Thursday, 15 October 2020

Doctor Who - Genesis Of The Daleks

The Time Meddler

Doctor Who -
Genesis Of The Daleks

Airdate: 8th March 1974 - 12 April 1975
BBC 1 - Region A/B Blu Ray Six Episodes

Warning: Some spoilers.

Okay, so the next story in my re-watch of Series 12 of Doctor Who is the much acclaimed fan favourite Genesis Of The Daleks. Even Tom Baker cited this as one of his favourite stories but, I have to say, this one always left me a bit cold. Alas, any hopes I had that I might, with age, revise my reaction to this serial as anything other than having to sit through a dull story, faded very quickly as I watched.

This follows on from The Doctor and his companions Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) using the teleport at the end of The Sontaran Experiment (reviewed here) to return to Space Station Nerva after making the repairs to the system they promised in The Ark In Space (reviewed here). However, this is not to be, as their transmat beam is intercepted by none other than the Time Lords themselves, who have a mission for The Doctor. This is not unprecedented throughout the run of the show but it was with Tom Baker that the Time Lord culture and The Doctor’s place in it were explored a little more thoroughly than their brief mentions and appearances in the previous 11 years.

The mission is simple... The Doctor, Sarah and Harry have been transported to the planet Skaro, back to when the Daleks were first coming into being. Their mission, destroy the Daleks before they become the lethal menace that they become for hundreds of thousands of years (or more). As far as the Daleks are concerned it all starts here with their creator, Davros (played here by Michael Wisher), who we meet for the first time. Despite his ironic death at the end of the sixth episode, he would of course, return to face off against The Doctor many times over the years including Tom Baker’s second and final story against the Daleks four years later, in Destiny Of The Daleks. Out of the two, I’ve always loved Destiny Of The Daleks and not had much time for Genesis Of The Daleks so I hope, if the BBC get around to releasing the latter on Blu Ray at some point in the next few years, the experience of the second Davros story lives up to my memory of it.

Another thing I absolutely hate about this is it kinda changes the history of the Dalek race somewhat. Oh yes... I forgot... some people call it revisionism... I call it meddling with things the original Dalek creator (Terry Nation) should know better than to tinker with. The fact is, before this story the warring race against the Thals were called the Dals. However, from this moment on in Genesis Of The Daleks until the present day stories, their name has been changed into a stupid anagram of their future selves, the Kaleds. This is pretty weak and, frankly, unforgivable... you don’t mess with continuity.

Now, Genesis has some interesting elements and, for a family show airing before the watershed, it’s quite bleak and dark. We see the Thals and Kaleds at war with each other but, this earlier incarnation of the Thals are far from the race of blonde haired, blue eyed pacificistic hippies we meet in both the William Hartnell stories and the first Peter Cushing, big screen adaptation. Instead, they are virtually interchangeable with the Kaleds and, yeah, I did get confused a lot re-watching this as to which set of species I was looking at from one scene to the next.

The bleakness continues as the war combat scenes are very reminiscent of the trenches in World War Two and the Kaleds (and possibly the Thals as well, if I got this right) are all pretty much parodies, in uniform and attitude, of the Nazis. This whole World War Two atmosphere was touched upon again in the 2015 series of the show starring Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, with the early days of the planet Skaro maintaining that pessimistic vision. Here in Genesis, though, it’s a full on blatant set of references right down to a form of Nazi salute and even, in the first episode, Davros’ main henchman Nyder wearing something similar to an Iron Cross (it was ditched after the first episode for maybe spelling things out a little too clearly).

Something which really bothers me about the writing on this one is that, for an extremely intelligent Time Lord, The Doctor really doesn’t seem very clever in this at all. For example, in a typical case of the writers painting themselves into a corner for a dramatic situation, we have The Doctor using a detached Dalek gun to destroy some tapes made by Davros, containing information about future Dalek defeats which he was forced to give him in an interrogation. However, straight after this moment, The Doctor and Harry find themselves locked in the room and can’t do anything to shift the lock until they are freed later on in the story. Gee... it’s not like they even thought to use the same Dalek gun which was just laying on the table by the door to blast themselves free?

And... I honestly find the whole reason for Davros creating the Daleks for the good of the Kaled race, because they know what they will mutate into and so need sturdy exo-skeletons to look after them, somewhat ridiculous. Honestly, how can you predict what you are going to evolve into... especially since it’s made clear that The Doctor is the first Time Lord that the Daleks have come across. It just doesn’t make much sense and, good as all the actors are, I just find the action dull, the humour almost completely absent and, iconic monologues and exchanges aside, somewhat hard to sit through.  Maybe at six episodes it’s just too long and could have, perhaps, been better served as a four parter. The music doesn’t seem to help matters either and doesn’t, I believe, give the story the lift it needs to make its points. Maybe a full on military march may have been a better route to go down on this one.

Either way, Genesis Of The Daleks is a story that is much loved and so nothing I say will matter, thankfully. It so impressed people at the time that I remember an abridged LP record album of the show was released by the BBC with linking narrative sections by Tom Baker between scenes, not long after it aired on television. I remember borrowing it from the library at the time and, guess what? That didn’t do much for me either. However, despite the ‘revisionism’, it did give the series a new, villainous character in the form of Davros and people still thrill when he turns up in the show occasionally to this day. So it’s not all bad... just not my cup of tea in terms of classic Doctor Who. Still, I am, very much looking forward to perusing the last of the stories which make up this season soon, featuring what are probably, to this day, the show’s second best remembered regular villains.

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