Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
31 Dec 2003Genesis of the Daleks, by Paul Clarke
13 Dec 2006Genesis of the Daleks, by Adam Leslie
21 Sep 2011Genesis of the Daleks, by Darren Allen
09 Mar 2018Genesis of the Daleks (BBC Audiobook), by Ken Scheck

I've been dreading reviewing 'Genesis of the Daleks'. It is a story generally regarded as a classic, but for me it long suffered from the principle that familiarity breeds contempt. Once it was released on video, I watched it regularly until I became sick of it, and just as I decided that I didn't want to see it again for a very long time, BBC2 announced what the next story would be following the repeat of 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'… As it turned out however, that was the last time I saw it prior to this occasion, and after a lengthy absence, my enthusiasm for the story was entirely rekindled. 

'Genesis of the Daleks' is not perfect. I'll get my criticisms out of the way first, and the first is that it is rather padded during the first three episodes. Sarah's abortive escape attempt up the rocket scaffolding makes for an exciting cliffhanger but is a narrative dead-end, and the dystronic toxæmia from which she was so determined to escape is conveniently forgotten after the first five minutes of Episode Three. In addition, the scenes in the cave leading out of the Kaled bunker add little to the plot, rendering the shots of Davros' giant clam mutants pointless. Given that they are woefully unimpressive, this is unfortunate, since they need not really have been there. My other, criticism of 'Genesis of the Daleks' is that the meagre distance between the Thal and Kaled cities stretches credibility somewhat; we are expected to believe that a lengthy war has been fought on the doorsteps of these cities, each housing the last remnants of their respective races. I can think of an explanation, which is that the cities, both of them extremely spartan in décor, are an equivalent of the trenches used in world war one, built relatively recently on either side of the no-man's land in between (the wasteland), and that they represent the last bastions of civilization on the benighted Skaro, both races nearly extinct after a millennium of warfare. That said, it is always a bad sign when the viewer has to contrive explanations for threadbare areas of the plot, and given the many, many excellent aspects of this story, it is a shame. 

The rest of 'Genesis of the Daleks' however, is outstanding. This is the bleakest and most powerful illustration of the horrors of war ever seen in Doctor Who on television, presenting us with an unrelentingly grim atmosphere from the very first shot of Thal soldiers mown down in slow motion. There are many familiar images of war used here, from the trenches to the mine-riddled wasteland between them, the terrible sense of waste and weariness and the atrocities committed by both sides. This latter issue illustrates the effect of the war on the people involved in it; the Kaleds are represented by blatant Nazi imagery from the start, which never fails to convey a sense of evil. The Mutos represent the human cost of war, victims scarred by weapons and abandoned by the Kaleds out of their desire to keep their race pure, reflecting the eugenics beloved of Hitler when he spoke of the Aryan race. Jack-booted and goose-stepping, the Kaleds, or at least the military elite, are clearly based on the Third Reich, and in the midst sits Davros, representing not only Hitler, but also people like Mengele, an utterly immoral scientist taking advantage of the war to further his own ghastly interests. Perhaps more unexpectedly however, the Thals, previously cast in the role of heroes due to their long enmity with the Daleks, are just as bad, happy to use "disposal labour" to prepare their rocket, and normally killing the Mutos on sight. Their wholesale slaughter at the hands of the Daleks, and the shock displayed by Bettan, later changes their role as they become the lesser of two evils, but lest we forget only a short time before they effectively commit genocide, wiping out nearly all of the Kaleds. The production reflects this general sense of horror too, not just in the gloomy trenches and wasteland, but throughout the bunker and both cities; in any other story the drab sets might be a disappointment, but here they are wholly appropriate, since the functional, utilitarian décor suits the mood, suggesting that after centuries of conflict neither race have either the resources nor the inclination to consider aesthetics. 

