I’ll turn Davros and his life-support system into scrap metal. Now spack off!
It’s not often we hear the Doctor swear. I suppose that must be some kind of Time Lord insult. All joking aside, the situation at that point is a Mexican standoff, as the Doctor points out. The Daleks have the ability to shoot and kill the Doctor, but the Doctor has a bomb that he can use to blow up Davros, and the Daleks need Davros. Stalemate. The Daleks find a way to end the stalemate situation by bringing a second element into the picture: they start exterminating innocent people, knowing that will force the Doctor to back down. The Daleks are cunning. They are far from being generic robots.
So we have an obvious problem with the entire premise of Destiny of the Daleks. It is a story about two robotic races locked in an eternal conflict because they can’t break their programming, like two computer systems anticipating every move of their opponent. To keep the chess analogy, this results in a stalemate situation, and the Daleks need Davros to break the stalemate. But Daleks aren’t robots. There’s really no way to fix that, without just giving up and not making the story at all.
That would have been a shame, because it’s actually just as interesting to see the ways the story fails to cohere as it would have been if it had worked. For example, look at how the Daleks and Movellans contrast in terms of their morality. We know what the Daleks are like by now: they believe in their own superiority to every other race, and want to wipe out anything that isn’t a Dalek. The Movellans aren’t like that. They want to win the war, and innocent people dying in the process of that victory doesn’t bother them. They are amoral. But that’s not an equivalence. Xenophobic zeal and indifference are not the same thing, and we are expected to accept the conflict between those two positions would result in robotic stalemate. On a much more obvious level, the Movellans really don’t seem like a credible threat to the Daleks. They are easily disabled by removing their power pack, which is amusingly carried around on their belt as if their technology hasn’t moved on from a cordless vacuum cleaner, and it is relatively easy to simply reprogram them to obey different orders. You can’t reprogram a Dalek. In fact, it’s a stretch to understand them as things that have programming at all. They are living creatures in tanks.
It’s not just that the Dalek/Movellan comparison doesn’t work very well, it’s that Terry Nation and/or Douglas Adams even display a misunderstanding of how logic works at all.
DOCTOR: Scissors cuts paper. Ha, ha! But suppose we were two computers controlling two great battle fleets, each one working perfectly logically to outmanoeuvre the other.
…well, they wouldn’t match each other’s moves in Paper/Scissors/Stone. If computers were incapable of generating random data there would be no such thing as encryption software, for a start. Alan Turing figured out how to get a computer to generate random numbers nearly 30 years before this story was made.
This was a rare misstep for Douglas Adams, who apparently rewrote most of this from Terry Nation’s scripts. The idea of the Daleks and Movellans being in a stalemate clearly doesn’t make sense, and that could have at least been improved by making the Movellans much, much more impressive. Instead of trying to drag them up to the Daleks’ level, Adams tries to drag the Daleks down to the Movellans’ level. It’s not just the treatment of them as robots, but also the way the story ridicules them and their creator. The bit that Nation particularly disliked about the rewrites was the Doctor mocking the inability of the Dalek to climb, and he had a point.
So it’s a great idea, but it shouldn’t be a Dalek story. There’s nothing wrong with telling a story about a stalemate situation in war, but the Daleks are probably the worst possible race of aliens to use to tell that story. The only advantage would have been to extend the metaphor to other parallels, such as the Doctor and Davros, but that doesn’t happen here either (it will eventually, just not in this story). But there is one other very interesting parallel that starts here: the Doctor and Romana.
The regeneration is as Adams-esque as we would expect, and to be fair there weren’t a whole lot of options available with a companion written out between seasons. Given the choice between this and the Colin Baker / Sylvester McCoy non-regeneration, at least this one is fun, and at this point we have only seen four regenerations, all of them completely different from each other. It’s a mistake to look at this through the lens of the epic regenerations that follows. We had only had one that was anything like that so far. The feeling-a-bit-tired regenerations of One and K’Anpo, and the choose-a-face regeneration of Two, all have more in common with Romana’s regeneration than the epic bangs and flashes of the later efforts. It’s just that the explanation is lacking.
But the reason I wanted to mention this is that Romana chooses a costume that deliberately mimics the Doctor. She does it as a joke, and to win his approval for her borrowed face, but she is actually the companion who will most become a parallel for the Doctor, and that starts here. We’re not quite there yet. The Daleks manage to turn her into a panicking wreck. Like the Movellans and the Daleks, Romana and the Doctor are not quite the equals they would appear to be. Unlike the Movellans, Romana is on a path to greatness.
Scissors cut paper.
Stone blunts scissors.
Dalek gun destroys stone, scissors and paper.
Daleks exterminate Movellans.
