When we heard the news about Mary Tamm last week, we were stunned. We’d both been thinking about Mary quite a lot over the last few weeks, thanks to the blog, and one of the main reasons why The Key to Time season scored so highly with Sue was Mary’s performance. Beautiful, clever, witty, resourceful, and one of Sue’s favourite companions, Mary Tamm’s Romana was a constant delight.
Rest in peace, Mary. We will miss you.
We had planned to start this story the night before Mary died, and I even got as far as cueing up the DVD when fate (aka Gary) conspired against us and we agreed to delay it until the following day. And when that day came, we just couldn’t face it.
Several days later, we tried again.
Even though my heart wasn’t really in it, I still managed to hide this story’s author and title credit from Sue. I was pretty subtle about it, too: if I’d told her to look away from the screen, she inevitably would have concluded that it was called The Something of the Daleks, The Something of the Cybermen or The Something of the Master. So I had to choose my moment carefully, and just a few seconds before the title came on screen, I distracted her with a red velvet cupcake that Nicol had baked earlier. Incidentally, thanks for all your emails but no, Nicol isn’t single.
The episode begins with the Doctor tinkering with K9’s electronic brain.
Sue: So, he never mentions Romana ever again? She just returns to Gallifrey between stories? That’s so sad.
Yes, I threw spoilers out of the window last week; Sue knows that we’ve seen Mary’s last episode.
The Doctor calls for his companion.
The person who appears in the console room is the spitting double of Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor.
Sue: What’s she doing there?
Romana is regenerating.
Sue: But she’s wearing the same clothes as Princess Astra. She’s even wearing the same bracelet. If that’s supposed to be Romana, where did she get them from? I don’t get this at all.
Me: Patrick Troughton’s trousers regenerated, remember?
Sue: I’d managed to forget that, thanks.
The Doctor tells Romana to change into something else.
Sue: What? Another dress?
Romana returns a few seconds later, this time as a blue dwarf.
Sue just looked at me as she furrowed her brow.
Romana changes again.
Sue: It’s Lady Diamond, the drag act from Sitges.
The Doctor sends her away.
The Doctor: It’s what’s on the inside that matters. That’s what’s important, isn’t it, K9?
Sue: If that’s true, why does he keep turning down selections based on their external appearance? What a hypocrite.
When Romana appears with Princess Astra’s face and the 4th Doctor’s costume, Sue makes me pause the DVD.
Sue: Right, where do I even begin? Okay, so this tells us that Time Lords can regenerate whenever they feel like it, and they can look like any person or species they want, yes?
Me: Well, yes.
Sue: So why did Jon Pertwee look like Jon Pertwee all that time, when he could have turned himself into Peter Gordeno or somebody like that? He could have done something about his nose at the very least.
Me: Well, he can only regenerate so many times and that would be wasting a regeneration, I guess.
Sue: Like Romana is doing right now, you mean?
Me: I suppose it’s even more irritating because she’s wasted four of them.
Sue: Ah, yes, but she said she was “regenerating” not that she had “regenerated”. It’s not as bad as it looks.
No, that wasn’t a typo. Sue actually said that.
We even agree that Pertwee couldn’t alter his nose because he’d already finished regenerating and he didn’t have a mirror handy at the time. Ditto for Eccleston’s ears.
Sue: So Mary never got a leaving scene? That’s very sad. Does this woman –
Me: Lalla Ward.
Sue: Does she play the part like Princess Astra? I really hope she doesn’t. I don’t think I could stand it.
Me: Wait and see.
Sue: What did you make of this when you were nine?
Me: I was living in New Zealand when this was broadcast, and they were years behind the UK, so I missed this season when it originally went out.
Sue: Where are we now? 1979?
Me: September 1st, 1979.
Sue: That would have been three days before my 18th birthday. You know, I can’t remember what I did on my 18th birthday. Isn’t that sad?
Me: No. It means it must have been a good one.
I resume the DVD and Romana emerges dressed in a pink version of the Doctor’s costume, which I love to bits, but Sue isn’t that fussed about. It takes 30 seconds of banter with the Doctor for Sue to make up her mind about Lalla Ward.
Sue: It’s going to be okay, she’s still Romana.
The TARDIS materialises at their next destination, and the Doctor is overjoyed when the scanner shows them lots and lots of rocks.
