Monday, January 28, 2008

And coming next on ITV, Doctor Who...

If ITV had made Doctor Who in the Seventies, then they'd have made something a lot like Destiny of the Daleks.

Think The Tomorrow People or, if you're that little bit older, Ace of Wands. Cheap sets and clapped-out props in an adventure apparently written by the same unimaginative computer which caused the Movellan-Dalek stalemate. Rumour has it that the BBC attempted to save money for the upcoming Paris-based City of Death, and so no big name guest stars were cast, instead leaving Suzanne Danielle and Tony Osoba as the 'big' names over the marquee.

It certainly shows.

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 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...

* Less so, admittedly, in those scenes where bits of the Daleks keep falling off or where you can clearly see operator feet sticking out from under the Daleks' skirt
** Amusingly, this image of Agella which I nicked off of the BBC website was originally tagged "Ra-Ra-Rasputin. There was a cat who really was gone." :)

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Blogger SAF said...

This is great, Stuart, and after recently watching 'Genesis', I owe you for confirming my impressions of the follow-up 'Destiny' which I had half-thought might be out of date and might benefit from a rewatch. Of course I'd also already half made up my mind I didn't want a copy of 'Destiny' in my DVD collection, so I feel you've saved me a few quid as well as offering an entertaining review :)

2:05 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

But I enjoyed Destiny. I'm recommending it!

{quick re-read} Hmm, maybe I'm not now I come to think about it :-)

2:24 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Heheh. To be fair, I'm sure I interpreted your review to suit. :) Either way, I just don't feel quite ready for the campness of 'Destiny' this soon after 'Genesis'. I think, if they really must be part of the same show, they're meant to be years apart. :)qjslu

2:32 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

You're right there - don't watch Destiny soon after Genesis.

You'll end up feeling faintly embarrassed on behalf of everyone involved with the latter.

2:41 pm  
Blogger SK said...

What about the famed difference in T.Baker's performance in his middle series? Is that real?

2:48 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "What about the famed difference in T.Baker's performance in his middle series? Is that real?"

You mean the whole 'Baker was pissed for much of season 17' thing?

Don't know if that stands up with Destiny. He's very much the centre of every scene he's in and seems at times to be making it up as he goes along, but he's never less than watchable and seems entirely professional to me.

Actually, now that you mention it, Tom's very, very good in this (and I'm not a massive Tom fan).

2:56 pm  
Blogger SK said...

I mean the 'he doesn't act, he ignores the other people in the scene and mugs to the camera' thing.

Nothing to do with his stage of inebriation, just his alleged attitude that 'Doctor Who' was a kind of subtitle for 'The Tom Baker Show'.

3:32 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SK: "I mean the 'he doesn't act, he ignores the other people in the scene and mugs to the camera' thing."

Oh right - far less than I remember from things like Nightmare of Eden. He's at the centre of every scene he's in, but without overmuch mugging or OTT scene stealing.

3:48 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

Ooh, slag off the Tomorrow People as much as you like, but Ace of Wands was pretty good and actually had decent sets most of the time. I've got it sitting on my DVD shelf so I know this for A Fact.

8:11 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "Ooh, slag off the Tomorrow People as much as you like, but Ace of Wands was pretty good and actually had decent sets most of the time"

I actually quite like AoW and I was being a bit unfair about the look of the series - it was the acting which was rubbish!

After watching the first story on the DVD, I wrote these very quick notes for a bloggy review, but then couldn't think of much else to say and just left it in the Drafts section. Still any excuse...

The Meddlers

1. The two lead actors are absolutely dreadful - two of the worst actors I've ever seen in a popular show.

2. This particular PJ Hammond scripted story has a fantastic set-up and scenario, largely thrown away by bad acting. The band led by Mr Spoons, the duplicitous prophet of doom and the almost "Report on Probability A"-style man in the tower block are all brilliant and, even if the actual realisation is a bit shoddy, the plot makes sense and everything ties together nicely in the end.

3. If you'd stuck McCallum and Lumley in this, it'd be a really good Sapphire and Steel.

11:18 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

Oh yes. The acting is truly dreadful, certainly in The Meddlers, although it gets better by the end. Ace of Wands is certainly over-rated: I remember how much Time Screen used to dedicate to it each issue and how much Andrew Pixley used to rave to me about it, and I was vaguely disappointed with it when I watched it.

But PJ Hammond's scripts, with the exception of the last one, were eerie, proto S&S stuff that can be happily rewatched (behind dark glasses to avoid the glare off the costumes)

11:23 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "But PJ Hammond's scripts, with the exception of the last one, were eerie, proto S&S stuff that can be happily rewatched"

Unsurprisingly Hammond's script for Torchwood last year was one of the decent ones.

Rob: "behind dark glasses to avoid the glare off the costumes"

lol - and there's your link to Destiny of the Daleks right there!

11:40 am  
Blogger MediumRob said...

"Unsurprisingly Hammond's script for Torchwood last year was one of the decent ones."

And he's doing one this year. I'm a bit worried he's re-treading his S&S golden years though. The fairies one had more or less the same ending as Adventure 2; he says he's going to be borrowing elements of Adventure 4 for the story next year. I do hope he's not going to be plagiarising himself too much, since when he's original, he's fantastic.

There's also the little issue of the fact that although the script for his story was good, the production team really messed up in its execution. Where's Shaun O'Riordan when you need him?

11:46 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Rob: "Where's Shaun O'Riordan when you need him?"

Good question - has he retired or died? It's a long time since I sawe his name on anything...

12:00 pm  
Blogger MediumRob said...

He's retired. Shame. We could do with more like him. All we have left is Graeme Harper, now!

12:10 pm  

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