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Review #3157: Classic Doctor Who: “Genesis of the Daleks”

Posted on the 28 November 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by David Maloney

This is one of those stories that I’ve been anticipating for a very long time, because a lot of longtime fans have told me that it’s one of the best stories in the whole epic Classic Who run. On the other hand, others with far more familiarity with the series have come to consider it in less glowing terms, which always leaves me a bit wary. That said, I was coming at it with a relatively clean slate, knowing only what was more or less obvious from the NuWho episodes “Dalek” and “Journey’s End”.

Review #3157: Classic Doctor Who: “Genesis of the Daleks”

For those who aren’t aware of the story, this serial takes the rather vague background provided in the very first appearance of the Daleks (way back in the very first season) and fleshes it out in some major ways. The conflict between the Thals and the creators of the Daleks (the poorly-named Kaleds) comes to a head, just as the physically damaged and mentally unstable Davros ends his experiments to create a mutated lifeform utterly devoted to survival at all costs.

Let me say first and foremost that I agree with the criticism that this is a story with plenty of padding. There are plot elements that are introduced during the first three episodes (the “mutos”, the dystronic toxemia, etc.) that are completely dropped or pointless by the time the second half comes along. Watching this over the course of a couple weeks, episode by episode, this was still very apparent. This is a story that would have been much tighter, and far better, as a four-episode tour-de-force.

There is also some well-earned criticism for the characterization of the supporting characters in this serial. The Doctor and Davros are written incredibly well, especially towards the second half of the story. There’s a reason why the “super virus” scene is one of the most celebrated in the history of the franchise; the performances are stellar. The Doctor’s moment of truth regarding the possibility of committing genocide is also powerful, if a bit telegraphed. But Sarah, Harry, and the bulk of the supporting cast gets far less material to work with, to the point of being nearly cookie-cutter by the end. In fact, one could argue that the first half was written with the express purpose of giving Sarah and Harry some material more fitting to their status.

But let’s face it, these are almost minor issues in what is otherwise one of the darkests serials of the series to date. No one would expect the creation of the Daleks to be a happy tale, but this goes far beyond that. In essence, Terry Nation takes the still-visceral memory of the Third Reich and Dr. Mengele’s eugenics program (remember, this was only a generation or so later) and renders it unto Davros and his devoted security forces. Melding the familiar imagery of the all-black SS uniform with the proto-Dalek housing of Davros’ chair is effective, to say the least.

This leads to a great deal of potent storytelling as scientists and military personnel on all sides of the conflict debate the morality of their actions. One gets the very clear sense that all sides of the equation are represented: the conflicted Kaled scientists and rank-and-file, representing the German people, and the ultra-dedicated Thals, perhaps representing elements of the Allied forces that were a bit too focused on victory over all else. It’s a post-war metaphor that perhaps doesn’t play nearly as strongly as it did when it first aired.

Another really interesting aspect to the episode, especially for those of us who started with the NuWho material, is the idea that the Time Lords drafted the Doctor, for all intent purposes, to take out the Daleks before they were created. If there’s any more perfect start to the Time War, I can’t think of one. It’s even better when one takes the Doctor’s hesitation to destroy the Dalek “embryos” into consideration. If he commits this single act of genocide, he prevents the destruction of his own people. It’s unlikely that he would actually be aware of this, given how the nature of the Time War has been described (or not, as the case may be), but for me, it added another layer to an already classic conundrum.

While I’m aware that Davros does, in fact, survive the end of the story, it’s still a wonderful moment when Davros realizes, far too late, just what his maniacal ambition has wrought upon the universe. The scientist willing to destroy all other life on his world, including his own people, to create the perfect survival-driven organism, tries desperately to destroy that creation when faced with its reality. That the Daleks are barely present in the story adds to their sinister effectiveness. It almost makes up for all those previous serials where the Daleks were depicted as foolish or comedic. Given their appearance, the only way to sell the notion that they are so terrifying is for the production, on every level, to convey that message without deviation.

From my point of view, with only one serial left to go, “Genesis of the Daleks” is representative of Season 12. It completes the process of establishing the storytelling bar for the Fourth Doctor as much as Season 7 did the same for the Third Doctor. Of course, no subsequent season of the Pertwee era ever reached the same heights, so there’s no telling how long this ride will last.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 4/4

Final Rating: 9/10

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