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Density of the Daleks.
on 10 June 2013
'We did have fun!' declared Peter Straker. It was clearly a happy memory, not one that I felt able to share - no discredit to Mr Straker, who delivers the best performance in this - but there is something badly wrong on Skaro.
'The Making Of' tells the story very well, Terry Nation had written two fine episodes, and then the skeletons of two more, leaving Douglas Adams to fill in the gaps, and really it shows in this game of two halves.
For the story sets its stall out very well; we arrive on a strange planet that turns out to be Skaro (the high rad count is a clue), and the Daleks have slave labour digging for something - but what? Ah, it's Davros, but surely he's dead, isn't he? Alas, no, the old fellow has merely been taking a very long nap, and sure enough he wakes up. It's all downhill from there.
Don't get me wrong, the three Dalek stories that follow do Davros very well, but the idea of permanently marrying Davros to his Daleks undermined both, tending to diminish both the Daleks' ability to think for themselves, and Davros's diabolical stature as a villain, particularly so for both in this story
Adams's treatment of the Daleks was shameful; they are referred to repeatedly - including by Davros - as 'robots', which they are categorically not, and therefore reduced to ciphers, and Davros, bereft of any of the power or intelligence he held in Genesis is simply a ranting, yapping puppet. His strategy of fitting all the Daleks with explosives and using them as suicide bombers is moronic, contemptible, unworthy of both him and them.
Aside from this, the decision to regenerate Romana into Lalla Ward also bears criticism; Mary Tamm had left, and Romana was a good character, and Lalla Ward a fine actress, but how in all we've learned about regeneration does Romana 'decide' to change into Astra? Like she's changing her frock??? Not for the last time does Douglas Adams reduce one of the central concepts of the show into a cheap little gag, the other time is ridiculing the Daleks' problem with stairs; oh yes, very funny. Undermine the villains in as snide a way as possible, why don't you? Not trying to belittle the show you're working on, while at the same time working much harder on your own Hitch-Hiker stuff are you, Mr Adams? No? Never mind, it's just what it looked like.
Aside from the second half of the script, it looks good on telly; the Movellans are beautifully designed (even if the comparisons with Boney M were inevitable at the time), and their ship is a fabulous model. If the Dalek props were looking a bit tired, their control room is very good, and the location work is very pleasing. So yes, it's nice to look at. And yes, Mr Straker, you are very good too, even if, in the end, it's the script that lets everything down, and down badly. It was particularly galling at the time, because the return of the Daleks (after a four year absence) had been loudly trumpeted, and this proved to be their worst outing in many a year.
Terry Nation never wrote for Dr Who again.