Doctor Who at Newton's laws of television


Genesis of the Daleks

Analysis by Matthew Newton

Davros
"Daleks... We foresee a time when they have destroyed all other life forms and have become the dominant creature in the Universe."

It had to happen. It just had to happen. It seems to be an established fact that Robert Holmes was no great lover of continuity, and with season twelve, his first as script-editor, he seems to have gone to great lengths to prove this. First we have "The Ark in Space" which tries very hard to mess up the fate of the Earth according to Doctor Who, but fails due to a late escape clause in "The Sontaran Experiment" (oh well, Holmes could try again in "The Trial of a Time Lord"). When Terry Nation approached the production team for his annual Dalek story, Holmes must have seen quite an opportunity.

All this may just be a tad cynical, but whatever the facts, "Genesis of the Daleks" does make Dalek history a little confusing. But the whole concept of a story centring on the creation of the Doctor's most popular foes - whether it was dreamt up by Holmes or Nation - is sheer inventive brilliance, so perhaps the odd contradiction with some mentions over a decade previously is forgivable for the sake of drama. But whatever the connotations, the facts are clear; the penultimate story of Tom Baker's first season gave us what is arguably the greatest colour Dalek story.

The story certainly gives Nation a chance to present a radically different Skaro to the one that was presented back in 1963. Instead of just Daleks and people with silly make up, this Skaro, of presumably several thousand years before, is populated by real characters who rejoice in real silly Terry Nation names, such as Gerrill, Kravos and Tane. Unlike that first Dalek story, we the audience now know all about the Daleks, so it is not surprising that the script makes use of the this in several respects. One example of this is the name of the race from which the Daleks evolve; Dal, which conveniently rhymed with Thal, was changed to Kaled, a name so obvious that Nation has the Doctor point out its origin: "So you're Kaleds, eh? K-A-L-E-D-S - why that's an anagram of... How interesting." Also, is it a coincidence that so many people on Skaro - both Kaleds and Thals - use the word exterminate frequently in threats and conversation? We also find out that the early name for the Dalek is a Mark Three travel machine, so presumably there were two earlier versions of which we hear or see nothing.

One refreshing aspect of the story is the Doctor's involvement. Continuing the running Nerva Beacon plot that touches most of the season, the production team opted not to have the Doctor stumble into Skaro's past but use a Time Lord - the first appearance of a non-renegade since "The Three Doctors" - to set the Doctor a mission; to stop the creation of the Daleks. Not only does it make things more credible, but adds extra interest to the story; right from the start we know precisely what the Doctor is aiming for. The Time Lord's sub-Seventh Seal style of dress probably went way above the heads of most of the audience, but that whole mist-shrouded scene is part of a very impressive opening.

The use of a Time Lord in this way also negates the use of the TARDIS for the second consecutive story. However, when the Doctor is presented with the Time Ring, his only contact with his ship, it takes no great imagination to predict the Doctor will either lose it or have it confiscated during the course of the story (in fact both of these things happen), leaving the regulars trapped in a situation in a manner of which Verity Lambert would be proud.

It is interesting to examine the structure of the story. It doesn't use a distinct change of settings as many other six parters, but it is the style of the story that is adapted slightly between episodes. The first episode is certainly the grimmest; an air of doom and gloom seems to surround the action and none of the characters who we meet are particularly friendly. The first major character to appear is the Kaled general Ravon; although a minor character in terms of the whole story he is a wonderful creation and epitomises the whole Kaled ethic in one scene; he is clearly sadistic ("Good - I enjoy interrogation") and most certainly fanatical with a powerful speech to prove his point:

"When victory is ours we'll wipe every trace of the Thals and their city from the face of this land. We will avenge all Kaleds who've fallen in the cause of right and justice and build a peace which will be a monument to their sacrifice. Our battle cry will be: Total extermination of the Thals!"
At this point, Ravon certainly seems a hateful character, although as the story progresses we see that he is certainly not the worst amongst the Kaled ranks. Indeed, throughout the first episode the Kaled ranks seem united with none of the usual resistance to help the Doctor, and united behind a figure called Davros. Davros is mentioned many times before he appears and he certainly commands respect ("He is our greatest scientist"). Like the Doctor, we are left wondering precisely who he is.
NYDER: I have heard Davros say that there is no life on other planets, so either he is wrong or you are lying. And Davros is never wrong. About anything.
DOCTOR: Then he must be very exceptional; even I am occasionally wrong about some things.
Another interesting point about part one is that all the characters we meet are Kaleds; although the Thals are mentioned many times (particularly by Ravon) none appear. It must be remembered that in the Thals' two previous appearances they were portrayed as whiter than white heroes; after the hateful portrayal of the Kaleds in this first episode, the original audience were probably expecting a traditional portrayal of the race, and this is probably why their first appearance was held over to the next episode. Of course, the next episode shows us that the Thals are no better than their enemies - there is probably a message here concerning the effects of war - and audience sympathy is certainly not expected to be laid here as with their previous outings into the show. The only truly good characters in the story are those who are shown to rebel against their race for the better good, such as Bettan, Gharman, Ronson and even Sevrin the Muto.

The climax to episode one is certainly a climax and nicely parallels the traditional first episode ending of a Terry Nation Dalek story which usually involves the first appearance of a Dalek; here we get the first appearance of a Dalek, the first appearance of the mysterious Davros and a wonderful closing line: "Now we can begin..." Unusually there is no recap at the start of the next episode, it just picks up where the previous one leaves off.

The second episode does start to seem slightly more optimistic; although the Thals are revealed to be no better than the Kaleds, the first truly sympathetic characters appear, with Ronson, the Kaled scientist with a conscience, and Sevrin the Muto appearing in consecutive scenes.

Again, the Mutos, a third race of Skaro, are mentioned many times before their first proper appearance. We see silhouettes and sinister figures watching in the wastelands and we are told how hideous and ruthless they are. It is in part one when Nyder explains to the Doctor and Harry precisely who these Mutos are, accompanied by some sinister Dudley Simpson music:

"Mutos are the scarred relics of ourselves, monsterscreated by the chemical weapons used in the first century of this war. They were banished into the wastelands where they live and scavenge like animals."
As such it is something of a disappointment when we meet Sevrin and Gerril, the only Mutos who appear properly. They are not obviously deformed, just a little dirty. The only effects that the chemical weapons seem to have had is to eliminate Gerrill's acting ability. But there does seem to be a serious point to the Mutos, other than providing another friendly character, and this point relates to one of the most obvious and most quoted sources of "Genesis of the Daleks".

It goes without saying that the Kaleds are a thinly veiled version of Nazis, something parallelled in every department, from black costumes, jackboots and familiar looking salutes; Nyder even uses a gun which looks very like a Luger. It is also hinted that the Kaleds use interrogation techniques reminiscent of the Nazis - although we do not see the Doctor's questioning, afterwards Ronson says that he is sorry if the Doctor has been hurt, only that he lacked the courage to interfere. However, there is more to the parallel than this, and the Kaled attitude to the Mutos is also frightening reminiscent of Germany of the 1940s - witness Nyder's most repulsive line: "We must keep the Kaled race pure. Imperfects of rejected." It seems that the journey that leads to the Daleks began in the Kaleds long before Davros started to interfere. However, it is important to note that such attitudes are not restricted just to the Kaleds. When Sarah has been captured by some Mutos, Gerrill is all for killing her just because she is, as he calls it, a Norm. In answer, Sevrin delivers a line which is surely the most important message of the story: "Why kill another creature just because it is not in our image?" Sevrin is the voice of reason, at this time seemingly a lone voice on a hostile planet.

