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Genesis of the Daleks

Reviewed by Alistair Hughes


'... although I know that Daleks will create havoc and destruction for untold thousands of years, I also know that out of their great evil ... some ... great ... good ... must come.'

It occurred to me that the only way to find something new to say about this much-lauded story was to approach it from a negative point of view. So I sat down to watch Genesis of the Daleks determined to find fault in it. I succeeded: counting off the perceived faults of these six episodes on my fingers, I almost used up a single hand. In other words, Genesis appears to be about as close to perfect Doctor Who as you are likely to find. Like many good Doctor Who serials it is a very 'talky' story, and what thought-provoking, beautifully scripted and performed talk it is, too. Not only do we have two of the most famous speeches in the programme's long history (the Davros-Doctor 'hypothetical virus' exchange and the wonderful 'But do I have the right?' speculation when the Doctor literally holds the fate of the Daleks in his hands), but almost every character gets to act their socks off with a moving speech or meaty dialogue scene.

Baker strikes the balance between his Doctor's extremes of grim brooding and manic humour perfectly, in this story. His presence is so totally compelling that it's no wonder he wins the Kaled council over (partially, at least).

But for most people Genesis of the Daleks means only one thing: Davros. And quite rightfully, top honors go to Michael Wisher. Watching him this time I was struck by the fact that not only does he have to contend with a full head mask and the very limited use of one hand, but the character is totally immobile. Sitting stiffly upright and staring straight ahead, Davros exhibits no body language whatsoever. Wisher doesn't have the option of performing with his eyes, and even his voice is robbed of its full vocal range. And yet through all this, he reaches us, and firmly establishes Davros as one of the most chillingly memorable villains ever. A master manipulator, Davros only loses control of the situation at the very end. Pleading with his creations to show pity, he discovers that it's precisely because of his own design that the Daleks do not even understand the word.

And speaking of design, it would be criminal not to cite this area of the production as another reason for the serial's success, with visual references to both our world wars effectively conjuring a sense of impending doom. Michael Wisher may bring the almost dead Davros to life, but the character's visual appearance is a triumph for the production team. Elements which might usually disappoint in a Doctor Who story are stylishly successful here, the Thai rocket launch and subsequent fiery destruction of the Kaled dome being a good case in point. Preparing to cringe as the countdown approaches (an experience familiar to anyone watching a Doctor Who story with non-fans, while nervously anticipating an embarrassing special effect) we are elated to see this sequence executed so well.

This seems to typify Genesis. It scores points so consistently that you forgive the flaws and follow the story with enjoyment and admiration. Genesis of the Daleks is a good reason to be a Doctor Who fan.

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: Genesis of the Daleks