Sue: Why are they going outside? It’s a radioactive quarry. Why don’t they ever land somewhere nice, like Monte Carlo or Barcelona? That would be nice. Why are they always attracted to shit holes like this?
Me: They can’t control where they go. They are using a randomiser so they can avoid the Black Guardian, remember?
Sue: Yes, but who says they have to leave the TARDIS every time they land on a dump? They should keep going until they land somewhere half-decent. With a beach.
The Doctor and Romana explore the planet’s surface.
Sue: This feels like it’s the start of a new season. Apart from the new Romana, there’s something about this that feels very different to the last one, but I can’t put my finger on it yet.
The Time Lords arrive at some ruins.
Sue: That’s a nice doer-upper.
The Doctor and Romana spy a group of shambling humanoids who are burying a deceased comrade beneath a mound of rocks.
Sue: It’s Night of the Living Dead. I love zombie films. They are the only horror films I can bear to watch.
Me: Don’t get your hopes up, love. Zombies aren’t exactly renowned for burying the dead.
The Doctor runs down a steep sand dune, where he is met by Romana at the bottom.
Sue: She’s not daft. She wasn’t going to get her new coat dirty. So where’s K9?
Me: He’s stuck in the TARDIS with laryngitis.
Sue: Laryngitis?! What? Why would a computer get laryngitis?
Me: You know, they covered this right at the beginning of the episode.
Sue: I wasn’t concentrating. I was thinking about Mary Tamm and feeling sad.
The Doctor is trapped by some falling masonry, and while Romana goes to retrieve K9, he amuses himself by reading Origins of the Universe by Oolon Colluphid. At this point, Nicol entered the room with even more cakes.
Me: Does the name Oolon Colluphid mean anything to you, Nic?
Nicol: Of course it does. It’s a Hitchhikers reference. Is this written by Douglas Adams? Why didn’t you come and get me?
The Doctor is rescued by three Movellans.
Sue: It’s Boney M.
Me: (Singing, badly) Ma Ma Ma Ma – Tom Baker.
The Doctor is taken to the Movellans’ ship.
Sue: Is their leader a ladyboy?
The Movellans tell the Doctor they are on the planet Skaro. Sue actually gasped at this point.
The episode concludes with Romana surrounded by the very same.
Sue: If they hadn’t told us we were on Skaro, that would have shocked me. But we knew they were coming. What a shame.
Me: Well, they do appear in the title.
Sue: So why hide it? Don’t do that to me again, please. It’s really annoying.
I didn’t distract Sue this time.
Sue: I should have guessed. It all makes sense now. That’s why the cliffhanger didn’t work. Terry ****ing Nation.
Me: You might like to know that Terry insisted that K9 didn’t meet the Daleks because he’d only show them up.
Sue: Terry %&!*^ing Nation.
Me: To be fair, Douglas Adams re-wrote a lot of this.
Sue: Don’t. That’s even worse given his track record so far.
Romana is interrogated by the Daleks.
Me: Behind the scenes of The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The Daleks are ranting. And one of them strikes a chord with Sue.
Sue: That voice. it’s so familiar. Who is it?
Even Nicol, who has stuck around for this episode, looked up from texting HER BOYFRIEND.
Nicol: Yeah, that voice is very familiar.
I put them out of their misery, otherwise we’ll be here all night.
Me: It’s Zippy.
Nicol: Oh, yes, so it is!
Sue: We should definitely mention that on the blog. It’s very funny.
Me: I don’t think we’re the first people to notice this.
The Daleks chant in unison:
The Daleks: Obey! Obey! Obey!
Sue: They’d make an excellent barber’s shop quartet.
Romana is sent underground to toil in a mine. Sue doesn’t remember The Chinese Detective, so don’t even ask.
The Doctor wonders what the Daleks could be looking for on Skaro.
Sue: I know.
Yeah, I bet she does.
Me: Go on then, love.
This will be good. I bet she’ll say something really stupid, like Rod, Jane and Freddy.
Me: Hey, I’m impressed.
Sue: What else could it be? An overdue library book?
A Dalek glides through a corridor.
Sue: Ooh, I like the white Daleks.
Me: That’s just the lighting. It’s still grey.
Sue: Oh, for a minute there, I thought the BBC had splashed out on some new ones.
Romana fakes her own death so she can escape from the mine.
Sue: Time Lords can do that. She’s perfectly fine. See, I do remember things.
