THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Destiny of the Daleks
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1979
ISBN 0 426 20096 9
First Edition Cover Alister Skilleter

Back cover blurb: Landing on an apparently devastated planet, the Doctor and Romana make a horrifying discovery. The planet is Skaro, home-world of the Daleks. The Daleks are excavating in order to find and revive Davros, the mad, crippled, scientific genius who first created them. They hope that he will give them the scientific superiority to break the deadlock with their Movellan enemies. Faced once more with the deadly and seemingly indestructible Daleks, the Doctor's wits and strength are stretched to their very limits...


Reviews

A very quick effort by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/1/06

A novelisation of only 104 narrative pages of large print, coming out barely two months after the story was first transmitted. A determination to get a story from the most recent season onto the shelves is admirable (indeed it even beat Season 16, with Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation not coming out until the following month) but such a rush job never bodes well. Reading through the book it is clear that both Dicks and Skilleter had no visual material available to them and so there are many details missing, most obviously Romana's costume, whilst the cover just shows the Doctor and some Daleks - hardly an indication of what makes this particular Dalek story distinctive.

Also lacking is any attempt to date the story substantially. On television the dialogue suggests it has only been centuries since the death of Davros, yet the limited state of decay and cobwebs suggests a period of at best fifty years - in complete contrast to the Daleks having by now become a massive force in the universe engaged in a substantial intergalactic war. That discrepancy is carried over into the book, which also makes no attempt to reconcile the way that Davros has been relocated to the Kaled city (do I sense a book or Big Finish audio looming that will seek to rectify this?).

What we're left with is a book that is incredibly easy to read, straightforwardly telling us the same story as on television. Without visuals we're spared some of the more embaressing moments, such as the way the Movellans collapse when their belt computers are removed or the Doctor stopping them with a dog whistle. However also missing is any decent exposition of any of the characters other than Tyssan, who is revealed to have been an engineer who is now haunted by his belief he will die on Skaro. We learn nothing further about the Movellans or the Daleks' slaves, whilst Davros' intentions to challenge the Supreme Dalek for the leadership of the Daleks, or how the ordinary Daleks on Skaro feel about this, are not elaborated upon in anyway. Were this novelisation written after the Saward Dalek stories had been transmitted then this would almost certainly have been rectified, though at the time it probably passed as a minor issue altogether.

The book is exceptionally short and there is very little substance to it. The contemporary Target practice of merely trying to get novelisations of the most recent stories onto the shelves as quickly as possible to make money may have been a good commercial move, but from an artistic point of view it produces books with little real substance, representing the nadir of the novelisations. This is a very quick effort and the result is poor. 3/10


"But trust me on the sunscreen" by Thomas Cookson 6/5/17

When it comes to fandom's frustrations with how Destiny of the Daleks turned out on TV, I usually think back to being 11 and how the story played in my head when I first read the novelization (at 17, I finally saw it on video). It was the only Dalek story my Library had, but it was a lucky find, which explained everything following Genesis of the Daleks.

It's a very basic translation of the TV script (one fan at my local group commenting to me it was probably written in a week), with a few plot holes explained and certain bits of dialogue reinstated that Tom Baker had disregarded.

On TV, it's never explained how Romana and the slaves survive Skaro's huge radiation levels. The novel explains the Daleks continually gave them anti-radiation pills during work shifts. It also explains that what gave away the Movellans to the Doctor was that, whilst studying Agella's protruding hand after the rock fall, he saw it self-repairing.

The comparison really illuminates how contemptful Tom was of the script. Flat out refusing to explain a continuity detail when Tyssan asks who the Kaleds were, even though a certain segment of the audience who'd not seen Genesis would like to know, and the story is supposed to revolve around the Daleks needing to bridge the gulf between themselves and their humanoid ancestors.

Another crucial addition is that, in the book, the Doctor describes to Davros the scope of Dalek devastation extending across ten galaxies, which not only conjures an astronomical body count but also provides a grim reminder of how much more is at stake if the Daleks succeed here. Which in turn gives tremendous weight to the moment the Doctor's prepared to kill Davros to prevent the Daleks using him.

