This story, the first for Season Seventeen sees the return of the Daleks, and the first return of Davros, since the 1975 story "Genesis of the Daleks". It also introduces Lalla Ward as the newly-regenerated Romana.
This story turned out to be the final Doctor Who script written by Terry Nation and was recorded third to accommodate him. Despite receiving an on-screen credit, as the writer, according to Director Ken Grieve in the commentary for the DVD release the script was in fact ‘98% written by’ Script Editor Douglas Adams.
Terry Nation later moved to America in 1980 and chiefly worked on projects for American television thereafter, most notably the long-running adventure series MacGyver. In the early Nineties, Terry Nation and former Doctor Who Script Editor Gerry Davis put together an unsuccessful proposal to resurrect Doctor Who following its cancellation in 1989. Terry Nation also mooted the possibility of re-launching Blake’s 7. However, Terry Nation’s health waned throughout the Nineties, and the man who had created the Daleks died in March 1997.
This would be Ken Grieve’s only Doctor Who story as Director. Ken Grieve's prior credits included Coronation Street and he went on to helm episodes of programmes such as Poirot, Bugs and The Bill.
"Destiny of the Daleks" is the first story to be solely script edited by new Script Editor Douglas Adams. His influence is evident in this story as it contains his own brand of humour and with references to his previous work - namely the scene where The Doctor pulls from his pocket a book titled "Origins of the Universe" by Oolon Caluphid of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame.
Romana’s regeneration at the beginning of this story was prompted by Mary Tamm, who played Romana’s first incarnation, deciding to depart the show at the end of the previous season. Lalla Ward, who had played Princess Astra in "The Armageddon Factor" (the story that ended the previous season and which is acknowledged in this story), was cast as the new Romana. According to comments made by Mary Tamm, in the 2007 Key to Time DVD box set, she was willing to do a regeneration scene but was not invited to do so. Instead a whimsical sequence with Romana trying on new bodies was written. This scene however, proved to be controversial due to its light-hearted approach to the concept of regeneration, which has always been a traumatic process for The Doctor.
Michael Wisher was not available to reprise his role of Davros from "Genesis of the Daleks" and so David Gooderson was cast instead, as he was a voice artist and it was thought that he would be able to imitate Wisher’s half-Dalek half-human cadences. David Gooderson also supplied some of the Dalek voices in this story, but this went uncredited.
David Yip, later to star in the The Chinese Detective, plays the Dalek prisoner, Veldan.
Tony Osoba, who played the part of Lan, later played Kracauer in the 1987 Seventh Doctor story "Dragonfire".
Although she is credited in the fourth episode, the appearance of the Movellan Guard played by Cassandra is actually in the third episode.
The other brief incarnations of Romana were played, uncredited, by Maggy Armitage, Yvonne Gallagher and Lee Richards.
Although K9 has no dialogue, and is not seen in this story, he is heard to croak (provided by Roy Skelton) at the very start of this story. His lack of involvement is explained in-story being due to an electronic form of laryngitis. A common misconception amongst fans is that this was because a replacement for John Leeson (who had originally voiced K9) had not yet been cast. In fact, David Brierley had already been given the role as John Leeson’s replacement over three months before this story was made. The actual reason for K9’s absence in this story was because the prop was unsuitable for the large amount of location filming. The production team having learnt from previous problems suffered during location recording – namely "The Stones of Blood" - and so were not keen on repeating the experience.
It has also been reported that Terry Nation had no desire to use K9 in his storyline. The ‘laryngitis’ scene (as well as other continuity references to events that occurred during Season Sixteen) were inserted during rewrites by Douglas Adams.
Originally the entire story was due to be set at night. This however, was changed for financial reasons.
Unfortunately the recording of this story was limited in terms of the Dalek casings that were available. Although seven were retained by the BBC, four of these were inferior versions made for the 1973 Third Doctor story "Planet of the Daleks", of which two were deemed completely unusable and a third required a new skirt section. The other three props were holdovers from the Sixties. One of these was cannibalised to serve as a mould for several cheap, immobile versions which could be used for long shots and scenes in which a Dalek needed to be destroyed on-screen. This left just four working casings, and the budget did not permit the construction of any more.