The Doctor and an escaped convict named Tyssan join forces with the Movellans and together they investigate the Daleks headquarters.
Sue: There’s definitely something different about this story. What is it? It’s bugging me.
She chews it over.
Sue: Are they using a steadicam?
Me: Yes, they are. But the BBC spell it with a y.
Me: I don’t know.
Sue: Well, it looks great, whatever they called it. It gives them so much more freedom. This is very well-directed, actually. The low angle shots of the Daleks are great and the camera work helps to make this appear much more claustrophobic and scary.
A Dalek pursues the Doctor to a ventilator shaft high up in the infrastructure.
The Doctor: If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?
Sue: But they can fly. So that doesn’t make any sense.
Sadly, the Daleks aren’t impressing Sue.
Sue: The Daleks are a mess. They have been battered to bits. I’ve seen Daleks in better condition on eBay.
Me: Have you really been looking at Daleks on eBay?
Sue: I was just curious about how much they went for. It’s ridiculous. So don’t expect one for your birthday. I tried to bid on a TARDIS wardrobe last week – the people who were selling it lived ten minutes down the road – but I was outbid. It was probably for the best.
Me: You can say that again. I’m beginning to worry about you, now.
The Doctor finds Davros in his bunker, covered in cobwebs.
Sue: Ooh, this is very exciting. The Daleks are searching for God. Or the Turin Shroud. But he’s dead, so I don’t see how that helps the Daleks.
The episode concludes with Davros’ third eye winking into life.
Sue: Now, that’s how you do a cliffhanger.
Davros is alive!
Sue: But he doesn’t sound anything like him!
Sue isn’t very happy about this development.
Sue: It sounds like he can’t be arsed!
The Doctor takes Davros for a quick spin in his chair.
Sue: Scream if you want to go faster!
It doesn’t take Davros very long to launch into a megalomaniacal rant.
Sue: The mask doesn’t fit him properly. It’s too slack. What’s gone wrong?
Me: They couldn’t get the same actor but they had to use the same mask. They are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Sue: I don’t see how it could be any worse. He’s rubbish! I could play Davros better than him!
The Movellans decide to do some research on Davros.
Sue: Their version of Wikipedia is a bit shit, isn’t it?
The Doctor and Davros catch up on old times.
Sue: This is a pretty good scene. I could watch these two chatting with each other all day. Tom Baker is very good in this. It’s just a shame that I can’t take Davros seriously. He was great in Genesis of the Daleks, but here he’s really, really crap.
The Doctor threatens to blow Davros up if the Daleks don’t stay back.
Sue: Spack off? Did he really just tell the Daleks to spack off?
Sue: Poor Tom. He must have mixed up “back off” with “stay back” and his brain couldn’t decide on which one to go with. I bet he had a couple of drinks at lunchtime.
The Daleks start executing slaves to force the Doctor’s hand.
Sue: Look at this guy! He’s trying not to laugh even though he’s about to be killed. He looked at the camera and smirked!
The Dalek shoots the extra, who slumps to the floor with all the conviction of a man on a minimum wage.
Sue: Put some effort into it, man! I wouldn’t have paid that extra his wages. I would have asked for a refund.
Another slave is executed and, once again, there isn’t a scintilla of emotion.
Sue: Were they specifically told not to act?
When the slaves are eventually set free, thanks to the Doctor, they don’t seem very pleased.
Sue: Look at them! They are acting as if they’ve been given an extra 15-minutes for their tea break. They should be overjoyed that they’ve survived certain death but this looks like they are having a ****ing picnic. This story has some of the worst background acting I have ever seen.
The Doctor attaches a remote bomb to Davros’ chair, which he then threatens to detonate with his sonic screwdriver.
Sue: He’s bluffing. He would never do that.
The Doctor legs it outside, and when he reaches a safe distance, he whips out his sonic.
Sue: What’s he doing?
The Doctor activates his sonic and the bomb explodes.
Sue: I’m really shocked by that. What happened to having the right and all that crap? Christ.
But the Daleks removed the bomb just in time and Davros lives to fight another day. He celebrates by hurtling down a corridor and slamming into a wall.
Sue: Oh dear, that was really shoddy. Why didn’t they cut away a couple of frames before he hit the flat? It’s lazy. Shoddy and lazy.
Meanwhile, on Skaro’s bleak surface, the Movellans conduct tests on their destructive Nova device.
