Genesis of the Daleks

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: David Maloney
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1975
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

Genesis is a story I felt I had to tackle again after giving it a very cursory once-over just under two years ago. However, for the sake of completion if you really want to read a very sketchy review that doesn't ramble on like this new, April '04 one does, then you can read it HERE

To be honest I always cringe a little when I read fan praising of Genesis of the Daleks, with much talking-up of its "moral complexity" and "gritty, hard-hitting" nature. Even the normally cynical DWB (back in the days when it had balls and wasn't just a bland Starburst wannabe) published a review drawing allusions between it and Vietnam. You'll read that statement and react in one of two ways, probably. You'll either be delighted that one of your favourite stories is being treated with such serious acclaim, or you'll just snort derisively and say "What a bunch of bumbaclarts - come on, Anorak, tell us the Gospel!"

Okay, well before I reveal my words of sense, let's get things out of the way. If you dare to criticise Genesis then the instant fan defence mechanism is to say "oh, it's very trendy at present to criticise this story…" (See also: saying bad things about Pertwee, McCoy or Paul Cornell). Let's get this clear: I've never really loved Genesis. No bandwagon, no following the herd. I don't think it's all that and I never have - you know the Anorak never leads you astray, don't you?

Don't get me wrong - this is a good, fun story with some nice moments. But its (cribbed) philosophical musings are only apparent in the final two episodes, and even then they're crowbarred so jarringly into the narrative sparks fly from the screen with the changing of gears. The rest of it is pretty generic Who with a Nazi subtext so resolutely unsubtle that even Ben Aaronovitch took the piss out of it. Plus, two words - kid's show. While the Hinchcliffe era introduced new levels of literary sophistication to the series, it hasn't made its way onto the screen here, and those "gritty", "hard-hitting" soldiers in the story are just so… camp. I do like Peter Miles as Nyder but he's more like a stereotyped homosexual from a 70s sitcom than a cold, ruthless extremist. Trapped somewhere between the dated but almost-real banterage of the Hartnell era and the pseudo-realism of the McCoy period, complete with working class characters and racial minorities, Genesis is a parochial, middle-class vision of the future made for kids called Jeremy who wear pringle roll-ups. With Sarah and Harry walking around a quarry holding hands it resembles nothing approaching any kind of reality you know, and Tom isn't afforded the opportunity to dominate the show the way he would later do.

What's left to enjoy has, I admit, been almost bled of all fun by this being, along with The Five Doctors, arguably the most familiar Doctor Who story. Thanks to a condensed record version narrated by Tom (which only lasted about forty minutes yet still seemed to fit in all the plot) most of the key scenes are quotable word for word. It's this sense of "we love it, but we've seen it so much we can't be bothered to see it again" that has possibly kept it off DVD to date. That, and the fact that it's the most repeated story, being screened five times on terrestrial UK television. Time has robbed it, too. While fans secretly like the fact that Mary Whitehouse used to give the show cred by slagging it off, the slow-mo gunning down of soldiers at the start of this one, while undeniably stylish, no longer shocks or appears graphic in today's climate. That's no denigration of the story itself, of course… just a reminder that by trying to buck the mainstream Who will nearly always seem quaint and antiquated when the mainstream comes to absorb it. Still, it must have seemed a massive step up from silly old Pertwee and his moralising, mustn't it?

Okay, I've moaned, I've rambled, but this isn't a bad episode (the hand held cameras are cool) and I will award it accordingly. Just three last things: it's amazingly cyclical and padded; Sladen's overacting badly; and Dudley Simpson. Truly he is awful.
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No episode reprise here, an unusual touch. Poshness. That's what it all comes down to. Rarely has any Who story had guest actors with such a range of icy RP accents, where even scarred mutants come from Surrey. In a way it's nice that the villains are middle class and the good guy mutants at least try and sound working class, as it's a reversal of Who's usual home counties patronage. But it's still bollocks anyway.

