Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks

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Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks – Full Cast Recording. Interlinking narration by Lalla Ward – Vinyl (Demon Records)

The release schedule of Classic Doctor Who on vinyl has so far mostly focused on stories which are ‘missing, presumed wiped,’ and so has increased the desirability of the stories by being, in terms of the audio, the only game in town. The additional appeal of releasing such stories on vinyl is that they force the listener to sit in one place and experience the story as they’d have experienced the televisual version, rather than, say, while out on a run or doing the dishes.

Which rather raises the question: Why would you buy a vinyl version of Destiny of the Daleks?

It’s neither missing nor wiped, it’s entirely available as a DVD which you can sit down and watch… just as you would have originally, had you been of a mind to in 1979. So why go vinyl?

The answer initially sounds rather flippant, but go with me, it’s more subtle than it appears.

The answer to the question ‘Why would you buy a vinyl version of Destiny of the Daleks?’ is actually ‘Have you seen Destiny of the Daleks?’

Told you it sounded flippant. But here’s the thing. Destiny of the Daleks, as a TV story, is… less than optimal. Its Daleks look frankly dreadful, as they were leftovers from previous Dalek stories and hadn’t been stored with particular care. Its costumes are questionable in the extreme. Its location work is set in the dullest-looking quarry-planet in the history of the show, its bright anti-Dalek aliens have been ridiculed for almost forty years as the ‘Disco Robots’ for their aesthetic, and the mask worn by Davros actor David Gooderson is ill-fitting and looks like it too has been stored in a damp cupboard where the rats have had a go at it. Add to that some unconvincing drilling effects, walls that are clearly made of shiny paper and a spaceship that looks like the Douglas Adams mickey-take that it was – a flying teacup, rather than a flying saucer – and what you have in the visual version of Destiny of the Daleks is a story which actually makes not a whit of sense, and which has the temerity to look extremely naff while it does it.

Now, let it be understood that having said all that, I love Destiny of the Daleks, and I always will – it’s the first Doctor Who story I ever watched, and its whimsicality is at least part of what hooked me and made me a Who fan with very nearly forty years before the time rotor. It brings a new incarnation of Romana to the programme, in the person of Lalla Ward, and it sees Romana and Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor establish a new, more fun, more equal relationship than Mary Tamm’s incarnation ever had with him. It has the wit of Douglas Adams as Script Editor, and it really does establish a new phase for Davros, last seen being exterminated at the end of Genesis of the Daleks. The storyline, which can be summed up as ‘the Daleks meet a race they can’t defeat and scuttle home to Daddy to help them break the impasse’ takes Davros forward beyond that initial origin story and gives him a reason to exist in the future of the Daleks. Much has been written claiming that this was a bad move – my favourite such essay is this well-reasoned argument from Mitch Benn – but the events of Destiny irrevocably change every other Dalek story until the dawn of New Who, creating faction, loyalty, disloyalty, and a Dalek Civil War, none of which would have happened without his resurrection in Destiny of the Daleks. So there’s a lot to enjoy about Destiny.

And crucially, it’s easier to enjoy with your eyes closed.

With your eyes closed and the glorious orange-red vinyl turning sedately on your turntable, you’re absolutely free to visualise yourself a version of Destiny of the Daleks that genuinely meets is potential. The desolation of Skaro is yours to imagine. The Daleks can be any version you like, up to and including the modern bronze riveted versions or even, if you really want, the New Paradigm Daleks. Whatever Dalek floats your science-fiction boat, you can populate the story with them if you sit there and listen to Destiny on vinyl, and they don’t look like they’re made of balsa wood, gaffer tape, Dutch courage and hope as they scuttle unevenly across open ground in a quarry. You can make them glide with the majesty that universe-killers should have. You can transform David Gooderson’s really quite interesting Davros voice into any vision of Davros you like, from Michael Wisher, through Terry Molloy to Julian Bleach to some other, ultimate version in your head, without being forced to actually see the moth-eaten mask, or the moments when the TV version is clearly being guided down passageways by Tom Baker. The Movellans, gods love ’em, can look however you want them to look, whether that’s sleek and modern or indeed as trippy and disco as they appeared on-screen – for all the wonderful naffness of the aesthetic choices that were made on the story, there’s something rather endearingly awful about the Movellans. But on vinyl, the choice is up to you.

That’s the point of Destiny of the Daleks on vinyl – every aesthetic choice is up to you. You can see Daleks bursting through six-inch thick steel plate walls if you like, or the shiny paper version from the TV. You can improve on the visuals in your head, or stay faithful to the original look. But you’re not bound by the original look. You’re not forced to sigh wistfully and wish for a bigger budget, better storage, less disco. On vinyl, you can hear the story unfold and deliver whatever visuals you want, to give you the Destiny of the Daleks you feel you deserve.

That said, the audio itself is interesting – if it has a fault, it’s that there seems, at least initially, to be a lot of Lalla Ward’s narration crammed into not a lot of space, as she somewhat laboriously walks you through the long sight-gag that opened the story and introduced us to her version of Romana. For those unfamiliar with it, Romana regenerates and ‘tries on’ a whole host of bodies in what was probably an ill-judged late Seventies bloke-gag about the length of time it takes women to get ready. Delivering that through narration borders on torture, both for Ward and for the listener, and the audio takes a while after that to realise it doesn’t need to narrate every single action that’s left unseen by the audio alone. Eventually though, the tone evens out and what you’re left with is potentially the Destiny of the Daleks you’ve dreamed about, unfettered by the reality of the on-screen visuals, and driven into your imagination by the audio as your colourful discs revolve.

You deserve a better Destiny than the one you’ve always had. You know you do. Grab yourself a vinyl Dalek nightmare and find out what that your better Destiny looks like. We can’t promise it’ll suddenly make sense – but the pictures will be much, much better. Tony Fyler

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