Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 078 – Genesis of the Daleks

Davros demonstrates his new creation: A Dalek.
Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1976 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: The transmat beam that was supposed to take The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry back to Nerva is intercepted by the Time Lords. They want The Doctor to undertake a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks.

Few stories in the classic era inspire as much adoration as Genesis of the Daleks. And, after watching this show in context, it is hard to disagree. This is a story that is quite unlike anything that came before. It is dark and moody; it has a tight plot; the performances are spectacular, with Michael Wisher and Peter Miles dominating the story; and the story brings up an interesting theme about the good that can be derived from hardship. The moral core of this story is summed up when The Doctor is confronted with the reality of destroying The Daleks at such an early state. If you know the future, is it ethical to commit murder (or genocide) to prevent future bloodshed? Or, in preventing this reality, do you create another, as yet unknown reality? Maybe a galaxy without The Daleks would be a better place. Or maybe it would be worse. The Doctor raises a very good point: that the civilizations that found unity in a common goal (survival against The Daleks) would now lack that unifying force. Maybe war would still exist, only now with different sides.

But ultimately, David Whitaker’s version of time travel wins. The Daleks, despite a last-minute attempt to destroy them, continue to survive. The revision of history cannot exist. But now it may be altered. Fan convention states that history was changed so that the early Dalek stories either didn’t happen, or happened differently. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to retcon all the early Dalek stories, but it is an interesting idea. I am especially intrigued by the new series retcon which suggests that Genesis of the Daleks is part of the Time War (perhaps the first shot fired in the Time War). This creates an interesting bit of symmetry as The Doctor was supposed to be the first weapon used in that war. He failed, but ultimately, he did end the war, thus becoming the final weapon.

But all this revisionism is incidental to the story itself. The Daleks are scary again, something they haven’t really been since the Troughton era. But center stage in this story is Davros, the creator of The Daleks. Casting Michael Wisher as Davros was a stroke of genius. Prior to this story, Wisher had been a Dalek voice actor, and he brings that background to this performance. We hear the fanaticism and anger in The Daleks, and we now know it comes from Davros. But even more chilling is the mind that rests in his scarred, devastated body. Davros is cold and calculating. He is hungry for power, but his main expression of power is his scientific supremacy. Davros is not so interested in ruling people; he is interested in proving his scientific theories, even if those theories lead to total destruction. As villains go, this is a completely impractical goal, but it is the strength of Wisher’s performance that, for the duration of the story, you believe it.

Peter Miles also shines as Nyder, Davros’s second-in-command. Why Nyder shows such unwavering devotion to Davros is never stated, but again, the performance never wavers. You never question Nyder’s devotion.

I suppose the question left to ask is: Did we really need an origin story for The Daleks? In truth, not really. I would say that the quality of the story justifies its own existence, but if Genesis had failed, we would lament the very attempt at an origin story. Since it succeeded (spectacularly), it has opened the door to all sorts of other origin stories: Spare Parts, The First Sontarans, countless stories that speculate on the origin of The Master and The Doctor, and the occasional new series episode that fans theorize being the “Genesis of the X” (I remember Waters of Mars being theorized as Genesis of the Ice Warriors; Some thought The Almost People could be the creation of the Autons; and I’ll throw my own hat in the ring with The Snowmen having an almost Genesis of the Great Intelligence vibe). But more than an origin story, we needed a Dalek story that really re-emphasized why we like the little pepper pots. We needed a story to make them scary again, even if we had to visit their creator to do it.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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