Probic Vent Ood For Thought

19Jun/140

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 39: Genesis of The Daleks

Fourth doctor and thals

I'm a bit bemused as to how Genesis of the Daleks has ever topped any best-of lists. But that doesn't stop it being very good, nor does it stop it being very important.

Terry Nation (apparently at the prompting of Robert Holmes) finally does something interesting with the Daleks after a run of Pertwee stories that are very much diminishing returns. Once again in Genesis, the Daleks are a threat: cunning, merciless, genuinely evil with some unsubtle fascistic overtones - it's akin to the reboot (since squandered) the new series gave the pepperpots.

doctor and harry look

There's always a thrill to see how each new Doctor will tackle them and Tom's newness rubs off the Daleks - so tired and shagged out and a bit ridiculous by Death to the Daleks. And Sarah and Harry make the perfect foil - lending a human perspective. They are appalled at what they see; frightened, horrified. But they respond with bravery and succour for the Doctor, wrestling with his conscience.

For his part, the Fourth Doctor still feels alien, dangerous - yet he's funny too. Tom is still taking this deadly seriously, but that doesn't mean he doesn't show humour, fondness for his companions, empathy with the people he meets on Skaro, horror and anger at cruelty and injustice. It's the combination that makes Tom feel so vital at this point in the series. Yes, he's mad, boggling, weird, occasionally frightening. But he's like a bonkers uncle - the Doctor is always on our side; always good, kind, ready with a smile.

fourth doctor and davros

But at the centre of it all, Davros and the Daleks. Michael Wisher's performance is iconic, mould-breaking. Even Julian Bleach, more than 40 years later, doffs his cap to the original. It bears repeating just how hideous Davros is. Like a peach that's been left out in the sun he's wizened, dessicated. There's a whiff of decay and putrefaction about him. The crippled scientist isn't a monster - he's a human who's suffered something truly terrible. Somehow that makes him so much more disturbing and the faint element of tragedy makes him all the more rounded.

The Daleks are at their best - apparently basic, silent, neutered they inevitably, suddenly turn on their creator in a way that seems to make them all the more terrible, all over again. They think Davros is hideous too. Another shot of Sarah and Harry watching on a screen as the Daleks massacre the Kaled scientists is a perfect evocation of what makes the Daleks tick, cannily referenced 30 years later by Rob Shearman when van Statten asks why the Dalek will kill everyone: "Because it honestly believes they should die," explains the Doctor.

Genesis seems to have a reputation as being beloved of po-faced fans due to its supposed 'darkness' or 'grittiness'. In fact, it's not dark or gritty - it's bloody horrible. Soldiers are gunned down in Peckinpah-style slow-motion; Sarah is psychologically tortured ("they say people who fall from great heights are dead before they hit the ground. I don't believe that, do you?"); the Doctor nearly strangled by a mutant; Harry nearly eaten by a genetic mutation; Thals and Kaleds alike are pretty awful people and we virtually have two de facto genocides. Not to mention a scene where our heroes rip gas masks from corpses to survive gas attack.

sarah and thal

But I think what fans like so much about Genesis is that it's epic in a way that Doctor Who rarely was - it's like one of RTD's end-of-season finales, only the universe doesn't get rebooted because the Doctor wants to hump Sarah. Doctor Who only really pulled out the stops like this for regeneration episodes (after The Dalek's Masterplan anyway), as a result this is the series basically telling you that you're seeing something important. And, despite some rather pedestrian 'running-up-corridors' episodes, the story is up to it.

David Maloney's direction is among the best of the era; a cast packed with dependable character actors (Dennis Chinnery, James Garbutt, Peter Miles, Stephen Yardley, Guy Siner and Tom Georgeson - amongst others - in 'what-was-he-in?' appearances); "Have I the right?" is a punch-packing iconic moment delivered by an actor who represents what is probably one of the best bits of casting in television history - an actor who has found something he's been searching for all his life.

nyder ravon sarah sevrin kavell garmin

Genesis of the Daleks is a thorough rethink about what the Daleks are - and how best to use them. It brings down a curtain on Terry Nation's cut-and-paste quest-style narratives, marking a clear break from the past, despite the odd clam. It's also a break from the past that highlights just how much Doctor Who has changed over the previous few years. Oh, Ark In Space and Sontaran Experiment have their moments but Genesis isn't just about the Daleks' rebirth.

