K9 has lost his voice and must stay in the TARDIS. Who knew robot dogs could get laryngitis? However, it was a convenient reason to keep him locked up on a planet where he couldn’t get around very well. In an extremely controversial scene, at least by Whovian standards, Romana regenerates, testing out several bodies until she finally decides on the form of Princess Astra of Atrios, whose life ended honorably in the last story.
The TARDIS lands on a rocky planet. The air is breathable but there is a dangerous level of radioactivity. The Doctor and Romana see a group of ragged humans burying their dead, and a spaceship lands in a nearby valley. Underground explosions force them to take cover in adjacent ruins. Another explosion traps the Doctor inside. Romana returns to the TARDIS to get help from K9, but the TARDIS is half-buried in rubble. She returns to the ruins to find the Doctor has vanished. She falls down a chute, loses consciousness, and awakens to find three Daleks ready to take her to a drilling site for slave-labour.
The Doctor was rescued by the Movellans, white-clad, silver-haired humanoids with great strength. Their leader, Commander Sharrel (Peter Straker) informs him that he is on D-5-Gamma-2-Alpha or Skaro, well known to the Doctor through many regenerations as the origin-planet of the Daleks. The Movellans are there to wage war against the Daleks. A prisoner is brought in—Starship Engineer Tyssan (Tim Barlow, who was deaf at the time). He was a slave to the Daleks and knows where Romana is kept. He, the Doctor, and three Movellans set out to find Romana and penetrate Dalek headquarters. The Doctor learns that the Daleks are searching for something on another level, and knows how to get there before them, whereupon they find Davros (David Gooderson), the creator of the Daleks, just coming out of suspended animation.
The Doctor moves Davros to a blocked-off room in the ruins and tells the evil genius what has happened to the Daleks in the thousands of years he has been in suspension, and all the evil they have perpetrated. Davros is pleased and says the Daleks have only begun their inevitable conquest of the cosmos. The Daleks find them, and the Doctor holds Davros hostage with a makeshift bomb, demanding that all the prisoners be released. An agreement is reached. Afterwards, Davros vows to the Daleks that he will make them supreme and invincible.
Romana reaches the Movellan spaceship, but finds they are not what they seem when they knock her out. The Doctor meets up with Tyssan and they find a female Movellan scout. He realizes she is a robot and deactivates her. He finds Romana but is captured by the Movellans. They have a Nova device which can set the atmosphere of a planet on fire. The Movellans and the Daleks have been at war for 200 years, calculating strategies, but so far without a shot being fired. The Daleks hope Davros will bring them quick victory, and the Movellans ask the Doctor to do the same, but he refuses. Davros sends the Daleks on a suicide attack on the Movellans. Tysson leads the prisoners in a revolt against the Movellan robots, deactivating them all.
The Doctor goes to the ruined city to confront Davros, who does not believe the Movellans are defeated, and sends in the Daleks. The Doctor detonates the bombs and destroys the Dalek squad. Davros goes back into cryogenic suspension and is sent to Earth for trial. The Doctor and Romana leave.
At one point in the story, the Doctor reads The Origins of the Universe by Oolon Colluphid and remarks that the author got it all wrong. The book and the author are both from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, who was script editor on this story. Adams changed the script extensively, and the original scriptwriter Terry Nation, who had created the Daleks, quit and moved to America to write and produce MacGyver. I believe Adams was right. The Dalek stories by Terry Nation were beginning to be very much alike. Critics found fault with the plot, David Gooderson’s portrayal of Davros, and the comedic mood which made the Daleks less menacing than they could have been. Frankly, I think they protest too much. To me, the plot didn’t seem particularly convoluted, compared to much of Doctor Who. David Gooderson was clearly not Michael Wisher, who owned this character, lock, stock, and barrel, but the design of Davros is so good that he was still creepy as hell. And I thought Douglas Adams was rather restrained in his comic insertions, in this story. The Doctor’s quips were amusing, but fit his character nicely, and he was not a fool, but rather dashing and intense.
They also criticized the Romana regeneration scene. So do I. Doctor Who canon was firmly established by this time: Time Lords only get twelve regenerations. (Though this was messed with a couple of decades later, when the series returned, and they began to get close to the twelfth doctor.) So, how could Romana try on several bodies in a few minutes? Fans and reviewers have come up with some clever answers, some of them with tongue firmly in cheek. I like the one in which Romana was actually the TARDIS masquerading as the Time-Lady because she was trapped in the wardrobe room. Others suggested the TARDIS was jealous and had locked her in there. My own suggestion is as follows: When the Time-Lords created regeneration thousands of years ago, they gave themselves a few hundred years of life each time to gain political power as an elder before switching to a younger body, but the Time-Ladies demanded the ability to switch to a younger body any time they felt like it. The fact is: Mary Tamm had offered to stay on for a proper regeneration scene, but the deciders at BBC refused. We could have seen a proud and powerful Time-Lady regenerating just like the men. Instead we saw her trying on bodies like they were frocks, just for a joke. What a shame.