On First View: Genesis of the Daleks

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Guest contributor Antti Björklund continues the series offering a first time view on a Classic story.


Generally thought of a one of the best Fourth Doctor episodes, Genesis of the Daleks is loved by many fans. In Doctor Who Magazine’s Mighty 200 poll it came in at number 3 – beaten only by Steven Moffat’s Blink and the Fifth Doctor’s swansong The Caves of Androzani (stay tuned for my thoughts on the latter in the next article in this series) – and is thus voted as the best Fourth Doctor episode by the readers at the time.

As with the other parts in this series, I will try and evaluate exactly how good the episodes are from the viewpoint of someone generally watching the episodes for the first time. I will try and make note what are the episode’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Characters

This serial sees Tom Baker as the Doctor. Generally considered the best Doctor of all, Baker is in his first season as the titular character. Joining him is Sarah Jane Smith, as portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen, and Harry Sullivan, as portrayed by Ian Marter. Sarah Jane is an investigative reporter and Harry is a medical doctor working for UNIT.

The Doctor

tom-baker-genesis-of-the-daleksGenesis of the Daleks is Tom Baker’s time to shine. In the scene in which the Doctor ponders if he has the right to change the course of history by destroying the Daleks, you can see how great an actor Tom Baker can be. Even if you haven’t seen the serial, you might have seen this iconic scene (it’s available on YouTube if you haven’t).

As many of you may know, Baker lived in a monastery before turning to acting. I can’t help but think, watching this serial and all the moral dilemmas it poses, that Baker in some way channeled his times in a monastery when acting those scenes.

Baker’s Doctor is also somewhat of a comedian, delivering a few jokes here and there. In one such scene he is ordered to clear his pockets and he begins to do so while stating “this might take some time”.

The Companions

genesis-of-the-daleks-sarah-jane-harryFor me my first thought was that Genesis of the Daleks isn’t necessarily Sarah Jane’s finest hour. In her initial serial, The Time Warrior, she was portrayed as a courageous and inquisitive character, but to me her appearance in this serial is more along the lines of the “damsel in distress” type of companion. This is especially clear in the cliffhanger to episode two, in which Sarah Jane falls from some kind of scaffolding. She does however have some good moments, there is no denying that. She, for example, comes up with the plan to escape capture by climbing the aforementioned scaffolding. She also encourages the Doctor to do away with the Daleks, to kill them all with the attaching of two wires. This is something I’ve always found a good companion to do: to push the Doctor into a decision, to wake up his moral side.

Harry is very obviously the “male companion”. By this I mean that his role is to do the action bits of the story that the Doctor can’t do. There are only one or two scenes in which Harry gets into trouble, and more scenes in which he can showcase some heroism.

The Monsters and Villains

davros-genesisThe story has many monsters and villains. The most recognized of these are the Daleks and Davros, but I would argue that the other Kaleds and Thals are also monsters and villains of the story in their own way. After all, in war who’s to say who’s a hero and who’s a villain? I’d argue it’s a thin line between the two.

The Kaleds are obviously modelled on the National Socialists. This is even emphasized by their military style clothing that even, in some cases, include neckwear that resembles a German Iron Cross. Davros, portrayed in the story by Michael Wisher, could be seen as the equivalent of Josef Mengele. Just like Mengele performed experiments on concentration camp prisoners in Auschwitz, so does Davros to enable his own race to survive and to conquer the universe. He could also be seen as a representative of the wider “mad scientist” persona, although taking into account the Daleks’ origins as stemming from Terry Nation’s memories of World War II. The comparison with Mengele is apt in my opinion.

Davros’ right-hand man, Nyder, to me represents the role of Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man. He’s clearly every bit the loyal man to Davros, even going as far as to two-face others in doing Davros’ bidding.

As with nearly every villain species there is an exception. This is Kaled scientist Ronson, who finds out that Harry and the Doctor are not from Skaro. He shows some level of heroism, but also that he is just a man – the latter of which is evident in a scene where he is clearly frightened by Davros.

The Daleks in the story seem, at first, to be rather innocent. Of course, being Daleks, this is only a ruse. This is shown in the latter part of the story, when they develop a personality of their own, independent of Davros, and then proceed to turn on him and destroy absolutely everyone, regardless of if they are Kaled or not.

The Thals themselves, the other race of Skaro, are not any better. Like the Kaleds they are all up for winning the war that has been going on between the two races. To achieve their goal they have resulted in using a mutated variety of Kaleds called Mutos as a sort of slave labour to arm a rocket with radioactive warheads. To save up on the weight of the ship, there isn’t any protective layering, so anyone in contact with the radioactivity will die soon. Unfortunately Sarah is mistaken for a Muto.

The Overall Story

The overall story is quite strong from a first time viewer’s point of view. Although it is six episodes strong and so risks feeling padded, this isn’t such a big problem as it is with some stories. I would highly suggest this serial to someone that is at least a little familiar with the Classic series. I would also suggest this to someone who likes stories with a deeper level of morality and philosophy, as there is a fair amount of this in the story.

Next time: The Caves of Androzani.