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Tardis Party: Doctor Who serial close-up ~ Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975)

June 28, 2013

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doctor_who_genesis_of_the_daleks

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A switch in time: The Doctor desperately attempts to change history by destroying genius scientist Davros’s horrific creation the Daleks before they’ve been unleashed on the universe 

There are few things more synonymous with Doctor Who than Daleks and in early spring ’75 the show gave its avid fans what would become its – and their – ultimate Dalek serial. Many reasons explain why Genesis Of The Daleks is one of the essential stories in the show’s thus far 50-year-run (they’re detailed below), but as far as Dalek stories go, it’s got to be, and thus is, the one to be selected here as the latest in this blog’s selection of posts that peer at, closely examine, poke at and find any weaknesses (if any) in single great Who serials of old. Davros would be so proud…

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Doctor: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)

Companions: Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith); Ian Marter (Dr Harry Sullivan)

Villains: Michael Wisher (Davros); Peter Miles (Nyder); John Scott Martin, Cy Town and Keith Ashley (Daleks – voices: Roy Skelton and Michael Wisher)

Allies: Harriet Philpin (Bettan); Stephen Yardley (Sevrin); James Garbutt (Ronson); Dennis Chinnery (Gharman)

Writer: Terry Nation

Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe

Script Editor: Robert Holmes

Director: David Maloney

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Season: 12 (fourth of five serials – six 25-minute-long episodes)

Total average viewers: 9.6 million

Original broadcast dates: March 8-April 12 1975 (weekly)

Previous serial: The Sontaran Experiment

Next serial: Revenge Of The Cybermen

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Following a confrontation with a scouting Sontaran on a thousands-of-years-in-the-future Earth, The Doctor and his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Dr Harry Sullivan attempt to return to Nerva Beacon, the spacestation from whence they’ve come, but soon discover they’re mysteriously on an alien planet. In fact, before he vanishes from view, a senior Time Lord informs The Doctor that his people have effectively kidnapped the trio so they might put an end to the Daleks once and for all by preventing the giant pepper-pots’ creation in the first place. For, diverted by the Time Lords, The Doc, Sarah and Harry are actually on the war-ravaged, desolate planet Skaro – the home-world-to-be of the Daleks; presently the scene of a centuries-long conflict between its two humanoid races, the Kaleds and the Thals.

Swiftly, after just about preventing the setting-off of a land-mine, the three take refuge from the wasteland in a bunker, where they endure a gas attack that leaves Sarah unconscious and sees The Doc and Harry dragged by black-uniformed soldiers down into an underground hideout. Brought before a General Ravon, the duo learn they are in the subterranean military HQ of the Kaleds and they themselves are mistaken by Ravon (an easily excitable polemicist) for ‘Mutos’, semi-humans whom are descendants of Kaleds mutated by chemical weapons early on in the war and cast out by the Kaleds to preserve their racial purity. The Time Lord and the human attempt to escape, despite the confiscation of the Time Ring (the time-travelling device afforded The Doctor so he and his companions can leave Skaro and return to the TARDIS), but are quickly recaptured by Nyder, the Kaleds’ security commander (whom seems even more unyielding than Ravon); the latter taking them away for interrogation.

Meanwhile, on regaining consciousness, Sarah wanders through the wasteland and into ruins where she spies a grotesquely mutated-looking humanoid, whose bottom half is encased in a mobile-chair that resembles the unmistakable encasing of a Dalek – this is Davros, the genius but utterly fanatical Kaled scientist, inventor of the Daleks. Presently, one of his creations appears and, on Davros’s orders, fires (we assume for the first time) its death-ray at a marked target. Davros is satisfied; Sarah looks on in horror.

As Davros and his Dalek depart, Sarah is kidnapped by a group of further mutated-looking humans; these appear to be Mutos. They argue over whether to kill Sarah as she is a ‘Norm’ humanoid not a Muto, but one of their number named Sevrin reasons ‘a thing of beauty’ like her should be allowed to live; why does everything that’s different have to be rejected or killed? Sevrin’s patronage of Sarah leads them both to being captured by Thal soldiers and taken away to the domed Thal civilisation as slave labour. Here they are forced to load radioactive ammunition into a rocket to be launched at the Kaled domed HQ, in order to wipe out the latter race and bring an end to the war. Sarah and Sevrin try to escape by climbing the rocket’s silo and out through the dome’s roof, but are ultimately unsuccessful.

