Destiny of the Daleks
A Device of Death
Genesis of the Daleks
|Dates||Mar. 8, 1975 -
Apr. 12, 1975
With Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen, Ian Marter.
Written by Terry Nation. Script-editted by Robert Holmes.
Directed by David Maloney. Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.
|Synopsis: The Time Lords send the Doctor to Skaro to witness the origin of the Daleks and avert their development by alteration or genocide.|
In the Beginning, there was Davros... by Phil Arnold 8/2/98
I have heard about this episode as being on of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever in the Guide. So I decided to get the video, and prepared to take an adventure to Skaro and see the birth of one of the most evil forces in the Galaxy, the Daleks. An adventure was what I was looking for, and an adventure is what I got.
Genesis of the Daleks starts of in the middle of a brutal war, and is presented as such. We see a torn world in a never-ending conflict between two race and this violence is shown as best as it possibly could throughout the episode. Call me evil, but voilence can be great, especially in Doctor Who. But it isn't just the fact that people die, it's the fact that great characters die. Almost every actor in this episode is brilliantly portrayed (with the exeption of some mutants), and we get involved with them, so when they finally meet their maker, it's more poignant than say the I-could-care-less attitude you get when characters bite the dust in Warriors from the Deep. The world of Skaro is a world worth seeing.
Probably the most important character, besides the Doctor, was Davros. Davros is the quintessential mad-scientist, hugley intelligent and maybe schizophrenic, and Davros has never played better than in this episode.
Then there's our Doctor, Tom Baker, as usual, dealing superbly with the Time Lord's mission, and presented a convincing argument as to why the Daleks should not be exterminated by him. I can also see why Sarah is considered to be one of the great companions-- she has more depth to her than others. Harry was OK too but not as effective as Sarah or the Doctor. I guess the only bad thing was the giant clams.
Genesis of the Daleks flows easily with lots of twists and turns that left me guessing as to what would happen next. The Daleks in the story are not really used effectively in episodes 1-5, but in episode 6 they come alive and do what they have never done before: make me take them seriously. Not only that, but thay are really scary at the end when they-- Oops... Don't want to spoil the end for those who haven't experienced Genesis of the Daleks!
The Best Story of All? by Matt Michael 15/5/98
I was surprised recently to see that in the DWM Poll, Genesis of the Daleks was voted best story of all time.
Looking back, it's easy to see why. Genesis has many great elements. It tells the "origin story" of the Daleks, gives the Doctor a fascinating moral dilemma, and introduces the ultimate Doctor Who villain -- Davros, who was so successful that he appears in every subsequent Dalek serial (probably because he is so much more chilling than the old pepper pots themselves). The acting is of a generally high standard, and the direction is competent.
However I would hardly say that Genesis is the greatest story of all -- in fact it isn't even the best Dalek story -- Evil and Remembrance are superior in both conception and execution. The script is not bad, but it is Terry Nation's standard capture-escape stuff, with masses of padding and some very dubious cliffhangers. The production also seems very cheap -- the Daleks looking especially tacky, although I don't believe that poor production values necessarily make a bad story -- The Ark in Space (the best story of Season 12) is hardly superior in this respect to Genesis.
And to argue that Genesis is better than the all-conquering classics The Caves of Androzani or The Talons of Weng-Chiang is very difficult as these productions are superior in almost every department. I have a feeling that voting was swayed by the presence of the Daleks and Davros rather than quality of script.
Not that I'm saying Genesis is poor -- it isn't. It's an excellent serial, and highly deserving of a place in the Top Ten. There are several classic scenes -- the Doctor questioning his right to destroy the Daleks, and, of course, that scene with Davros. My opinion is that Genesis of the Daleks is brilliant but over-rated, worthy of a 9/10 but no more.
A Review by Keith Bennett 22/5/98
It is one of the most peculiar facets of Doctor Who fandom that the Daleks, the most famous aliens of all in the programme and the ones who first made it popular, are so often derided. Then again, when one sees them in stories where they sprout out hysterical propoganda and get stuck at the foot of stairs, that can be understood. I like the Daleks. They're original and they're fun, although in no story have they really chilled me.
Except this one.
Genesis Of The Daleks is one of the best Doctor Who stories for a variety of reasons, one of them being the Daleks themselves. It's interesting to note that this story doesn't feature them all that much, and they don't say a great deal, so maybe this is the reason why the Daleks come across here as seriously deadly, frightening aliens, helped by the wonderfully dramatic incidental music.
The other major positive factor, of course, is the creator of the Daleks himself, Davros. One of the best characters ever in Doctor Who (and superbly played by the unrecognisable Michael Wisher), Davros is both fascinating in appearance and as a shrewd, brilliant scientist. Yes, he is a madman, but unlike so many others, he also knows how to think rationally -- he is no fool. His battles of wills with the Doctor are first rate. The only pity from all this is that the Powers That Be in Doctor Who got so hooked up on him that they used him in every Dalek story since, and he became more and more tedious. Bringing him back in Destiny of The Daleks was fine, but it should have stopped there.
Elsewhere, the acting is first rate from everyone (except Tom Georgeson as Kavell) and certain scenes are memorable, like the escape up the scaffolding of the rocket, the Doctor's "Have I the right?" speech when he has the power to destroy the Daleks for all time, and the final, dramatic confrontation between Davros and his creations.
Genesis of The Daleks teaches morals as much as it entertains. It is packed with drama as much as with action. It was the first really "great" story under the Phillip Hinchcliffe name, setting the scene for more to follow. No-one, having watched this story, can have any right to accuse Doctor Who of being just a "kiddy" show. This is not just superb science fiction, it's superb television. It is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of them all. 10/10
Tom Baker's Jewel in the Crown by Michael Hickerson 12/6/98
Does Doctor Who get any better than this? Rarely.
Do the Tom Baker years get any better than this? Never.
Simply put, Genesis of the Daleks is superb.
From the opening moments with the violent shots of soldiers being shot down in cold blood to the final moments as the Doctor speculates that our the Dalek's evil must come some good, the story is six episodes brimming with excitment, plot devlopment, exploring the show's history, and Davros.
Indeed, for a story that has the name Dalek in the title, they are pretty much relegate to the back seat in favor of Michael Wisher's inimatable portrayal of their obsessed creator, Davros. Rarely has a Who villain been given such depth, and rarely has one been played with such bravado as Davros is. He is simply chilling while on screen but you aren't able to take your eyes away from him. Wisher reaches beyond the confines of a mask to give Davros a texture and a depth that many will attempt to imiatate later and fail to do. Several Davros scenes stick out in the story. My personal favorite is the Doctor's interrogation by Davros to discover the future history of his creations. The other is Davros's discussion of whether or not he would use a lethal virus to insure his place in immortality. Both are chilling and superbly done both by Wisher and by Tom Baker.
Somehow with Wisher stealing virtually every scene he's in, Peter Miles manages to shine through as well as Nyder. Miles gives Nyder a cold, distant, arrogant portrayal so that in the end even though you regreat the fact that he is gunned down by the Daleks he helped to rubber stamp into existence, you secretly feel like a really slimy bad guy has got his just rewards.
But, what takes this story from really good story to classic status is one scene--the Doctor's debate with whether or not he has the right to destroy his most lethal enemy. And Baker and Sladen pull it off with bravado. What easily could have been a cheezy, melodramatic scene instead turns out to be on of the most effective, gripping scenes in all of Who.
Genesis of the Daleks deserves every bit of praise that has been heaped on it over the years. It's aged well and only gets better very time you view it. Truly worth of the being called a "classic."
Doctor Who rarely gets better than this...
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/1/99
Terry Nation was obviously drawing parallels with the Nazis when he penned Genesis of the Daleks. This is most obvious from the opening moments of the story which set the scene for what is to follow: basically, a grim tale of war. It is these scenes which add so much atmosphere, featuring as they do gas masks, landmines, trenches and the like. And what was to follow only improve the story.
For once the Daleks are very much in the background, playing second fiddle to Michael Wisher`s excellently portrayed Davros, who deservedly steals the show. Davros is a tragic character, yet equally manipulative and cunning. In this he is supported by Peter Miles excellent and arrogant Nyder. Tom Baker has clearly settled into the role of the Doctor, with his hallmark characteristics beginning to show through. He excels in the scene where he has to make a moral decision, whilst being all too aware of the cost of his actions. Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter are competent also, but both could`ve been given more to do.
Terry Nation`s scripts are thought provoking, and the history of the Kaled race actually proves to be fascinating. There is very little to find fault with, although the cliffhanger to part two was hardly the best. One other bone of contention is the presence of the giant clams, which trap Harry--they serve no purpose and seem superfluous.
In summary, Genesis of the Daleks was perhaps Terry Nation`s greatest contribution to Doctor Who (except the Daleks themselves) and as such is deserving of the praise it so often and rightly recieves.
I'd Take 'The Seeds of Doom' Any Day by Eric Strand 24/12/99
In general I found the Doctor Who Magazine readers' survey (issue #276) a pleasant surprise. I think seasons 12-14 are the high point of the show, and that Robert Holmes was the single biggest influence on it, for example; and, in a broad sense, the 2600 balloters concurred. (It made me feel a part of a community--a small, special, transnational one.) But there was one glaring, spoiling element: Genesis of the Daleks perched with smug self-satisfaction atop the list, the only DW serial to better a 9 average. "How can this be?" I exclaimed. My pet theory was that fans had automatically, out of sheer reflex, assigned "10" scores to Genesis, and then lo and behold the thing wins the contest, even though it wasn't anyone's favorite. And yet, in hours of web-surfing, I've found that there's little outrage; in fact, most fans seem to agree that, if it's not THE best, it's Top 5 or Top 10 material.
OK, it's not ALL bad. I agree that it has a heavy, doom-laden atmosphere that is entirely appropriate to its subject; that it took guts to portray such total devastation and hopelessness (just about EVERYONE has died by the time it's over); that Davros was an inspired idea for the creator of the Daleks. But there are so many minuses. To begin with, as Matt Michael mentions above, the story keeps losing its momentum in a series of escape-and-capture sequences (typical of Terry Nation fare). Sarah, for example, must escape from the Thals' rocket-building chamber because the radiation will kill her otherwise; but she doesn't quite make it, is recaptured, and...goes back to work. (I guess the some of the radiation evaporated.) The Ark in Space, which is the best story of season 12 by far, keeps surprising one with its plot developments (someone should sue Ridley Scott for plagiarism). With Genesis, it's basically one long wait for the Daleks' inevitable emergence from the incubation chamber, with a lot of characters debating the cosmic significance of it all in the meantime.
Oh yes, the cosmic significance of it all. You see, this is really what bogs the story down--that is, what others are applauding as the serial's strength is precisely what I see as its weakness. Is the morality of Genesis of the Daleks really that complex? Or does it simply offer the observation that "fascism is bad," and then, in a most uncalled-for fashion, proceed to beat us over the head with this insight for 2 1/2 hours? There's a lot of bad dialogue in this one, my friends, and to label it "impassioned moral debate" gives it too much credit. (To be honest, I take a very pragmatic attitude toward Doctor Who, and when someone calls Kinda the kind of intellectual science fiction that the show should strive for, or says Genesis of the Daleks teaches us about good and evil, my response is always: "Look, at its best Doctor Who delights adults as well as the 8-year-olds that are its target audience; if it misses that target audience, it's not successful. If you want deep science fiction or moral insight, read Stanislaw Lem or Ian Watson. At its heart Doctor Who is about giant, intelligent vegetables with dreams of world domination, and more power to it for that.")
