Genesis of the Daleks

DVD NTSC
Region 1

DVD PAL
Region 2
VHS Video
NTSC
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 78, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Terry Nation
  • directed by David Maloney
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Attempting to beam back up to the Ark in Space and the TARDIS, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry instead find themselves in the midst of the ancient war between the Kaleds and the Thals on the planet Skaro. The Time Lord who intervened in their travels gets the Doctor to agree to alter the development of the emerging Dalek race, hoping to make them less of a threat to the universe in the future. But the Doctor will have to both wrestle his conscience and pit his wits against the brilliant and cunning crippled chief Kaled scientist Davros, who has no end of tricks up his sleeve.

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Peter Miles (Nyder), and director David Maloney.
  • "Genesis of a Classic" making-of documentary (62 min.) adding commissioning producer Barry Letts, commissioning script editor Terrance Dicks,
    producer Philip Hinchcliffe, actors Michael Wisher (Davros), James Garbutt (Ronson), Dennis Chinnery (Gharman),
    Guy Siner (General Ravon), Roy Skelton (Dalek Voice), Dalek Operators John Scott Martin and Cy Town, sound designer Dick Mills,
    lighting director Duncan Brown, visual effects designer Peter Day, and make-up artist Sylvia James.
  • "The Dalek Tapes" - a history of the Daleks' appearances in the original television series (53 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (8 min.)
  • Blue Peter model making segment, March 1975 (7 min.)
  • Doctor Who 1976 Annual as a PC DVD-ROM .pdf file

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


At first, I scoffed at the notion that this might be the greatest Doctor Who story ever. After all, it does nothing on screen in any capacity to demonstrate that key element of the series known as the TARDIS, which does not feature at all beyond the title graphics. But as the stories get ranked, and one compares the merits of the best of the best across the various years and eras, "Genesis of the Daleks" continues to come out on top again and again. It is just so packed with a healthy variety of really good elements. Perhaps this is the best Doctor Who story ever. It has its imperfections, but what Doctor Who story doesn't? In the end, the sheer strengths in the content of the writing, combined with all the mythology, performances, and audio/visual cinematic style that the production manages to imbue it with, make a compelling case for awarding this story the top position. It is certainly at the top of season twelve!


Andrew Pixley's archive feature on this story in Doctor Who Magazine (not to mention the comprehensive making-of documentary on the DVD), indicates that writer Terry Nation was at first going to use his commission for another Dalek story to write yet another formulaic sequel. God no! Who needs that? Fortunately, he got encouraged both by the outgoing producer/script editor team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, and by incoming producer/ script editor team of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes to do something grander, until Nation himself was able to cite this story as his favourite amongst all his Doctor Who works.

Entrances....

Originally, the TARDIS was to have appeared at the beginning of this story, in some sort of limbo garden for the meeting with the Time Lord messenger. I'm still unsure whether or not I would have liked this better. Decent visual materalization(s) with proper sound? Scenes in the TARDIS interior, juxtaposed with exterior scenes as the characters go through the TARDIS doors? Using the TARDIS to go from garden to Skaro instead of the far less interesting time-ring? One would probably need it all to outdo the excellent opening sequence that eventually got filmed:

We open immediately on Skaro, where a brutal, surreal shootout between gas-masked soldiers brilliantly sets the scene with memorable imagery. Tom Baker's Doctor then gets a beautiful and unusual entrance as he emerges from the fog, unsure of where or when he is, and more importantly why, just like Sam Beckett at the beginning of any good Quantum Leap episode. The audience is allowed to clue in to the situation along with the Doctor, as a Time Lord fills everyone in on what is to follow. Not unlike Al the hologram from Quantum Leap either.