One of the most famous, and indeed most interesting, scenes in 'Genesis of the Daleks' occurs at the beginning of Episode Six, as the Doctor agonizes over the decision as to whether or not he can destroy the Daleks utterly. The reason I find it so interesting is that I disagree with his argument, but nevertheless find it to be a fascinating character moment. The Doctor's indecision rests on his reluctance to commit genocide, explaining to Sarah that he doesn't have the right to destroy an entire intelligent species; his excuse is that future worlds might become allies because of their fear of the Daleks. My personal opinion is that for all that the Daleks are an intelligent species, they are more a force representative of a force of nature; twice during the story, they are compared to a virus, once by the Doctor himself when he is trying to convince Davros to change their nature, and later by Sarah as she tries to convince the Doctor to complete his mission for the Time Lords. I've argued before that the Doctor's stance is akin to refusing to prevent an outbreak of smallpox, on the grounds that the survivors might be brought closer together as a result; other fans disagree, but I maintain that the Daleks are essentially an intelligent plague, utterly destructive, ruthless and completely beyond redemption, and devoted to exterminating or subjugating all other forms of life in the cosmos. Ultimately, I feel that the Doctor's dilemma boils down not a reluctance to destroy the Daleks per se, but rather to a refusal to accept for responsibility for such an action, which would have far reaching consequences for the entire universe. However you interpret the scene however, it remains very dramatic and compelling. 

Then we have Davros, played brilliantly by Michael Wisher. Davros is undoubtedly one of the series' greatest villains, and is one of the most potent symbols of evil ever to appear in Doctor Who. Much as I like the Master, he is motivated largely by his rivalry with the Doctor and on occasion will switch sides; for all that he is ruthless and has committed unspeakable crimes, he can still on a certain level be reasoned with. Davros however, is a different matter entirely. He is entirely focused on the development of the Daleks and will stop at nothing to achieve his aims. Initially, he is a villain by association; not only is he responsible or the creation of the Daleks, he is visually associated to them by the fact that his wheelchair resembles a Dalek base. However, his characterisation is such that it is quickly established that he is a villain in his own right, and one whose sense of morality is diametrically opposed to the Doctor's. The first real glimpse of his true nature is in Episode Two, when Ronson saves the Doctro's life by deactivating the newly armed Dalek; an astonished and furious Davros questions how Ronson can possibly consider a single worthless life to be of more value than his Dalek's instinct to destroy, and this is the first clear indication that Davros is way beyond the Doctor's ability to reason. The more the story progresses, the more terrible Davros is seen to be, one of the key moments being his decision to exterminate "the whole of the Kaled people", a statement which briefly shocks even Nyder. The fact that he is prepared to sacrifice his own race to ensure that his work can continue is utterly chilling, and is compounded shortly afterwards by his "retaliation" against the Thals, as he gives his Daleks their first ever taste of mass slaughter. 

By far my favourite scenes in 'Genesis of the Daleks', and indeed one of my favourite scenes from the whole of the series, is the Doctor's attempt to reason with Davros in Episode Five. He asks Davros if he would unleash a virus that would wipe out all forms of life in the universe; Davros, rather than coming round to the Doctor's way of thinking, is fascinated by this concept, and considers it carefully before deciding that he would, since that power would make him a God, a power which the Daleks will grant him. The scene is supremely effective in summing Davros up and is wonderfully directed; as Davros considers, the incidental score grows louder and more impressive in the background, rising to a climax as Davros screeches about power and the Daleks. Most disturbing of all, is the moment when, as he considers, his finger and thumb crush an imaginary vial of virus confirming in an instant that the Doctor has absolutely no hope of ever reasoning with him. 

The Daleks themselves are used sparingly in 'Genesis of the Daleks' as they take a back seat to Davros, but when they do appear they are highly impressive. Their casual destruction of the Thals is a great visual image, as the newborn creatures glide unstoppably around the Thal dome, exterminating without hesitation anyone they find. The fact that Davros is so utterly evil also benefits the Daleks, as they turn on him in Episode Six. Having just added to his other crimes during the story by trapping and disposing of those scientists who are no longer loyal to him, even Davros is horrified when his creations turn on those who have remained loyal, the ever-faithful Nyder among them. In his last few moments, as he tries desperately to reason with the Daleks, he comes to the horrified realization that they are so much a product of himself that they will let nothing and nobody stand in their way, not even him. It is a fitting irony that just as the Doctor tried in vain to reason with Davros, so Davros now tries in vain to reason with the Daleks, and is ultimately so shocked by the results that he reaches for the button that will destroy them utterly before he is gunned down. In many ways, the Daleks are once again the living embodiment of the horrors of war, born out of it and representing all that is terrifying about it. 