I also think that the moral issues surrounding the contemplated genocide were murky. This scene--the Doctor with the wires in his hand, debating whether to touch them together--is also a weak point. When you think about it, the Doctor assumes two entirely different moral positions within the same episode. First, he says that he would be just as evil as the Daleks if he committed genocide, and that such an act cannot be justified. Then, at the show's conclusion, he assures Harry and Sarah that the Daleks are a part of some greater cosmic plan--from their evil, some greater good must come. (Enemy races will unite against the Dalek threat, for example.) Aren't these two different philosophical positions? From my layman's perspective, the first is a Kantian position, based entirely on the choice of the rational individual, and the second is an Hegelian position, which looks to a larger cosmic process that transcends the actions of particular individuals. You might say that the positions happily coincide in the Doctor's case-- that he decides to do good and then happily finds out that his action fits into a larger, benign context--but I think the positions cancel each other out, that the Doctor tried to have his cake and eat it too. If one takes position (a), one must do good *without regard for* the consequences--even if the Daleks go on to slaughter billions. Position (b) says that yes, history is a slaughterbench, but somehow the good will transcend the evil, irrespective of a particular individual's will (after all, it doesn't help the billions of people killed by the Daleks a whole heck of a lot to know that their deaths are part of some greater good!)
If the Doctor does (a) while justifying the act with position (b), then I would argue that his morality is confused. In a way, the Doctor's decision reminds me of Adrian Veidt's machinations in Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (with obvious differences, of course, such as that Veidt is a "benign Davros," *actively creating* the equivalent of a "Dalek" that will initially be evil but end up promoting the good.) My point is, you can't be both Rorschach and Adrian Veidt; you can't be an existentialist in a Godless world choosing good no matter what the consequences, and also someone who believes that in a dialectical process, good emerges from evil.
So, in my opinion, Holmes and Nation missed a bet at the beginning of episode six. The moral dilemma the Doctor experienced--should I kill off the Dalek race or not?--could have been much more interesting than it was. If they had decided to make the Doctor a Kantian, obviously the concluding lines of the serial would have had to have been changed--to something along the lines of "Yes, Sarah, I know you think that touching the wires together would have been the expedient thing to do. But I say it would not have been the right thing to do, and in this universe, such good acts are the only delicate flowers worth cultivating. Maybe such acts will, in the end, defeat the Daleks." On the other hand, if they had made the Doctor an Hegelian, we could have had a wonderfully weird moment at episode six's beginning when Sarah and Harry realize just how ALIEN the Doctor really is. As Kate Orman put it in her review of Remembrance, the Doctor isn't concerned with the lives of you and me--his concern is with the fate of planets. This could have been the same type of scene in Genesis, when the Doctor, as he holds the wires in his hands, tells Sarah, "Sarah, you don't understand. I see time and space in a way that you don't. What, to you, looks like a simple act that could save billions of lives looks to me like a violation of the cosmic process that will lead to much greater chaos."
So, in conclusion, I'm not convinced that the anti-Nazi sentiment in Genesis is that profound, or that the great "moral decision" of the Doctor is actually morally coherent. For me it's one of the few weak serials of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe/Baker age, occupying a midway point between the real classics (Ark in Space, Seeds of Doom, Deadly Assassin, etc.) and the ones that lacked something (Revenge of the Cybermen, Hand of Fear, etc.) Significantly, it isn't one I fondly remember from childhood. I have, as momentoes from that era, a Seeds of Doom bookmark I made at summer camp (the Krynoid atop a house) and various other things, but, although I undoubtedly liked Genesis a lot, it didn't enter my official 8-year-old's "mythology," probably for the same reason I dislike it now: its ponderousness.
A Review by Philip Eagle 25/5/00
I've got mixed feelings sitting down to write this review. Genesis of the Daleks undoubtedly deserves all of the acclaim heaped upon, but I think a lot of the acclaim is misdirected, and responsible for some of the more unfortunate aspects of later Doctor Who development.
Firstly, the script of Genesis, while it has a few questionable moments, manages to rivet the attention all the way through. Over previous weeks, while watching The Silurians, I found my eye creeping to my watch every five minutes or so, however exciting the sequence I was watching was meant to be.
Most of the superlatives directed towards the acting are merited. Michael Wisher, is, as often suggested, one of the finest villains in Who history, and Peter Miles is equally memorable in the less showy role of Nyder. Any seventies casting director looking for a Heinrich Himmler would immediately have known where to go. As usual in Doctor Who, the heroic one-off characters are considerably less interesting than the villains, but that's only to be expected.
The most memorable thing about Genesis though, is the atmosphere. From the World War One like opening to the corpse strewn conclusion, this is one of the all time bleakest Doctor Who stories. The gloomy settings, touches of horror, and the pointless little acts of sadism, such as the Thal soldier dangling Sarah from the missile nose, all create a nightmarish picture of a society utterly corrupted by constant warfare. It's not often stated how little the Doctor actually manages to get done here - Davros and Nyder are one step ahead of everyone else all along, although one could argue that the Time Lords dropped the TARDIS crew on Skaro far too late to give them a chance (a conspiracy theory for a New Adventure?). The Thals here, in previous stories unquestionable good guys, are here barely preferable to the Kaleds. There's a potentially worrying political lesson in the script, when one realises that most of Davros's successes are achieved because others keep giving him the benefit of the doubt, unwilling to believe that anyone could be that evil.
As an aside, it's remarkable that the word "nuclear" never appears in the script of Genesis. Despite previous clear statements that the Daleks are the product of a nuclear war, all the effects one would assume due to nuclear radiation (the mutations, the lethal effects of the Thals' explosive) are ascribed to chemical toxicity. One can only imagine there was some kind of pressure from upper levels of the Beeb.
Why, therefore, do I have the mixed feelings I discussed at the beginning? I feel that many of the people who most praise Genesis are confusing execution with concept. Yes, Genesis is marvellous. Yes, it features heavy continuity, relatively graphic violence, a relentlessly grim atmosphere, a staggeringly high body count, and a morally ambiguous Doctor. However, one must stress that Genesis' merit is due to having a fine script, excellent direction, and some towering performances. It is not great because it has heavy continuity, graphic violence, grimness, etc etc etc. I fear that it is the reverence given to Genesis that intitiated the tendency for subsequent Doctor Who, on TV and to an even greater extent on paper, becoming dominated by oppressive continuity references to twenty-year old stories, and a curious belief that adulthood equates to unrelieved gloom and pessimism (not so much an adult position as an adolescent one), with deleterious effects on its ability to retain an audience. Sure, this stuff is great fun for fans, but the average New Adventure, Virgin or BBC, has zero chance of attracting anyone who doesn't own a well-thumbed copy of The Time-Traveller's Guide.
What the world needs now is yet ANOTHER Genesis of the Daleks review by Andy Hicks 20/3/01
So, it's Spring Break. And, while most of my American College Student brethren are off getting drunk and shaking booty in sub-tropical climates, I'm stuck in New England with a hyperactive collie dog and a stack of Doctor Who videos. Ah, well.
Forseeing very little to do this week, I headed over to a friend of my Dad's house to rifle through their Doctor Who vids. While I was there, scanning the faded red titles on video labels, I chatted with their 10 year old son Ian, and he said something pretty cool that I think is pretty apropos of Doctor Who and Genesis of the Daleks specifically.
"You know what I don't like? The whole good vs. evil thing."
"Oh, yeah? How so?" I asked.
"Well, I mean, I don't like it when there are good guys and bad guys, because the bad guys have their reasons for doing stuff too. To them, they're the good guys."
Wow, I'm thinking, this kid's a post-modern philosopher at age 10. There are kids at my college who couldn't wrap their minds around that concept with masking tape.
So, with that in mind, and a stack of VHS tapes in my car, I drove home to watch Genesis, which I had seen once when I was around Ian's age and didn't remember too well. The first thing we see behind the fog, after the opening titles, is a gasmasked face. I remembered how much of an effect that had on me when I watched The War Games for the first time and one of the early shockers was a quick cut to an inhuman looking gasmask. And, yeah, the gasmask can save lives, for sure, but it is a creepy, almost monster-like thing. The elongated eyes are reminiscent of X-Files/Communion/Close Encounters aliens. This image has the double effect of telling us, right off, that we are in the middle of a war, and adding resonance to the Kaled's eventual fate -- their evolution into inhuman creatures (the Daleks) to facilitate their very survival.
The Kaleds have been compared to Nazis, and you can see bits and pieces of this at the beginning of the story; talk of master race, severe uniforms, credos being shouted by black-outfitted "boy soldiers" who you almost expect to swoon into a chorus of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." But the idea that this is a mere "Nazis bad, everyone else good" story loses credibility when we learn that Davros really doesn't care about his own people, he only cares about the advancement of his little science experiments. Perhaps you've heard of them.. little grey trashcan things, about yay-high, toilet plungers and eye stalks, sadistic attitude... Indeed, one of the cooler things about this story is that it ISN'T all about the Daleks. They show up from time to time, especially in the last episode (we'll get to that later), but the story is really about accountability and conscience, what is evil and what is not.
Think about this -- if Jean-Luc Picard had been given the option to prevent the Borg from ever being created, he'd probably do it in a heartbeat. Yet here we have the Doctor, in the definitive moment of Tom Baker's term as the Doctor, doubting whether or not he has the right to prevent the Daleks from their right to life. After all, wouldn't that make him as bad as they were? And are the Daleks really evil, anyway, or is the only evil thing the blind ambition of a mad scientist who believed that conscience and morality would only weaken his creation? Genesis of the Daleks only works as a treatise on the evils of Fascism if you pretend that Dr. Mengele ended World War II by killing off all the top Nazis and putting Hitler's brain inside a jar and giving it legs -- in the end, it's all about that final frontier rarely explored in TV science fiction -- the grey area between right and wrong.
And, I'm glad the Daleks aren't in it until the very end. Terry Nation could have taken the easy path to keeping the kiddies happy and loaded his story with lots of Daleks running everywhere and shooting people, but thankfully he didn't. What we got was an exploration of the nasty conditions that led to their dominance. It still almost feels like you're witnessing history when Davros is training the very first Dalek in that gloomy cave. And when Davros gets his comeuppance at the end, yes, it IS the first (and only) time the Daleks were really scary...
There are so many right things about this episode. Am I ranking it at the top, or the bottom, or at all? No, and yet it is one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made, there's no denying that. It holds you in its grip for six whole episodes and makes you think the whole time. Great TV, that one... :)
Only the Beginning... by Andrew Wixon 17/12/01
What's the greatest moment in Star Trek: TNG? The Borg assault on Earth will probably win most polls of that shows' fandom. How about Babylon 5? Well, let's face it, it's very likely to be naother big space battle. One of the Anderson shows? Inevitably a special effects sequence. So how wonderful it is that one of the greatest moments in the history of our show takes place in a drab studio-set corridor with the regulars staring at a couple of bits of wire.
I don't normally read the reviews of a particular story on this site when I'm about to post one of my own, but in view of Genesis' special status (voted best story ever, most shown story on terrestrial UK TV), I just took a look. Most of them broadly agree with this consensus (the gentleman describing it as 'boring and stupid' in a review of Ark in Space sadly hasn't expounded on his reasons for this conclusion); I'm about to do the same.
There's some weird alchemy at work in this story that transforms it as it goes along - the first episode is ominously similar to much other Terry Nation material, but by its' midpoint it's clearly something exceptional. And although the reasons why it's exceptional are obvious (nary a bad performance from a big cast, and two exceptional portraits of evil from Wisher and Miles, serious, committed production designs, music, and direction) there's nothing to explain why this particular script should turn out so well.
Because it really shouldn't. There are inserted cliffhangers that don't advance the story (the prison break in episode two), there's a big plot dog-leg near the end (the anachronistic tape), but even these become compelling viewing - the chase up the rocket silo is very well staged. I can only put it down to Nation's enthusiasm at the chance to tell a really strong, grim tale with very few purely heroic characters in it, and a shockingly complex morality. Barry Letts commissioned Genesis, and in many ways this is the zenith of the series' achievements in handling moral issues - his great gift to the show.