Dicks draws a lot out of this moment, emphasising the Doctor is not ordinarily a killer and recalling his hesitation outside the incubator room and how much stronger the Daleks have grown since as a result and how he can't make that mistake again.

Before I saw the TV version, the Destiny of the Daleks that existed in my head from reading this book was one that faithfully continued the bleak Hinchcliffe tone of Genesis and took place in a version of the show that hadn't been sanitised by Mary Whitehouse.

In fact, I was honestly pleasantly surprised Tyssan survived to the end. Even Romana seemed like she might truly have died when the Dalek slaves pronounce her as such. Likewise, the moment Romana encounters Lan and Agella both back from the dead was far more menacing, as was the scene where a reprogrammed Lan overpowers Agella (actually, in light of Dicks' more 'rapey' content in his New Adventures, reading that part feels like an uncomfortable dark omen now). In this version of the story, it barely had a happy ending at all, given that at least half the slaves the Doctor liberated had died in vain trying to fight off the Kamikaze Daleks at the end anyway.

The TV story builds up tremendous atmosphere in part one, only to slowly squander it on a story that feels intermittently slow or rushed at all the wrong points. Although I was generous in my review of the TV story, I can't avoid the fact that, for all its best touches, the TV version is depressingly inconsistent and adds up to less than the sum of its parts. It utterly lacks the danger and gruelling adversity the book suggests. With Tom Baker seemingly not giving a damn, if there's no danger then there's no sense of romantic heroism to the Doctor braving his enemy and no passion behind what he does here, because it ultimately seems too easy for him and as though he can win this even at his most apathetic.

In the book, he is passionate. His fervent desperation to unbury Romana's grave, which Dicks wisely makes a chapter cliffhanger of, the director barely takes time to savour. His horror at seeing a child slave lined up for the slaughter and him near crying and begging for the killing to stop very much captures the innocent tragic vulnerability that fans so often proscribe to Davison's incarnation. Sadly, on TV, Tom seems unwilling to break his cool or show any emotional distress and just resembles an actor shouting on cue. All the performances are weak and the direction is shoddy. There should've been dramatic close ups, striking music and the Daleks thrusting prisoners forward violently, and them being terrified and screaming rather than completely apathetic.

The potentially most dramatic scene of the story was wasted onscreen. In the book, it was as bloodcurdling as intended, and the suspense maintained throughout as the Dalek repeatedly tries to call the Doctor's bluff. Even Davros seems scared here of the Doctor in the book. The emotional shifting between the Doctor's gleeful facade when fleeing Davros and his grim moment of contemplating murder from a distance is so like Eccleston on paper. On TV, the Doctor's actions just seem far too routine, and it's like the whole ordeal's had no emotional effect on the Doctor.

Now, even as written, things here are too easy for the Doctor. He can almost always count on the Movellans to bail him out, and when they turn on him, Tyssan and the slaves bail him out. In a way, the story is guilty of having progressively lowering stakes, which rather kills interest. In fact, in the end, just to make it really easy for him, Davros stupidly rigs all his Daleks with explosives so the Doctor can easily blow them up himself.

And yet somehow in the novelization it feels like time's running out for him to do so before the Daleks wipe out the slaves. In the TV story, it just feels like Tom wants it done with so he can sod off to the bar, whilst the battle between the Daleks and slaves is such a confusing, rushed mish-mash that it's impossible to care about it and gives you nothing to settle, let alone latch onto. It's a shame, because maybe if fans could take this story's ruthless, decisive portrayal of the Doctor seriously, they'd stop taking Warriors of the Deep's portrayal of him seriously.

I think when it came to Terry Nation's proprietorialness about the Daleks, he wanted their image to represent Nazism's evils. I think Nation believed that, like Nazism itself, the Daleks needed to be shown as ignorant and ultimately defeatable. So they're reduced to easily bamboozled automatons, lacking the will or cunning to consider a coup against Davros when he sends them on their suicide mission. A better writer might've had the Doctor conspiring with his Dalek guard to stop Davros.