Time Lord: You, Doctor, are a special case. You enjoy the freedom we allow you. In return, occasionally, not continually, we ask you to do something for us

The Doctor: I won’t do it. Whatever it is, I refuse

Time Lord: Daleks

The Doctor: Daleks? Tell me more

Beneath the Kaled HQ, a scientist named Ronson is tasked with questioning The Doctor and Harry and, after tests, is surprised to discover they’re aliens. As such, when Davros enters the scientific division with a ‘Mark III travel machine’ (his euphemism at present for ‘Dalek’), the latter iinstantly attempts to kill the duo when given independent control, having identified they’re non-Kaleds and must be ‘exterminated’. Ronson prevents this by switching off the Dalek, though, and away from the others asks The Doctor how he knew the Dalek would be named as such before Davros monikered the thing exactly that just moments before, confiding in him he and others believes Davros’s experiments in mutation have gone too far – Davros’s ‘ultimate creature’, the Dalek, is surely immoral and evil.

With Ronson’s help, The Doc and Harry escape the bunker and make for the Kaled dome and, specifically, for its command to turn them against Davros and his plans. The Doctor informs them of how Daleks will terrorise the universe for centuries to come. The leadership assure him then that an investigation will take place into Davros’s activities and all his work will be ordered suspended until its end (this, thanks to Nyder’s spies, Davros learns about and decides to deal with Ronson for his treachery). Ravon adds that reports suggest a girl has led an attempted breakout of prisoners in the Thal dome, whence The Doc and Harry now head, knowing only too well the girl will be Sarah.

Once there, they spy Davros and Nyder meeting with a group that must be the Thal command; Davros informing the latter that unless they add a chemical formula to the ammunition being loading into the rocket, it will be incapable of penetrating the Kaled dome. When asked why on earth he would betray his own race, Davros claims he wishes only to end the conflict and play a role in reconstructing a peaceful Skaro. The Doc and Harry hurry to the rocket and, overpowering guards and dressing in their radiation suits, manage to free Sarah, Sevrin and the other slave labour, whom set off to warn the Kaleds of their destruction unless they stage an all-out offensive on the Thals.

Meanwhile, The Doctor alone attempts to prevent the rocket from launching, only to be almost electrocuted to death by a guard regaining consciousness. His efforts in vain, he watches along with the Thal command a video-link of the rocket striking the Kaled dome and wiping out all its race apart from those in the bunker below. Believing Sarah and Harry must have been killed too, he despondently accepts the Thal command’s assurance – via a young female soldier named Bettan – that as a sign of grace all the Thals’ prisoners are now free as peace has at last has befallen Skaro.

The Doctor: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that’s it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word Dalek

Sarah Jane: Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn’t hesitate

The Doctor: But if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent lifeform, then I become like them. I’d be no better than the Daleks

Unexpectedly, but not to The Doctor’s surprise, Daleks suddenly enter the Thal dome (clearly on Davros’s orders – he obviously intended the Thals to destroy much of the Kaleds’ home to prevent his Dalek project being halted) and murder the Thal population. The Doc and Bettan manage to escape and, having made it back to the bunker and finding Sarah, Harry and Sevrin have survived the rocket strike, he suggests Bettan joins Sevrin to bring the survivors together in a concerted effort against Davros and the Daleks. He, Sarah and Harry are swiftly captured by Davros and Nyder, however, and the humans tortured until he spills the beans on all the Daleks’ failures to come, so Davros might address these weaknesses and ensure they’re invincible.

Afterwards, Harry and Sarah are taken away to the bunker’s cells and The Doctor ordered to remain so Davros might speak with him – scientist-to-scientist. The former pleads with the latter to halt his experiments, especially a change to the Daleks’ genetics he’s instigated that will remove their capacity for conscience; the latter replies he won’t and the latest ‘improvements’ he’s made will ensure his creations become the universe’s ‘dominant species’ and suppress all others, bringing peace everywhere. Trying a different tact, The Doc offers a scenario; if Davros had created a virus that could wipe out all other life, would he proceed to develop it? Considering this would effectively ‘elevate’ him to a god, Davros works himself up into a tumult and hysterically cries that, yes, he would. Realising now that Davros is insane, The Doc takes his opportunity and catches hold of the former’s one free hand and demands him order his acolytes to destroy the Daleks or he’ll flick a switch on his travel-chair and stop his life-support systems. Davros does as demanded, but reverses his order as Nyder appears, sneaks up on The Doctor and knocks him out.

