Doctor Who Sunday: Genesis of the Daleks
Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Fourth Doctor’s week, featuring Genesis of the Doctor and The Zygons. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Fourth Doctor, also look at the City of Death.
Genesis of the Daleks is the fourth serial of the twelfth season of Doctor Who. It was written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney. This six-parter reveals how the Daleks were created.
Every creature has an origin, and the Daleks are no exception. So Terry Nation decided to create something for his creations, and give them their origin story. It is a very dark story; both in terms of content and the characters (even the sets are dark). Genesis of the Daleks is a very important story in terms of the Doctor Who canon, as it establishes the Dalek identity properly, as well as introducing a particularly nasty villain of the series, Davros. As an aside, it was incredibly difficult to decide on the Fourth Doctor stories, due to the sheer number of them (seven years worth!). In the end, it was decided that the Genesis of the Daleks was important as it gave a lot of back story to the Daleks as creatures, as well as being an excellent story.
The story is solid and well written, and delves into some pretty heavy philosophical territory as well. After being given a task to eradicate the Daleks from ever existing by the Time Lords, the Doctor and his companions, Sarah and Harry, find themselves on the Dalek homeworld of Skaro, during a terrible war between two sides: the Thals, and the Nazi-like Kaleds. The Kaled society is basically run under an autocratic aristocracy, known as the Elite. And the Elite are run by their chief scientist, Davros. Davros makes a brilliant bad guy, both brilliant and megalomanic in equal measure. His cunning tactics make him a villain that audiences love to hate: he is treacherous, single minded, selfish and arrogant. The other Kaleds are also interesting: the security chief Nyder, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Heinrich Himmler of the SS, is creepy and ruthless; the other scientists are moralistic but impotent against Davros’ power; the civilian and military figures are caught up in power plays. Along with the Thals and the ‘Mutos’ – chemically wounded Kaleds who were turfed out by their own side in an attempt to keep the Kaled race ‘pure’ – the characters in the story, and the story itself, are interesting, diverse, dark and engaging.
The philosophical elements in this story are what make it engaging. There are two major scenes which have particular poignancy: the famous ‘Have I the right?’ speech and the dialogue between Davros and the Doctor after the interrogation. The first deals with the moral actions of murder – such as ‘if you knew a child was going to grow up kill thousands, would you kill the child?’ when dealing with whether to destroy the Daleks once and for all. The second scene highlights Davros’ insanity – the Doctor provides him with an example of whether he would unleash a virus that would eliminate all living matter, whether Davros would allow such a virus to escape into the universe. Other issues are brought up, such as democracy or dictatorship, ethnic cleansing and racism. All these ideas brought together make Genesis of the Daleks one of the more thought provoking stories in the Doctor Who series.
In regards to other elements of the serial, it is also well done. The sets are interesting and quite life-like, aside from a few of the fairly plastic weapons and the rather disappointing clam-like monsters in Davros’ cave. Sarah and Harry make strong companions, with Sarah managing to incite a small rebellion on her own – something which would be probably unheard of from most other companions. The Fourth Doctor is quite restrained for his usual bombastic self – despite the occasional sassy comment, the booming baritone of Tom Baker’s voice is not used for comedic purposes – rather it is used to bring a certain level of gravitas to his arguments.
Overall, Genesis of the Daleks makes for interesting viewing. Definitely one of the best stories of the 4th Doctor era, and certainly crucial in understanding the Doctor Who universe as a whole, as well as being enjoyable to watch.
I’m assured that the Fourth Doctor is in fact quite a funny Doctor, but Genesis of the Daleks is not the episode to watch if you want goofy, humorous Fourth Doctor. Rather, Genesis of the Daleks is a very serious, very contemplative story.
Our first look at the Daleks was in their strange metallic city on the planet Skaro. Locked in a war with the Thals, who they called ‘mutants’, they were hell-bent on ruling their planet. Genesis of the Daleks takes place long before this, during a period in which the Thals and the Kaleds have been fighting for generations. The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane are sent there by the Time Lords to destroy the Daleks before they really have a chance to flourish.
Of course, they’re not successful in the end, but the story up till that point is a fascinating look at racism, power and ethics. The adventurers land in a war zone, and quickly get captured by the Kaleds, precursors to the Daleks (very subtle). We quickly find out that both sides are as bad as each other, with another race: ‘Mutos’ who don’t live in the cities, that are presumably mutations of one race or the other. Genesis of the Daleks introduces Davros – New Who watchers will remember him as the leader of the Daleks, but he isn’t actually a Dalek, as we find out in this episode. Rather, he is a twisted Kaled who uses mutations to create the powerful, aggressive, amoral race of the Daleks. Many of the scientists oppose this, especially when they find that the Daleks have no moral compass.
In any case, this story is one of war and of authoritarianism in regards to the long-lasting planetary war between the two races (who are for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from each other, highlighting the absurdity of jingoism and racism). It is also about ethics. The Doctor has a clear shot at destroying the Daleks before they do the damage they’re capable of, but questions the morality of committing genocide, albeit of an extremely dangerous race. Aidan explains it in detail above, and it’s interesting that the Ninth Doctor’s tenure begins after he has indeed committed genocide and stops the Time War. Seeing the famous ‘Have I the right?’ speech colours all future interactions with the Daleks, especially knowing that he eventually does attempt to obliterate them, but fails.
All in all, a satisfyingly twisted beginning for the Daleks.