Strictly speaking, "Genesis of the Daleks" is not a Dalek story. It is a Davros story. Although the character was overused later, at the time Davros revitalised the Daleks after somewhat disappointing showings in their previous few outings. Davros is the character who dominates "Genesis", due to the way that the character has been drafted by Nation and presumably Holmes, and to the perfect playing by Michael Wisher in his strongest and most demanding role. Throughout Wisher is totally convincing, despite only having his voice and one hand with which to act. Nowhere is this more evident than in the justifiably famous virus scene in part five; this one scene embodies the whole of the Davros character and is impeccably acted. The character is a true villain, portraying all the characteristics of a villain; he is ruthless, evil and manipulative - witness his manipulation of the Kaled council when they are threatening to close down his Dalek experiments and his subsequent betrayal of his own people by giving the Thals the formula with which to weaken the Kaled dome before firing their rocket. It is refreshing that Davros apparently gets his comeuppance due to his own ambition. His decision to eliminate all sense of compassion from the Daleks in order to make them a more efficient life form - prompting the second theme of the story, that of morality - is a virtually fatal mistake.

DAVROS: These men are scientists. They can help you. Let them live - have pity!
DALEK: PI-TY. I have no understanding of the word.
The scientists loyal to Davros, Nyder and even Davros himself are all killed by the Daleks, who are just obeying their conditioning that they are the superior life form and require no assistance or help for humanoids. We see the intolerant ethics of Nyder resurfacing in the Daleks themselves.

The whole concept of the character of Davros is, like the story itself, sheer genius - an almost human Dalek and a perfect invention for their creator. Davros is totally credible, which is remarkable for such an seemingly incredible character, and a lot of this is due to the mask designed by John Friedlander, which is very realistic and very well blended to Wisher's own mouth, and far better than any of the masks worn by Wisher's successors. Another nice touch is the fact that as Davros becomes more and more excited, his voice starts to sound more and more like a Dalek's. One surprising fact is that the reason that Davros is in the state that he is is left totally to the imagination on screen, although Terrance Dicks's novelisation and John Peel's Terry Nation's Dalek book both propounded (different) reasons.

Davros may be the main villain of the story, but his loyal accomplice Nyder is perhaps more hateful. Davros is just fanatical about his creations; Nyder is just plain nasty and makes General Ravon seem quite friendly. Again, perfect playing helps the creation of a finely crafted character, although Peter Miles's performance is not drastically different from his two previous roles in Doctor Who. Nyder seems to be totally loyal to Davros - he even dies for him - although there is one very good sub-plot where Gharman, and the viewer, are led to believe that he too is deserting Davros; this is especially convincing after Nyder's genuine shock after Davros reveals his plan to betray his own people and effectively sign the death warrant of the Kaled race. It comes as something of a disappointment when it is revealed that Nyder's apparent betrayal is just a ploy to trap Gharman and his rebel colleagues.

None of the other characters have as much to do, but virtually all are interesting. The most important ally the Doctor and his friends have is Sevrin, a compassionate Muto. The first we see of him he saves Sarah's life, and throughout the rest of the story he is seen caring for her and others. We learn little of Sevrin, other than he is just one of these hideously deformed Mutos, which is a shame for such a major character. Sevrin seems to be one of the few sympathetic characters to have been played by Stephen Yardley.

Ronson is another of the sympathetic characters of the piece, played by James Garbutt, who endows the character with a wonderful line delivery. Ronson is a scientist in the Kaled elite. At first he seems to be no more friendly than other Kaleds, and certainly he seems loyal to Davros (he is the first to stand on hearing of the approach of the chief scientist) but he does genuinely believe the Doctor's story that he is an alien, and it is after he risks Davros's wrath by saving the Doctor and Harry from becoming the first ever victims of a Dalek that one suspects that here is a true compassionate character. Ronson is the first Kaled we meet to have a conscience, and he ultimately gives his own life to help the Doctor and start the Kaled movement against Davros. One feels quite sorry when he is exterminated.

