After a gruelling year-long hour trapped in the chaotic pages of Doctor Who Magazine‘s Liberation of the Daleks, Dr Who returns to the small screen by crashing into not just a lab on an obscure little backwater planet known to its inhabitants as Skaro — birthplace of the Daleks — but into his past, present, and future.
We have, of course, been here before. The crash itself is reminiscent of the Titanic slamming into the side of the TARDIS at the end of Last of the Time Lords, the gags remind of the banter from Time Crash mixed with the inspiring-the-famous-author gags from episodes like The Shakespeare Code. The way in which it fills in something we’ve never seen filled in on TV before even though non-televised Doctor Who has probably thoroughly covered the area, reminiscent of the way Sarah rattles off various companions’ fates in Death of the Doctor.
Speaking of contradictions…
Davros is depicted in Destination: Skaro as an able-bodied man at a point in his history where, historically, he’s been depicted as a wheelchair user with a severely disfigured face and body. This is a change made not for budget or time reasons1Though I’m sure Julian Bleach doesn’t mind not having to have the whole face put on. but because, and this isn’t speculation because Russell T Davies says as much in the Unleashed behind the scenes featurette, it’s the Year of Luigi 2023 and the harmful, hurtful cliché of using disability and disfigurement as a shorthand for evil has, in short, got to go. This, Russell says, referring to how Davros is depicted here, is how we see Davros now.
There is some ambiguity in what he says and how — clearly he’s saying, as far as he and the current team are concerned, Davros will not again be portrayed like he was in the past. But does that mean a total reimagining of Davros even in the part of his history we’ve seen before, or just that we won’t see that part of his history again? It may be some time before we find out — another Dalek story is an inevitability, but another Davros story might not be coming along for a while.
Either way, the message is clear: What makes Davros scary is the fascist fanaticism that drives him to create the Daleks — and not his face or his wheelchair. And that implies… other things.
Inevitably some of the kvetching online has included, why now and not in 2008? I can’t claim to know what was in Terry Nation’s heart when he created the character nearly half a century ago, or the hearts of anyone who’s contributed to the character since then. But I have a feeling I know Russell T Davies well enough to know that he just… wasn’t thinking about these things in 2008. Because, well, nobody involved who could’ve made this call was thinking about it in 2008. Nobody involved who could’ve made this call was thinking about it in 2012, 1975, or 2003, either. I’m really happy they’re having these conversations at Bad Wolf now.
When a silent film from 1924 employs, say, cannibal clichés to communicate that the island the characters have landed on is an easily recognisable dangerous situation, no matter how racist the effect of those clichés might then be in the Year of Luigi 2023, the intent at the time probably wasn’t to do a bunch of racism. They’re just using the toys that are in the toy box at the time. And those toys change as we wear them down, as we figure out they’re not equally fun for everyone.
Because the way we think about this stuff evolves constantly. It’s never too late to learn, to catch on, to say, the fun I’m having hurts you and it shouldn’t.
It’s never too late to fix your heart.2Or die.
Obviously this 5-minute comedy scene is just a drop in a thousand buckets. It “counts,” if such a thing matters to you, but its primary purpose is to have some light fun with silly Dalek jokes during a charity fundraising broadcast. My mom liked it, thought it was funny. She’s not thinking about these things at all.
But I think it’s a terrific shot from the second RTD era’s starter pistol: Here we go. This is what matters to us. Nothing is sacred. Let’s go have fun — together.
- 1Though I’m sure Julian Bleach doesn’t mind not having to have the whole face put on.
- 2Or die.