“If you’re the supreme beings of all the universe, then why don’t you come up after us? Bye bye!”
Thus the seeds are sown in this adventure for the producers to demonstrate (ineffectually in Revelation of the Daleks, and with much better effect in Remembrance of the Daleks and Rose) that stairs need not be an obstacle to Dalek domination. For now however, under the stewardship of Douglas Adams, Baker’s fourth Doctor takes a fiendish delight in taunting the inability of his ancient foes to climb up after him and his escaping party of friends.
Destiny of the Daleks is an intriguing idea, but perhaps not best executed – so we should begin by explaining the plot in brief. The Daleks are engaged in a long standoff between another race, the Movellans. It transpires that both races are essentially robotic and utterly logical, and neither side dares strike first because their respective battle computers can never find the optimum moment. Both races return to Skaro – the Movellans because they sense the Daleks hunting for some secret weapon; the Daleks because they are seeking a secret weapon – their creator Davros! Their intent is that Davros would improve their instincts in order to help them beat the Movellans. Into the midst of this stumble the Doctor and the newly regenerated Romana – not initially planning to get involved, but inevitably left with no choice in the matter.
Let’s acknowledge some of the problems. The late and wonderful Mary Tamm deserved a much better sendoff as Romana, but it is understandable that with the role regressing to ‘get into trouble, scream, and be rescued’ she wasn’t keen to continue. The regeneration scene, with Romana appearing to try on different bodies is of course a little silly – but is also rather charming in its own way. While I loved Tamm as Romana, there is an undeniable chemistry between Baker and Lalla Ward, which reflected well on screen and resulted in a brief off-screen marriage in the early eighties. Having already filmed The Creature from the Pit, Ward is much more comfortable as Romana, which means that for all of the other flaws, the regular cast do not let us down.
But now we come to the biggest question. Davros was supposedly exterminated by his own creations at the end of Genesis of the Daleks. Certain factions of fandom still insist that Davros should have stayed dead. I do not quite incline to that view, but I do think it would have been kinder to David Gooderson to have had a new mask made for him, as the BBC would do for Terry Molloy and Julian Bleach. Michael Wisher’s mask quite clearly not fitting him at all. As it is, you don’t quite get the same sense of continuity that Molloy would later bring.
For all of that – Destiny of the Daleks ticks over at an enjoyable pace and leaves the viewer suitably pleased by journey’s end. As the writers acknowledge, there is something very intriguing about the Daleks returning to Genesis and looking to find their way anew, and equally intriguing in them facing an equally robotic race – even if it doesn’t quite live up to the showdown between the Daleks and the Cybermen in Doomsday. My view on this story had fluctuated from loving it, to resenting it, to being uncertain. On the whole, I’m now inclined to appreciate it for what it is, and enjoy it for what it aspired to be, rather than pick holes in what it failed to be!