After the death of Ronson, the role of main Kaled rebel falls to Gharman, apparently head of the scientific elite despite the fact that he wears the black costume of the military. Gharman appears virtually throughout the story (he is not in part 3), but in the early parts he is merely an aide to Davros, mostly lurking insignificantly in the background. However things change when Davros instructs him to alter the genetic character of the Dalek creatures - Gharman is clearly horrified at the thought of creatures without compassion, and this prompts him to think again. In these latter episodes, it is Gharman who is the voice of reason; in the climatic meeting of the elite, it is he who argues with Davros over the morality of the situation. However, he does seem almost naive in leading the rebellion - he believes it possible to carry it out without violence, and suspects nothing of Davros when he requests a meeting of the complete bunker staff. Dennis Chinnery portrays Gharman as a hero, which is really all the script demands of him, as we see little of him when he is loyal to Davros.

Another important character of the second half of Genesis is Bettan, redressing the balance in that she is a Thal, and female - the only actress in the cast other then Elisabeth Sladen. Although it is not stated on screen but implied elsewhere, Bettan seems to be secretary to a Thal politician. She is clearly a caring individual; the first we see of her is when she is trying to cheer the Doctor up when he believes Sarah and Harry to be dead. Later, under the suggestion of the Doctor, she starts a real fighting force against the Daleks. However, the character suffers a slight lack in credibility here; for a secretary she adapts very quickly to leading a small army, with constant concern for her men, their ammunition and a single aim to entomb the Daleks. Bettan is also one of the few significant characters to survive at the end, and would presumably be an important part in rebuilding Skaro.

The guest characters are all generally very well treated, even down to the smallest part - the captured Kaled leader and sadistic Thal soldiers spring to mind. Also, the story is quite true to the characters of the regular cast.

It is very hard to believe that "Genesis of the Daleks" is only Tom Baker's fourth story as the Doctor; already he is perfectly at home and it is almost as if Jon Pertwee never existed. This is a true Doctor story, and showcases the relatively new star of the series superbly. For once, he actually has something to aim for. Characteristically, he is at first indignant at having been way-laid by the Time Lord - it is only when the word Dalek is mentioned that he starts to take interest; little moments like this would have been important on the story's original transmission, serving to reinforce the idea that although the face is different this is still the same Doctor that we are watching. Tom Baker's Doctor is already portraying the traits that would make him so popular; he is witty and dominant and perfectly in control virtually all of the time. We see the Doctor at his most persuasive, when meeting the Kaled council to convince them to stop Davros's experiments. Even General Ravon is impressed by his speech.

For a story dominated so much by the Doctor and the principle villain, it is hardly surprising that the companions do not get much of a look in. Harry Sullivan spends most of his time trailing the Doctor around, but is actually portrayed as slightly more heroic than usual, and actually succeeds in knocking out guards and saving people. It is only in scenes with giant clams when the old Harry shows through and he goes and literally puts his foot in it. Sarah also has little to do other than run around following people, although she has the advantage of being separated from her companions so is not constantly under the daunting shadow of Baker. Her best scenes come with the big rocket break out scenes, which she plans, but during the actual escape she comes across as helpless (which is apparently not one of Sarah's character traits) and irritating, and I for one have a lot of sympathy with the Thal guard who threatens to drop her from the top of the rocket. Later in the story, during part five, Sarah gets a virtually unexplained costume change from a skirt to trousers seemingly for no other reason that to spare Liz Sladen's blushes during the final aerial shots of the regulars spinning through space.

It is quite annoying for the viewer that throughout the story, the Doctor comes so close to achieving his mission but ultimately failing so many times; the aborted Kaled enquiry, his blackmail of Davros and then his own explosives. Actually, the whole concept of the story creates an odd anachronism - we all know that the Doctor must fail in his mission to prevent the Daleks from being created otherwise there would be no Daleks and the previous umpteen Dalek stories would not have occurred and there could never be another Dalek story - something most definitely not in Terry Nation's interest! It is to the credit of the story that despite this limitation it manages to maintain interest, and even a sense of suspense at the times when the Doctor is getting so close to succeeding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last of the quoted cases, producing one of the most famous scenes in Doctor Who's history - the "Do I have that right?" scene. Much has been written and said about this scene, and I do not intend to add to this, other than to say that it is rightly famous and a brilliant way of trying to escape the flaw in the story. It is however unfortunate that the Doctor does not have to make that decision then (as he later decides the Daleks must be destroyed), as the convenient entrance of Gharman is something of a kop out.