There’s no stalemate here. RP
The view from across the pond:
The word “destiny” implies something at an end. Mankind’s destiny, we assume, is a long way off. Destiny of the Daleks however, doesn’t seem to be some distant future. In fact, it seems pretty early in their timeline, at least from a space-faring perspective. What it does do, however, is end one way of telling Dalek stories. Once Davros is returned, there became a split in Dalek command and throughout the rest of the classic series, every Dalek story has an element of “dissention in the ranks” between two different regimes. Ironically, that doesn’t actually start here! In Destiny, Davros is being sought by the Daleks to help with a conflict that isn’t going well. It would have been far better if the in-fighting had happened already and Dalek faction A was fighting Dalek faction B because we could accept that they were equal in all ways and would cancel each other out. Instead, we get to meet the Movellans, or in ancient Gallifreyan, “the robots of utter mediocrity”. If the Daleks can’t beat these guys, there will never be any believability to them being the “supreme power of the universe!” I say that, but let’s be honest: they haven’t conquered stairs yet, as the Doctor is keen to remind them! “If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”
The story is one of my favorites of Tom’s later seasons but I’m not 100% sure why. There are a number of humorous moments in the show that boost it (Doctor Who is always great when it has a sense of humor) but that is far from enough to carry it to the heights needed to be one of Baker’s best. The inclusion of Oolon Colluphid’s book was a great, if subtle, tribute to Douglas Adams and I laughed out loud when Davros tells the Daleks that the Doctor’s “logic is impaired” but none of that would win any awards. It was more the notion that the Daleks had met their match and needed help and their creator was their best bet for survival.
Davros was an amazingly well written enemy in his introductory episode; it was inevitable that they’d bring him back. The idea that his body was kept in a state of suspended animation is pretty convenient, but at least he was able to return. Like any major villain in Doctor Who, he’s always going to find a way to return. (This has a downside though: like all comic book villains, it gives their defeat a hollow feeling. If they can’t really be defeated, it takes something away from the overall story. In many ways it would be better if an ending were an ending.) It’s an interesting story but it ends with a really weird statement. Davros is going to be brought to Earth and put on trial. But… why?! Specifically, why Earth? At this point, he was killed by his own people on Skaro in the distant past and has only just woken up from centuries of suspended animation. He’s committed no crimes against anyone else. And if the charge is, as stated, the crime of building Daleks… that holds as much water as finding Genghis Khan frozen in ice, thawing him out, then putting him on trial for a nuclear bomb detonated by a Mongolian terrorist. At the time of Davros’ creating the Daleks, they were not even a space-faring race. Their conflict was with the Thals of their own world. It’s the sort of throwaway line that is telling the audience “we’re basically taking him offscreen so he can escape and appear in another story in a season or two!” In any other way, the logic is impaired! Earth would have no sway over Davros!
And speaking of logic: Movellans. What’s the deal? They were female in design. Ish. But it’s the most androgynous looking bunch that I’ve even seen. Their vast game of rock-paper-scissors against the Daleks just doesn’t seem like something worthy of the Daleks. In fact, the mere notion that it comes down to intuition to beat either side means one thing: the humans should never have had a problem defeating Daleks. They always had intuition on their side, but they can’t beat the Daleks, so what would make it the answer now? Well, it may be early days, but then: why is it called Destiny of the Daleks? Somehow, this story is loved (by myself included) but it actually is so logically impaired that it shouldn’t even be liked; it should fall into the “it doesn’t make sense” category and probably buried on Skaro to be found in a thousand years.
The one thing that does warrant further analysis is Romana’s regeneration. Romana randomly decides to go into the other room and regenerate and she does it a half dozen times. None of this is given any context at the time but gets a reasonable ret-con in the new series if we just put a few pieces of the Time Lord puzzle together. Chris Eccleston implies to Rose that maybe his regeneration will result in “two heads. Or no head!” This implies Time Lords can change into something other than humanoid, for which the only evidence we have of this is Romana changing into a female version of Dorium Maldovar. Then, just one story later, Tennant’s Doctor says that he’s in the first 15 hours of regenerating, which gave him the opportunity to reform his hand. So, Romana’s reason for changing is unknown, beyond that she seems to want to, but then has 15 hours to try out new forms where she decides what she wants to look like before settling on the lovely and aristocratic Lalla Ward look. What it makes us wonder is if most Time Lords have some control over the process, as Romana seems to. If we go by the General in Hell Bent, it doesn’t seem to be a choice, but perhaps that’s because it was traumatic. Perhaps if a Time Lord chooses to, he or she can change as they want to, and look however they want, not unlike going to the shop and trying on new clothes to see what fits a certain personality. Convenient, for sure.
But perhaps we’ll never know. At least we have Destiny of the Daleks to give us a hint about Time Lord biology. And maybe that was all it takes to rise the story up; give us a bit about the Gallifreyans and we’re like dogs having heard Pavlov’s bell. There are worse lures! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… City of Death