Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

"Today, the Kaled race is ended, consumed in a fire of war. But, from its ashes will rise a new race. The supreme creature. The ultimate conqueror of the universe. The Dalek!"

'Genesis of the Daleks' is one of the big ones. One of those top ten, most loved, 'pan it if you dare' stories. It is one of the (if not the) best Dalek stories ever produced. Not just because it introduced us to their deranged creator, Davros, but because it actually made the Daleks scary again.

At this point in the show's history, the Dalek had become a joke. Where once they were the Doctor's most fearsome adversary, now they were treated more like comedy sidekicks. 'Genesis' goes a long way to give the Daleks a sense of menace again, ironically by hardly using them. This might be the story of the Daleks' origin, but the ranting pepper pots are kept off screen for the majority of the story. It is the threat of the Dalek and the carnage they will inflict which hangs over everything. The Daleks are a monster in a cage just waiting to be unleashed.

The man holding the key to that cage is Davros. Once you get past all the Nazi parables, 'Genesis of the Daleks' is basically the classic tale of a mad scientist who creates a monster that he cannot control. I love Davros. He is one of the series' all-time great adversaries. But only in this story. And when played by Michael Wisher. Unlike those who succeeded him, Wisher manages to give Davros a quiet menace in-between all the megalomaniac ranting. And his scenes with Tom Baker are just exceptional. In only his fourth story, Baker gives one of his best performances as the Doctor. The famous 'Do I have the right?' speech is probably the defining moment of his Doctor.


'Genesis' benefits greatly from having a director like David Maloney calling the shots. Along with Douglas Camfield and Grame Harper, Maloney was one of Doctor Who's finest directors. Unlike many who worked on the show (who were more used to working on sitcoms), he understood the show and knew how to make it visually interesting, regardless of its budget limitations. The opening scenes are brilliantly atmospheric as gas masked soldiers on a foggy battlefield are gunned down in slow motion. It's like Peckinpah, but without the excessive blood. A few seconds later, the Doctor has an encounter with a fellow Time Lord that owes a clear debt to The Seventh Seal.

Like many classic Doctor Who stories, 'Genesis of the Daleks' is not without its faults. Like all six parters, it sags around the middle. The old capture/escape/capture/escape routine is given yet another thorough workout. And who could forget the Doctor and Harry's encounter with Davros' giant mutant clams? Yes, you read that right, giant mutant clams. I can only assume that at some point Davros seriously considered opening his own chain of seafood restaurants once the war was over.

Notes and Quotes

--Dalek stories are no stranger to blatant Nazi parallels, but this one is overflowing with them. The Kaleds believe in genetic purity. Their soldiers salute each other by raising their hands and clicking the heels of their boots together. Nyder even wears what looks like an Iron Cross in the early episodes. Much of the action takes place in "the Bunker".

--That nameless Time Lord has some truly massive collars.

--This story takes place directly after the previous one, with the TARDIS team having been nabbed by the Time Lords while they were beaming back to the Ark. And yet somehow Sarah has managed to trade in her trousers for a skirt.

--Despite lifting the lid on their origins, we still never find out why the Daleks have sink plungers. Did Davros also intend for them to clean the toilets in the bunker on their days off?

The Doctor: "Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory. Something contagious and infectious that killed on contact. A virus that would destroy all other forms of life... would you allow its use?"
Davros: "It is an interesting conjecture."
The Doctor: "Would you do it?"
Davros: "The only living thing... the microscopic organism... reigning supreme... A fascinating idea."
The Doctor: "But would you do it?"
Davros: "Yes. Yes. To hold in my hand, a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes. I would do it. That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks I shall have that power!"

The Doctor: "If someone who knew the future, pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives... could you then kill that child?"
Sarah Jane Smith: "We're talking about the Daleks. The most evil creatures ever invented. You must destroy them. You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!"
The Doctor: "Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that's it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear... in peace, and never even know the word 'Dalek'."
Sarah Jane Smith: "Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn't hesitate."
The Doctor: "But if I kill. Wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks."

The Doctor: (to Thal guards) “Excuse me, can you help me? I'm a spy.”

The Doctor: “What, no tea?”
Kaled Guard Tane: “Let me point out to you that you have no rights whatsoever. I have full authority to torture and kill any prisoner who does not comply absolutely with my orders. That is your first and last warning.”
The Doctor: “No tea, Harry.”

Four out of four giant mutant clams.
--
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

3 comments:

Mark said...

I loved this story! Right behind Pyramids of Mars, in my book. Interesting how two of the most menacing foes that the Doctor faced were done by actors who were almost immobile, who had to use their voice to provide the menace.

The DVD had an extra, where the actor (I forget who) discussed how to do a Dalek voice. It isn't the electronic distortion that makes them sound so terrifying, but that their speech escalates to an insane ranting. That is what I think is missing for the Dalek voice in many episodes, the emotional content and the loss of control.

Sgspires68 said...

This one has grown on me. When I saw it for the first time - in 1983 - it was chock full of 1970s clothes and effects, all the stuff we wanted behind us in the 80s. Davros crazed rants got on my nerves and it was such a long serial.
Now, "Genesis of the Daleks" is a favorite. I appreciate Baker's moralizing much more today than I did as a teen. I love Sarah Jane in all her roles, and even Harry has something to do.
Still, Davros gets on my nerves, but then again so does Hitler, and I guess that is the point.

wub said...

I've been catching up with this on Britbox, which I'm using during lockdown, and my immediate thought was that Nyder was being very clearly played as a cross between space Himmler and the Gestapo.