I really don't think, even back in 1975, that anyone really thought the Doctor would actually succeed in obliterating the Daleks from history. And indeed his mission is a near-total failure, and he is literally reduced to the status of onlooker by the time of the climax. But what's most challenging about this story to me is that it seems to argue that evil is often stronger than good. The Doctor prevaricates outside the incubator and loses his chance to destroy the Daleks (quite how isn't made clear). Gharman and the rebels don't decisively eliminate Davros when they get the chance, and their faith in democracy leads to their mass extermination. The Kaled leaders underestimate Davros' true ruthlessness and megalomania and their civilisation is utterly destroyed as a result. Throughout the story it is the pragmatic, ruthless and decisive factions that triumph - leading up to the timeless moment when the Daleks as we know them finally appear, in the closing moments of the story. Possibly the best Dalek scene ever, and all the better for coming at the end of a story that is always about them, but quite rarely features them. It's almost a truism to say that Davros' returns in later stories diminshed the character and were a mistake. True. But bringing back the Daleks after this was also probably gratuitous. This story may be about their beginnings, but it's very nearly the final word on the evil they will always represent.
The one I watched with my boyfriend... by Joe Ford 28/2/02
Okay, hands up who is reluctant to tell new partners/friends/acquaintainces that they are mad about Doctor Who? Scared of looking stupid? Me too. I'm lucky to have a wide group of mates in my area who LOVE sci/fi, and Dr Who in particular but it always comes to a bit of a nub when it comes to my fella. He thinks it's cheap, tacky rubbish. He likes Star Trek Voyager for god's sakes! But one day I was watching my shiny new Rememberance of the Daleks disc and he cast an odd glance at the screen, Doctor Who with flashy effects.... he was pretty stunned. It's the Daleks, he loves them, so I decided to take him back to the story where they first created....
It opened on the foggy rock bound location and guys in uniform were gunned down in slow motion. I watched him with baited interest to see his reaction. He was enjoying it... then Tom Baker arrived, a Doctor he had never watched before and he laughed at his odd throwaway lines and caught his breath as he trod on the landmine... it was at this point he realised it was about war... Simon loves war stories.
By the end of the first episode he was hooked, laughing at Sarah's stumbles and in awe as Davros first appeared. Icy, malevolent Davros. We went to bed after episode one, it was late but what did I find in the morning...? He had put the second episode on at about 6.00! He was gob smacked as Davros betrayed both sides in the war just to continue his experiments, none of his Voyager villains were half as deadly. He didn't even notice that the Daleks had hardly appeared.
He spent the next day quoting Davros lines, much to my amusement. We reached episode four that day and he was quite shocked at the amount of violence on display. Sarah hanging from the top of the rocket, the casual death of Ronson...this wasn't supposed to happen in a kids TV show!
He couldn't wait to reach the end, he knew they were saving the best for last and he was quite literally blown away when Davros was destroyed by his own creations. He wouldn't stop talking about it. This was proper storytelling he was saying! This was real drama!
I guess what i'm trying to say is that no matter how against Doctor Who you are there is always a show that can wow you. It is another reminder of the timeless magic the show has in wrapping you up in it's imagination and finesse and leaving you stunned. Who needs flashy Voyager effects when you can have a storyline that REALLY surprises you? Who needs 'temporal anomolies' when you can have a script that sticks in your head for weeks? And fabulous acting?
I found out how rewarding it was to watch Doctor Who with a non-fan that week. It was a great experience. He loved it so much we watched Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks in the two weeks after.
See! Anyone can be converted!
Why let continuity get in the way? by Tim Roll-Pickering 16/8/02
Tom Baker's first six-parter takes him to Skaro and to the very origins of the Daleks. It seems incredible that such an obvious idea took twelve years to finally reach the television screens but here we get to see their roots. Okay so there's a major violation of continuity with this version of the Daleks' origins going against the details given way back in the first Dalek story and it's difficult to reconcile the Skaro seen here with that seen way back in The Mutants and The Evil of the Daleks but why let continuity get in the way of these things?
Wisely most of the film sequences in this story are used at the start of Part One. The images are highly evocative of the Great War even though much of the imagery elsewhere in the story comes from the Second World War. This bizarre mixing underlines the story's core theme about the dangers of tampering with nature in order to survive. The story is a highly bleak tale, with numerous on-screen deaths and an indecisive ending in which the Doctor doesn't win outright. But right from the start it is not clear just what winning truly means and this makes the ending something of a letdown.
The opening scene of the Doctor talking with the Time Lord is a little too close to narration for my liking, since it gives away too much and makes the traditional first appearance of the Daleks at the end of the first episode even more redundant than usual in this tale. The idea of the Doctor being given a time ring to take him away from Skaro once he has completed his mission is certainly a novel one but towards the end of the story it shows how out of place the story is in finding a way for the Doctor to be unable to just leave, whereas in most other stories it is the urgency of the situation itself that keeps the Doctor there, regardless of how easy it is to just slip into the TARDIS and leave.
The story follows a straightforward plot with many memorable characters. Watching it from a modern perspective it is difficult to see Guy Siner (Ravon) and not be reminded of his subsequent role in 'Allo 'Allo (a BBC sitcom set in wartime Occupied France) but this does not detract from his sadistic portrayal of the General. Many of the other cast make good contributions, with Dennis Chinnery (Gharman) and Stephen Yardley (Sevrin) deserving special mention, but the two actors who really steal the show are Peter Miles (Nyder) and Michael Wisher (Davros). Both appear in extremely strong roles in other stories but it is in Genesis of the Daleks that they make perhaps their most memorable contribution to the series. Nyder is highly reminiscent of a Second World War SS commander, bringing real fear and terror. But it is Davros who dominates the story. At times he comes across as a mere crippled Kaled but when he descends into insanity and his voice becomes ever more Dalek like it is truly chilling. It is a strong reminder of how the Daleks were originally intended to be a chilling vision of a potential future of humanity.
Production wise David Maloney gives strong direction and manages to avoid exposing too clearly some of the weaknesses in the design, such as the rather artificial clams inhabiting the caves around the Bunker. The Daleks revert to their gun metal colour but manage to remain looking new and impressive. There are a number of minor continuity errors, such as the Doctor's appearing and disappearing overcoat, but these can be overlooked given the movement of the story. Terry Nation's script is one of his best, delivering many memorable moments of which the scene of the Doctor and Davros discussing the potential of the Daleks or the Doctor debating the rights and wrongs of destroying the embryo room are just two. It is a shame that in the latter case the Doctor makes it out to be a move that could easily wipe out all the Daleks and yet later on in the same episode a Dalek completes the connection and destroys the room with little clearly discernible effect.
Although Genesis of the Daleks contains much good material, it is a little long at times and there are some sequences which could easily have been cut altogether; most obviously the escape attempt at the end of Part Two which is so quickly quashed. Whilst the first encounter between a new Doctor and the Daleks and the Daleks' origin tale are both arguments for making the tale a six parter it is hard to escape the view that it would have been even stronger at only four parts. With that length and a clearer ending the story would be even better than it is. 8/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 16/9/02
Genesis of the Daleks is one of those benchmark shows in the long television history of DW. All the subsequent Dalek stories reference it, and made the principal antagonist, Davros, an integral part of their serials.
But is it any good? Does it hold up as an all time classic?
I'll get back to that.
There's an odd mix of Terry Nation traditional plotting and Robert Holmes depth of character and location. I'm willing to wager large amounts of ducats that Nyder is very much Holmes's creation. He's very much a precursor to Sholakh in The Ribos Operation. Some of the more interesting -- and terrifying -- aspects of Davros seem also to come from Holmes's pen.
I think it would have been so easy just to have Davros be just a screaming nutter. But, we see he's that, and so much more. He's a true believer in his creations and their goal to be the supreme rulers of the universe that he'll do anything -- kill off his own race, eliminate the Thals, wreak havoc with the future -- to achieve his goal. Like a scientist, he observes the environment, be it purely physical or political, then creates the most effective strategy to affect the situation to his maximum advantage. Moreso than the Master ever was, Davros is always one step ahead of everyone, even Nyder, his most trusted lieutenant.
The Daleks themselves benefit from being put into the background for the main plot, but also have their moments to burst out. The brief moments of the slaughter of the Thals in the Thal dome shows their monstrosity better than millions of cries of "Exterminate" ever could. By the time they break away from Davros's control, we've witnessed the birth of the most evil race in the universe.
In an interesting touch, the only sympathetic Thal we meet is Bettan, who has an edge and is determined to win the battle against the Daleks no matter the cost. The other Thals that grace our screen are typical sadistic guards or political advantagists. In contrast, most of the Kaleds are sympathetic and honorable, save Davros and Nyder. When Davros betrays his own people to help the Thals, it's a shocking and cruel moment, moreso when the Kaled dome is destroyed.
The story itself is a mix of standard Terry Nation capture-escape-capture mixed in with one of the better moral debates in the shows history. Presented as an argument, instead of one side ranting, the moral view shifts from one of absolutist to a more gray and complicated look. The two debates, between The Doctor and Davros, then the Doctor and Sarah raise as many questions as both sides of the argument answer. Of course, we side with the Doctor in both cases, but by having Davros and Sarah argue the extremes, we see how complex the issue could be. In the end, the Doctor fails in his mission for the Time Lords by not committing genocide, but we know why he doesn't do it, and how close he did come to pulling the trigger.
The acting in Genesis varies, however, the TARDIS crew all shine, with Tom Baker getting two classic moments: the "Do I have the right?" scene, and the one on one with Davros after the interrogation. While Michael Wisher is brilliant as Davros, giving this villain loads of menace and some raw insanity, Peter Miles nearly steals the show as the ruthless and loyal Nyder. The Dalek's presence is magnified by being kept in the background for most of the story.
Back to my original question: Is Genesis of the Daleks an all time classic?
Yes. It is the best of the color Dalek stories, by far the best Davros story, and one of the best in DW history, full stop.
A Review by Brian May 18/11/04
Genesis of the Daleks is an important entry in the Doctor Who canon - a fact most reviews above have noted. It's the first great revisionist story in the programme's then 12 year history, contradicting some "facts" presented before and creating an alternate version of events. It's fortunate that for such a landmark story, it's also pretty darn good. In fact, it's brilliant. And it's brilliant on a number of levels. It's incredibly thought provoking, and filled with lots of lasting images.
The opening sequence is one of the show's best - and one of the most grim and bleak. In washed out colour, a group of gas-masked soldiers make their way over a scarred, mist shrouded landscape, to the accompaniment of a dramatic military theme. They are mowed down by gunfire, every last man falling in slow motion. Then we have the Doctor suddenly appear out of the fog, to be confronted by a black caped Time Lord - an image that's a none too subtle nod to Ingmar Bergman. A few minutes later the Doctor, Sarah and Harry are subjected to a barrage of shells in an uncomfortably realistic scene - with loud bangs, close-ups and a snappily edited array of shots. David Maloney likes this sort of thing - the shelling sequence is identical to the one in The War Games, also directed by him. It's good that Maloney is at the helm - he's one of the programme's best directors, and for such a story, only he or Douglas Camfield could have done it. The location photography is excellent - the usual English quarry is utilised to the best possible effect; the camera angles and editing are snazzy and stylish, especially all the scenes with the Daleks. Ironically, for a story with such marvellous editing, there's a monumental shocker in the form of a bad jump at the end of episode three (the Thal guard reaching for the switch to electrify the gantry.) Maloney's trademark freeze frame cliffhanger is used for the first time in episode two - although the resolution cheats, significantly nullifying the impact. But the music is terrific - I've referred to that used at the beginning, but special mention must also go the theme that accompanies the Daleks.
Nation delivers his best ever Doctor Who script here. While not as complex as the surprisingly (for him) well-plotted Death to the Daleks, it's more involving. It develops gradually, with a simple premise - the Doctor's mission to destroy, or alter the evolution of his old enemies. But a good balance of drama and action justifies the six-episode length. The use of the Time Ring - and its inevitable loss, also adds a wonderful tension, with the Doctor himself, in episode four, prioritising its recovery over their mission. The tape the Doctor is forced to record, and the necessity of destroying it, is another burden for our heroes to worry about, and it makes a great sub-plot.
Genesis is also one of Doctor Who's most morally thought provoking stories. Just out of the Barry Letts years, which dealt with worthy issues but in an overbearingly preachy way, this adventure thankfully manages to avoid this Trek-style failing. There are two such scenes: first, the virus analogy the Doctor makes to Davros. This, and the latter's response, make for one of the most spine-tingling and gripping moments in the show's history. The other incident is the equally remarkable self-doubt the Doctor expresses at the start of part six. He has the existence of the Daleks in his hands, quite literally, and his agonising moral dilemma, a variation on the old ethical question of murdering a baby Hitler, is stirring television. His desperate "Do I have the right?" is another one of those scenes that make you glad you're a fan of the show. It's Tom Baker at his most serious, and Doctor Who at its most intelligent.
