THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE TV
STORY "THE SONTARAN
EXPERIMENT" AND THE
NOVEL "A DEVICE OF
DALEKS - GENESIS OF
EITHER 'GENESIS OF THE
RELEASED IN APRIL
OR 'THE DAVROS
COLLECTION' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
The Doctor’s own
people – the Time
Lords – have foreseen
a time in which the
Daleks dominate all
other life forms in
the universe. So
disturbing is this
possibility, that they
break their own Laws
of Time in an attempt
to change the future.
And who better to
send on this quest
than their own
renegade number – the
transported into the
fields and trenches of
Skaro, the Doctor
must face his most
ever – to prevent the
Daleks from ever
8TH MARCH 1975 - 12TH APRIL 1975
As a child of the 1980s, “Remembrance of the Daleks” was the first Dalek story that I ever saw. Ever since I heard Sylvester McCoy’s quick précis of the creation of the Daleks in that story, I was fascinated by the notion that Daleks were the mutated remains of another species. Armed with my ‘Doctor Who Yearbook’ I spent the early 1990s ploughing through endless UK Gold repeats and BBC videos until I finally came across it - “Genesis of the Daleks”. The first time I saw it I loved it, and now, at long last, the Restoration Team have finally brought Terry Nation’s legendary six-parter to DVD in style, its striking cover emblazoned with a red sticker proudly proclaiming it to be Doctor Who’s “No. 1 Story EVER” - a statement that I would not really care to argue with.
The opening moments of “Genesis of the Daleks” really set the scene for the grim tale of death and despair that is about to follow. His transmat beam intercepted by the Time Lords, the Doctor and his companions materialise in the middle of no man’s land on the war torn planet of Skaro. The Doctor is greeted by Lord Ferain, a member of the Time Lord Celestial Intervention Agency, who tells the Doctor that the Time Lords foresee a time when the Daleks will destroy everything. Ferain then gives the Doctor his orders – to prevent the creation of the Daleks, or failing that, to affect their development so that they evolve into a less aggressive species. Whereas the Doctor would normally do everything in his power to avoid becoming a puppet of the Time Lords, here he is incredibly eager to help. And with
the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that this is a crucial moment not only in the life of the Doctor but for the universe as a whole. In “Genesis of the Daleks”, the Doctor and the Time Lords break all the laws of time and start something that will have truly far-reaching consequences…
Nation’s vision of Skaro is fascinating. Harry describes what he sees as “… a war of attrition, only backwards,” which just about sums it up perfectly. Two massive,
technologically advanced races go to war armed with a hideous arsenal of modern weapons, and after centuries and centuries of total devastation they end up being reduced
to having to fight wearing animal skins and using relatively primitive weapons. The Kaled / Thal war is a picture of what could have happened to the Human race in the twentieth century. Skaro is a world that has, for all intents and purposes, been completely destroyed. By the time the Doctor and his companions arrive, all that remains of the two warring
factions are two huge domes separated by a wasteland, each dome housing the survivors
of its respective species. Some have criticised this as a weakness in Nation’s story – particularly as the domes are apparently quite close together – but I think that this
microcosm only serves to heighten the tension. These two domes are apparently all that is left. Throughout this story, the viewer knows that the end of this war is near. It is only a matter of time before one side completely destroys the other.
“Our battle cry will be total extermination of the Thals!”
– General Ravon
When the Doctor and Harry are arrested we meet our first Kaled - General Ravon – who is superbly played by Guy Siner of ‘Allo ‘Allo fame. The black uniform; the heel clicking; the sharp salutes – Ravon is a Nazi, pure and simple. He is completely and utterly unlikeable; he rants and raves about genetic purity and Kaled supremacy as if he has been conditioned, these doctrines constantly reinforced throughout his entire life. At times he seems petulant, almost childlike, especially when the Doctor and Harry quite easily over power him.
Enter Nyder, the right hand man of Davros himself.
