So for the Doctor Who part of the “1,000 Reviews celebration” I couldn’t pick a single, favourite story, so I decided to go with the story that most fans would assume a review of would be on any Doctor Who review site, and that is, of course, Genesis of the Daleks. A hit at the time, a hit during the VHS and DVD releases, a hit in DWM “best story ever” polls and even now, in 2020, is still considered an all time great. In fact the advent of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who has only added to the story’s importance! So let’s waste no more time and take a look at Genesis of the Daleks!
Intercepted while travelling between Earth and the Ark, the Fourth Doctor and his companions are transported to the planet Skaro, thousands of years in the past, on a mission for the Time Lords — to prevent the creation of the Daleks.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
It’s “sexy Davros”, as he’s called by his friends.
There is a lot to like about Genesis, but first and foremost it has to be the debut appearance of the Daleks’ creator: Davros (Michael Wisher). He speaks with a calm demeanour, but when he gets angry he starts sounding more and more Daleky, which together with the mask/make up job, leads to a brilliantly unnerving character. There are two classic moments in this story, and one of them involves The Doctor having a bit of a chin-wag with Davros and asking him if he had a virus that, if released, would wipe out all other forms of life, would he break the seal and release it? Davros is intrigued about this concept, eventually saying he would release it, the idea of the only species in an entire universe being a single-celled virus would be “most fascinating”, as well as generally getting his jollies from the thought of having the power to end all life literally in his hands. It’s a chilling scene, perfectly performed by both men, The Doctor getting confirmation that his new foe is definitely insane.
The other classic moment? Well, let’s have a look at the beginning for the sake of context. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry are pulled from their teleportation trip and plonked on Skaro pre-Daleks by the Time Lords, who inform The Doctor that they foresee a time where the Daleks have taken over the entire universe and that the rouge Time Lord is their only hope. The Doctor is to either stop The Daleks from coming into existence at all, or find a way to weaken them for the sake of the whole universe. Our lead trio are soon running for their lives in a hellish warzone full of WWI-stlye barbed wire and trenches, plus plenty of mines and people in gas masks being gunned down all around them, it’s a very harrowing opening. Sarah is soon separated from the others, who get taken in by a group of… *sigh*, Kaleds. Yes, Dalek spelt backwards. For someone so creative, Davros wasn’t the most creative…
The Kaleds are full-on Nazis by the way, right up to the uniform and little step-and-salute gesture they give themselves. It makes sense, Terry Nation originally created the Daleks in the 60s due to his fear of Nazis growing up: faceless, soulless machines seemingly only interested in killing and conquering, so their human forms resembling actual Nazis makes sense, in a way… The Kaleds’ enemies in this war, a war that is said to have been going on for a thousand years, are the Thals, but if you think of the simple jungle people from the original Dalek story then you’re wrong because these Thals are just as guilty as the Kaleds, and in fact enslave “Mutos”, people who have mutated in the radioactive fallout zone between the two races, and force them to create more nuclear missiles to use (“Hey, they’re dying of radiation poisoning anyway!”) The war, rather amazingly, ends thanks to Davros weakening his own people’s defences so a Thal bomb would destroy the Kaled Dome, while also sending in Daleks to wipe out the Thals, ending with only Daleks (and himself) to “reign supreme”. He’s not one for subtly, old Davros…
But… does he have the right? …. I mean, technically the Time Lords said he does, so….
What? The other iconic scene? Oh yeah, right! So while all this is going on The Doctor, Harry and Sarah make it into Davros’ safe bunker and set up some explosives in the Dalek incubation chamber, the destruction of which would end the Dalek race before it got a chance to begin. The Doctor, after a brief tussle with some Dalek blobs, is ready to touch the two wires together to set off the bomb, but hesitates. Does he have the right to commit genocide? Wouldn’t that make him the same as the Daleks? What about all the races that unite to fight the Dalek threat? He ends up not doing it and going with a plan to seal the Daleks in the underground bunker instead. This decision, this moment of morality, is retrospectively called back to many, many times. Hell the whole “Last Great Time War” that nearly wiped out half the universe would’ve been halted had The Doctor just touched those two wires together. It’s another fine moment from Mr. Baker, it’s amazing to think this was still a new gig for him!