Baker is superb. You could be mistaken for thinking he's been playing the Doctor for years, not just a few stories. The seriousness of the situation is reflected in his delivery, which is utterly convincing, as is the Doctor's grief when he believes Sarah and Harry to be dead after the destruction of the Kaled city. However, there's also the fourth Doctor we're used to: the Doctor who asks his interrogator for a cup of tea; the Doctor that walks casually up to a couple of Thal guards and tells them "I'm a spy!" And it's only Tom Baker that could say "That's where our troubles really begin!" with a wide grin plastered across his face!
However, when talking of performances, it's Michael Wisher as Davros who is the showstopper. His portrayal of the Kaled leader has long been lauded as one of the best ever in the programme, and I'm not going to break ranks. Wisher is astounding, carrying across the obsession and unhinged fanaticism of his character with startling believability. Davros is the ultimate megalomaniac, determined to perpetuate his species - and his place in history - whatever the cost. He alternates between calm and calculating - note the moments he quietly taps his finger on his bench, slowly biding his time - to all out rage. Given the physical restrictions placed on Wisher for the role, thus the need for him to convey almost everything through his voice, the performance is even more astonishing. Peter Miles is also excellent as Nyder. He's totally devoted to Davros - as much a fascist, dedicated to order and racial purity. In theory, he does have limits. He expresses surprise at Davros's plan to wipe out the Kaleds:
Nyder: The whole of the Kaled people? You would go that far?Nyder's not telling the whole truth. He is startled at his leader's plan - but he does nothing about it, and goes ahead making preparations for the Kaleds' demise. What little conscience Nyder could have proved to have is totally invalidated. He's no better than Davros, and the two of them make for a frightening combination.
Davros: Did you ever doubt it?
The rest of the acting is mostly of a high calibre. Stephen Yardley as Sevrin, Dennis Chinnery as Gharman and Guy Siner as Ravon stand out. And, in my opinion, it's Ian Marter's best outing as Harry Sullivan - and the best use of this companion. He's not the bumbling Harry of other adventures, nor does he feel like an awkwardly placed third companion. He proves himself useful and helpful - he and the Doctor make a great team during the long period they're separated from Sarah. There's only one bad Harry moment - the incident in the cave with the laughable killer clams and his bad pun - but this is more of a scripting fault rather than any black mark on the actor or character. An identical thing happens with Sarah - her "I'll never eat oysters again" is a misstep that doesn't do Elisabeth Sladen justice. But thankfully it's the only one. These "oysters" provide the only real superfluous scenes in the story. Add to this the small number of technical hiccups mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the negative factors of the story are minimal.
A few paragraphs ago I used the words "grim" and "bleak" to describe the opening images. Well, they could be used for the entire story. It's filled with nasty images. For starters, the aforementioned images of war. Terry Nation's depiction of the Daleks as invading Nazis, as typified in 1960s stories like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, is turned up several notches here: the allusions are constant and unpleasant, from Aryan notions of racial purity, to jackbooted soldiers and Nyder's Iron Cross and, of course, everything about Davros. What lies behind the incubator room is initially left to the imagination - the camera's point of view is from inside, the Doctor and Harry's - and later Sarah's - eyes peering through the inspection panel. We don't see what they see, but we hear the disgusting gurgles of whatever's in there. Even when the Doctor enters to set up the explosives, the shots of the mutant Daleks are kept to a minimum - a tentacle here, a horrid squidgy thing there.
The ending is another unforgettable Who moment - the Daleks turning on their creator. Davros's call for them to have pity and their response "Pity? I have no understanding of the word" is another toe-tingler. But there's one aspect to the ending I find unsatisfying. Not a technical matter or goof or anything like that, but the Doctor's words at the very end, about "something good". Eric Strand's review elaborates on this, and I agree with what he says (what I can comprehend of it!) What exactly is the "something good" that will come about? Something good in the Daleks themselves? Not likely, from what we know of them. So is he talking about what he said at the start of part six - people uniting in their fear of the Daleks? If so, this is just repetition, and feels more like a glib way to finish the story rather than any kind of philosophical reflection.
But does this spoil Genesis of the Daleks? Definitely not. The worst it could do is give you something else to think about. It puts the brain cells into action. There's so much in the story to argue and debate already. It's a magnificently constructed, quite unforgettable Doctor Who tale. 9.5/10
Why kill another creature because it is not in our image? by Hannah Isaacs 8/5/05
Genesis of the Daleks is a good story.
But not a great one.
Good points first. It's wonderfully grim and dark, depicting a war-torn world wonderfully. But it isn't TOO grim - there's plenty of humour in there too so you don't end up suffering depression at the end. The Daleks are well realised with some wonderfully atmospheric shots of them moving through smokey landscapes after massacring the Thals. I love the way they develop through the story - start as nothing more than mindless robots and slowly developing intelligence and taking control of their surroundings. The characters are involving and it's particularly interesting to watch a story where the only "good guys" are the regulars - the Kaleds and the Thals both behave as badly as each other throughout. The acting is uniformly excellent with particular praise going to Bettan, Ronson and Sevrin. And then there's Davros and Nyder. There really aren't words of praise enough for Michael Wisher and Peter Miles for these performances. They are both fantastic, a wonderful double-act where I can't really decide who is better. Nyder's death shouldn't have been sad but somehow, it was. I must confess however to smirking as Davros meets his "fate." I am grieved that they spoiled this fantastic ending by bringing him back. But that isn't connected to this story. Genesis of the Daleks gives him an excellent end. And the regulars are all on brilliant form. Tom Baker is excellent, Elisabeth Sladen does a wonderful job (although she doesn't have much to do - her character merely introduces us to the rocket) and Ian Marter is brilliant. And it is nice to watch a story that makes you think about good and evil - although couldn't the Doctor have thought that he couldn't have gone through with it BEFORE dragging them through all that? Surely it must have crossed his mind earlier that he couldn't go through with destroying the Daleks BEFORE they got into that situation?
So the story really isn't perfect. The cliffhanger to part two is rather daft (well, the actual cliffhanger is pretty good - it's the resolution in episode three that's unimpressive), the giant clams don't really make any sense (why has Davros mutated seafood?) and it's never explained why Davros looks the way he does. (this matters to me a surprising amount. Why has that happened to Davros? Why wasn't HE exiled for being a Muto?) Oh, and there's the fact that it tramples on the canon shown in The Daleks. But these are all fairly small niggles (well, The Daleks was a long time ago, you can't really expect them to remember that!)
But there's one really big problem with this story. A problem that it DOES get over - but it's there none the less.
The entire premise behind it is the biggest load of bull in existence.
Yes! It's true! This story should NEVER HAVE HAPPENED. It doesn't make the single tiniest bit of sense.
Think about it. The Time Lords send the Doctor back in time to make sure that the Daleks never existed. Fine. Lovely. Only it breaks every law of time in the book and is complete and total balls. Imagine if the Doctor HAD destroyed the Daleks? Suddenly, his entire life would have changed. Susan left him because she fell in love with a man on Earth - an Earth that was decimated by the Daleks. So that would never have happened. So she wouldn't have left then. Did she EVER leave? Did she leave for a different reason? How did THAT affect the Universe? If she was with the Doctor at the end of The War Games, did she stay on Galifrey or was she sent to Earth with him? Would the Brigadier have assigned Jo Grant to help the Doctor if he had his granddaughter to help him out? Ian and Barbara used the Dalek Time Machine to get home. How did they get home without the Daleks? Did the Doctor eventually get them there? When? How? Victoria only joined him because her father was killed by the Daleks. So they never met. So they would have had to find another way to defeat the seaweed monster in Fury From the Deep. All of these things would have massive effects on thousands of timelines! The universe would be completely torn to shreds as it fixed defunct timelines. But it would be entirely pointless anyway because once the timelines had rearranged themselves, the Time Lords would never have heard of the Daleks because they don't exist. So they would never have sent the Doctor back to stop the Daleks being created. So the Daleks would have been created anyway. Leaving the entire universe in a see-saw effect as it tried to work out if the Daleks were real or not. And since I - a girl who got a C in GCSE Physics - can work this out, I think the Time Lords would have managed to understand this information too. Then being LORDS OF TIME and all.
I know that this is "only" Doctor Who. I know that there are plenty of times in Doctor Who when the laws of time aren't quite treated the way they ought to be and that there are plenty of continuity errors and flaws in most stories. And I'm willing to forgive and gloss over plenty of flaws in Doctor Who - there are plenty of stories I love that have plot holes you could shove your fist through if you think about it enough. But in the episodes that I have watched, no flaw has ever been so flagrantly hopeless as this one. And no story has ever got away with such a flagrant error (I've never seen anyone else mention it!) Can it be excused? Yes, because this is "only" a children's TV show and judging it by the standards of a "proper" science-fiction show is unfair. Doesn't stop it being a glaring error though. Unless of course, we go by my secret reasoning - that the Time Lord in episode one who looks and dresses rather like the Black Guardian WAS the Black Guardian trying to screw the universe up. I think that the production team knew about the Guardians from the beginning of the series only no one quite remembered to put this on-screen at any point. So the whole story can be excused because it was the Black Guardian's evil plan, only thwarted by the Doctor's moral conscience. (what? You people can make up season 6b but I can't invent a secret Black Guardian subplot?) And when the Doctor says that he's delayed the Daleks by a thousand years, I chose to believe that they were "always" delayed in this way and therefore the Doctor only made time happen the way it always did, therefore ridding us of pesky see-saw time lines.
A good story. But never, ever a great one.
A Truly Great Story by Michael Scott 28/2/06
I must confess that Genesis of the Daleks just edges out The Power of the Daleks for the title of my favourite Doctor Who story of all time so in my opinion, it is a great story (Sorry Hannah). Hannah Isaacs in her review asserts that the entire premise behind Genesis of the Daleks is a big load of bull. Well a careful analysis of this story and other stories from the series leads me to the conclusion that this assertion is incorrect. There is no doubt that the aggressive behaviour of the Daleks has resulted in the deaths of many and they have proven over time to be the Doctor's deadliest enemy. The problems that may arise from the Doctor altering Dalek history are insignificant when one considers the number of lives that may, in the future, be saved by the Doctor averting the creation of the Daleks or altering their genetic makeup so that they may evolve into less aggressive creatures.
In fact, in the new series of Doctor Who we see that the aggressive behaviour of the Daleks even brings about the destruction of the Time Lords in the Time Wars and it is indeed possible that the Time Lord whom the Doctor encounters at the beginning of Genesis of the Daleks was aware of this fact but did not inform the Doctor of it. It is the extreme threat that the Daleks pose to the Universe that forces the Time Lords to take the extreme action of attempting to alter time. It makes sense to attack your enemy when they are at their most vulnerable and in the case of the Daleks this is at the time of their creation.
One should remember that in Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor does fail in his attempt to make a substantial alteration to Dalek history but if he had succeeded, the Time Lords would probably not have perished in the Time Wars. By the way Tim Roll-Pickering, when the Dalek destroys the incubation room it is no longer an act of genocide but a delaying tactic because the Daleks have now taken control of the bunker and the Doctor now realizes that the development of the Daleks is inevitable.
I first saw Genesis of the Daleks around 28 years ago and I
never grow tired of it. I could go on and tell you what makes Genesis
of the Daleks so special but I would only be repeating what other
reviewers above have said so I won't bore you. In my opinion, Doctor
Who does not get any better than this. I would give Genesis of the
Hannah Isaacs in her review of Genesis of the Daleks claims that Genesis of the Daleks is flawed because if the Doctor had successfully prevented the creation of the Daleks, it would have resulted in extreme damage to the universe because numerous timelines would have been altered or destroyed. Well despite what some writers may have one believe, it lacks credibility to claim that the Doctor has not altered the timelines in many of the stories where he has saved the day. For example, take The Day of the Daleks. By the Doctor preventing the death of Sir Reginald Styles and other world leaders, he has made radical alterations to the timelines. Furthermore, in The War Games, it is also arguable that the Time Lords, by taking the action that they do against the War Lord and his people, have also radically altered the timelines. If one looks at Remembrance of the Daleks, they can see that the Doctor's decision to destroy Skaro would also have a monumental effect on the timelines. I could keep going on with many other examples but I think that you get the picture.
