Blightyvision: Doctor Who — “Genesis of the Daleks”

Created by Sydney Newman
Written by Terry Nation
Starring Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and Ian Marter
Guest Starring Michael Wisher and some Daleks

When I became a hardcore Whovian in college (you know, back in the days when “New Who” meant “Fox movie”?), I never thought I’d utter the word “subtlety” in reference to Tom Baker.  But when rewatching some classic Doctor Who serials searching for something that would speak to new fans, I was surprised by the vast difference in old vs. new portrayals of the Doctor.  Perhaps it’s the writing, perhaps the pool of actors from which Doctors were selected, or perhaps the time period itself, but there was an undercurrent of calm arrogance that defined the Doctor pre-2005.

“Genesis of the Daleks” is, partly in that way, an interesting hybrid, in that it presents elements that carried over to the new series while really driving home the spirit of the classic.

The serial, despite falling in the middle of a TARDIS-less mini-arc, stands alone quite well as a story.  The Doctor and his two current companions, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, find themselves transported to the Dalek home world of Skaro by the ever-douche-y Time Lords.  Their string-jerking this time comes in the form of sending the Doctor on a mission to stop the Daleks from being created — or, failing that, to nuke the first batch as quickly as possible.  Whilst attempting to carry this out, the Doctor meets mad scientist Davros, another in his ever-growing Gallery of Ultimate Enemies, for the first time.

This really is one of Tom Baker’s better stories as the Fourth Doctor, moving effortlessly between his usual easygoing affability and a careful treatment of the Doctor as the “old man of the universe.”  Lis Sladen is as good as we’ve come to expect, though not quite as “go-get-’em” as we get to see her elsewhere.  Michael Wisher, who lent his voice to the Daleks in the ’70’s, is wonderfully cold and wicked in his one outing as Davros, especially considering we can’t ever actually see his face.

Our one-shot cast of Kaleds (forerunners of the Daleks — get it?) and Thals is strong enough, with occasional stand-outs from the otherwise typical alien extras.  The only one that really made me raise an eyebrow, though, was Guy Siner as the Kaled general Ravon.  While well-acted in general, Ravon came across more than anything as a camp Nazi … which, I remembered shortly after, was exactly what he played in the Britcom “‘Allo ‘Allo!” a decade later.

As a story in and of itself, “Genesis” does have its weak points.  For one thing, the six-episode serial feels perhaps an episode too long, with a roundabout subplot involving an underground rebellion that could have been tightened up to its own advantage.  For another, while I am ridiculously forgiving of cheap suspense gimmicks in Doctor Who of any era, the repeated loss of the Time Ring (the Doctor’s alternate means of travel) did feel a bit silly after a while.

However, as a point in Doctor Who canon history, it really does shine.  It’s a satisfying origin story for the series’ most memorable monsters, appropriately enough written by Terry Nation, the real-world creator of the Daleks.  This is a perfect gateway drug for new-school fans, too, as it features the first appearance of Davros (who appeared in “Journey’s End” in 2008) and includes a nice look at Sarah Jane in her early days.  It also offers an eerie counterpoint to the 2005 episode “Dalek” — here, Daleks know no pity and the Doctor questions his right to destroy them; there, a Dalek begs the Doctor for pity.  Mind blown yet?

“Genesis of the Daleks” is now available on DVD.  Unfortunately, the DVD extras don’t seem to include anything addressing the portrait of herself Lis Sladen is hiding in her attic.