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.

5Jul/100

Caves and Twins: Series Fnarg

So that was Series Five. Or Series 31. Or Series One. Or Series Chin, whatever you want to call it.

The stakes were high, with news that filming was overrunning horribly, Matt Smith was crap and kept forgetting his lines, Karen Gillan was 'wooden' and Phil Collinson had been called back in to sort the whole mess out.

We won't reveal our sources, although it seems entirely likely that pretty much everyone in fandom knows where they came from, but let's just say there was an element of fear going into Series Fnarg.

And how wrong we all were eh? Chief among this wrongness were the rumours that Smith was crap. In fact, it's hard to imagine this being any further off the mark.

Matt Smith is wonderful, and his gentler, more alien, Doctor is perfect for Moffatt's 'fairytale' Doctor Who. The whole tone of this series feels a more comfortable place for Doctor Who, and the Doctor, to be than Russell T Davies' iteration - which was a series of ever-decreasing circles by the time the excellent David Tennant went, though his Doctor was not highly-liked in these parts.

It seemed almost unthinkable that the series, and Smith, could carry on where RTD and Tennant left off, but a fairly hefty shift in tone and pace and lead character has made it all look rather effortless.

For the first time in quite a while, the series felt much more Who than it had in a long time. Smith may just be the best Doctor... ever.

But while all the big things got sorted out, the parts that made up the whole didn't always feel right. Murray Gold's presence dragged the series back to a RTD vibe, and his syrupy/BOMBASTIC! style took away a lot of the nuances of the new series.

More bizarre still were some of the author/story choices. Toby Whithouse and Chris Chibnall delivered exactly what their previous stories suggested they'd deliver - utterly underwhelming stories that felt like a throwback to a couple of years ago.

Against rather lovely oddities like Amy's Choice, Vincent and the Doctor and The Lodger, they felt jarring in their straight-forward simplicity.

Mark Gatiss' Victory of the Daleks was, by all accounts, rather hacked to death in the editing suites and the end result was, frankly, a mess.

And stepping up to show-runner certainly sapped Moffatt's brilliance, with the slapdash The Beast Below and breakneck incoherence of The Big Bang.

There were no new, interesting monsters. In fact, the closest thing we got were the rubbish new Daleks. We had to put up with CGI thing hiding inside humans on at least three occasions, and the limits of the budget were evident in The Pandorica Opens when it turned out the Fucking Sycorax and the Fucking Weevils were in on the intergalactic plan to put the Doc away for good.

Still, Moffat handled the Autons and the Cybermen ten times better than RTD ever did - another subtle difference to the approach the two brought to the series.

And yet, funnily enough, it didn't really matter to me. The series felt fresh and fun. The Doctor seemed like, well, The Doctor. And Amy was breath of fresh air; a believable, volatile girl who didn't love her favourite Time Lord.

She may have had a slightly less healthy obsession with him, but inter-personal angst was banished from the TARDIS forever - 'I'm not that clingy!' seemed like a great riposte to the years of Marf and Wose.

Arthur Darvill's Rory eventually eclipsed the 'emasculated male' cipher that's been the default setting for most recurring male characters in the new series to become a rounded companion in his own right.

And, always at the centre of it, was Matt Smith. It's interesting to note that most new Doctors come into the role praising Patrick Troughton, and Smith took it a step further.

Watch him running - it's a straight lift from the Second Doctor. And he's always doing something with his hands - First Doctor? There's a bit of Four, Five and Eight in there too by our reckoning.

Not that The Eleventh Doctor is a pastiche; Smith has brought something new to the role again, and emphatically made it his own. He's a perfect choice.

So, series thingummy. A hearty slap on the back from us, and the best TARDIS crew in ages. No doubt tweaks will be made for next season.

Probic Vent demands Zygons and Yeti and the Dream Lord and a past Doctor and The Brigadier. And a remake of The Horror of Fang Rock. Simple enough eh? Oh yeah, and STOP RUINING OLD MONSTERS!

• Here's an end-of-season C&T for the series.

Caves

 

The Eleventh Hour - Fresh, fun and firmly established Smith as something new and interesting

Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone - A home run from Moffat, with plenty of twists and turns and great monstering

Amy's Choice - Offbeat and enjoyable - an episode that seems unthinkable under RTD.

Vincent and the Doctor - Intriguing, if cloying

The Lodger - Would have been horrible with Tennant. Good with Smith.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang - Absolute gibberish, but wins points for not having thousands of cloned Sontarans invading the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower. Magic Light and Power of Love notwithstanding.

Twins

 
The Beast Below - Too many elements that didn't seem to add up.

Victory of the Daleks - A horrible mess, and shit new Daleks. Almost saved by performances, but not quite.

Vampires of Venice - Dull filler

Hungry Earth/Cold Blood - Dull Chibnall filler that fluffed one of the most interesting premises in Who mythology.

• Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about?

Go here: Caves and Twins

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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