The fact is that the laws of time are not facts like the principles of physics so therefore they can be bent; after all Doctor Who and time travel are pure fantasy. So the alteration of many timelines does not have to result in severe damage to the universe as Hannah Isaacs claims. Every Doctor Who story that I have seen or heard would not stand up to scientific scrutiny but that does not worry me as I am a fan of Doctor Who because it allows me the opportunity to escape from reality.
People are People so why should it be, you and I should get should get along so awfully? by Thomas Cookson 13/11/06
Genesis of the Daleks is quite simply the Doctor Who episode that made me a fan. I was 11 years old when the BBC began doing repeat seasons of the series. They repeated The Time Meddler, The Mind Robber and The Sea Devils over 1992-93, and then later in the year they did another season with The Daemons, Genesis of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks and Battlefield. Alas I missed the classics, Caves of Androzani and The Mind Robber, in their entirety. I also missed The Time Meddler and I still haven't seen it to this day. From what I did see, my earliest memories of the series were of the corpses of Sea Devils rising to the water surface next to the Navy Ship, and I do remember the Doctor escaping from the underground base and I remember vaguely somehow that somewhere in there was an anti-violence message. But I only saw that few minutes.
I then saw The Daemons, episodes one and two, but I missed the rest. The scenes I remember most vividly from The Daemons are the scene where a deliberate wind blows a signpost spinning, which sends the Doctor and his team unknowingly driving onto the wrong path. I remember a scuffle in the church and a moment where one of the brawlers gets pushed onto a cross on the floor and then loses control, flaying about spasmodically as if being pressed or attacked by an invisible force as a sonic noise fills the screen. I also remember the scene in the wine bar where the locals are proposing a toast; I especially remember that bit because it was shown as a clip on the preceding Tomorrow's World when they were demonstrating how they'd restored the episode to a coloured format.
But of course I'd not yet really experienced the full substance of a Doctor Who story yet; that would happen when I caught episode five and six of Genesis of the Daleks. If you catch the ending episodes you tend to get the most meaty bits of the story. I had never experienced the Daleks properly before. I had seen pictures of Daleks in the TV Times, but I had assumed them to be some kind of bizarre sculptures on an art documentary. It took a while for me to learn of the link between Doctor Who and the Daleks. I first found out that the two were inexorably linked when our school class were taken to our local library to meet a writer of children's humour poetry, as he read us a poem (and also showed us the inner illustrations) of a Neighbours/Doctor Who crossover made in heaven: Daleks in Ramsay Street, detailing with delight the offing of those annoyingly twee ozzies by those Skarosian scallies. My intrigue was further provoked when I saw the new Commodore Amiga game Dalek Attack being advertised on TV (I wish they'd give that game an updated rerelease, the kids would go mental for it now). And I think when I finally saw Genesis of the Daleks, I'd picked the best Dalek story to start on as one that would really burn the terror of the Daleks into my consciousness.
Okay, I had a bit of a blind spot about some aspects of the story. I didn't know that it was set on an alien planet, but mind you I didn't know the Doctor was an alien yet either (though the two hearts reference in The Daemons made me speculate). In the scene where the Doctor hesitates over destroying the Daleks in the incubator room, I actually thought that maybe that Dalek bite had affected his mind somehow. Similarly when the Daleks began to disobey Davros, I thought that this was because maybe the Doctor had somehow succeeded in reprogramming them. Ultimately I was actually surprised by the story's open ended conclusion where the Doctor fails, since I had expected the Doctor to succeed in destroying the Daleks. Not knowing back then of course that such an ending would have meant that there could be no more Daleks stories, which would mean the end of Doctor Who.
But I was hooked on this story very quickly, because the final two episodes were the real crunch episodes where the fight against Davros was getting desperate. You had Gharman and Kavell launching their uprising, the Doctor threatening Davros by switching off his life support systems unless he gave the order to shut down the Dalek incubators, and you had Bettan and her soldiers hiding out in the trenches while the Thals in their city were being massacred. I remember thinking of how the peaceful ideals of Gharman and the idea of the Thal military being on the Doctor's side were not far off to those Pertwee stories I'd seen, though this was certainly a far less cozy story. And yet Davros and his Daleks could not be budged from their position of power or their ruthless resolve. By the end of episode 5, when the Doctor burst out of the incubator room being choked by embryo Daleks, I was determined that I would be watching episode 6 next week to find out how it all ended.
Genesis of the Daleks was not my favourite story when I was a boy. I think it was too dark for me back then, and I don't think I'd ever seen anything so brutal in my life at that age, save for War of the Worlds. I'd never come across a story in which an entire city of people were slaughtered; I was just getting old enough to come to terms with the fact that good guys can sometimes die in films, though I was not yet comfortable with either high body counts or women and children being killed onscreen, and I had estimated a typical city's population at several hundred thousand and I'd never known such high numbers of deaths in a TV show. I had taped episode six but I always fast forwarded through the scene where the Daleks massacre Gharman and his supporters because it was so distressing to me; I really had not expected that moment to happen when I first saw it, so I always found it highly shocking. Those images would be burned into my mind vividly and I would gradually appreciate it years later as one of the best Doctor Who stories, but at the time I was more likely to pick the novelizations of The Five Doctors, The Abominable Snowmen or Destiny of the Daleks as favourites and as examples of lighter fare in which the Doctor wins. But it was Genesis of the Daleks that had reeled me into Doctor Who. It introduced me to the Doctor and his methods, to an unresolved struggle against the Daleks and indeed it made me terrified of the Daleks in a way that I doubt any other story would have. But even so I would still find the openings of Planet of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks and The Five Doctors that bit more gripping because of how I'd experienced the fear factor of the Daleks in Genesis and was just so nervously waiting to see them come onto screen again.
Sadly, I only taped episode six of Genesis of the Daleks and over the years I lost that one, and by the time I'd come to think of it in retrospect as a superior story when I was 14, the BBC had taken it off the shelves; something to do with trying to promote more sales of the American Telemovie video. However I was always eager to see it again, and then when I was 17 I discovered it in a second-hand market and laid down the money for it immediately, took it home and watched it and I was very impressed. It was amazing actually how vividly I remembered a lot of the details of episode six. I remembered each melody of incidental music, each particular shot and frame, and I even remember those moments where the camera picked up flares from overexposed lighting. I remember a lot of the dialogue word for word from that story, although some bits of dialogue were new to me and added a whole new appreciation to the story and just how classy and literate a script it was, and that is really what set this story in my mind far above Trial of a Time Lord and the American Telemovie, it was so much more beautiful and poetic.
In some ways at 17 years old, I was at the perfect age to appreciate Genesis of the Daleks because I feel that in many ways it can communicate more than merely an unsubtle allegory of Nazism: it's a story that can be read as an allegory for cultures of violence of all kinds, and specifically to me as a 17 year old, it registered as a mirror to the kind of thug-ridden city I was living in.
As a joke exercise, on one of our fan forums we were discussing rewriting Doctor Who stories to accommodate chavs in them. Titles were bandied about, such as An Unearthly Chav, The Empty Chav, the Happy-Slappiness Patrol, and I suggested Genesis of the Chavs: a story involving Davros's war program which involved breeding an army of chavs, as a product of his genetic experiments in artificial stupidity, and I even quoted a reworked scene.
"Just touch these two strands together, and it's it- the chavs cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace and never even know the word 'chav'...... but if I kill! Wipe out a whole unintelligent lifeform then....". (a long considered pause)"Well, I can live with that"
presses the wires together
Doctor Who doesn't often deal in any kind of portrayal of thug Britain, though according to sociologists, the show was being made at around the time that gang culture and hooliganism was exploding and that our society was becoming an anti-society. Town planning from that point onwards was destroying communities, dislocating people and creating bad mixes whilst an aspirational culture led to parents working longer hours leading to children growing up in a moral vacuum. In Doctor Who's universe, British life may as well be an Enid Blyton novel rather than Lord of the Flies, and violence is always a methodical act that is reasoned out by its perpetrators and is never mindless brutality or motiveless victimization. Of course there have been exceptions to the rule. Inferno is one of the earliest stories that can be read as a portrayal of thug Britain with common men reverting to savagery and lawless rampant violence. The Seeds of Doom and The Caves of Androzani are to my mind the main two stories where we are presented with the kind of mercenary thugs that really can hold a candle to the kind of nasty pieces of work that inhabit our society. The Dominators and Sontarans, and probably Sil and the Mentors as well, can be pointed to as the very own chavs of the Doctor Who universe. And of course no Doctor Who story was so blatantly a reflection of gang culture and teenage life in a more savage and hopeless environment than Survival. With the New Series, we got perhaps the first kind of Doctor who was streetwise, was tougher than leather and was adapted to the urban jungle in Christopher Eccleston with his hardened exterior and defensive outlook, and he really was a Doctor that you could see scuffling with chavs on the Powell estate (something which sadly only happened in Jacqueline Rayner's NDA Winner Takes All) whilst strangely enough David Tennant seems to be the kind of Doctor who wants to be 'down' with those 'happy slapping hoodies'.
But for me this is my favourite portrayal in Doctor Who of a culture of violence that holds a mirror to our society in such a close-to-the-bone way. In the opening scene we see a platoon of soldiers being gunned down and immediately we are launched into all-out war; no politics, no parliamentary debates or negotiations, no detente or entente, just all-out savagery and violence fought by enemies determined to kill each other.
In comes the Fourth Doctor, and given what I said before about Christopher Eccleston's toughened presence, Tom Baker here is more like a figure in a safe bubble, confident and headstrong whilst chaos erupts around him and there's something very inspiring about his courage. This gets one better when he confronts General Ravon, and although Ravon is something of a cartoon Nazi, there is something rather real about his death-wish defiance when Harry holds him at gunpoint, reminding me very much of thugs who kick up violence and vandalism in public and openly challenge the people around them to call the police or declaring how they might lose control and kill someone and they don't care if they serve a life sentence for it; there's something very rigid about the hatred and evil in this story, and that is true to life as well, and for a moment I feel like I'm watching Alan Clarke's Scum or The Firm rather than Doctor Who. But in some cases this is merely a bluff and when the Doctor forces the issue, Ravon submits.
When Nyder comes along, suddenly things get more dangerous. The man just seems unsafe and cold blooded from his first words, and his "autopsy" line always raises a smile from me. I've seen Peter Miles play Nyder in The Trial of Davros last summer, and it was amazing to see him play the same character he played as a one off, thirty years ago. Nyder arrived at the trial and was very defensive and uptight. Every time that the Time Lord court prosecutor would address Davros by his name, Nyder would shriek at them for not calling him by his full title "Chief Scientist Davros!" and he felt as dangerous as ever as though he would have gotten really ugly about it. If the play was merely a load of fan-wank, then Nyder's presence was like having a gun pointed at you whilst you creamed your pants, just to make it that bit more exciting.
The Doctor and Harry manage to break away and a brief chase ensues before they are caught again. This and other such incidental scenes have left the story open to the charge of being 'padded', even to the point where the 1982 BBC repeat run of this story was edited down to a 90 minutes edition. This liberal editing of the story feels fundamentally wrong to me. Every chase scene in this story adds to the atmosphere of relentless persecution and inescapable violence, and this is very important to a story which describes both warfare and the unveiling of ultimate weapons of total annihilation. Even the scene where the Doctor treads on a landmine has something to say about the legacy of war to the innocent bystanders; indeed a landmine is just like a Dalek, it's a mechanism of war that continues to kill innocents long into peacetime. The sequence with Sarah as part of the slave-work party and launching an escape also plays its part in establishing the brutality of the Thals as being equal to that of the Kaleds (though a more anoraky fan would remember that in the first Dalek serial, the Thals where characterized historically as warriors, and ergo we would see them at this point in history as rather hard bastards).