Two episodes in and I haven't slagged off Terry Nation yet? Sorry, I must be slipping. But the master of slick writing who gave us episode one's "Tell me, what are these Mutos?" here carves "Why must we always destroy beauty? Why kill another creature because it is not in our image?" Truly even the work of the Bard himself is no match for the sheer poetic inspiration that flows from Nation's mighty pen. There's a message in there, too, well hidden. Major offenders in the acting stakes include the latest sadistic Kaled, Richard Reeves (mincer) and the embittered second Muto, Jeremy Chandler (shite). James Garbutt's delivery is also… interesting.

Thankfully this also is the debut story of Davros, brilliantly brought to life by Michael Wisher. He never reprised the part, and most of the Davros comebacks were unnecessary (chiefly Resurrection/Remembrance) but here, at least, he's brilliant. Naturally it does raise questions about the body politic that Hinchcliffe was accentuating even more in his productions, but with Wisher's total commitment to the character it comes off.

Two last things: the production team sensibly vetoed bringing back primitive-looking Daleks (and adhering to most of the Dalek continuity) in favour of contemporary dramatic appeal. Then there's the cliffhanger, which is absolutely first-class.
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The worst episode of the six, episode three goes beyond any "film to video and back again" or "impressive location work/unimpressive studio work pretending to be a location" worries you may have and into generally quite pointless territory. From the necessary cop-out of Sarah not dying to the curiously flat cliffhanger of the Doctor getting electrocuted, there's no real reason for this episode to exist, and Genesis would probably be much stronger as a four-parter. Granted, it would be denied that "epic" feel, but often in Who "epic" is really just overlong and sporadically dull.

This is the one where Tom attacks a pathetic rubber clam with a polystyrene stalactite and boulder. The one where the psychotic Kaled extremist from the first episode is now suddenly passing himself off as a soft hearted Liberal. (Bloody hell, what's his name, Tony Blair?) The story's supporters talk of "political machinations" but really it's just a load of tanked-up luvvies whispering in corners. And is it just me or is Tom's "very impressive speech" a rare of example of flat, underwhelming delivery from Tom? He almost sounds bored, especially when you compare it with The Mighty Trout's impassioned speech in episode two of The Power of the Daleks.

Perhaps the biggest continuity change in Genesis is that now even the Thals are brutal sadists. This does throw the story into questionable areas, whereby its superficial opposition to violence also sees it revel in it and present it as entertainment. In many ways it's the same problem that would affect Vengeance on Varos nine years later - while ostensibly rallying against violence, it uses violence as a key fabric, and dwells on it for visceral thrill purposes. Talk of "reconstructing" Skaro and using bombs to achieve peace seem oddly topical in the present environment, but it all adds up to little in the end…
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By cleverly displaying the stock footage of rockets on view screens, you may detect a very mild CSO line, but it also integrates the material successfully into the story, and not an unsatisfying mismatch like such things usually are. Genesis isn't fantastically directed by any means (and Destiny knockers should check out 7'52m in for an example of a proper wobbling Dalek) but it is something of a return to form for David Maloney after his last work with the series' signature enemies.

Delights of this episode include a celebrating hoard of Thals (well, six of them) wiped out by Daleks and another truly magnificent cliffhanger (which earns the episode a half star in itself). Lowlights include more of the silly clam (which in turn leads to some more overacting from Sladen), some apocryphal exposition about how Harry and Sarah weren't bombed, and the utterly bizarre "Ee!"
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With past Dalek continuity being altered, such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth now taking place "in the year 2000" are we to assume that the Doctor is lying slightly? Or that it's an example of shifting time due to the Doctor's involvement in so many timelines? Or that Hinchcliffe simply didn't give a toss? Whatever the truth, I don't know what to make of Davros's recording tape. Why didn't he nip down to Dixons and buy an Ipod?