Sue: That’s a funny place to install a shower cubicle.
Sue spends the rest of the episode slating the acting, whether it’s Tim Barlow as Tyssan or, well, any Movellan, really. And then she learns that the Movellans are really robots.
Sue: I didn’t see that coming at all. Their stilted delivery actually makes sense, now. Still crap, though.
The Movellans place Romana in a perspex cubicle with the Nova device, which is slowly ticking down to zero.
Sue: This will be a good cliffhanger.
The Doctor struggles to free his companion and the episode concludes with the countdown reaching 33 seconds.
Sue: Rubbish. What a place to cut it. There’s was no attempt to generate any tension in that scene at all. I honestly get the feeling that no one can be bothered with this story.
Sue: There’s one thing I don’t understand.
Me: Only one thing?
Sue: Yes. Why is Davros helping the Daleks? They shot him in the face and left him for dead the last time we saw him. He’s awfully forgiving and eager to lend them a hand.
Davros can’t wait to give his creations the upper-hand.
Sue: I just can’t accept this actor as Davros. The voice is so important and this is just so wrong. It’s not modulated enough for a start. I just don’t buy it. And what is that ball doing on top of his chair? Is that his pet hamster in there?
The Doctor shows the Movellans how they have become locked in a perpetual stalemate against the Daleks with a quick game of rock-paper-scissors.
Sue: Well, that’s just bollocks, isn’t it?
A Movellan is left outside to guard the Nova device. It passes the time crushing rocks.
Sue: What the hell was that?
Me: He crushed a rock with his bare hands. It’s supposed to show you they have superhuman robotic strength.
Sue: Oh, I thought he was playing with some fossilised shit.
Tyssan manages to disable a Movellan by removing the power pack from its belt.
Sue: That is a stupid design flaw. They might as well have a big ****-off switch on their backs.
The Movellan expresses his untimely death through the medium of dance.
Sue: I’ve just remembered what these robots remind me of: Hot Gossip.
Davros assembles a squad of suicide Daleks. Sue can’t stop laughing.
Sue: I know I shouldn’t laugh at this but it is very silly. It looks like a cartoon.
Davros gives the Daleks their orders, which he then has to repeat because it’s clear that none of the Daleks are in any hurry to blow themselves up.
Sue: That was very, very funny.
The slaves storm the Movellan ship. At this point, Sue really lets the side down.
Me: I can’t believe you didn’t recognise Big Ron from EastEnders!
Sue: He’s the best extra in this. You can see why he went onto better things. I bet the rest of them never worked again.
The Daleks suicide squad head for the Movellan ship.
Sue: They may as well have little round bombs with TNT stamped on them. Hang on a minute, are the Dalek operators just standing up and walking?
Sue: Jesus Christ.
Romana rushes to stop a Movellan from setting off the Nova device.
Sue: Things are so bad, she has decided to get her coat dirty.
Romana and the Movellan fight on the sand.
Sue: It’s just like Get Carter, this. Oppps!
The Movellan’s arm goes flying through the air, and Sue collapses into a fit of hysterics.
The Doctor and Davros come face to face once again. A Dalek tries to intervene so the Doctor throws his hat on its eyestalk. Its vision is most definitely impaired.
Davros: Behind you!
Davros: Behind you!
Sue: This is a full-on pantomime now.
Is it any wonder that Tom Baker starts to take the piss as well?
Sue: This is ****ing stupid. Is it supposed to be this stupid?
The Doctor manages to blow up the Daleks, and even that made Sue laugh.
The episode concludes with Davros imprisoned in a block of ice – “Just like Indiana Jones” – yeah, I know – and as the credits rolled, I prepared myself for the worst.
Sue: I hated that. Was anyone taking it seriously? The acting was abysmal, the plot was ridiculous and the overall look of the thing was far too bright and comedic. The direction was pretty good, though, and Tom Baker was by far the best thing in it, but what a mess.
Me: What about the new Romana?
Sue: She’s alright, I suppose. It’s too early for me to compare them, and it wouldn’t be fair anyway. I’ll miss Mary Tamm’s Romana for a very long time to come.
Me: Well, you’ll be pleased to know that Destiny of the Daleks is Terry Nation’s final contribution to Doctor Who.
Sue: Is it Douglas Adams’ final contribution as well?
Me: No, he’s the full-time script editor, now.