Peter Miles is absolutely fantastic as the Gestapo-like henchman of Davros. He is so good, in fact, that at times his chilling performance even outshines those of Tom Baker and Michael Wisher, which is no small feat. Ruthless, evil, heinous; almost any negative word
one can think of describes Nyder. What I enjoyed most about the character is that we are given no reasons for his actions. For example, one could posit that Davros’s horrific injuries (which are not explained in this story, but are explored later in Lance Parkin’s awesome audio play, “Davros”) might give him cause (or at least exacerbate) his megalomania. They do not, as it happens, but they might have for all people knew when “Genesis of the Daleks” first aired. People come up with all sorts of reasons to try and explain the motivations of
such individuals, yet Nyder is more or less a blank slate. Fiercely loyal to Davros, the only other driving force behind this man seems to be hate. Even if he sometimes comes across as a one-dimensional embodiment of hatred, the character still really pushes the intensity of “Genesis of the Daleks” up through the roof. Within a minute of his introduction he is
shooting at the Doctor, Harry and Ravon – he is willing to kill his own General just to exterminate some “mutos”. In a story which is relatively Dalek-free in the early going, Nyder is a Dalek.
Meanwhile, Sarah Jane finds herself alone in the wastelands of Skaro, left to fend for herself amongst the “mutos”. Mutos are, as Nyder puts it, the “scarred relics of ourselves”, genetic monstrosities created by the weapons used early on in the war. Their initial appearance is realised wonderfully; at a distance their ragged bandages and sores make them look like lepers. Unfortunately, close-up they look perfectly normal – they are all just slightly dirty people in bandages! For example, Sevrin - the Muto who befriends Sarah Jane - is more or less a perfect example of a healthy human being! Although this aspect of “Genesis of the Daleks” can be visually disappointing, I find it interesting when examined alongside the Kaleds’ fascism. As we see on the screen, Kaleds look uncannily like Humans; they are sort of Nazis with 1970s bouffant hairdos, for the most part dark in colour. Furthermore, when they are introduced the Thals also appear no different than Humans or Kaleds, their only distinguishing feature being their lighter hair! If this war – centuries of death and “racial cleansing” – is down to nothing more than a difference in hair colour, then it comes as little surprise to me that anybody whose appearance is even very slightly outside the norm are exiled as “mutos”. I think this says a lot about the type of society that has evolved on Skaro on both sides of the fence.
Davros’ introduction is well handled by director David Maloney; the lighting is absolutely superb. The audience are shown just enough of him to see that, ironically, he is the biggest “muto” of them all, but not so much as to detract from his ‘proper’ introduction in Part Two. As Sarah Jane looks on horrified, the very first Dalek is armed with its energy weapon… “Perfect. The weaponry is perfect,” purrs Davros as the first episode ends, leaving the viewer literally salivating for more.
“The Dalek race was genetically engineered, every single emotion was removed.
Except hate… by a genius… a man who was king of his own little world…”
- The Doctor, “Dalek”
It is the second episode that really introduces us to the Daleks’ creator properly, the man whom the Kaleds refer to as their “Supreme Commander”. The imperious music that scores Davros’ initial glide into the Elite’s bunker marks one of those Doctor Who moments – it is just superb, frankly. In fact, this scene is one of my favourites in the whole story. The Doctor and Harry are being interrogated by Ronson, a Kaled scientist who seems frighteningly normal for a man who spends his days serving a totalitarian regime and helping to create
the most evil and ruthless life forms in the cosmos. At the same time, Davros is unveiling his “Mark III Travel Machine” (a primitive Dalek) to the Elite scientists which quickly identifies the Doctor and Harry as non-Kaleds and tries to exterminate them. Ronson prevents the killing, telling Davros that he needs to extract important information from his prisoners before they die. James Garbutt’s performance obviously indicates that this is far from the truth, later summed up by his brilliant line: “I’m sorry if they hurt you. I lack the courage to interfere.” Ronson is one example of why “Genesis of the Daleks” is so utterly compelling. He is the everyman; a likeable individual caught in an impossible situation. He does his job and tries not to think too much about it or the horrors around him. I wonder how many people like him just ‘did their jobs’ in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union? It is truly frightening.
Eventually, Ronson helps the Doctor and Harry to escape, conquering his fear which in a sense makes him braver than the Doctor or anyone else in the story. Ronson’s untimely end later in the story is painful to watch, but I comforted myself with the thought that at least he had ruined Davros’ life! Just imagine if Ronson had not prevented the Doctor and Harry
from being the first victims of that Dalek, what might have been… or might not have been.