No cosy UNIT family here; no mother hen. The Brig isn't around, nor are Yates or Benton. Not even the vaguely avuncular Master, nor a TARDIS to fall back on. Jo has departed for the Amazon in what is surely one of the most allegorical departures in the series - growing up and growing out of the series - and the Third Doctor gone is a blaze of radiation and what seems most like a death of any of the regenerations.

davros and daleks

In their place mustard gas, minefields, holocaust, barbed wire, machine guns, fascism and genocidal violence. There's still humour and companionship, but it's set against a backdrop of genuine horrors that resonate with a time barely 30 years past. Just imagine Jo being dangled hundreds of feet above the ground by a sadistic Thal; Benton decked out in the might-as-well-be-Nazi outfit of a Kaled soldier, wielding a machine gun. Or the Third Doctor, stock still, his foot balanced precariously on a landmine. Pertwee and Delgado - two men who served in WWII - in a story about fascism and racism is, conversely, unthinkable. It just doesn't work.

have i the right

That Terry Nation got it up one last time is impressive; that he was able to tear the series away from its rut of the previous few seasons so violently and so confidently is astonishing. 12 years on from defining Doctor Who he redefined it for Tom Baker, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe.

Given how shagged-out the pepperpots are by the time the City of the Exxilons is crumbling in Death to the Daleks - and how depressingly familiar the narrative in Destiny of the Daleks is in a series again changed beyond all recognition just five years later - Genesis is perhaps the most important Dalek story of all.

16Mar/140

Doctor Who’s popularity over five years

If there were any doubts over what a slick machine Doctor Who has become under Steven Moffat and his revolving-door production team, have a gander at this graph of search terms over the last five years, tracking the relative popularity (in Google search frequency) of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

Granted, this isn't strictly a measure of their popularity solely in terms of Doctor Who, but all of the peaks in these charts represent some big new from the programme. The first heralds Smith's arrival, with subsequent high points for Tennant's departure, the 50th anniversary and Smith's final episode. However, one of the peaks bows the rest out of the water: the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor.

It's a phenomenal response to the news, albeit with an absolutely vast BBC campaign behind it generating unprecedented interest in Capaldi's arrival. It's debatable what we can take from this, but I think it tells us a lot about how important Doctor Who is to the BBC - and how much of a part the internet has to play in the continuing popularity of its greatest hits. Having said that, we can see that the programme has made significant year-on-year gains.

To be fair Doctor Who lends itself particularly well to this medium but the fact the announcement regarding Capaldi dwarfs the announcement of Smith by a factor of three suggests the Beeb has recognised - and very much courted the power of the web and social media.

What else? Well, it's interesting to note that Tennant tracks ahead of Smith at virtually all times, even after Tennant vacates the TARDIS. Eccleston, perhaps unsurprisingly doesn't have a huge volume of search engine hits, nor does Capaldi until he gets the Sonic Screwdriver.

As Smith's career has arguably been driven mainly by Who - and as he was The Doctor during the BBC's harnessing of the net in pushing its shows - let's have a look at how the respective actors have done around the world.

Perhaps it's no surprise that English-speaking countries have taken to the show, but the breadth of the international popularity is as surprising as Ian Levine maintaining a dignified silence on Twitter. South America, south-east Asia and Scandinavia all seem to have gone timey-wimey too.

Meanwhile, searching by news illustrates how social media and the web have overtaken traditional news sources - Smith's arrival easily outstrips Capaldi's. No Doctors have any meaningful coverage outside of English-speaking countries in news searches either.

Meanwhile Youtube searches indicate that the series remains popular across the board, with the unusual exception of Eccleston - perhaps he's too long ago for the internet generation to get a handle on, or perhaps his relative lack of episodes meant here not as much penetration - from Tennant onwards there's been a deliberate tactic to target online video with mini-episodes, trailers and exclusive content.

Meanwhile the surviving classic Doctors are fairly well represented. Colin's spell in the jungle, Sylv's Hobbit excursion, Paul's Night of the Doctor and Tom's return in the 50th special all generated notable peaks, thought it's interesting to note that they all maintain a certain level of interest.

Also, nice to see the departed Doctors are still popular on Teh Internets. A pleasant reminder that, here or not, they live on across the web.

Lastly, a reminder of the power of memes - and why you will always hear these bloody catchphrases.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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