There are many minor aspects of 'Genesis of the Daleks' that work so well. The fact that the Daleks are mutations of the Kaleds is brilliantly ironic, given that the Kaleds are so obsessed with racial purity that they exiled the Mutos (even more ironically, it is Nyder who tells us this, despite his total devotion to Davros's project). The gimmick of the Time Ring works well too, since it is far easier to lose than the TARDIS, and creates an additional level of tension by increasing the chances of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry becoming trapped on the nightmare that is Skaro. David Maloney's direction is superb, especially during Episode Six, as the tension builds and builds to a climax that, unusually, sees the Doctor departing without having achieved a great deal. And lastly, whilst Michael Wisher steals the show, mention must be made of Peter Miles' Davros, a character as thoroughly unpleasant and ruthless as his superior. Overall, 'Genesis of the Daleks' stands as one of Doctor Who's greatest stories, and maintains the adult feeling of 'The Ark in Space' and 'The Sontaran Experiment' whilst taking it to another level entirely. What a shame it couldn't last…

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Along with Remembrance Of The Daleks, this is a story I find inexplicably popular among die-hard fans of the series. It is admittedly nice to see the origins of the Daleks, and it is a story which lingers on in the memory, but so many of the elements fall flat that I can’t help but feel that it could have been done so much better.

I have to admit, I’m not a Terry Nation fan, and nowhere more clearly are his limitations demonstrated as in Genesis. His dialogue is functional and characterisation for the most part non-existent. There were genuine opportunities for warmth and camaraderie – Sarah and her fellow rocket escapees, for example – but were wasted by characters saying what had to be said and nothing more. In short, Genesis Of The Daleks is six episodes of relentless exposition. So many of the characters are stony-faced militarists that there is little for most of the actors to do other than state things, making it a rather shouty episode.

And that all makes it rather hard to care about any of it. Neither side in the war shows much in the way of humanity; even obligatory girl-solider Bettan could have been anyone, and the poor actress doesn’t get much to do with the lines she’s given. The fey Star Trek blondies of the original Dalek story have gone to be replaced by just more bog-standard soldiers. The Kaleds dress up like Nazis and talk in a clipped way, but don’t particularly distinguish themselves other than that.

There’s too much padding – the rocket climb is one of the most pointless subplots in the history of Doctor Who. Everyone is far too gullible in episodes five and six. The Nazi symbolism is way too obvious… it would be far more effective in my opinion to have allowed the apparent ‘evil’ of the Kaleds to speak for itself rather than rely on lazy shorthand, particularly Himmler-a-like Nyder.

That said, Davros is a good new character and the leads are as marvelous as ever – particularly Tom Baker, who has to inject Doctoriness into the flattest and most functional of Terry Nation’s dialogue.

A couple more points: from reading reviews of the story on this and other sites, it seems there are a couple of commonly-held fallacies floating about. Firstly that the Doctor chickens out of destroying the embryonic Daleks himself and leaves the wires on the floor for the Daleks to trigger the explosion. From watching it again, it’s pretty clear that the Doctor just get spooked by the Daleks and drops the wires (silly boy). Secondly, it’s often pointed out that a thousand years is rather a long time to dig out a blocked tunnel. Actually, the Doctor is referring to the evolution of the Daleks in the destroyed incubators. In the event, he’s proven wrong anyway as Davros isn’t quite as exterminated as we are led to believe…

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The latest batch of BBC Vintage Beeb releases (the third), wherein BBC LPs/tapes of the 1970s are reissued on CD, in some cases for the first time, includes another outing for Genesis of the Daleks. This is its fourth release; following the original LP/cassette release in 1979, the BBC Radio Collection double cassette pairing with Slipback in 1988 and the expanded CD release of 2001 paired with Exploration Earth.

I have two problems with the Vintage Beeb range. The first concerns the very concept of a 'Vinyl replica'. Now to me, like a lot of people, this means a faithful replica of the original album sleeve in cardboard. This is something that the Japanese have been doing with albums for nearly twenty years; releasing faithful reproductions of many albums in exact detail with gatefold sleeves, embossed sleeves, cut outs, inserts etc. Even with some EMI albums of the early 1980s they have exactly replicated the paper inner bag complete with the "home taping is killing music" logo and slogan! (Apologies for those readers under forty for which this will mean nothing. But believe me it shows attention to detail!)

Unfortunately to BBC Audio/AudioGo, 'Vinyl replica' just means a reissue of a title onto CD in a standard jewel case but now with the original sleeve artwork/photo used on the booklet and a black CD. The latter is a nice gimmick, but it hardly makes the release a replica!