Because the Davros mask had been designed specifically for Michael Wisher, it did not fit David Gooderson, who had been cast to play this iconic role instead, particularly well. The mask, costume and skirt section were also in a dilapidated state, having been on display at various Doctor Who exhibitions since 1975, but the budget allowed for only minimal repairs.
This story saw, to good effect, the first use on the show of a Steadycam - a rig used to obtain smooth, stable shots from a hand held camera – operated on this occasion by Fred Hamilton during the location shooting. This was still a relatively new invention, having been introduced to the film industry in 1976, and only a handful were yet available in the UK. In 1979 its use in a television production was virtually unheard of.
During the opening credits of this story the individual episodes were called ‘Episodes’, rather than ‘Parts’ - the only story made after the 1973 Third Doctor story "The Green Death" to do so. In the next story, "City of Death", the opening credits returned to listing each instalment as ‘Parts’ and remained so for the remaining Fourth Doctor stories.
Because at the time, ITV - BBC1’s primary competitor - was embroiled in a labour strike, forcing it go off the air, this story enjoyed some of Doctor Who’s largest ratings ever, averaging 13.5 million viewers and reaching an all-time high of 14.4 million for the final episode. This record however, would quickly be surpassed by the very next story, "City of Death".
This story does not indicate how long it has been since the events of "The Armageddon Factor", though clearly not long enough for The Doctor to forget Astra. Romana though is now much wiser and it is implied that she might have been suffering from some illness. Her stated reason for regenerating is, of course, very flippant.
Different accounts and rationales exist for Romana’s regeneration. One of these occurs in the short story "The Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe" (published by Big Finish Productions in "Short Trips 2: Companions"). In this story, written by Mark Michalowski, it is implied that the incarnation of Romana featured in this story is in fact a manifestation of the TARDIS, and that Romana’s true regeneration occurred after the defeat of the Daleks.
It is not explained how Romana can try out several bodies when regenerating (possibly a similar process to the options the Second Doctor was given at the end of the 1969 story "The War Games", or the intermediate stage seen in "Planet of the Spiders", "Logopolis" and during the 1986 The Trial of a Time Lord season). This ability though has never been completely supported by other stories. In addition in the 2005 Tenth Doctor story "The Christmas Invasion" it is revealed that Time Lords have the ability to re-grow severed limbs within 15 hours of regeneration, suggesting a similar ability to change form might have been possible soon after her regeneration.
One of Romana’s rejected bodies is a diminutive, purple-faced humanoid who wears a distinctive costume. This is the same costume as Zilda is seen wearing in the 1977 story, "The Robots of Death". Other reused costumes from earlier stories may be seen in the scenes involving extras playing slaves working in the Daleks’ mine; these include the robes of a Draconian and the uniform of a Morestran soldier from the 1975 story "Planet of Evil".
Romana’s final costume has her wearing a pink and white outfit which mirrors The Doctors with the same style coat, same type of boots and overly long scarf. This pink costume was worn again by Lalla Ward in the infamous "Dr. Who Meets His Match" television commercial for Prime Computers of Australia, which ended with The Doctor proposing marriage to her!
Skaro first appeared in the 1963 First Doctor story "The Daleks". This is the first time on screen that it is stated that the Daleks left Skaro sometime after the events of "The Daleks". "Planet of the Daleks" suggests this, as the Thals are still alive, and have perhaps expelled the Daleks from Skaro.
The Skaro sound effects from the first Dalek story, "The Daleks", were reused on this story.
After the events in "Genesis of the Daleks", it is revealed that Skaro, the Dalek’s home planet, is still radioactive and so has been abandoned by the Daleks. The high levels of radiation force The Doctor and Romana to take anti-radiation tablets. Skaro is known as ‘D5 Gamma Z Alpha’ to the Movellans.
Look out for the classic scene where The Doctor taunts his Dalek pursuer, after ascending a rope to safety, by asking, ‘If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?’ referring to his understanding that the Dalek is trapped below. It has since been established, however, that Daleks are capable of hovering and rudimentary flight. This was first demonstrated in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks" when a Dalek is seen levitating up a flight of stairs. This ability of being able to surmount obstacles of height was initially revealed in the original Daleks comic strip of the 1960’s.