The location footage in the first episode is really nicely done, an essential element for establishing the setting. Indeed, it becomes so well established in the viewers' minds that it is easy to not notice that no outdoor locations feature in the remaining five episodes. The one important exterior setting done indoors in the studio is the trench, which works well in most cases. The only big let-downs in the production are the all too obvious cuts from exterior locations directly to the trenches, where it looks as though things change from day to night in half a second. Raising the lighting in the background of the studios seems the only way to get around this in early shots; the foreground and the main characters already seem bright enough to pass for day. Later portions may have done better with cross-fades, to give the impression that there was enough time for day to become night.


Why it Works...

The two best stories of season one have now merged in this one: We have a time-travel conundrum reminiscent of "The Aztecs" (story no. 6), only this time the Doctor has taken Barbara's place as the one aiming to fashion a new history, and his mission will pit him against "The Daleks" (story no. 2) on their home turf once more. Wisely, his original position on time travel and becoming involved with history from "The Aztecs" has caved in after all, and he's learned to go with his heroic impulses instead. Barbara has at last won her argument, but good. A new history? "That's feasible," he reasons.

The first two episodes feature a lot of formulaic Terry Nation plot elements, with a silent Sevrin stalking Sarah Jane in the first episode, and becoming her talkative trusted ally in the second. We've also got a lot of capture and escape routines, and some travel through menacing environments with primitive creatures waiting to prey on our main characters. But "Genesis" keeps the pace up on these segments, and already begins laying the groundwork and background for the political thriller with heavy moral overtones that it will soon become. As usual, we have to wait for the end of the first episode for our first view of a Dalek, but this works quite well considering that the Daleks are only prototypical at this stage, and also that we get an additional entrance by the great half-dalek Davros as well.

"Perfect! The Weaponry Is Perfect! Now We Can Begin...."

More congratulations are due the production team with this story. Although the traditional full-screen negative-image effect is still applied to the targets of Dalek weapons fire, neatly maintaining a nostalgic continuity, this is now finally augmented by a decent visual beam effect, in a nice cyan colour too. At last! In fact, this is practically the first decent visual beam effect ever produced on Doctor Who thus far. The only notable exception that comes to mind is Morris Barry's "The Moonbase" (story no. 33) in which visual beams were necessary to show the gravitron deflect the weapons fire of some heavy outdoor cyber-artillery, and apparently only achievable with a special film sequence prepared well in advance. Now, major Doctor Who monster-characters can use a decent effect in their everyday walk-and-stalk shoot-em-ups in the video-tape studio. To paraphrase Davros, this was a moment that lived long in history.


Avoiding the Usual Writing Pitfalls

By episodes three and four, the ante has been upped, and the political aspects of the story reach their height. Beginning with Ronson, the Doctor is very forthcoming and truthful about his origins, his opinions, his reasoning, and his intentions - practically the opposite of many a David Whitaker script. Also, just when you might think he'll be stuck wrestling fake clams in the cave for most of an episode to formulaically pad the scripts, no, he instead convinces reasonable people like Mogran and antagonistics like Ravon over to his side with a refreshing swiftness and believability, practically the opposite of the endless philosophical head-butting of the typical Malcolm Hulke script. Now the story proceeds from this more interesting place to a form of political stake-raising and back-stabbing that more accurately reflects truly dangerous power figures hidden throughout our democracies today.

Plenty of critical action bridges the middle episodes, like a furious exchange of chess pieces during the middle game that leaves the player who had a slight advantage before holding a far bigger advantage towards the end.

"A fascinating idea!"

By far the most interesting confrontation between the Doctor and Davros overlaps episodes four and five. Of all the confrontations they have in this story and the sequels, this is by far the most civil, as both are keen to explore each other's character, and both make genuine attempts to convince the other of their point of view.

The Doctor does miss a good opportunity though. Davros is so keen to learn what mistakes the Daleks make in the future, the Doctor could have easily given him the honest answer that their very conscience-less characters were the greatest factor in their defeats.... they constantly created enemies everywhere they went needlessly. Surely they wouldn't fall victim to all those military traps if they were a well-liked species and people didn't lay military traps for them in the first place. Ah well, hindsight is always 20-20, and the Doctor mustn't always be expected to think of everything in the heat of the moment either.