There are, however, several faux pas made by Dicks. Whilst describing Romana's various try-on regenerations, he rather tastelessly has the Doctor responding with disgust when she takes a more alien form, which goes heavily against the open-minded Doctor who doesn't judge people by their physical appearance. It's hard not to feel Dicks is being irresponsible here and potentially teaching young boys that it's okay to exclude and be mean to girls they consider 'ugly'. He also grossly mischaracterises Romana with the line "give my love to Davros", which goes against her snobbish demeanour, especially when concerning a creep like Davros.

Also, he adds in the rather patronising line from Romana about how the Movellans in their quest for war victory and galactic conquest 'sound just as bad as the Daleks'. This both talks down to the reader and is transparently, grossly inaccurate given their clear actions elsewhere in the story. If the Movellans were as bad as the Daleks, they'd have set the Nova device to fry Romana alive rather than disarming it for no apparent reason, and they wouldn't have taken Tyssan into their care. The point of the Daleks is that they're the most evil species and therefore it's impossible to be as bad as them. The story can't succeed at convincing us the Movellans are, especially given that they're so poorly defined and hastily introduced.

There's a few televisual pleasures the book can't replicate, such as when the Doctor's Dalek escort explodes mid-cliche when a Movellan ambushes it or Lalla Ward really giving it her all as the distressed damsel during the interrogation scene. But it's overridden by the other bad calls in editing and directing. What made Genesis so frightening was its quick-fire editing made it so the Daleks' guns seemed to have a hair trigger and that within seconds of revealing a Dalek, anyone caught in the frame didn't have a chance of escaping its lethal discharge.

These Daleks are just too slow, and the TV story does a poor job of hiding it. When they first appear yelling repeatedly "Do not move!" at Romana, it's immediately clear these Daleks have been muzzled by Whitehouse and that they're now all bark and no bite. Their shoddy, dilapidated design makes them appear immediately far too pregnable and no longer robust or indestructible. Whereas, in the book, when the Doctor's grenade mistimes and destroys two Daleks that martyred themselves for Davros, it's a big moment because thus far the Daleks have seemed unkillable, but now the Doctor's brought hope that they can be defeated.

Sadly, Terrance doesn't omit the Doctor's gag about the Daleks being unable to climb after him. Not only was it infuriatingly unfunny onscreen, but we all know the old crap joke anyway, and, in the moment of watching, we're supposed to be so riveted by what the Daleks might do to even think about their limitations. When the collateral of innocents is especially high, like in Genesis, then frankly the suggestion that those victims would've survived if they'd used a staircase should rightly feel unwelcome and even callous and un-Doctorish.

If any character makes that joke about Daleks, then horror convention dictates a Dalek must later kill them for their sin of mockery and ignorance. But when the main character does this, leaving us almost rooting for his comeuppance and leaving the Daleks unable to prove his mockery to be fatally wrong, we have a problem.

However, at least in prose form, it comes off almost as the Doctor's overcompensating foolhardiness at just escaping after a bout of fear.

Destiny is the story that probably left many fans wishing JNT had taken over a year earlier (with Williams leaving appropriately at the Key to Time arc's conclusion). That under JNT Destiny might've been better produced, Tom might've been prompted to make an effort and there'd be fewer jokes and more deference to established continuity.

In general, Destiny feels like it should've been delayed until they could fix the script properly and had the money to do it justice onscreen. Maybe save it for Davison's first season and have Peter Grimwade direct it. Destiny was probably why JNT's era became a frustrated belated fan dream we kept chasing, even though it was too late to erase the bitterness.

If the show ended on Season 16 and migrated to the big screen, Destiny could've made an excellent Doctor Who cinema film (with City of Death and State of Decay as potential follow ups). Given the budget to perfect its Dalek action and freer to push forward its grim, menacing moments, it'd be immensely popular with kids and might've even drawn fans who'd lost interest when K9 appeared back into the fold.

I think this novelization demonstrates that, for all Destiny's scripting faults and logic holes, as an action space adventure it could've ticked the boxes, tied Genesis' loose ends and made a satisfying fun romp, if it only had the visual and acting panache to hit the mark. Sadly that's a version we can only imagine in our heads.