Virtually the whole of the production of "Genesis" is exceptional, and this is probably mainly due to director David Maloney. The story is one of the few occasions when you actually notice the direction, be it the atmospheric slow motion massacre in the opening scenes to more subtle shots like one of Nyder, his eye hideously enlarged by a magnifying glass. Part two sees the first use of a freeze frame ending on Doctor Who by Maloney; he would reuse the idea on "Planet of Evil" and, of course, "The Deadly Assassin".

Whether it is due to the direction or not, a lot of the story is very suspenseful. The main example of this is the break-out by the rocket workers, and there is a wonderful sense of "Will they escape or won't they?" When ultimately Sarah and Sevrin are recaptured, one is inclined to think the whole sub-plot pointless, with no point other than to pad out an episode and kill off the odd minor character. However, this overlooks the intense excitement that the sequence generates while it is actually running. Also effective is the climax of the story, with Bettan waiting impatiently to blow up the doors to the Kaled bunker, while the Doctor is still inside, trying to blow up the incubator room while hiding from Dalek fire. We all know that the Doctor won't blow up the incubators but will escape, but the scenes are still suspenseful.

Most of the design work on the story is excellent, especially the sets. Unusually, some of these have ceilings. Of course, not everything is perfect and the occasional design flaw threatens to degrade the story. This includes things like the cave where Davros's failed mutations are kept. Not only are the backdrops worthy of the following story, but the hideous mutations - of which we are warned to beware of in advance - are represented by a couple of plastic giant clams that wouldn't have looked out of place in an episode of the old Batman series. Also, the control panel to the Thal rocket is slightly comical with large buttons labelled FIRE and DESTRUCT. Although not really a fault, an unusual occurrence is that the arge CSO screen in Davros's office in part six is shown to be yellow (its real colour) when it is not activated. There do also seem to be a couple of discrepancies in continuity; firstly in some scenes Tom Baker wears a long brown overcoat, in others his coat is the more familiar shorter burgundy one. Also, for the first three episodes, Nyder wears a medal at his collar which is missing for the final three.

One of the better aspects of the design of the production is a sense of uniformity which is created, the Kaleds in matching black and white overalls and the Thals in military green combat suits. A nice touch is a Kaled symbol which crops up a lot, that of an eye with lightening flashes. The symbol is presumably inspired by Davros's single eye and designed to slightly resemble that of the Nazi SS. It crops up many times, especially on uniforms, but its most imaginative use is as the design for Davros's safe.

Another unusual incident is near the end of the story when a Dalek gets a monologue to the camera. This is rather silly in concept, but again works rather well, mainly due to Roy Skelton getting very worked up over his lines, and mostly they are very good lines to get worked up over. However, one line in particular is quite obvious but still works: "This is only the beginning..." For a story with a somewhat depressing atmosphere, "Genesis of the Daleks" ends with a surprising degree of optimism, despite the Doctor having failed in his mission and many people having been killed. The Doctor seems quite happy at the outcome, and a final explanation is echoed around as the Time Ring takes the regulars off to the next story:

"You see, I know that although the Daleks will create havoc and destruction for millions of years, I know that out of their evil must come something good..."
As I stated earlier, "Genesis of the Daleks" is probably the best colour Dalek story, and this is probably due to the revolutionary way in which it uses the Daleks - no longer are they the stars, the famous monsters that everybody wants to see. Instead they are just foils to a more interesting character, and the Daleks themselves are used sparingly throughout. I suspect that a lot of this is due more to Robert Holmes than Terry Nation, but whoever was responsible then the idea, which was certainly a gamble, worked. As a result, "Genesis" is a good story in its own right, certainly the best story of season twelve and an indication of the quality - and style - of episodes to come in the future.

Originally published in Think Tank issue 28 (Summer 1995). An edited version appeared in Enlightenment issue 21.



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