The Thals are given much more screen time in Part Two, and I was both surprised and impressed that Nation depicts them as being every bit as callous and bloodthirsty as the Kaleds – a far cry from the pacifists seen in the original Dalek serial which the Thals will eventually evolve into. When they capture Sarah, Serin and some other “mutos”, the Thals force them to work as “expendable labour” loading the warhead of their rocket with a highly toxic explosive. Here, Nation takes the opportunity to once again illustrate that not all Kaleds are evil. We are introduced to a young Kaled prisoner of war who helps Sarah and Sevrin in their escape attempt. In contrast, some of the Thal guards treat Sarah absolutely disgracefully, cruelly hanging her over the side of the rocket to punish her. It is these shades of grey that ultimately make “Genesis of the Daleks” such a tragic affair; even if half the planet are hell-bent on death and destruction, the other half are just caught up in the hysteria.
Part Three is the weakest episode of the story by my reckoning. It seems to suffer the most from padding, and little happens in the way of plot. In the insightful commentary included on the DVD, Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane) talks about how “fast paced” this story is, and perhaps for its time, she is correct. However, as a piece of entertainment today, there are parts of the plot that are circular and if the six episodes are watched back-to-back, it is clear that there is a lot of fat that would have to be trimmed were this story to be televised today. The Doctor and Harry’s easily thwarted escape attempt in Part One springs to mind, as does most of the action in this episode. For example Sarah’s escape attempt is quickly thwarted by the Thals whilst the Doctor and Harry spend half of the episode wading through the wastelands again and this time encounter a rather feeble giant clam! I would be very interested to see the specially-edited 90-minute version of this story produced for the story's Christmas 1975 repeat; it is a great shame that there was not room for it on this two-disc release. I bet it is fantastic!
The episode is not entirely wasted, though. The one important development comes when the Doctor and Harry reach the Kaled leaders and are allowed to explain their story to them – the destiny of the Kaled race; the Dalek menace; everything. Some of the Kaled leaders reasonably order Davros to bring the Dalek project to a halt so that they can investigate the Doctor’s claims about the Dalek creatures being bred without consciences, as creatures of pure hate. For his part, Davros appears to play ball but in reality he is hatching his most deplorable scheme yet…
It is hard for me to objectively critique Wisher’s performance as Davros in this story as I am so used to seeing and hearing Terry Molloy in the role. From my perspective Molloy came first, which of course is nonsense because Wisher first played the role a decade earlier! Nevertheless, for the record I do consider Molloy to be the definitive Davros, especially in light of his sterling work for Big Finish Productions. That said, it is impossible not to be impressed by Wisher in this story. He is the man who sat with a bag on his head in rehearsals so that he practise being cut off from his senses. He is the man who took Nation’s script and, whilst secretly wearing a kilt, turned Davros into a household name. Even today, thirty years on, most people on the street could tell you that Davros is “the half man / half Dalek, leader of the Daleks” and they would be… well, wrong… but forgivably close!
Wisher’s portrayal of Davros here is a little bit more controlled than Molloy’s is in his televised appearances. He spends far more time talking in a quiet and pensive voice, but when he does rant he really lets rip! Watching the story again on this DVD, the guile and duplicity that shines through in Wisher's performance reminded me very much of Ian McDiarmid’s Dantius Palpatine in the recent Star Wars prequels, in terms of both the manic rushes of intensity in the actors' performances and also in certain contrivances of the actual plot. Unbeknownst to the Kaleds, Davros has given the Thals the formula that will enable
their rocket to penetrate the Kaled dome and wipe out his own people. All he needs to do then is to use his Daleks to wipe out the Thals and he has got what he wanted – “…king of his own little world…” – very much like Palpatine’s stealthily-orchestrated rise to power through his Clone Wars.
It is not all doom and gloom though – I have to say, I completely disagree with Terrance Dicks’ assertion (in the “Genesis of a Classic” documentary) that this serial lacks humour. It is certainly incredibly dark and downbeat, but they are still plenty of laughs to be had. How can you not snigger at the Doctor’s “No tea, Harry” tantrum whilst being processed by the Kaleds? How can classic one liners like “Excuse me, can you help me, I’m a spy?” be so easily forgotten?