Then we discuss the Mutos: there is something to be said about the relationship between a culture of violence and society's snobbery and tyranny of manners. Of course the thugs of society often believe themselves to be superior to either the rival thugs that they fight or the minorities, subcultures or misfits that they persecute. But at the same time society itself respond to the thugs with snobbery, and in and of itself there's nothing wrong with that: most thugs are scum of the earth and deserve as much respect. But the truth is that it's a snobbery that spills into other arenas as well. People do become more defensive when they're all too aware of the ugliness that people are capable of. It becomes more likely that a gesture of friendship may be taken as a predatory act, that an attempt to get closer to someone we know may be treated as 'stalkerish' behaviour (and this story, much like Terry Nation's other stories does feature that misunderstood stalker character who turns into a trustworthy ally, encouraging us to embrace and help the misfit). When we think of group solidarity as a defense against the kind of muggers and student bashers out there that we fear, then rules of etiquette and an up-to-speed wit and ability to hold your own in an argument culture can become essential to fitting in with that group if you don't want to be left to the wolves. Many would say that superficial mannerisms work on the same kind of selfish instant-gratification of modern times as the head rush of kicking someone's head in. Some might say that even when life becomes hard and savage and people become terrorized and outnumbered, there are still many people who have contempt for those who are seen as too weak to be able to cope or fend for themselves.
The fact is that thugs make society more fond of a reactionary attitude. The thugs of society validate every negative stereotype about the modern working classes and their abused privileges, and often work as a starting ground in conversations for the issues of political correctness gone mad, reverse racism, dole scroungers, immigrant workers and various other issues that give people an almost comforting sense of the country of Britain going to the dogs. Living in a violent society makes us lose hope and makes us gravitate towards the pessimistic of the most encompassing proportions and anything optimistic makes us feel ignored of our experiences. In Doctor Who, the eruption of rage often symbolizes an omen for the end of the world, like it does in Inferno or Survival, but this story goes one further and predicts the end of the universe in its first scene.
It isn't long before we meet Davros, operating the very first Dalek, commanding it to move to the left, then to the right, and to shake that fascist groove thang! Now if the Kaleds are a culture of violence, then Davros is an exceptional member of that culture. Sometimes with a violent gang you will get one member who is a bit of a nutter, who is too violent and crazy by even the gang's own standards. Davros is that nutter, a crippled psychotic who stubbornly refuses to give up the fight; he's the teenager who would get his arm or leg broken in a fight and it wouldn't deter them from the thug life in the least: they would continue to pick fights and threaten people (sometimes for no reason) even whilst having their arm in a sling, almost as if they enjoy being on the receiving end of brutality as much as delivering it.
Sometimes such a nutter is expelled from the gang because they are unsafe and bring trouble and a bad name on the gang. Sometimes instead they become the gang's leader, and that is partly what happened when Hitler and Stalin rose to power. It seems that nowadays the latter happens more often, and that the reason why thugs and gangs are such a hot topic today is because for some reason the gangs of today are more likely to include all manner of sick maniacs than they were twenty or so years ago. Thugs and bullies have always been a fact of life, so it seems and most men's accounts of growing up describe how fighting was a bizarre form of male bonding between those who were brawling: they'd fight each other and then the next day they'd be friends. Most people suggest that gang culture really exploded in the 1970's, and it seems that the thugs of today are that generation's very own bastard offspring: the kids were horrors thirty years ago, the trouble is that they've grown up now and had kids of their own who are even worse.
Of course most accounts suggest that in the modern world the ante has definitely been upped. The degree of violence I suffered as a teenager would be pretty shocking to people of the older generation for whom being spontaneously digged in the face was a surprising thing to happen to someone and being kicked whilst you were down was unheard of outside of football-firm clashes; in fact, what I have the most difficulty explaining to older people is the fact that modern violence is often unprovoked, and that idea that you can get thumped for no reason seems so alien to them, as does the idea that you often can't walk away from a fight any more. But by the same token, as an adult there are things I read about involving gangs wielding knives and killing students and homosexuals that I find shocking and surprising and a confirmation that things have become even worse. The media image of young bullies and thugs in Britain has changed over the decades. In early 60's to mid 80's films like Whistle Down the Wind, Kes and even the 80's skinhead dramas Made in Britain and Meantime, the thug or bully is often seen as a loner and outsider, fighting their way back into public recognition and respect, but the idea was that no one out there wanted to be friends with a thug, particularly a psychotic one like Trevor the Skinhead. Of course later in more recent films like Alan Clarke's The Firm, Naked, Trainspotting and Kidulthood the gangs are seen to have taken over and nothing is a fair fight anymore and no-one is safe.
Davros is that sick maniac for the kind of things he commands others to do, rather than what he does himself. He manages to rule the rest of the Kaleds, because in cliched terms, they're all afraid of him and wouldn't dare to stand up to him (I think with youth gangs it is closer to the truth to say that the ones below the ringleader go along with the leader because they are afraid of losing that sense of belonging if they don't conform, more than anything else), and it is quite something to see the contrast between Ronsun's fearful obedience and the Doctor's inspiring defiance during his interrogation and how the latter seems to win Davros' respect out of sheer bravery.
But, more importantly, Davros champions the Kaleds' cause and sense of belonging like no other, and he speaks to a fed-up populace who want to hear a ruthless stance and want the enemy to be annihilated utterly to end the violence once and for all. There is something about Davros's quoteable dialogue that gets to the nub of politics and psychology and makes his opinions hard to ignore. There are various points where we find ourselves drawn into the propaganda of annihilation of both sides, because we're presented with such a volatile and rotten world. When the Doctor and his companions are set upon by Thal troopers and the Kaled soldiers burst out and gun them all down, there is a sense of gratification at seeing the savagery ended by putting the attackers down like they were dogs. When Sarah gets pushed off the gantry by that sadistic guard, it is such a shock to the system to see such brutal ugliness and sadism emerge out of the blue that when he pulls Sarah to her feet; many of us are probably willing Sarah to push the nasty bastard to his death (I still have a hard time believing that this was the kind of life that Sarah claimed to 'miss' in School Reunion). It becomes so easy to buy into the propaganda of both sides as the Thal politician unveils his rocket to destroy the Kaled city and Davros unveils his 20-strong army of Daleks to massacre the Thals. We buy into this idea that total annihilation of one side or the other is the only thing that will finally stop the violence and the story makes us share in that fury and desperation.
Anyhow, the ultimate weapons are launched at either side. When Davros betrays his people to the Thals, he shows that ultimately Davros is not a representation of the focused patriotic cause of war, but the madness that emerges from it instead. In the same way Davros's "I would do it!" moment is a unique 'destruction as an ends rather than a means' philosophy that is true to the nihilism of thug violence as well. When the Kaled city is destroyed, the Doctor believes his companions to be dead and his reaction is so perfect. From his determined, nothing-to-lose desperate rush to press the detonator whilst at gunpoint, to the way his eyes glisten with tears, a single iconic moment that sums up the tragedy and pain of war in a story where characters only seem to express their emotions through violence. The way he underplays his description of Davros and the Daleks to Bettan really does confirm to me that Tom Baker was the most untouchable actor to play the Doctor. His words on the Daleks sound like the Doctor's usual "there are some corners of the universe" propaganda, but he speaks with such detachment that indicates how his mind is elsewhere, caught up in imagining Sarah and Harry's final moments in the explosion.
Then the Daleks move in and begin exterminating the Thals and there is that reminiscence of the fall of Troy about the decimation of the Thal city. To me modern thug-culture is just one aspect that this story can speak on, the story is a vision of planet Hell where all the worst, most barbarous periods of human history seem to be replicated anachronistically before us in such a small space. So we get a blend of the World War I trenches, the rise of the Third Reich, and the fall of Troy, the final massacre of Gharman and his supporters after a faux democratic vote is taken is actually just like similar events in East Timor in 1999. There is something about the directing in the scenes in the Thal city under siege that makes you want to see beyond the same small corridors they keep showing and to imagine the Thal city in epic size, with a vast population and rich culture and beautiful architecture. Just like with the studio-bound, but evocative, The Brain of Morbius.
After the Doctor walks away from the Thal city, the distant cries of "exterminate" as the Daleks slaughter everything that moves manages to tap into my memories of watching King of Kings and the scene where they actually showed King Herod's baby slayings in front of the hysterical mothers. Coupled with the 'hell' idea, there's also the abominations and evils that we can only imagine, such as the deformed Mutos and the evil Daleks, and in this segment of the story, the environment of Skaro really does feel savage and dark. This is how Doctor Who does alien worlds at its best, as places of deepest danger and metaphor.
Funnily enough, I've come to see some aspects of the Kaled characters as representing aspects of previous Doctors. If a Doctor's opponent is his equal then I think Davros bore a rather discomforting similarity to the First Doctor, with a similar crankiness and weathered stubbornness to old Billy Hartnell; he even had that sneaky and deceitful quality of the early First Doctor and he made those qualities frightening. Interestingly enough, the idea of Davros being a mirror of the Doctor has persisted in later stories. In Resurrection of the Daleks, the Doctor breaks out the Movellan plague against the Daleks in the warehouse; and simultaneously we are shown Davros doing the same thing aboard his ship as if we're being made to see the monstrosity that the Doctor is becoming through his violence. In the Big Finish story Davros, the relationship between Davros and Shan can be read almost as a mirror of the Sixth Doctor's fond, but borderline abusive, relationship with Peri.
Then of course there is Gharman, who for me represents the Third Doctor. It is interesting, given the first Dalek story, to see the first precedent of the pacifism that would characterize the Thals of the future when the Thal leader orders a general amnesty, and it's interesting to see how the Kaleds could have gone on the same pacifist path had they survived, given how Gharman leads his rebels by those non-violent ideals. It's especially ironic given how the Kaleds became the Daleks instead. Gharman's naiveness in first trusting Nyder seems so reminiscent of the Third Doctor being suckered into the Master's pity-mongering pleas at the end of The Time Monster, only to be decked over by him. When Gharman chastises one of his men for opening fire in a situation where it was actually textbook self-defense, he does share that borderline hypocritical aspect of the Third Doctor and even as an encore to his soapbox speech he then opens a cabinet full of guns and passes them round. Ultimately however, Gharman is killed because of his beliefs and the cruel irony is that had Gharman been as ruthless as Davros he would have survived. The story seems to basically take place in a more savage and cutthroat environment where the Third Doctor would not have lasted long, and the death of Gharman seems to really hammer home that fact.
I very much see the death of Gharman as symbolic of a story that kills off the coziness of the Pertwee era and makes the show suddenly morbid, horrific and subversive in a way it hadn't been since Terror of the Autons. Scene after scene totally axe-murders the coziness of the Pertwee era. We're constantly reminded that we're away from our familiar Earth where society and the military institution was noble and amicable. We're in a world where the most horrific aspect is not so much what Davros does but just how disaffected the rest of the Kaled and Thal societies are to his actions: he is supported and encouraged and the lives of his victims are considered so cheap by comparison. The Thal guard dangling Sarah off the rocket ledge is a level of indulgent sadism that had never been done in the series before, the idea that a bad guy would do something like that to put such fear into his victim not for power or survival or any other grand scheme but simply to get his perverted kicks was certainly something new to the series; and again I feel it is true to the real culture of violence in Britain. The Doctor being too late to save the Kaled city is another moment that takes us out of any cozy conceits. To me, the massacre of Gharman and his followers still remains to me the most shocking moment in Doctor Who, showing the evil of the Daleks really linked to the evil of humanity in the way that Davros gives the command to kill, his supporters watch the massacre callously and Nyder throws the fleeing victims back into the line of fire. I find this story far more horrific than Vengeance on Varos, even though a lot of fans would disagree with me on that.
