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17x1. Destiny of the Daleks
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Ken Grieve
Script Editor: Douglas Adams
Producer: Graham Williams

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes on the Daleks' home planet of Skaro, where the Daleks are drilling into the remains of their ancient city in search of their creator Davros and are using humans as slave labor. Meanwhile, the Movellans, a seemingly alien race, are also present and are working against the Daleks. The Doctor and Romana eventually discover that the Movellans are a robotic race also bent on conquest, and that they have reached a stalemate with the Daleks and now hope that the Doctor will help them break the stalemate, just as the Daleks hope Davros can do for them.

Review: With this as his final contribution to Doctor Who,I can now pronounce myself officially perplexed by what I know of the creative output of Terry Nation (or, at least, of the material that has his name on it -- it can be difficult to nail down exactly who's responsible for what in television production). His introduction of the Daleks in the show's second ever serial undoubtedly gave Doctor Who
a critical early boost, he later brought them back in classic outings such as "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and "Genesis of the Daleks," and he proved his bona fides in a somewhat darker arena of science fiction as the creator of Blake's 7. And yet the same Terry Nation somewhat lamely ripped himself off in "Planet of the Daleks," subjected his famous creations to the indignities of "The Chase," and, I'm sorry to say, written the surprising misfire that is "Destiny of the Daleks" that too often leaves the viewer wondering just what the script is intending.

Problem #1: Romana. I realize it wasn't the producers' fault that Mary Tamm left the show, but the regeneration sequence that explains her transformation into the Lalla Ward incarnation is puzzling at best. (To be fair, this part, at least, is not Nation's fault, as he reportedly didn't write the scene.) Why, exactly, does Romana regenerate? Is it because she was tortured towards the end of "The Armageddon Factor"? Is this a case of a body simply "wearing out" as we saw with the First Doctor? For that matter, she seems to have some control over the process, given that she tries out several bodies before settling on Princess Astra as her model, so did she initiate it voluntarily (which seems like a waste of a regeneration)? Later, she appears to break down in fear of the Daleks, not exactly what one would expect of the cool, composed Time Lady of the previous season. She also claims to know nothing about them, which seems odd -- the Time Lords sent the Doctor on a mission to destroy the Daleks back in "Genesis," so they're apparently a known quantity on Gallifrey (though I suppose it's possible that they've been kept a secret).

Problem #2: The Daleks themselves. They are described as a robotic race whose dependence on logic has led to a stalemate in the war with the also robotic and logical Movellans. Excuse me, but since when are the Daleks robots who rely primarily on logic? They may not have positive emotions, but there is nothing particularly "logical" about their brand of genocidal xenophobia. And while they have some robotic or artificial elements, it seems fairly clear that thstyue organic life form inside their casing is the source of their thoughts and decisions. Are we meant to conclude that the limited damage done to them in "Genesis" resulted in their adoption of more significant robotic "supplements" to keep themselves alive? It's unclear, because the script never really explains this.

Problem #3: The Doctor and Davros. The conflict between these two was what made "Genesis" such a compelling story, with the Doctor hoping to find a non-violent solution until he becomes convinced of the extent of Davros' depravity, and even then still wondering if he's within his rights to wipe out the Daleks. "Destiny" represented an opportunity to explore this further, and there's a hint that the Doctor has become much more ruthless in what he's prepared to do in order to stop the Daleks. He negotiates his way out of a hostage situation by placing a bomb on Davros' mobile unit, and later, even after the Daleks have let him go, he apparently still tries to kill Davros by detonating it remotely (and does kill at least one Dalek who's removing it). I say "apparently" because the scene is so underplayed that it's hard to tell what exactly he's doing or why - are we to make anything of the fact that he waits a few moments before setting it off, or that later, when Davros is captured, he sends him off to stand trial on Earth instead? Again, the script just doesn't make it very clear, nor is it possible to tell from Tom Baker's performance what exactly the Doctor is thinking when he sets off the bomb.

"Destiny" does have its good points. The first two episodes feel a bit like a throwback to the slower-paced style of older serials, in that the Doctor and Romana spend a considerable amount of time wandering around and investigating before it becomes completely clear what's going on. The Movellans being robots is artfully concealed: initially, we assume that they're the "good guys" simply because they're not hostile to the Doctor and they're fighting the Daleks, but they're apparently just as bent on conquest as the Daleks are. And while the "rock-paper-scissors" demonstration of the stalemate strikes me as dubious (why would the Movellans each pick the same weapon each time?), the idea here is clever: two purely logical intelligences unable to outsmart each other, with the result that each of them end up seeking a less purely rational mind to help them break the impasse. And while it's a fairly minor point, I should mention that I was amused at the first noticeable indication of Douglas Adams' presence as story editor: the Doctor is seen reading a book by Oolon Colluphid, a fictional author occasionally referenced in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Unfortunately, these merits aren't enough to compensate for the muddled way in which the main characters and the continuity from "Genesis" are handled, and the result is that "Destiny of the Daleks" is at best an interesting failure.

Rating: ** (out of four)

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