Destiny of the Daleks

destinyI’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

About Roger Pocock

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7 Responses to Destiny of the Daleks

  1. Your sister says:

    You are a great writer, Mike.
    I can hear you when I read what you write.

    Anyway, to me destiny is constant. Not an ending. Not even a beginning. It’s just always. Just my opinion. It has little to nothing to do with your blog. Just wanted to tell you my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike Basil says:

    Destiny Of The Daleks when I first saw it, particularly after my own personal enjoyment of The Key To Time saga, was a randomly enjoyable story. It brought back the Daleks and Davros, it showed Dr. Who’s first companion-regeneration for Romana, then it set a new tone for every classic series Dalek story when we see Davros survive in the end this time. Instead of another death scene he’s imprisoned by cryogenic means and so his inevitable returns would be promisingly dramatized for both the Doctor and the Daleks.

    Granted, this one was somewhat mellowed in comparison to Genesis Of The Daleks and gave us a fair share of light-heartedness on the Doctor’s part towards Davros. Indeed with humorous lines like “Shut up or I’ll switch you off!” and triumphant humor with the Doctor, in what looked like some kind of arm-wrestling match, making Davros press the switch that destroyed all the Daleks. So it’s the methodical appropriateness of Eric Saward to take Resurrection Of The Daleks back to how it began with Davros in his debut story, even if making it violently darker didn’t go too well with most fans or critics.

    In Revelation Of The Daleks, Saward gave Davros more flexibility via the role of Tranquil Repose which, as with Death To The Daleks, quite impressively proved that a Dalek story doesn’t always have to be mainly about the Daleks. But Davros was still the main villain who, with the title of the Great Healer, could afford to keep his new Daleks at first more on the sidelines while he attained power over the galaxy by controlled food supplies.

    Then for both Remembrance Of The Daleks and Big Finish’s Terror Firma, it became even easier to established the Doctor’s special chemistry with Davros which could rival the Doctor’s chemistry with the Master. Big Finish’s “I, Davros” prequel gave Davros the chance to shine on his own via Terry Molloy’s own distinction on the role.

    So we can reflect positively on Destiny Of The Daleks for giving this iconic SF villain the chance to spread out more. Davros endures as a reminder of how the villain who lacks a sense of symbiosis with other beings is inevitably how he or she becomes the villain. Davros’ sense of justification for his villainy was simply believing that the universe is all about kill-or-be-killed. So quite attractively, Terry Nation and varied Dr. Who storytellers were bound to make as much creative use of Davros as possible. After Series 9’s opening 2-parter, when Jodie’s Doctor encounters Davros, that could really set our Whovian teeth on edge.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      That’s a coincidence. My teeth are the Whovian bit of me as well 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • ML says:

      SFMike, every so often you make my brain form a mobius strip. Your last sentence about “series 9” and “Jodie’s Doctor” doesn’t make sense. (Are you going for a job as a Doctor Who story writer?) Series 9 happened already with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor… or did you finally prove my point that Canada is another planet after all with an alternate universe viewing of Season 9 that I should know about? 🙂


      Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        What I meant to say was: after Capaldi’s Doctor’s odyssey with Davros, will be intriguing to see what Jodie’s Doctor’s encounter with Davros will unfold whenever it may be.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Mike Basil says:

    Without spoiling anything for anyone who hasn’t seen the Series 9 2-part opener yet, my point is on where they can creatively go next with Davros, specifically after how the Doctor (Capaldi) faced one of his most haunting dilemmas ever. Jodie as a female Doctor in her first encounter with Davros for whenever Chibnall decides to bring him and the Daleks back, as creatively unpredictable as it could and should be, simply prompted me to make that point. In regards to how a female Doctor, even for all the specific changes of a female Doctor, wouldn’t actually change Dr. Who as the SF show we all know and love, each Doctor can have something especially new to offer within their first encounters with recurring villains.

    T. Baker had Davros’ debut to thank of course and Eccleston for his first one in Dalek (particularly just one Dalek to start off with and Rose’s involvement) can certainly in the dramatic sense prove that there’s always more new chemistry somewhere. I’m not necessarily implying that Jodie as a female Doctor will be too radically different in regards to recurring villains. She herself made one very good point that since all those who’ve played male Doctors have never needed to ponder on how they, as male actors, would play male Doctors, then actresses can follow that example. For the fact which Jodie also addressed that when playing the Doctor you’re in the sense not playing either a necessarily male or female character, even if it naturally makes fans imagine how Davros would react the Doctor now being a woman, my comment was addressed more to whatever story ideas Chibnall would have in mind as far as Davros-and-the-Daleks stories themselves would be appealing.

    Because in Resurrection Of The Daleks, Davros, even if he was openly astonished by seeing the Doctor appearing quite different from how they originally met, which was just on a screen, it’s the scene where they first meet face to face that made them effortlessly recognize each other. Quite fairly, Jodie as the Doctor encountering Davros will be no different in that sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Knowing how durable Lalla Ward has become in the role of Romana (thanks to Big Finish even with Juliet Landau briefly as Romana 3), it makes me look back on her first mark as Romana for Destiny Of The Daleks all the more profoundly. She chose the female image of Princess Astra for her second self, started off as a good match for the Doctor (even for her first choice of attire), then went from screaming because the Daleks to doing her own fight-scene stunts with a Movellan robot. Relatively not bad for a new actress joining the classic-era TARDIS team. But it’s all the more fitting to know that she’s much stronger in her continuing confrontations with the Daleks thanks to Big Finish.

      Way to go, Lalla. 💖

      Liked by 1 person

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