To my mind there is something wonderfully affirming about the story's darkness and brutality, and this comes to the fore in the Doctor/Davros debate in episode 5. When the Doctor says of the Daleks "They are totally evil" it seems to cut through all the crap of modern thought. It seems sometimes that as a result of left-wing attitudes, political correctness and the argument culture we live in, it is becoming quite hard work to justify moral points and perceptions that should really be common sense, but which now leave our views open to be immediately downgraded as judgemental, classist, reactionary, demonising or other such suggestions. Some people are of the principles that will never get past the 'children' or 'teenager' aspect of these many thugs and will always be on their defensive side. Some people are so caught up in class idealism that they will stand by the belief that the youth are the future and that news reports of happy slapping are an exaggerated demonizing of the working class youth, and many of those people who lived through the miner's strike will always see the police as the greater of all evils and will always side with the youth against the old bill. At the same time I think that young people are often victim to horrific harassment from an older generation that holds all young people in distain, thugs and victims alike. It seems hard for victims when the police are letting the gangs have free reign in the hope of giving them enough rope to hang themselves with, whilst community groups are trying to find opportunities for those same troublemakers without anyone punishing or isolating them in the meantime.
We do live in a tolerant society nowadays and unfortunately that means that thugs are welcomed into some circles when they deserve censure instead. The dialogue between the Doctor and Davros seems to sum up this idea of socializing with the devil: how Davros can respect the Doctor but still never give in his ruthless stance. You may know some nasty pieces of work that other people seem able to befriend, but just because they've gotten on their good side doesn't mean they've appealed to their better nature (despite thug arrogance, they know they can't make enemies of everyone; in fact, many can't even handle a straight one-on-one fight, which is why they're in the gang in the first place) and it doesn't make you guilty of any misjudgements. And just because you were singled out as a victim doesn't mean you were asking for it, and it doesn't mean you were the only one.
Davros denies that his creatures are in any way 'evil', like a parent refusing to believe that their own children are bad. Sometimes the stereotype about how these troublemaker children are raised is true, and that some thugs are parented by thugs who deliberately turn a blind eye to the behaviour of their children, which they themselves encourage and are proud of. We also have racist parents instilling their intolerance on their children and the BNP doing the same to their new recruits. Some of that may be reflected here with the Thals and the Kaleds where we learn of a war fought through the generations that the elders of both the Kaleds and Thals continually promote to the youngest and most impressionable. Some parents believe that being a thug and a bully is the way for a child to make their way in the world, and so it gets worse from generation to generation. I'd say that given the exceptionally savage nature of the Daleks in this story they really were like brutal chavs, totally without conscience or any motives for their violence beyond sadistic gratification.
In this story the Daleks are volatile and invincible and they would never be so again. With hindsight, that was clearly the intention of the episode all along: to make the Daleks more savage and to distance the Daleks from the more methodical and mercenary-dependant automatons that they became in the Pertwee era. Right from the first scene where the Dalek is activated and instinctively tries to kill, we get a sense for the first time that these Daleks would wipe out entire worlds not for survival or some elaborate Project Degravitate plan, but simply to satisfy their bloodlust.
Finally, the Doctor's action to shut down Davros's life-support system is crucial. This is an episode in which the Doctor is perfectly prepared to kill Davros by switching off his life-support systems and despite the fact that we would never have seen Jon Pertwee do something so ruthless, we are given no reason to think that Davros deserves any mercy. The Doctor is taking deadly action here out of dire necessity. People do feel let down and feel that not only are these thugs an irredeemable scourge, but that there is also not any justice system that can deal with them, and we have been let down badly. And some people quite literally want these thugs in an early grave. If so, those who were relentlessly terrorized and victimized by gangs could live in peace as they were entitled to. I can't deny that a lot of these thugs are beyond redemption or rehabilitation and have ruined some people's lives beyond all repair and maybe people are entitled to revenge. I can't even deny that some of them are probably killers in waiting, but I would strongly say that this homicidal mindset that some people have about thugs is most unhealthy and comes at a major cost to our souls and our interactions with others. It is refreshing in a way that the Doctor takes only the action necessary to do what he can to fight off the relentless menace and then leaves the rest to fate, and it is fate which delivers revenge, not the Doctor. It is fate that brings about the poetic death of Davros because of the evil choices he made, just like experience makes me sure that some young thugs will end up dying at a young age in their reckless, treacherous and cutthroat lifestyle.
This episode doesn't really deal with that theme of what matters to the soul when you feel your hand is being forced by a violent situation. That is something that would crop up later in Resurrection of the Daleks and again in the Big Finish Davros audio Terror Firma. The Daleks, Davros and Nyder represent pitch-black irredeemable evil incarnate of a kind that will probably never be in the show again now that the New Series has become all empathizing. To me, the scene where Nyder is so coldly contemplating shooting an unconscious Gharman having betrayed him and knocked him out best sums up what a complete twisted bastard he is as a character.
The Doctor represents the centre of the morality of this amoral world. He does have an attack of conscience when he is about to destroy the embryo Daleks. As an eleven year old, this did sum up what the Doctor's methods were and how the title of 'Doctor' played a major part in his methods. His hesitation over destroying the Daleks (in which Sarah actually compares the Daleks to a disease or bacteria) portrays him as a Doctor who lives by the Hippocratic oath; meanwhile when he was shutting down Davros's life support systems, he was like a pragmatic vet putting down a dangerous beast.
I must say that episode six of Genesis of the Daleks is the most no-nonsense episode of them all. When people talk about how Genesis of the Daleks has such intellectual content and compelling moments, they can actually make the story sound as self-important as a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, and I've always seen Genesis of the Daleks as being far from it. The scenes of General Ravon as a cartoon Goebbles and the scenes of the Doctor and Harry being chased down the corridors, and of course that great laugh moment when the Doctor first comes out of the hatch in the floor, unaware of a Thal guard standing right behind him to me really sums up how Genesis of the Daleks does keep close to a spirit of fun most of the time. It's a story that is gladly flippant in the way it skips plot-holes such as the spitting distance between the two domed cities, or Sarah's unexplained recovery from distronic toxaemia or the blatant rewriting of established continuity in terms of the history of the Daleks, in a way that Star Trek would never have gotten away with (isn't science fiction much more fun when the writers can bend the rules?). My love of the episode has never been fazed by any backlash points in modern fandom. But, as I said, when we come to episode six, such flippancy disappears from view and we end up in the territory of hardcore science-fiction horror.
I've got to say that the meeting between Gharman and Davros in episode six, where they're both presenting their case is probably my favourite moment of ethics in the story. Most of Davros's dialogue throughout the story has been absolutely quoteable (although "He will learn the true meaning of pain" is one unfortunate winceful line)/ The dialogue from both Davros and Gharman's side is so rich and I always get a kick out of Davros's prophetic line "I will give you a few minutes to decide, then you must answer not only to me, but to the future." The debate really sums up all the issues of survival at all costs and the conflict view of the world, the clash of political ideals between Gharman's liberalism and Davros's fascism, as well as bringing up that issue of what happens when a culture of violence decides to draw the line and expel one of its more volatile members. In fact, one of the things that bothered me deeply about Terrance Dicks' novelization of the story is how he completely cut out all this dialogue. In fact, given Genesis of the Daleks' potentially cinematic quality, wouldn't it have been brilliant if Ben Aaronvitch had novelized this story instead?
The famous "Do I have the right?" scene has been praised so heavily that I'm sure some fans are sick of hearing it. But I'm going to praise it some more and try to say some things about it that have not been said before. Doctor Who's morality has often been the cliched stuff of science fiction in dealing with alien threats that are misunderstood rather than evil, such as in The Sea Devils and this is basically no different to the morality of Star Trek or King Kong. But this scene shows Doctor Who develop a unique morality all of its own which goes so far as to declare that 'even evil has its place in the world' and that is why it has been such a beloved moment of the series. I actually really like how the scene characterizes Sarah as much as it characterizes the Doctor. She really sees the big picture with compassionate eyes towards those future war victims on alien worlds ("Think of all the suffering there'll be if you don't do it!") and her attitude to the Daleks is merciless (which in retrospect is a stark contrast to Rose's pity for the lone Dalek). They still say that the old companion characters are two-dimensional ciphers compared to how they are in the New Series, but to me this scene is just as deep an examination of the character of Sarah as anything in School Reunion. Isn't it nice that the Doctor and Sarah actually have this moral debate without the Doctor biting her head off and shouting her down, calling her a pathetic savage for giving her opinion like he did with Tegan in Warriors of the Deep?
Few people have commented on how authentically this debate is spoken. "Some things could be better with the Daleks, many future worlds would become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks" really reads as an on-the-spot moment of dialogue rather than a pre-prepared speech. In fact, the dialogue is very picturesque indeed and coupled with the Doctor's interrogated accounts of future Dalek defeats in episode five, it really makes us envision the Dalek terror on other worlds: reducing cities to flames and making war-orphans out of children. It is poetry in dialogue and the tenderness with which Tom Baker holds those wires as he compares the Daleks to an infant child really gives the scene its soul.
Indeed that is what episode six does for me; it builds upon the previous episodes and steps up from their conservative characters and repressive violence and really reaches out its soul. It's the compassion in his eyes when the Doctor hesitates over destroying the incubator room, it is the unspoken poignant awkwardness of Kravos being emotionally blackmailed by Davros "would you now turn that heart against me?", it is Davros's uncharacteristic plea for the lives of his supporters to be spared and the awakening look of shock on Nyder's face when he is shot down by a Dalek. It is the sheer overpowering passion of the leading Dalek as it shares with us a few intimate last words as it gives its speech on the Dalek mandate of conquest; and you can really hear the fury, the hatred, the evangelical conviction in the Dalek's words with that particular close-up to make the Dalek dome resemble a cathedral like Paddy's Wigwam to give it that sense of spirit as it delivers a sermon from hell. It may not be as passionate as The Dalek Invasion of Earth or Father's Day, but in its own way it has an emotional aspect that is brief but penetrating.
To me there are Doctor Who stories that best sum up the adventurous aspect of the show, such as The Daleks' Master Plan, The Mind Robber, City of Death and The Five Doctors. Then there are the episodes that have the moments that give it a major edge into the actual soul of Doctor Who, such as Evil of the Daleks, Tomb of the Cybermen, The War Games, Logopolis, The Caves of Androzani, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Survival, Parting of the Ways and School Reunion. This, to me, is definitely one of the latter kind of stories in that it really sums up the battle of wills between good and evil, the noble fight against a savage universe and how good and evil can be a state of mind and what that says primarily about what kind of hero the Doctor is.
It ends on the right note for me: it is wholly appropriate that Davros and his supporters are killed by the Daleks, metaphorically destroyed by the very evil that they invited into the meeting room and into their hearts. The Daleks in this episode are volatile and are presented visually in a terrifying way; the Dalek design is a superb one that was rarely capitalised on by directors, but the late David Maloney really managed to make the Daleks look like an inhuman army of darkness, a glittering blend of art sculptures and tanks, silent but deadly, robust and imposing. The story wisely resists the prospect of having the Doctor and Daleks have a direct face off and instead the Doctor hides and flees, making them seem an unfaceable danger, and so it seems right that all the heroes can do is seal the Daleks and their fury in. The Doctor and his companions then leave, fully aware that the Daleks are destined to emerge and cause chaos and destruction on many future worlds. It is all about the fact that despite the death of a tyrant like Davros, evil will never be truly vanquished and will always exist in the world in some form or another. But the Doctor says that he has faith that 'out of their evil must come something good'.
In the context of thug Britain, maybe what the Doctor is saying is that it is the fight that defines us, maybe each day is a fight and maybe that's how it should be. Of course sometimes the threat of violence and bullying won't unify people; as I said before, sometimes victims will be made to stand alone by an uncaring society that finds it easier to sweep such matters under the carpet and can get away with treating victimized children as crybabies. I could never be a reactionary because I know full well that the older generation's irritable contempt for the youth is truly indiscriminant, making no distinction between thugs and victims, and in a reactionary society I would probably have a hard time even saying that much about my elders. For that reason I will always admire this story for its unrepentant image of a rotten and callous society. Still, I'd love to think that the anarchy of modern society might make older people more sympathetic to young victims of persecution; that maybe some good will come out of the madness after all. But sometimes there is help and solidarity out there, and sometimes learning to help yourself makes you stronger, and often victims are the most empathic and compassionate of people because of what they went through (which makes me summarize that it is parental neglect rather than abuse that makes bad kids with a void of conscience, because they've grown up without much in the ways of ethics or empathy), so the negative does play a part in life and morality.
