Watching Romana in comedy regeneration mode, Daleks with their side panels clearly falling off, and a cut-price Davros with a head which doesn’t quite fit, my first thought was “Come back Mrs Noah!”, the Mollie Sugden vehicle from 1977. Partially this is because I was looking for a copy of the sole series of Mrs Noah the other day, but equally I think I saw a resemblance because a resemblance was there.
Don’t get me wrong – I like the single episode I’ve seen of Mrs Noah but it looks like it cost about seven and six to film and even its most ardent fan couldn’t claim it as an example of careful and considered scripting. Instead it’s a quick knock-up, utilising a name with a degree of cachet in a genre with equal, if potentially equally transitory, status as the in-thing.
For the BBC combining Mollie Sugden and Star Wars-generated sf fever, read an alt-universe ITV squeezing Doctor Who into a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century shaped hole.
Hence the Movellans’ camp as a row of caravans uniforms, complete with silver disco wigs and groin enhancing tight white trousers. Add their fabulously trashy pink guns, the Dalek bombs which look like nothing so much as giant antibiotic tablets and Romana wearing a cerise version of the Doctor’s long coat and you have a story which costs sod all, plays up to the campy attraction of a major ITV import success and where story and plot are of far less importance than the aliens looking cool and with it.
Having said all that there are things to like in Destiny even if you ignore the camp.
There’s a nice (I suspect, scripted) touch where the fluttering of Davros’ hand as he first awakens is mirrored by that of a Movellan crushed under rubble, highlighting the similarity between the species before the reveal that the Space Disco Queens are robots.
Suzanne Danielle is quiet lovely as Agella, the fit Movellan.
The shots of the Daleks gliding about the sand and rubble strewn hills of Skaro are very effective, especially in those scenes where the Doctor hides at the bottom of an escarpment along which the Daleks are hunting. In fact, the location filming in general is excellent.
It’s just a shame that the interior filming is less successful. As with the Dalek scenes in the Pertwee serial, Day of the Daleks, the set designers have obviously decided that evil alien mutants in state of the art travel machines would, for preference, choose to live in a city largely composed of plywood painted black and illuminated by the sort of free standing lamps only otherwise seen in…well, TV studios. There’s a definite air of ‘good enough I suppose’ about the construction of the Dalek city. The fact it has none of the quality of the same city as seen in Genesis of the Daleks isn’t terribly surprising given budgetary constraints, but they could at least have tried to make it look the similar.
Now that we’re back to complaining, this might be a good time to enquire – what happened to the dangerous radiation? In episode 1 the Doctor warns Romana that the radiation on the planet could be deadly and gives her a beeper to tell her when to take radiation tablets. He then (a) doesn’t give her a supply of tablets, rendering the beeper just a cruel, sick joke and (b) never mentions it again, except at one point later in the same episode when his beeper goes off and he scoffs a couple of tablets. Romana feels a little ill in the mines later on, but that too passes as writer Terry Nation entirely forgets what’s going on.
Or maybe the radiation continues but shows itself in unexpected manner? How else to explain the stoned looking willingness of various prisoners to be shot by the Daleks in a scene only a little while after those same prisoners were shown actively shifting rocks and trying to protect Romana from herself? Or indeed the exact same prisoners in the exact same scene doing weird mugging and grinning when told they could leave so long as they take their recently murdered friends of theirs with them.
In the end though none of this really matters, nor does David Gooderson’s sub-standard Davros or the fact that Nation certainly implies that the Daleks have wholly eradicated their organic element. Having sat down to watch part one on a Monday, intending to watch one part an evening over the week I ended up watching three parts that night and the last part (and the two decent extras – check out how pissed Ken Grieve acts in his interview) the following evening – it may be loosely plotted, dodgily acted and seemingly cast from Saturday’s crowd at Fire Island, but it keeps the attention and – as with most Nation scripts – careens along at such a clip that you do always want to know what happened next.
If only ITV’s actual science fiction output had been half as good…