The Doctor, some rebel Thals (that presumably retreat into the forest and create the Thals we see in the first Daleks serial) and the remaining Mutos successfully blow up the way out of the bunker and seal the Daleks for roughly 1,000 years. Davros and his aide Nyder (Peter Miles) are the only Kaleds left alongside the Daleks, and they soon kill Nyder and prepare to exterminate Davros, who is somehow confused that these lifeforms he bred to see only themselves as pure and every other race inferior would turn on him. His pleas go unanswered and he is … well, supposedly killed but as it always turns out with Davros, somehow he wasn’t…
There are plenty of other highlights from these six episodes. A Kaled revolution (that is swiftly dealt with), The Doctor (and eventually Sarah and Harry) being strapped to a torture device and forced to tell Davros the how’s and when’s of Daleks future defeats so Davros can make them even more perfect (luckily The Doctor manages to nab the tape with all this info on before leaving!) and some genuinely great dialogue along with the fun action scenes. Even in 2020 Genesis holds up extremely well.
“Oh no, what are we going to do?!” “Climb back down and pretend this never happened?” “Yeah alright.”
The only real bad was a little bit of obvious padding at the end of Episode 2/start of episode 3. Sarah, who at this point had been captured along with some Mutos to work on the Thal missiles, organises an escape with friendly Muto Servin (Stephen Yardly) where they spend a good while climbing some scaffolding only to be caught, brought back down and put back in the same cell they formed their plan in and soon rescued by The Doctor. It was the definition of filler as nothing came of it, you could cut the entire escape attempt out and the story would feel no different. Ah well, for a six parter is still does well for this to the be the only obvious attempt at it!
“I say Doctor, these chaps are awfuly Nazi-ish!”
The Daleks seen created here will go on to make one or two more appearances… *ahem*.
Seriously though, there are a lot of direct continuity links. For a start off The Doctor, Sarah and Harry are on the way back to the Nerva Beacon after their little adventure seen in “The Sontaran Experiment”, and they use the same teleport technology to end this story, leading into “Revenge of the Cybermen”. Davros makes his next appearance in a few seasons time in “Destiny of the Daleks”, where its revealed that his motorised chair had some “life support system” that put him in a weird hibernation… thing. Sure, why not? It’s also worth mentioning that the audio mini-series “I, Davros” tracks his life up to just before this story.
Retroactively this is said to be the “opening salvo” in the Time War, the Time Lord who gives The Doctor his mission actually being from our hero’s future as we see in the audio spin-off series Gallifrey (specifically the episode “Ascension”). The Doctor’s idea of creating a virus that wipes out all life in the universe is given a go by Davros in the Eighth Doctor audio story “Terror Firma”, while The Tenth Doctor TV story “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End” also has a similar Universe-ending plot, plus features Sarah Jane being recognised by Davros as “being there at the beginning”.
It’s also possible to squint and see how this connects back round to the original Dalek serial: “The Daleks”. There the Daleks are isolated to a single city and the Thals are a more simple people living in a forest. Sure, the Daleks should’ve been isolated to a bunker and there is no mention of being limited to static power on the floors, but hey, at least the remaining Thals devolving makes sense, plus The Daleks were trapped for 1,000 years, maybe they created the static thing because their usual propulsion method wore away? I don’t know, just speculating, obviously it would be easier to hand wave the things that don’t make sense by saying “The Doctor meddled in time in this story”, but that’s not as fun!
A Dalek and The Doctor in full hat-and-scarf. Is there a more iconic duo?
Genesis of the Daleks can get dark, it can get thought provoking, and it can still be a run-around with The Doctor and the Daleks, all across six mostly-filler free episodes. Amongst all this is the creation of a great villain in Davros and some little plot threads that have been pulled into making this one of the most important stories in the whole Doctor Who canon, so it’s lucky it’s damn good then!