Taken to the cells, The Doctor recovers and there meets Sarah and Harry, as well as a chief scientist named Gharman whom, among others, has turned against Davros. Escaping, Gharman and his supporters go off to organise Kaled resistance against the mad genius, as The Doc and the two humans set out to recover the Time Ring and the audio tapes containing his recorded revelations about the Daleks’ future failures. Gharman builds support and confronts Davros; the latter curiously concedes he will cease his work as long as a meeting is held so he can make his case and then the Kaled elite can vote on the issue. Believing Davros will inevitably lose such a vote, Gharman agrees. Recovering the tapes and the Time Ring, the Doc, Sarah and Harry also discover explosives and set out to prime them so the Dalek experiments will be destroyed once and for all, yet The Doctor struggles with the morality of what he’s about to do (see above quote) and ultimately can’t bring himself to wipe out an entire species.

As the meeting is in progress, the encased Daleks, which have completed the killing of the Thals, return from the Thal dome and enter the science division of the Kaled bunker and kill Gharman and his associates – clearly Davros had only called for the meeting and vote as a stalling tactic to give his creations the time to return to the bunker. Bettan, Sevrin and the other rebels also reach the bunker and set up their own explosives to seal it off forever with Davros and the Daleks inside. The TARDIS trio escape before the bombs go off and watch on a video monitor as, to Davros’s great surprise, the chief Dalek itself re-starts the bunker’s assembly line. The Dalek proclaims they are programmed not to recognise any other species as superior to themselves, so any being attempting to control them must be killed – thus it exterminates both the remaining Kaled leaders and, as it claims not to recognise the word ‘pity’ that its creator calls for, seemingly exterminates Davros himself. Outside, The Doctor shrugs that they’ve only managed to slow down the Daleks’ development and reign of terror, before he wishes Bettan and the survivors luck and he, Sarah and Harry activate the Time Ring to return to Nerva Beacon. Yet, finally, he brightens and exclaims that at least out of such evil he knows some good must come…

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Once watched, it’s pretty obvious why Genesis is one of the most significant and well regarded serials of Who – it both crucially and brilliantly gives back-story to The Doctor’s ultimate foes and weaves the hero himself into that back-story, ensuring it’s not just an essential serial, but also one of the show’s best.

However, owing to it all being about the creation of the Daleks, the roundel-coated trundlers actually feature less than in many other ‘Dalek stories’, the chief baddie this time out being their creator Davros. And what a creation he himself is. A mutilated, semi-paralysed, Dalek-esque-voiced being of fantastic intellect but fanatical evil, Michael Wisher’s villain is unquestionably one of the all-time great Doctor Who villains. Proof of this beyond his definitive Genesis appearance being his cropping up again in 1979’s Destiny Of The Daleks (David Gooderson), 1984’s Resurrection Of The Daleks, 1985’s Revelation Of The Daleks and 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks (Terry Molloy), as well as 2008’s The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End (Julian Bleach).

And yet, although Davros is Genesis‘s main menace, the race to which he belongs (and ultimately is responsible for wiping out/ ‘upgrading’ to Daleks – delete as appropriate) are also undeniably villainous. Now, the idea of presenting fascism in science-fiction was nothing new by the time of the mid-’70s (George Orwell’s 1948-published 1984, anyone?), but far-right totalitarianism, nay Nazism, had surely never quite been translated to the screen as patently as it is in Genesis. It’s all there – the dogma, the fanaticism, the salutes, the black uniforms, the jackboots, the dynamic logo and, yes, the preoccupation with racial purity.

Indeed, it’s easy perhaps to throw fascism into a fantasy drama as a villainous presence that will engage the audience because they’ll understand what it’s all about, but thanks to the intelligence of serial writer Terry Nation’s script and the quality of the production (much credit thus must go to director David Maloney), the fascism here allows for questions of morality to come up; not just whether one race (the Kaleds) becoming utterly ruthless to defeat another in the name of peace is right, but also whether that other race (the Thals) obliterating the first out of sheer desperation can be justified either. There’s a complexity at work here; Genesis certainly doesn’t present the Thals as blameless victims – at times they’re just as ruthless as the Kaleds, at times it’s hard to tell them apart. Who are the good guys? The Doctor himself, of course, struggles with that question when he has the chance to wipe out the Daleks for good – and is hugely relieved when events ensure he doesn’t have to make that decision.

