Beginning of the End

Review of Destiny of the Daleks (#104)
DVD Release Date: 04 Mar 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 22 Sep 1979
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Armageddon Factor (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)

By the time Season 17 rolled around in late 1979, Tom Baker had been in the role of the Doctor for nearly five years and was beginning his sixth and penultimate season. His Companion Romana, having been shunted back into the more traditional "either scream or listen attentively as the Doctor talks" role from the "intellectual equal and foil to the Doctor" originally advertised, lost her appeal for actress Mary Tamm. The production team apparently felt there was still plenty of story left in the character, though, as they decided to make use of the fact that Romana is a Time Lord (or Time Lady, depending on who is speaking and when) to allow her to stay on with a different actress in the role.

Thus we open the season with one of the most famous scenes in Lalla Ward's on-screen stint as Romana (usually referred to as Romana II, to distinguish her from Tamm's depiction, Romana I): her regeneration. Contrary to the way we have always seen the Doctor regenerate—only under duress/when his current body gives up, and with no choice in the outcome—Romana has apparently decided to regenerate for kicks and grins, trying on new bodies much as the Doctor tried out harlequin or Viking outfits. Thus the writers lampshade the fact that yes, we just saw Lalla Ward as a different character at the end of last season; she's Romana now.

For the time being, Baker still appears to enjoy the role, perhaps not least because the adventure involves not only the Daleks but also Davros, a character introduced to the canon during his first season (in a story that's now widely considered among the best ever). It certainly also had to help that he and his new costar were attracted to each other (Baker and Ward were famously involved, though their actual marriage lasted only sixteen months); going to work every day with your honey has to put an extra spring in your step (at least until one or both of you start finding the scripts regrettable...).

This script, though, is not yet among the regrettable ones. There are several interesting reveals along the way, including [spoiler alert] that they have landed on Skaro (not too hard to figure out, given the title of the serial); that the Daleks are there searching for Davros; and that the Daleks' current adversaries, the mysterious Movellans, are themselves also a robotic race. Terry Nation's script provides plenty of the requisite twists and tense moments, though it also relegates Romana to ankle-twisting screamer status, at least early on.

It seems clear that Baker is not putting much thought or effort into the part, as he is at this stage so thoroughly entrenched in the character as to be effectively indistinguishable from him. For now—in this story—that's still not a bad thing. But it is later in this very season that things start to go belly up. The scripts, and in some cases creatures, are so poorly executed that Baker starts taking the piss—in character, mind you—in ways only the youngest of viewers wouldn't notice.

So Destiny and its immediate successor City of Death are, in my opinion, effectively the end of the Tom Baker era. After that the role begins to seem like it's a chore to him, and often times he phones in his performances (more on that in next month's review of his final season opener). For a few last moments, though, he finds joy in matching wits with Davros, being pleasantly surprised by his quasi-new Companion's cleverness, and unraveling a puzzle as the pieces are revealed. The result is a solid story that most fans should enjoy.




Part two of The Destiny of the Daleks was my first introduction to Doctor Who. It was the summer of 1980 and my family was on our Great European Vacation. We had just arrived from America the evening before and were doing a little channel surfing, such as it was back then. I think there may have been three channels.

Since watching bad scifi on Saturday afternoons was a tradition in my family we were delighted by the Doctor and the cheap FX.

After Destiny of the Daleks was done we watched City of Death. In City of Death, The Doctor and Romana run back and forth several times past a cafe. It turns out this cafe was around the corner from our hotel in Paris and we ate breakfast there for a week. I didn't realize this until I saw the episodes again, a few years later and recognized our cafe right off.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I always love hearing different people's stories about their introductions to Doctor Who. This one's particularly fun. :)

By mrfranklin
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