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On First View: Genesis of the Daleks

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

Genesis-of-the-Daleks-davros

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.

Step back in time...

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35 comments
Polyphase
Polyphase

Agreed. Classic story, Classic Doctor :)

David Walston
David Walston

Great write up! This is one of the stories that made Tom the Doctor!

TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!
TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!

I love this story.  Strong acting, strong writing, and it introduced Davros, one of my favorite Doctor Who villains.  I feel like Davros is on the level with the Master in the way that he represents blind, selfish ambition and utter ruin.  He is simply the thing that nightmares are made of.  Plus, it's always good to see an episode in which the Doctor really has to consider the responsibility and power he carries in being a Time Traveler: does he have the right to destroy the Daleks in this way?  What are the possible consequences of that decision that he can't even comprehend?  Well, as it turns out, it is strongly hinted that one of those consequences is, in a far-off and indirect way, the Time War.  It was powerful stuff then and it is arguably more powerful now.

Exalos
Exalos

I watched this episode last year and i don't know... I know the fans will probably hate me for this, but i found this story average and sometimes overly cheesy and i think Tom Baker is overall a pretty boring doctor.

Liana21
Liana21

I love it, it's awesome.

I love the chemistry among The Doctor, Sarah and Harry, they were a great TARDIS crew. I love the old Davros, his first scene creeped me out on a serious way, and I'm a grown up, I don't want imagine how it should be on the 75.

My favourite scenes are at the beginning, when The Doctor doesn't want to help the Time Lords until the contact says "Daleks" and then he's on whatever they want; the first Davros scene and The Doctor's speech about if it's legit or not destroy the Daleks woth a bomb.

In other comments, I love Sarah's boots. I'm a costume freak, I like comment the styles and the styles.

KingoftheOod4450
KingoftheOod4450

At the time, in 1975, we'd had a duff run of Dalek episodes. The original story, The Daleks, had been repeated almost identically in "Planet of the Daleks". Day of the Daleks was the first real timey-wimey story, but the ending was such a joke (as was 22nd century Earth). Death to the Daleks had been another wasted affair. The Daleks had become dull, repetitive and boring.


This changed everything.


Daleks weren't really featured in this story at all. They were kept as background figures. The synergy was wonderful - as a viewer, you remember what they are capable of. The Doctor, when captured, even recollects it - his first meeting, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, all of his past encounters... without showing them do anything, you remember how horrible they are.


The setting is also wonderful. Dark, hostile, brooding and desperate. Both armies running low on resources, resorting to brutal tactics. Davros at the centre, playing everyone like a chessmaster. I really wish to hear I, Davros sometime soon, because his psychotic nature is so intriguing here, and you wonder so much more about him. Its no wonder every classic Dalek story after this also featured him.


There are a few flaws, of course. The clams, for one. It's also pretty easy to get from one side of the war to the other and back, considering these are the two last bases left on the planet - bit weird they're so close to each other. And the end of episode 5 is all wrong. That mutant attack shouldn't have been the cliffhanger. "Do I have the right?" should have been the cliffhanger, leaving the viewer a week to mull it over in real shock. If made today, that would have shifted, because I feel emotional cliffhangers have grown in resonance since the 70's.


Anyway, this wasn't a review so much as a ramble of thoughts. If you've never given it a go, please do. But afterwards, don't go about with heights set too high, Revenge of the Cybermen follows and it's a horrid mess.

MrThorfan64
MrThorfan64

We can see this story's influence on RTD stories, like Parting of the Ways and Journey's End. Though JE rather messed it up, with the Doctor begin angry at his clone for destroying the Daleks, when they had the capability to destroy entire universes. Would like Davros to appear again, though understand it is difficult.

MrThorfan64
MrThorfan64

It certainly has problems. But it is still a masterpiece. Unfortunate it was hard to make Davros work with the Daleks after that. After this I would say best story for Davros is Davros (audio).

Sharaz_Jek
Sharaz_Jek

What I really like about this story is, eventhough it is "Genesis of the Daleks", it doesn't really focus on the Daleks and instead gives us a look into the world that created such monsters. Davros is one of the best villains the show has ever had, but it isn't only he alone that brings the Daleks into being, as we see Skaro devestated by war and the Nazi-esque ideology of the Kaled people.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

Once again, great review. Despite the continuity errors, this story is one of the all time best stories. However, it's not THE best. Still one of the best. Looking forward to The caves of Androzani review.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Of the classic Dalek stories I also liked The Evil of the Daleks (which just happens to have started 47 years ago today). I watched a reconstruction and the image was really bad but the story was so good I had to see it to the end.

Rorschach's_Journal_of_Impossible_Things
Rorschach's_Journal_of_Impossible_Things

I wish Harry stayed for another series. He's my favourite male companion along with Rory. This story is a classic and I believe it is one of the greatest Dalek stories (it's between this and Dalek for me). However, those giant clams were ridiculously stupid. Apart from that though it's round-about perfect. 

Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd
Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd

I love this story its in my top 3 classic stories of the ones I've seen so far (the others being Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock) it was the first classic story I watched and it's also in one of my top 3 Dalek stories of the ones I've seen (other two being Dalek and The parting of the ways)  I'll be honest at first I was a bit befuddled why there wasn't a Tardis in this episode but luckily the internet explained. Terry Nation is a brilliant writer and it's a shame he's not with us today as I feel he would've wrote a classic new who story 

TheBiPunishment
TheBiPunishment

My first classic, and certainly one of my favourites. You've done it great justice, well done. You know, I wish Liz Sladen could have been in the 50th. Imagine if Sarah Jane had been present with Clara, helping her escape the Zygons in the present day etc. Before doing what Clara did and persuading the Doctor not to kill everyone. This would be poignant and powerful because a) whilst I love Jenna, Liz saying those lines would have been sublime and b) it would show how she has matured and grown from her earlier appearances, and how she will now show as much mercy as possible, wherever possible. Ah, to wish for what could have been.



The Finn
The Finn

Thanks DWTV for putting in the link to YouTube. I half guessed you'd insert that there. :)

Antee991166
Antee991166

Genesis is borderline perfect for me. I do agree that it is a tiny bit padded, and if it had been a 4-parter it would've been literally perfect. Nevertheless, its still one of the best stories in the show's history and also one of the best appearances of the Daleks. Very interesting article and looking very forward to Caves of Androzani!

MrRazza, Awaiting Results on Thursday
MrRazza, Awaiting Results on Thursday

Genesis of the Daleks was in fact my first ever classic story by a very long way, getting it on DVD for one of my birthdays. Financial trouble meant it was a good number of years before I ever saw my next (The Daemons)but it convinced me instantly of the awesomeness that is the classic era, God knows how many times I must have rewatched it over that period. 

Chilling, exciting and even thought provoking, it is a true masterpiece, and this article does it total justice.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

The scene with the security guy  who just about holds Sarah  Jane hanging above those scaffolds really scared me the first time I saw it.  

And as someone who had never seen a Classic Dalek story it was...illuminating to find out so much about their past and how they came to be so evil. Great story.


supermoff
supermoff

Another brilliant article. 


I love Genesis of the Daleks to bits, and I believe it continues to be the greatest Dalek story ever told. The moral dilemma scene you quote, along with the scene where the Doctor ponders the question to Davros about whether he would allow the use of a virus, are the highlights of an already strong story. And, in retrospect, I like how this story can be considered the first step towards the initiation of the Time War. 

Hopefully, the revived era can churn out a brilliant Dalek story like this sometime in the future, but at the time the closest we have in the revived era to the brilliance of Genesis is "Dalek" and "Asylum of the Daleks". 

PeterwasmyDoctor
PeterwasmyDoctor

The first appearance of Davros & probably his best. This story is a favourite in my classic DVD collection. This & Resurrection of the Daleks IMHO are the best Davros stories. A great villain who the Doctor can verbally spar with probably more successfully than any Dalek. Tom on fine form as well.

floppy_who
floppy_who

Heresy! But everyone is entitled to an opinion, so good on you.

Scott1996
Scott1996

Yeah I have to say I don't particularly enjoy this story as much as I like Davros, when I hears it's praise I always think maybe if I watch it again I will get it then I realise I've watched it about three times already. Though admittedly it does have some good scenes in it, but I can't agree with you on Tom Baker's Doctor I happen to think he is one of the best!

Liana21
Liana21

The Styles and the COSTUMES. This really needs a edit button.

Liana21
Liana21

The Davros of Genesis vs Capaldi's Doctor on badass mode

That could be epic.

Tobias Cooper
Tobias Cooper

@Ivegotkidneys  sadly you can't base Terry Nation's talents on Genesis. Genesis is, in my opinion,the exception that proves the rule; the rule in this case being that Terry Nation is a Saturday Cinema hack. 

Liana21
Liana21

Mine would be similar: Genesis, Tomb and Daemons.

MrRazza, Awaiting Results on Thursday
MrRazza, Awaiting Results on Thursday

@Antee991166  There is a little padding, but I think a 4-parter would have left it rushed. There's nothing wrong with a little padding if it allows a story to unfold at its own pace and avoid leaping from location to location too frequently and suddenly, just so long as it doesn't detract from the main storyline.

Liana21
Liana21

But they could've managed divide the action moments, Matt and Arthur have more or less the same age and the writers managed give them their respective badass and action moments. I'm thinking on A Good Man goes to War, first we have Rory with the Cybermen (Where is my wife?), and later The Doctor with the colonel and Madame Kovarian (Good men don't need rules. Today it's not the day for guess why I have so many)

Antee991166
Antee991166

@MrRazza @Antee991166 Like I said I love this story, its just that most of the cliffhangers feel very tacked on and don't work well with the rest of the story. Sarah's breakout and The Doctor's electrocution being the weakest ones. Still, the cliffhangers to Parts 1 and 4 are absolutely fantastic.

calliarcale
calliarcale

@Antee991166 @MrRazzaBeing an American, the first time I saw it was on PBS, and it had been edited together into "omnibus" format -- so no cliffhangers, just flowing straight from one episode into another.  That more movie-like format works quite well for it.  It's hard to pace a story to have cliffhangers every 25 minutes, especially if it needs five of them, without some of them getting a little contrived.  ;-)