and a much bigger number of Daleks than we’ve seen before (outside of Rolykins models) advancing across the sands of Skaro. The space sets are generally better designed than in the last couple of seasons.
And yet, some of the small details are vaguely annoying: there are loads of Daleks, but they shuffle about like someone’s legs are sticking out of the bottom (which, indeed, they are). The Dalek control room looks good but there’s what looks like a little wooden bookcase in it (for Davros’s Mills & Boon collection?). The final confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks, when he throws his hat over the Daleks’ eyestalk and it explodes, is messy. Making the Daleks into robots without exploring how or why, just to fit this storyline, is lazy and boring.
The sad thing is that this is the weakest season opener since Robot, but it’s stronger than any in the next few years (thanks to Gary Gillatt for pointing this out to me). I like it; I like the Doctor’s new ‘bye bye’ catch phrase (three times this story); I like Tyssan; I like the design of the Movellans; I like the jokes; I like the direction; I like the performances. It’s all competent, solid stuff. It’s just ever so slightly dull.
Next episode: City of Death
GHARMAN: Production of the Dalek can continue. We can destroy the genetically conditioned creatures and allow the mutation to follow its own course. Our race will survive if it deserves to survive, but let it have all the strengths and weaknesses that we have. Compassion and hate. Let it do good things and evil. But we cannot let it become an unfeeling, heartless machine. That is our choice. Now, we must decide.
A lot of people who criticise the Daleks becoming “computerised machine creatures” who only follow logical choices miss how connected this tory is with the previous one. Terry Nation was a genius (as I know from his work on other series) not a chump. Do try to keep up. And the computerised logic-slave stuff was being made fun of by Brian Hayles in 1967: “We’re fully computerised” “Well, never mind”.