The BBC Books’ The Eighth Doctor Stories novel "War of the Daleks", written by John Peel, effectively recounted this story to take place not on Skaro, but a planet called Antalin, the Daleks having moved Davros to this planet before his recovery as part of an elaborate plan to avert the destruction of Skaro in "Remembrance of the Daleks" (Having found records about Skaro's destruction during the 1964 First Doctor story "The Dalek Invasion of Earth").
When the TARDIS arrives on Skaro and The Doctor leaves, he is heard to state, ‘I feel as if I’ve been here before’. This is a reference to "Genesis of the Daleks", but also could refer to the fact that both stories, as well as numerous other location shots for other stories were filmed in an old quarry in Wales.
This is the last story in the show to date which takes place on Skaro although the planet is briefly seen in "Remembrance of the Daleks". Skaro is also very briefly seen within the 1996 Eighth Doctor film "Doctor Who: The Movie".
The effects of the Daleks’ weapons are changed from previous stories: Rather then the whole screen turning negative, only the basic area around the victim becomes so.
Parts of the Dalek slaves’ costumes were recycled from previous aliens; For example, one wears the cape of a Draconian, and another has the head of a humanoid-form Axon.
Davros was last seen being exterminated at the end of "Genesis of the Daleks". He survived his ‘death’ using his life support chair as a suspended animation chamber, keeping him in stasis while his body repaired itself. He is resurrected in this story without any apparent power source.
Davros next appears in the 1984 Fifth Doctor story "Resurrection of the Daleks" where he is still frozen as a consequence of this story.
This story contains a number of anomalies. Namely: The Daleks seem to be searching for Davros in the ruins of the Kaled City. However, in "Genesis of the Daleks" Davros was exterminated by the Daleks in a bunker some distance from the Kaled City; It is revealed that The Doctor is familiar with the layout of the Kaled City – despite having only briefly visited the Kaled’s city during "Genesis of the Daleks"; In the fourth episode a Dalek is seen moving up a small slope, when it does this, a hand can just slightly be seen at the edge of the screen pushing it up the slope; When the slaves storm the Movellan’s ship, the one wearing a Draconian-style cape is killed, yet he is later seen alive and well.
The Daleks are heard to state that self sacrifice is illogical, so why do they go on a suicide mission in episode four?; The Doctor is seen giving Romana a bleeper to tell her when next to take her radiation tablets but forgets to give her any of the actual pills.
Interestingly although a Dalek mutant creature is briefly seen - a pink gelatinous blob that The Doctor picks up in the sand - several references are made to the Daleks as 'robots', like the Movellans. The Doctor makes some of these, as does Davros. This is in apparent contradiction to other Dalek stories, such as "The Daleks" and "Genesis of the Daleks", where they are described as mutant humanoids in mechanical casings. (Dals in "The Daleks" and mutated Kaleds in "Genesis of the Daleks"). Some fans see this story as implying that the Daleks have evolved to the point where the organic mutant has been removed, but this is contradicted by all subsequent Dalek stories. In this story Romana does say that they ‘were once humanoid themselves’, though under Dalek interrogation by a lie detecting device, she then states that she knows ‘nothing about Daleks’. Interestingly according to the information text of the DVD release, Romana’s scripted line was ‘I don’t know anything about Dalek operations’ so either the on-screen line was misread or Romana was capable of misleading the Dalek truth detector.
This story was repeated on BBC One in August 1980.
A novelisation of this story, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in November 1979. This was released just two months after the original transmission - one of the quickest novelisations of The Doctor Who book range, and was released before any of the previous season’s stories.
This story was released on VHS in July 1994. In 2001 it was re-mastered and re-released as part of The Davros Collection by WH Smith. This box set consisted of the VHS editions of "Genesis of the Daleks", "Destiny of the Daleks", "Resurrection of the Daleks", "Revelation of the Daleks" and "Remembrance of the Daleks".
The first story of Season Seventeen.
The introduction of the regenerated companion Romana played by Lalla Ward.
The first story featuring the Daleks, and the first return of Davros, since the 1975 story "Genesis of the Daleks".
Douglas Adams' first credited involvement in the show as Script Editor.
The first Doctor Who story to be directed by Ken Grieve.
This story featured the first use on the show of a Steadycam.
The first Doctor Who story to be watched by more than 13 million viewers.
The first Doctor Who story to have an individual episode watched by more than 14 million viewers. This being the fourth episode.