In the classic Doctor Who serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” the Time Lords instruct the Doctor to travel to Skaro before the Daleks were created in order to prevent them from existing. There, we discover just how the Daleks were born into existence. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch a classic episode of Doctor Who.
Ok, this serial was incredibly long, repetitive, kind of silly, and had a whole lot of running and hiding. But you know what? DON’T CARE. Because this is easily my favorite classic Who story I’ve seen so far.
I like the Daleks because they can alternate between terrifying me and making me laugh. What they represent—the call for racial purity, the outcasting of those who are different—makes them the best of the reoccurring villains on this show. I still remember my introduction to them via “Dalek” in the first series of nu-Who. (Awww, now I miss Eccleston just a bit.) Not only was that a great introduction, it did what a lot of good fiction does for me: It made me ask questions. Where did the Daleks come from? Why were they designed this way? What’s with the pepperpot casing? Why do their voices sound weird? Why do I resemble a seven-year-old in class with my hand raised high, waving it around and hoping the teacher will pick me?
I didn’t check the dates for when this story arc initially aired. I like to surprise myself with whichever Doctor I’m about to watch. OMG YAY TOM BAKER, YOU ARE MY FAVORITE. But I had just assumed this story would take place with the first or second Doctor, since it was an origin story. But Terry Nation’s script is so much more intriguing than that. In the timeline of the show’s canon, we’ve already met the Daleks. This was in the twelfth season, many years after the show debuted. Nation created an origin story by adding a twist: could the Doctor return in time to erase the existence of the Daleks?
It was surprisingly easy to pay attention to this very, very, very, very, very long serial (seriously almost two and a half hours long WHAT THE FUCK) and a lot of that falls on a few things: Terry Nation’s story is just so fascinating! He doesn’t avoid making some uncomfortable (but necessary) parallels to real life events. Tom Baker and his companions are fantastic and I loved seeing Sarah Jane Smith for the first time. (Also, if you think about it…how awesome is it that they got the exact same actress for the show like thirty years later? That’s amazing.) On top of that, while there was a lot of posturing and talking and clever monologue-ing, this episode was full of a lot of believable action and dramatic twists. I liked the scaffolding climb scene/cliffhanger a lot because SCAFFOLDING IS FUCKING TERRIFYING. RIGHT?
I was reminded of “The Caves of Androzani” in the first part of this serial, as the Doctor and his companions are dropped into warring factions on the planet Skaro: the Kaleds and the Thals. The roots for what the Daleks would eventually become are sown in this strife: many Kaleds were mutated by chemical warfare and are thus exiled out of the community for being imperfect. (I don’t know if it was outright confirmed, but were the chemicals from the Kaleds themselves?) This desire for perfection is certainly a huge factor in the creation of the Daleks and also will support an idea that first popped up in this first part.
We are then introduced to a LOT of characters. Not as many as “The Caves of Androzani,” but still. A lot of names and faces, many who perish, but certainly a whole lot I was forced to try and remember. Security Commander Nyder was definitely the easiest of the bunch to stay in my head, and it certainly helped that as soon as he was introduced, I yelled at the TV, “EVIL! EVIL!” I mean, how could he not be evil? Look at his face!
But the point that Terry Nation makes in introducing Nyder and Davros is about absolute knowledge and absolute power. To the Kaleds, it is inconceivable that there is life outside of the seven planets in their system. It’s so inconceivable that the Kaleds, including Nyder, react with violent hatred towards the Doctor and his companions. I have a feeling that part of this is because of Davros, but I suspect that if Davros had never even shown up on Skaro, they’d still be the same way.
Which brings me to a point that will either make me look silly or wildly insightful: I totally think the Kaleds and Davros are modeled after the Nazis. (Man, I bet at least a million people have already said this before.) I mean…look at their uniforms! And the way they walk. And their obsession with racial purity, especially in the context of wanting to eliminate those who do not fit their mold. They’ve already outcast the Mutos for being different, and Davros creates the Daleks as a method for reaching that purity.
The great irony in this all is that in discovering how the Daleks were created, I realized that the Daleks themselves weren’t all that pure. They are mutations, designed by science, sure, but mutations nonetheless. I suppose that when it was referenced in the new series that the Daleks were created for a specific purpose, I never realized how literal that was. In that sense, “Genesis of the Daleks” truly is a necessary serial for any Doctor Who fan to watch.
Beyond just providing us with the fantastic origin story of the Daleks, I now see where Russell T Davies got his cues about forcing the Doctor to analyze himself. After the charges were set in the Kaled mutation room, I assumed that the Doctor wouldn’t hesitate to prevent the deaths and suffering of hundreds of millions of creatures. Given the context of this airing in 1975, I was completely enthralled that this was on public television. The Doctor had to actually think about committing genocide. Could he do it? Could he also ignore that there was a significant silver lining to the Dalek’s existence? How much of his own life would he change if he prevented the Daleks from coming into this world?
As a companion to this, the Doctor’s conversation with Davros about the morality of the Daleks was equally as fascinating, and I imagine it’s a scene that many people would choose as a highlight of Tom Baker’s era. By framing the situation as if Davros was creating a viral weapon, could the Doctor use intellect and logic to instead dissuade Davros from continuing to create the Daleks? For a moment, I believed he might have actually changed Davros’s mind, but alas, it seems destined for the Daleks to exist. Still, I love that the Doctor chose to frame it all as a virus. The analogy works well, because Davros had no idea when creating the Daleks that they would very quickly become a being all of their own, uncontrollable and independent of their creator.
I can look past the length, the many chase scenes, and the awkward pacing with ease. This was a fantastic serial, an interesting origin story, and further proof that Doctor Who really can be timeless. Goddamn, I love this show.
- I have spoken rather highly of this serial, and for good reason, but it was hard for me to ignore some of the silliness. Like the mutated…clams? What were those things? Either way, when Harry got his leg stuck inside of it, it was one of the least tense scenes I’ve ever watched.
- On that note, the Doctor had two companions! And one was a male! Why does this make me use exclamation points!!!
- What on earth was the Time Lord in the very beginning wearing? I just re-watched The Seventh Seal and I could swear that was the exact same outfit.
- One of the more interesting twists in the story was having the Doctor tell Davros all of the methods that the Daleks were defeated by. I mean…could his mission get any worse? Not only had he not destroyed the Daleks, but now he was guaranteeing their invincibility.
- More specials! And then “The Mind Robber!” This will be a fun week of Doctor Who.