With its unremittingly bleak tone, stark, grey production design and locations, clutch of irredeemable and/ or flawed characters and positive ending with a caveat, Genesis is (at least, as Doctor Who goes) far from always an easy watch; it could be argued, sometimes it’s not exactly that enjoyable. But it’s always absorbing, essential viewing for any enthusiast of Who – and unquestionably the show at the peak of its powers.

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The genesis of Genesis goes back to before the Hinchcliffe/ Holmes axis gained the reins of the thoroughbred that is Who, but it had the makings of a stallion of a story itself as soon as it got out of the stables. Originally, the Daleks’ real-world creator Terry Nation was tasked with coming up with another Dalek serial for the show (to follow up his six previous pepper-pot-toting efforts) by previous producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, whom both stepped down at the end of the previous Jon Pertwee-bowing-out season; this new Dalek story inevitably then would be likely to feature in Tom Baker’s introductory season. To start off with, though, Letts and Dicks observed the script Nation came up with bore a striking resemblance to one or two (if not more) previous Dalek-featuring ones he’d written, so suggested a different storyline hook – how about building the serial around the Daleks’ genesis? Inspired, Nation got to work and, pretty much, came up with the serial’s script as filmed.

And yet, going before the cameras in the new Hinchcliffe/ Holmes era, as it did, Genesis surely ended up a darker beast than it would have been in the old Letts/ Dicks days. Hinchcliffe specifically called for more radical techniques in filming the Daleks than the show had experienced before, including low camera angles and use of close-ups, to bring back a genuine menace and fright-factor to what were (and surely forever will be) The Doctor’s greatest foes. He also encouraged lighting designer Duncan Brown to, well, turn down the studio lights to create a darker, more disturbing and arguably more claustrophobic tone (this was rather a revolutionary move for studio filming of Who, given the tight schedules  every serial had and, thus, often compromises in filming artistry foisted on them).

Moreover, to set up (and fit with) the darker tone than had been envisaged for the story, its opening scene of the Time Lord outlining The Doc’s mission – originally set in a serene garden – was rewritten by David Maloney and deliberately drew on the work of legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman (most likely 1955’s The Seventh Seal; the mists over a wasteland and the Time Lord’s outfit’s resemblance to Death’s in said film are uncanny). Yet Nation and, less surprisingly, tub-thumping ‘TV standards’ campaigner (and long-time loather of Doctor Who) Mary Whitehouse both claimed this scene’s violence – gas mask-sporting Thals and Kaleds being ‘mowed down’ by machine guns – were too heavy for Saturday teatime viewing. Ah well.

As to those in front of the camera, Davros actor Michael Wisher (whom had appeared in the show several times before, often contributing Dalek voices, as he also did in Genesis) had an unusual approach to thesping during rehearsals. Reasoning that when he was wearing Davros’s mask on set his performance would be constricted unless he prepared effectively (i.e. he wouldn’t be able to act with his face or eyes at all; pretty much only with his voice and his right hand), he took to rehearsing sat in a wheelchair with a brown paper bag over his head. As he was a chain-smoker, tobacco smoke would often billow out of the top of the bag, amusing his fellow actors immensely, but unbeknownst to him, of course, as he couldn’t see their reactions.

Elsewhere, Guy Siner (Ravon), and Hilary Minster, whom played a Thal soldier, would go on to achieve fame as Lieutenant Gruber and Major-General von Klinkerhoffen respectively in the much-loved WWII-set sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo (1982-92), while Harriet Philpin (Bettan) achieved similar, if uncredited, immortality as the wife of the ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’ in the unforgettable R. White’s Lemonade commercial (1973) – the lemonade drinker himself, incidentally, was played by Ross McManus, father of one Elvis Costello.

Finally, given its excellence and popularity, Genesis holds the record for the most repeated serial of Who on the Beeb’s analogue service, having enjoyed re-runs in ’75, ’82, ’93 and 2000. A perennial top-10-hitter in polls for the show’s best ever stories, it topped the lot in a prestigious one held by Doctor Who Magazine in 1998 and is apparently Tenth Doc (and Who fan extraordinaire) David Tennant’s favourite of the ‘classic series’. Seems The Doctor was right, some good did come out of Davros’s evil efforts, after all..

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Further reading:

daryljoyce.co.uk/genre-illustration/doctor-who-illustration/the-fourth-doctor/genesis-of-the-daleks-3

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Next time: Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13/ 1975)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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