The second problem is that whilst we are seeing some long unavailable albums such as I’m Sorry I’ll read that Again released onto CD, this range still contains a number of titles previously released on CD as part of the BBC Radio Collection. Monty Python’s Flying CircusThe Magic Roundabout and Genesis of the Daleksto name but three. The question on a lot of peoples’ lips is "When are we going to see a CD release for the themes albums that were a mainstay of the BBC Records and Tapes range of the 1970s?" I would dearly love a re-mastered copy of 1979’s BBC Space Themes as my original tape is showing its age... but then it is thirty years old! I suppose the problem here is that is easier to clear the rights for BBC shows, rather than music collections.

I remember buying the original release of Genesis of the Daleks back in 1979, when it was timed to coincide with the screening of Destiny of the Daleks. At the time it was hoped that it would be the start of a series, but despite being a consistent seller it was sometime before we got a range of Doctor Who audio releases!

Even now, Tom Baker’s opening line "I stepped from the TARDIS onto a bleak planet..." is as great a hook as ever, drawing the listener in to a breakneck version of the original TV story. Although the ensuing argument with the Time Lord about interrupting a transmat beam jars somewhat! The linking narration fits very well, filling in the gaps of story inherent in condensing a six-part TV story down to under an hour’s worth of LP. And Tom’s reading is superb, as we move from one memorable scene to the next. Only being an hour long, such a short version should not work; but it does and all credit to Derek Groom who produced it back in 1979.

There is one difference to the original audio release though. That annoying jump cut at the end of side two of the original LP, wherein the theme cuts in halfway through the Dalek’s closing line resulting in "we will take our rightful place as the supreme power of the univer", has been rectified in line with the previous CD release, so you now get "universe" in all its glory. Whether this is a good thing or bad, I leave to individual choice!

Despite problems with presentation, to quote Destiny of the Daleks, "Its what’s on the inside that matters." This is still a very valid release and heartily recommended for two reasons. Firstly, it does reproduce the original 1979 release complete with end of side one cliff-hanger. And secondly, it can be ordered online for not much over £4, making it very good value!

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Doctor Who and The Genesis of The Daleks (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Jon Culshaw
With Dalek Voices by Nicholas Briggs

Released by BBC Worldwide - October 2017
Available from Amazon UK
Genesis of the Daleks is one of the strongest serials in all of Doctor Who. Not just of the classic series, but to this day you can still see ripples from it.  Davros made another modern reappearance fairly recently in the Series 9 opening two-parter. His story, and one can even argue that one of the earliest seeds of the Time War that served as the series main background when it relaunched in 2005, began in that wonderful story.  It has a ton of memorable moments, from the introduction of Davros, the great scene between the Doctor and Davros discussing philosophical questions, the Doctor's moral dilemma about whether or not to destroy the Daleks...up to the big finale with the Daleks taking over and turning on their own creator.  It's a great story, that never feels too padded despite it's six episode lengths.  Such an iconic story could, in theory, be lessened by it's adaptation in another form of media.  But the book only enhances the story, adds a bit more behind what the characters are thinking and motivations, and this audiobook of that book is equally excellent.  
 
Read by Impressionist/Comedian/Voice Actor Jon Culshaw, and enhanced by some sound effects, music, and even Daleks voiced by Nicholas Briggs...there are moments that make you forget you are even listening to an audiobook.  Culshaw's top notch impression of Tom Baker's tones is so perfect that it is beyond parody. There were genuine times I could have sworn I was just hearing Baker himself in the recording.  And since Culshaw also uses the same voice modulation device that Briggs uses for the Daleks to voice Davros...the conversations between The Doctor and Davros leave you completely caught up in the story. 
 
Audiobooks are, for me, the most entertaining when the narrator can do a wide range of voices and keep the listening interesting.  Culshaw is then the perfect narrator for me, as he can do so many different voices, and his Fourth Doctor is pitch perfect.  Having Briggs' Dalek voices mixed in as well keeps this one of the most entertaining of these audiobooks that I have listened to thus far.  
 
It also made me think.  I remember watching a classic story of the series, and someone who really enjoyed the modern show watched a bit with me out of curiosity.  They struggled with the old effects and cheap look. But the audiobooks can take an interesting story, and remove that element. The lesser visuals are no longer part of the equation, only the story.  I actually tried to forget what I know of the classic story, and try and picture it with more modern visuals. This story holds up, and I think if old fans who can't quite get past the old show's visual cheapness, but want a taste of these great old stories, these could be an interesting way to jump in.  
 
This is a classic story, one of the all time greats, and it is wonderfully brought to life by Terrance Dicks adaptation and Culshaw, with the help of Briggs, make the listening a true joy.  
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