The third episode ends with an awful cliffhanger, the production team having elected to go for spectacle over drama, and so rather than have us watch the Kaled dome burn (with Sarah and Harry inside, presumably) we watch the Doctor get an electric shock! Thankfully though, Part Four is a fantastic return to form. The Daleks are unleashed, and they are merciless as they exterminate all life that they come across within the Thal city. Moreover, all this carnage is treated as a thing of beauty by the director who somehow manages to produce some of the most stunning imagery that Doctor Who has ever seen, new series included! One particular shot really sticks in the mind; a lone Dalek stood on top of a trench, the sky behind it a striking purple and crimson. Inspiration for Clayton Hickman’s DVD cover, no doubt. Exquisite.
The episode’s cliffhanger puts its predecessor to shame as Davros tortures both Sarah and Harry, attempting to force the Doctor to give him every scrap of knowledge he possesses about the future of the Daleks. The Doctor eventually capitulates, and Davros famously remarks “You are afflicted with a conscience”, another immortal line in an already outstanding script. Such a simple line encapsulates so much about the morality of the Doctor, but even more about Davros’ lack of scruples.
Here Davros and Nyder record the Doctor’s words onto an old-fashioned looking tape recorder, providing the inspiration for one of the excellent full-length documentaries included on the DVD release, “The Dalek Tapes.” I was expecting a lot from this documentary – probably too much. The history of the Daleks, as narrated by Molloy. What could be better? Although I enjoyed the programme, it put far too much emphasis for my liking on the ‘Dalekmania’ of the 1960s, so much so that the 1980s stories were skipped over far too quickly. Unforgivably, my beloved “Remembrance of the Daleks” was only given about thirty seconds of screen time! This may have been all well and good if this documentary were included on a 1960s Dalek story DVD, but as it was included on “Genesis of the Daleks” and is narrated by Davros himself, I am sure that I was not alone in expecting the documentary to focus more on the Davros stories. Nevertheless, although I expected more from 55-minutes of “The Dalek Tapes”, they are still a delight to watch and when presented in tandem with the amazing 62-minute documentary, “Genesis of a Classic”, I truly think that the Restoration Team have created their most impressive Doctor Who DVD release so far. I was particularly impressed that the special features were condensed (for the most part)
into just two in-depth documentaries - I would much rather have two full-length features like this than dozens of five-minute throwaway extras.
The “Genesis of a Classic” documentary itself is absolutely brilliant, both informative and often hilarious! It benefits tremendously from the presence of Baker, who at one point pretends to answer a phone call on his mobile from an ex-wife! He also makes some very interesting points about the whole ‘Behind the Sofa’ myth, and is equally entertaining on the commentary track with Sladen, Miles, and Maloney. There is one awkward point, though, where Baker appears to really upset Sladen, saying something like “isn’t it incredible that Ian Marter doesn’t exist anymore?” when I do not think she wanted reminding that Ian was not there recording the commentary alongside them. Listening them reminiscing about their old friend is really quite sad.
Above: Guy Siner and Peter Miles in the "Genesis of a Classic" documentary
What the Doctor says on the actual Dalek Tapes in the story is a bit confusing, though. At one point he refers to what could only be “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” but says that it happened in the year 2000, when (despite what the trailer said!) the invasion is widely acknowledged as having begun in 2157. I reckon the Doctor was just bending the truth a bit… he would not want to go and tell Davros what was actually going to happen, would he? Not that 157 years would make all that much difference in the grand old scheme of things… Who knows though? Maybe the invasion of Earth did indeed happen in the year 2000 until the Daleks’ development was set back in this very story...
In any event, the brief two-hander which begins Part Five is one of the most talked about scenes in “Genesis of the Daleks”, and justifiably so. The Doctor and Davros find a moment to talk alone, not as antagonists but as Davros so eloquently puts it, “…as men of science”. The Doctor puts a question to Davros, asking him if he had created a virus that would destroy all known life, would he use it? This quiet scene soon becomes a chilling one as Davros, Wisher’s manic performance brilliantly underlined by the building musical crescendo, begins to rant about how he would use it, and how such power would set him “…up amongst the Gods!” It is at this moment that the Doctor realises that he can never reason with Davros. Men of science they both may be, but they are just about as diametrically opposed as two life forms can be – one the compassionate humanitarian, the other an evil madman.