I admire this story for actually outright saying that life is a fight, and that the dark and aggressive side of human nature can be essential for survival, unless you want to end up like poor Gharman. It is such a perfect bridge between prior eras of Doctor Who, from the first Doctor's impartialness to the Second Doctor's belief in fighting evil ruthlessly, to the Third Doctor's devotion to more peaceful solutions. Here the Doctor was playing impartial and letting evil prevail in the hope that fear of a mutual threat would forge peace and understanding between different cultures in a way none of his predecessor's peacenik speeches ever could have. I very much like Kim Newman's assessment of this speech as being the Doctor's moment of reaching full maturity.
I suppose that's why I feel rather dubious about the Fifth Doctor era in how it had the Doctor struggling with moral choices that really he'd already made with ease in previous incarnations and how this constant revisiting of the 80's seemed to weaken him utterly. In The Sea Devils, the Doctor has to make a choice between the Sea Devils and the humans, and his decision to destroy the Sea Devils to prevent a genocidal war from erupting is a hard decision but he does it pragmatically. Why then, in Warriors of the Deep does it take the Fifth Doctor four episodes to make the same decision, by which time there's no one on the Sea Base left to save? Likewise, when I see the Doctor being perfectly prepared to kill Davros, I wonder how the Doctor turned so soft towards the war criminal by the time of Resurrection of the Daleks.
I guess the reason why I have such a problem with the 80's era of the show and a desire to white it out from memory, is because I really would have liked this story to be the last word on Doctor Who's morality, picking up the ties with the first Dalek story, The Dominators, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils and leaving us with the ambiguous notion that sometimes peace will fail when up against evil men like Davros who despise peace with all the hatred a man can feel, and that ruthlessness is sometimes the best tactic. We have these composite qualities of compassion and aggression and both have their essential uses. I see it as wholly appropriate that the Tom Baker era largely neglected morality plays, with Robot, The Face of Evil and this one being the few exceptions. To me, the only way you could go further with this moral point was with the new series episode Dalek, which follows up the Doctor's choice of whether to commit genocide against the Daleks, as well as chasing up the Time Lord's intervention to prevent universal Armageddon and Gharman's question of what would happen if the Daleks could evolve into less aggressive creatures with a capability of conscience. It really makes me wish we could have just leaped from 1979 to the New Series and completely bypassed the 80's years of the show where the Doctor ceased to be a figure of inspiration and became shockingly naive and incompetent as the Fifth Doctor and then became a turncoat brute as the Sixth Doctor.
But of course anything would be an anticlimax after this story. It sets up the Daleks as a vicious force to be reckoned with and sees the Time Lords finally step up to challenge them (something that was hinted at previously in The War Games and Planet of the Daleks). We always wanted the next story to be a Dalek attack on Gallifrey of Star-Wars proportions. We eventually did get this but only offscreen in the Big Finish adventure The Apocalypse Element and in the vaguer references to the Time War in the new series. And before we got to that, we had to endure years and years of the Daleks becoming divided and weakened by a ranting Davros, whilst excursions to Gallifrey made it an increasingly boring place to be as we were hammered by High Council politics as if we needed to be constantly retold that Gallifrey is actually a corrupt society y'know, hitting its most paint-drying note with Trial of a Time Lord. Just imagine if they had used the spaceship modelwork and high budget special effects of Trial of a Time Lord to instead portray a titanic space battle between the Time Lords and the Daleks. For a show in trouble during the mid 80's, that might have been either a brilliant ratings puller or a way to end the series with a spectacular and conclusive bang.
I say all this because it is hard to judge Genesis of the Daleks in and of itself because of the way it uses familiarity and continuity to extend its talons beyond itself. It presents a historical moment in the Doctor Who canon and leaves the implications open ended and universally threatening, and that is what gives the story its tremendous staying power and why in the context of thug Britain, each time I watch the story I feel inspired and uplifted whilst still somehow kept down to Earth and reality and I come away from each viewing feeling that bit braver and more noble and confident.
In the context of the New Series, I really love the way it dances similarities with the new Dalek stories: how the massacre of Gharman's supporters after the grand vote is virtually re-enacted in Parting of the Ways. How the bunker setting is so vital to Dalek, right down to the final chase to escape the bunker and seal in the Dalek. How Rose's plea for the Dalek to have pity on Van Statten wins out where Davros failed to pull the same mercy out of his creations when they killed his supporters. How the moral conflict between the Doctor and Rose about the Doctor destroying the last Dalek is a perfect reversal of roles between the Doctor and Sarah over the destruction of the incubator room.
Would Genesis of the Daleks appeal to the new fans though? I'd like to think it would but I can see them turning their nose up to the campness of General Ravon and the scene of the Doctor battling that giant clam, or the unconvincing Geiger counter on the wall in the Thal rocket pad. I'd still say that the action of the story is always played for serious suspense and never deliberately descends into the cringe-worthy Scooby Doo slapstick nonsense of World War Three or Love and Monsters, so I don't see how new viewers could have a problem with that, but there's no accounting for shallowness I suppose. I have shown this to people who really belittled the Dalek torch-like ray gun effect quite savagely. One woman I showed this to actually laughed at the scene where Gerril gets shot in a rather mistimed fall. I was quite horrified at hearing her chuckling at such a violent moment, though mind you she also remarked on how this was better written than Parting of the Ways since the deux et machina ending of that story always bothered her.
I like to think that Genesis of the Daleks has crossover appeal, just as I like to think The Mind Robber, Spearhead from Space, Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror of Fang Rock, City of Death, Earthshock and Curse of Fenric might be good candidates for preaching to the converted, and ergo should be given a repeat TV run whilst Doctor Who is hot property once again.
I personally am so happy with this story I declare it as my favourite of all time.
A Review by Finn Clark 17/3/07
Like it or not, Genesis of the Daleks has a certain status. It's not the best Doctor Who story, or even the best by Terry Nation. However it's one of a handful of stories popularly regarded as in contention for that title, along with maybe Talons of Weng-Chiang and Caves of Androzani. It got an audio release back in the dark days before video. Its Target novelisation was the best-selling by a country mile, it famously topped the big DWM 265 poll and it's always hypnotised the BBC. They repeated it until we were sick of it.
Admittedly, it has three or four of the best scenes in Doctor Who. However, the real story is centred on Davros and things get sillier and less interesting the further we get from him. It might be interesting to re-edit the story and cut everything not in the bunker. 'Twould be a shame to lose Sevrin and of course you wouldn't get Davros's hilarious plea for peace to the Thal leaders, but you'd keep the soul of the story and probably make it far more claustrophobic. You'd certainly make it far less implausible. No risible giant clams, no secret routes into the heart of the enemy city and no lame Thal acting.
None of that really matters, though. Terry Nation is playing to his strengths and writing something with a bit of meat, while, no less importantly, he's found a production team in tune with his sensibilities. It's easy to laugh at Terry's Terryisms and tendencies to self-plagiarism, but at his best he's an extraordinary writer, without parallel in Doctor Who. Look at his debut in 1963. Hell, look at his 1970s Dalek annuals. There's something primal about his best writing, going somewhere dark and almost mindless. He makes Eric Saward look like an armchair liberal. It's not sadism, but something more disturbing. He doesn't quite believe in civilisation, instead telling stories in which the apocalypse will destroy everything and to survive we might practically have to become cavemen.
That's certainly true here, with the blackest ending we'll ever see in Doctor Who. It's ameliorated by Tom's final speech of "some greater good will come", but even so we have genocide, counter-genocide and the Daleks exterminating every living being in the bunker as they take control. However it's not just empty action. Its themes and philosophical questions give us scenes so good that they elevate all of Doctor Who, not just this story. "Do I have the right?" The echoes of that question resonated in Dalek stories for the next thirty years. If I had to pick one scene to define what the Doctor stands for, I'd pick that. And there's more... "That power would set me up above the gods."
Everyone knows about the Nazi parallels, but it's also a Frankenstein story. Many Doctor Who stories have touched on Mary Shelley's themes, but the most thorough treatments are in the Hinchcliffe trilogy of Robot, Genesis and Morbius. Robot goes via King Kong, showing us the heart of the monster. Brain of Morbius is the most literal, the only one that's actually trying to be a horror movie. However Genesis of the Daleks goes for the heart of the themes, crafting a morality play about men creating evil. You even get internal debate among the Frankensteins, in the form of Davros's scientific elite struggling with their consciences as they slowly realise what they're doing.
Thus, it doesn't matter that the Doctor merely watches the ending on television instead of participating in it. In any other story this would be unforgiveable, but what we get here is the culmination of the story's themes. The Daleks kill Davros. It's perfect. It's the only possible ending, so good that it actually turns Genesis into a Dalek story. Particularly amusing is the Dalek deliberately rubbing Davros's nose in it. "Our programming does not permit us to acknowledge that any creature is superior to the Daleks." Think about it. That's an extraordinary line. Normally they'd just squawk it as a fact instead of taunting Davros with "our programming does not permit us". They really are bastards, aren't they?
In fact, there are terrific lines throughout the story, despite Nation not being best known as a stylist. Davros is deliciously slippery, whether dealing with Kaled or Thal politicians. There's also lots of resonance, both with Doctor Who's own mythology ("our battle cry will be total extermination of the Thals") and the creed of the Nazis ("we must keep the Kaled race pure"). Davros even gets to put the case for his philosophy. As he tells the Doctor: "you have a weakness."
Oh, and the Mutos add another dimension to the Nazi metaphor. The Nazis called ethnic groups subhuman... well, the Mutos really are subhuman. (And even they aren't above racism. "Why kill another creature because it is not in our image?" asks Sevrin when they're debating what to do with Sarah in part two.)
I have an observation about the Doctor's litany of Dalek defeats, though. Look at the first words he says to Davros after agreeing to speak. "The Dalek invasion of Earth in the year 2000 was foiled because of an attempt by the Daleks to mine the core of the planet. The magnetic properties of the Earth were too great." This contains two continuity errors: (a) the date, but also (b) the magnetic stuff. That's just the Cushing movie! Hartnell's version just blew shit up. Interestingly this is almost a dry run for a similar glitch in Resurrection of the Daleks, i.e. when under interrogation, the Doctor undermines the information with half-truths, although even half-truths are something he doesn't want to leave in Dalek hands.
So I like the script. I also like the production. It's brutal, with those opening scenes of barbed wire and people getting machine-gunned. Soon afterwards, the Doctor and his friends get caught in a gas attack and are having to pull gas masks off corpses. Ewwwww. I'm sure this story would be even more atmospheric in black and white, but in a sense it almost is. The sets and costumes are all black and silver, with the regulars being almost the only splashes of colour in this monochrome world. Sarah has that yellow jacket, while the Doctor has his scarf and red coat. Even the Daleks are grey.
I liked the Thals being mostly blonde, which was a nice continuity touch. The buttons labelled "FIRE" and "TOTAL DESTRUCT" (in English!) are silly, but I can live with them. I enjoyed recognising Stephen Yardley (Arak in Vengeance on Varos) as Sevrin. Even the rubber tentacle around Tom's neck in part five's cliffhanger looks far better than I'd feared, given Doctor Who's track record with such things in stories like Spearhead from Space.
Genesis of the Daleks isn't the best Doctor Who story ever, but it's thoughtful and powerful enough for such a claim not to be absurd. It certainly shows up the paucity of ambition in 2006's Rise of the Cybermen two-parter, for instance. It's impressively fast-moving for a six-parter, it's meaty and it's fully deserving of its place at the heart of the Doctor Who mythos. It has vivid performances and creates one of the great iconic villains in Davros, no matter that his presence in later stories didn't do much for the Daleks. It's not perfect. But it's bloody good.