Episodes five and six deal with the end game, a democratic rebellion thick with moral arguments, although a bit of sporadic action also allows scientist-clad stunt-arranger Terry Walsh to shoot someone and get a reprimand. The arguments are a bit on the simplistic side, but carry with them an air of truth both in the way they are delivered, and in the varying degree of importance the characters are placing in them. And it all builds to a powerful and disturbing climax.


Moral Dilemma

The Doctor is still given quite a bit to do in the final episode, but most of it is far removed from Davros and the other central figures in the bunker, perhaps a trifle too conveniently. He too has perhaps his most infamous moral dilemma at the beginning of the episode, and there is a lot to consider. To further his analogy of pointing out a child who will become a ruthless dictator and wrestling with the question of killing that child, one must add to that the fact that those very children have recently wrapped themselves around the Doctor's neck in an attempt to throttle him. Self-defense comes into play here. Then again, the Doctor was the invader of their nest, so to speak, so it is arguable that the embryo Daleks are the ones doing the self-defense. Well, there are also all the Thals that the Daleks have recently wiped out to consider as well. There isn't much argument for the Dalek children to be "innocent" even at this early time. But as it always should, the question really boils down to what kind of character the Doctor is at his centre. He wrestles with the issue admirably, and in the end he cannot stoop to their level. And even though Terry Nation changes the Doctor's mind on the issue once more, it is neatly and appropriately left to a Dalek to take the action to do the children in as well.

As with "The Aztecs", there's enough action and energy to make the concluding episode very satisfying, but the true resolution is purely philosophical. It goes by quite quickly at the end, and the production team may have been scrambling to get it in the can in time, but it is done well and given great emphasis, making it unforgettable.


Points for Style

Although Dudley Simpson's music for season twelve has been vastly superior to his efforts during the previous two years, his score for "Genesis of the Daleks" still manages to disappoint me, most specifically that it is a lost opportunity for Simpson to create more definitive new themes, and one for the Daleks in particular. Many of the action sequences give Simpson's music centre stage, and he comes up with a good style for the music: appropriately harsh instrumentation (very reminiscent of Malcolm Clarke's later Dalek music) and a bit of beat and rhythm.... but where's the thematic hook, the melody, the unforgettable anthem? Even the Grainer-esque pulses from "The Evil of the Daleks" (story no. 36), curiously enough never used in any further Simpson Dalek scores, would have worked better, but that too was lacking a memorable melodic voice.

Heathcliff Blair's re-recordings of Simpson's music help me to further appreciate Simpson's work, especially on "Genesis". There is more underlying thematic versatility in the score than casual viewing of the TV story usually reveals, but that's part of the trouble - it's too sophisticatedly subtle, and the various ever-changing themes never quite state themselves boldly enough to stand out and be easily remembered.

I do enjoy three particular cues from "Genesis", and they are all near the end of the final episode. One is a wonderful juxtaposition of the fourth Doctor's theme with Dalek style music during the last attempt to connect the detonator wires (sadly not included on Blair's CD), and then the final two cues: the harsh brass backing the rant of the new Dalek leader, and the quiet, gentler music making the Doctor's final philosophical speech far more memorable than it might otherwise have been, ending on a perfect note in expert synchronization with the Doctor's final word. Awesome!

Music by Dudley Simpson
Eight re-recorded tracks feature on:
Audio CD - Pyramids of Mars
Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era
Heathcliff Blair
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David Maloney has worked his usual magic on this one. Looking at the elements separately, it is hard to say exactly what the director has done to make it so special, but put everything together as a whole, and the story carries a power and weight unique in the series. Mysteriously beautiful.


What more should one say? No one can truly tell you how classic "Genesis of the Daleks" is. You just have to see it for yourself.



This story has become available on DVD and VHS video. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
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DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Revenge of the Cybermen"



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