As superb as Part Five is, personally I dislike the much beloved cliffhanger (of the Doctor coming out of the Dalek incubation tank with a Dalek mutant choking him) and feel that, once again, Nation’s original less gratuitous episode ending would have been far more dramatic. Davros aside, the most memorable element of “Genesis of the Daleks” is without doubt that moment; that one crisis moment when the Doctor looks down at two wires, knowing that if he touches them together the Daleks will never exist and that billions of lives will be saved…
but at what cost?
“Do I have the right?”
The importance of this moment can not be overemphasised, and I think that the continuation of the Doctor’s inner struggle is often overlooked. The scene is not: “Do I have the right? No, never mind.” It stretches far beyond this one scene, far beyond this story… far beyond this incarnation of the Doctor, even. Initially, the Doctor cannot bring himself to touch the two wires together and commit genocide, and considering how fresh in his mind Davros’ ranting about using the hypothetical virus to kill everything is, this is not surprising, and most people automatically accept that the Doctor has resolutely made the right choice. However, from both the script and Baker’s incredible performance, it is evident that the Doctor is constantly making his made up to go back and destroy the Daleks, and then unmaking it again just as quickly. Week in, week out, the Doctor is the man who swans into town, rights all the wrongs and then buggers off again, and ninety-nine per cent of the time he is sure that he is right. “Genesis of the Daleks” shows us a rare slice of the Doctor’s humanity and fallibility. He squanders the chance to destroy the Daleks – without question the correct moral choice,
but not necessarily the best choice for the greater good. The Dalek gliding innocently over the two wires and blowing up part of the incubator tank is a bit of a cop out, and as a result
I guess we will never know whether the fourth Doctor would have gone through with it or not
in the end.
“Hail the Doctor, the Great Exterminator.”
- The Emperor Dalek, “The Parting of the Ways”
It fascinates me just how much this one decision haunts the Doctor’s life from this point on. The Doctor lives on and watches the Daleks extinguish billions upon billions of lives, including each and every member of his own race. Including his homeworld. Perhaps even more profoundly, the guilt the Doctor feels at not destroying the Daleks plays a huge part in the seventh Doctor’s decision to manipulate Davros into destroying Skaro in
“Remembrance of the Daleks” and the eighth (or ninth…? I do not think it has been established yet) Doctor’s decision to ultimately destroy the Daleks in the Time War. The act of destroying Skaro is something the seventh Doctor can never really forgive himself for (a thread explored fascinatingly throughout Virgin’s New Adventures series of novels), and the weight of guilt the ninth Doctor carries with him is one of the most important facets of his character.
“Our programming does not permit us to acknowledge that any creature
is superior to the Daleks... Pity. I have no understanding of the word.
It is not registered in my vocabulary bank…”
In the end, it is a Dalek gun that brings down the Kaled Elite, Nyder and even finally (although not ultimately) Davros, but by this point, the real story is over. The Doctor has failed in his mission. He may have delayed the Daleks’ development, but their menace will forever remain.
“We obey no-one. We are the superior beings. Exterminate!”
Davros created a race of xenophobic monsters, and they executed him for being an inferior creature. Poetic justice at its best. The Kaleds are extinct; the Daleks rise.
“We are entombed but we live on. This is only the beginning. We will prepare.
We will grow stronger. When the time is right we will emerge and
take our rightful place as the supreme power of the universe!”
I could quite easily write another 4,000 words on this masterpiece and still not adequately pay homage to its timeless brilliance. “No. 1 Doctor Who story EVER”? Especially in the wake of the fantastic new series that is one hell of a claim, but if it is not the best story ever than it is very, very close. One thing is for sure though, “Genesis of the Daleks” is without doubt the greatest Doctor Who DVD released so far!
God bless Barry Letts for giving Terry Nation a much-needed kick up the arse!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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