Let me preface this review by saying that Tom Baker was my Doctor. I think I remember more of the Fifth Doctor, but my introduction to Doctor Who was with the wild-eyed curly-haired scarf-wearing guy with the tin dog, and so there may be a hint of prejudice in this review.
That said, Genesis of the Daleks is one of the all time classic Who stories; it has the definitive Doctor (at least until Ten), the longest serving companion (Sarah Jane Smith), and some Daleks (obviously), and it throws them all together in a whole new time, and gives the Doctor a moral dilemma of epic proportions.
The Daleks had been around the galaxy by 1975, so to breathe new life into them the Doctor is effectively kidnapped by the Time Lord hierarchy and sent to bump the Daleks off wholesale before they set foot (wheel? megnetic levitation device?) off Skaro.
It has to be said that from the outset this is not the Saturday tea-time family viewing that much of Doctor Who has always been; this is a very dark story. The Nazi undertones of the Daleks are very much brought to the fore early in the story, right down to hiring Lieutenant Gruber from Allo Allo to play one of Davros’ henchmen. Oh yes, this is where Davros gets added into the mix; it’s never quite explained where he had got to in the Doctor’s earlier Dalek encounters, but clearly this is the moment where Davros first encounters a Time Lord.
There are some silly moments, most memorably seeing Harry wrestling a giant clam that was supposedly one of Davros’ early genetic experiments, but in general the effects in this serial probably stand the test of time better than others of Tom Baker’s era (now we all recognise bubble wrap, for instance). Also Sarah Jane seems to scream rather a lot, but I’m sure that when she gets used to mortal peril she’ll be able to save the world on almost a weekly basis without a Time Lord companion. Anyway, really this isn’t about looking for plot-holes and wobbly sets, it’s about enjoying what is actually a really good bit of sci-fi telly.
Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy.
Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy.
It has oodles of tension, lots of running down corridors in search of one or more of our heroes, Davros being actually menacing, rather than just plain mental as he later seems, and of course, the big questions.
The Doctor is tasked with destroying the Daleks, and indeed manages to get himself into a position where he can, by fiddling with some bad wiring left on set, do just that. But of course this is the Doctor we’re talking about, and he quite reasonably thinks that genocide is a bad thing, and that he could probably just sit down with Davros, have a little chat over a bag of jelly babies and work through his issues in a more constructive manner.
So the Doctor tries his best to set Davros and his armed pepperpots on a less destructive course, but all the time the wibbly wobbly timey wimey nature of what he is doing must be bugging him as he wonders what other evils the galaxy would have thrown his way had the Daleks not been around to exterminate it…
It’s ironic of course that having talked himself out of committing genocide right at the beginning, later episodes such as Nine’s Dalek encounters seem to suggest that he did just that (or at least, attempted it) during The Last Great Time War. Maybe we’ll find out about that soon too…
END SPOILER ALERT!
Other than all that great stuff, the humour in much of the Fourth Doctor’s tenure is brilliant; even here, against the backdrop of neo-nazi’s about to wreak metallic extermination on an unsuspecting galaxy, the Doctor very calmly asks for a cup of tea. And this is quite some years before Arthur Dent would find himself in a similar position, and indeed before Douglas Adams would find himself in the Doctor Who script editor’s chair.
Maybe the darkness just highlights the humour of that mundane request all the more, or maybe the Fourth Doctor’s child-like grin and belief that a cup of tea and jelly baby will cure the universe of all evil appeals to me. Maybe, when all is said and done, the answer to all of life’s problems is actually a lot simpler than many of us would like to think.
Watch it for Tom Baker’s (definitive) Doctor, for the introduction to (a very evil and menacing) Davros, and for the occasional moment of Adams-esque humour against a dark background.
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