Anyway, five episodes in and we finally get a serious ethical debate, courtesy of Dostoevsky. Davros sets aside plot credibility, er, their differences to talk to an unguarded prisoner when he's defenceless and only has one arm. Just like you realistically would. That aside, it is a good scene in pure isolation, and Simpson's score - he's only really terrible in the first and last episodes - enhances it well. The notion that the Doctor will murder Davros also brings an interesting shading to the somewhat staid moralising, and seems a far more believable option than when Peter Davison's Doctor was clearly never going to do the job.

There's a fair bit of Dalek action in this one, titular characters that hardly appear in the story. Though I realise that's not the point. While I think the best Dalek voices are the 60s ones, particularly the Troughton versions, Roy Skelton does his best work here, largely because the modulation is set just right. I do prefer the deeper ones though, the higher voices make them veer towards self-parody, especially in a story where they're presented as po-facedly as this. That's the trouble with "serious" Who - it has no ironic get-out when it fails to reach its lofty ambitions. And Genesis of the Daleks is an over ambitious story that creaks under camp acting, hokey Nation dialogue and bland sets. This particular episode is the best, almost worthy of an extra half-star, but the tepid functionality of the script (only polished in part by Robert Holmes) and Nation's Boy's Own mentality make this one often come over as sillier than any Graham Williams story. This is particularly evident when the quirky, likeable/slappable Sarah Jane Smith spends the entire story with no sense of humour whatsoever. Finally, David Maloney talked about how made-up-on-spot the cliffhangers was: it shows.
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"Well what are you waiting for?" That's the part that always bugs me, because the Doctor clearly isn't waiting - she hasn't even given him a second before she says it - so it's yet another crashing of gears as the bog standard craftsmanship of the dialogue mercilessly segues into a worthwhile debate that nevertheless sounds overtly pious and at odds with the rest of what surrounds it. Holmes didn't just need to elevate odd scenes and snatches of dialogue - he needed to upgrade the entire script in order to give it a smoother flow. Instead, Genesis of the Daleks coasts along on its mediocre standards, occasionally pot-shotting at something more.

Listen to the way Nyder says words like "office". Is that a gripping portrayal of Nazi evil or like something that's stepped out of 'Allo 'Allo? There's even an 'Allo 'Allo actor in it (Tom Georgeson) completing the comparison. This is an episode that I always find a little bit embarrassing to watch in non-fan company, as the overdone melodrama and hammed-up death scenes (Dennis Chinnery is the worst offender) throw it down into kiddie's fare. This also applies to the final confrontation between Davros and the Daleks, and this is also arguably the episode with the largest number of unsynchronised indicator lights. People who still slag off Destiny should look out for the outrageously sloppy shots of dummy Daleks in doorways, proof that even Hinchcliffe could have an off day. The Dalek that kills Nyder isn't even looking at him as he does so. And just how does Sarah know that the Doctor's "coming" given that she couldn't even see his ahadow when she says it? Yet more proof of her "what are you waiting for?" foresight?

Interestingly, the Doctor goes back on his earlier moral debate and plans to blow up the embryo Daleks - so he just wanted Sarah to justify it for him? Come to that, when did he find the time to pick up his hat and jacket? I thought things were "vital"? (At least it sounded like it when the phrase has been said four times already). Things end with a Dalek screaming its head off and breaking the fourth wall, and then better with a nice end scene. Sure, the "out of their evil" scene is twee, but Tom can do the moralising better than Pertwee, and there's a genuine earnestness there that makes you overlook the shameless sentimentality of it all - a bit like Charlie Chappers at the end of The Great Dictator. Yeah, the CSO is flawed, but this one scene still manages to please because it was missed off the record and so isn't that familiar. Not perfect, but it has a certain kind of charm.BR>
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I'm always a little uneasy when it comes to Genesis. Despite its trumped-up reputation, it all seems a little childish and unsophisticated in execution, complete with melodramatic death scenes. Its subtexts are shallow and only pay lip service to their subjects, while its stylistic themes seem to owe more to comic books than Doctor Who. It's a decent view, it's nice to watch, but it's badly dated and Destiny is a lot more fun, without unfounded pretensions of worthiness.
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