Doctor Who: Looking Back At GENESIS OF THE DALEKS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At GENESIS OF THE DALEKS

Tony goes back to the beginning.
The Daleks.

Since almost the very beginning of Doctor Who in 1963, they’ve been a household word for hatred, fear, and xenophobia. The second adventure, and the show’s first to encounter alien beings, brought us the story of the Daleks as mutated survivors of a nuclear war, who had retreated into mobile tanks and who had a pathological hatred of all other races – at first on their planet, and later in the wider universe.

The thing about the Daleks as they had existed until Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor is that they were a phenomenon which had always existed. When we first met them in 1963, they already had a city of their own which was *ahem* staircase-free, with Dalek-sized doorways and a power grid which gave them the floor-based static electrical power they needed to move about in their personal tanks. By their second appearance, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, they had left their planet and invaded ours. After a cameo in The Space Museum, their next big appearance had them able to create time machines and follow our heroes through the vortex in The Chase.

By the time the era of the First Doctor was done, the Daleks had come on in leaps and bounds, to stand alone in Doctor Who as the ultimate evil.

It’s fair to say that the Second Doctor had two of the better Dalek stories – Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks – and that, by comparison, by the time of the Third Doctor, things were getting just slightly… meh in terms of Dalekmania. Despite not being a fan himself, Third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee faced them more than any Classic era Doctor other than William Hartnell incarnation, in Day of the Daleks, Frontier In Space, Planet of the Daleks, and Death To The Daleks.

By the time he was due to leave the role, his production team, Producer Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks, were commissioning another Dalek script from creator and writer Terry Nation.

Terry Nation was probably a genius, but he was also among the most… ecological of writers. Which is to say if he could recycle a plot idea, he absolutely would. When he submitted his initial ‘new’ Dalek story, the production team politely pointed out that it bore a striking resemblance to some of his earlier Dalek scripts.

Seeming to take this both in good and as a genuine revelation, Nation re-worked his original idea so that it dealt with the initial CREATION of the Daleks. By way of giving the audience something new, he would take them back to the very beginning of the Daleks. Their… Genesis.

In the meantime, there had been a change both in the actor who played the Doctor, and in the production team. New producer Philip Hinchcliffe and new Script Editor Robert Holmes would eventually gain a reputation for achieving a level of horror in Doctor Who that triggered campaigners for televisual decency.

With a new Doctor and some scripts that had been commissioned by a previous production team, Hinchcliffe and Holmes set about introducing Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor to the world, in a first season that used three returning monsters – Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans – while delivering a Frankenstein allegory in Robot, the first story for the new Doctor, and introducing a new body-horror alien, the insectoid Wirrn for The Ark In Space.

They tweaked the re-submitted script for Genesis of the Daleks in their own, darker style.

When it hit screens as the fourth story of Season 12, it was something with more intense and stifling atmosphere than had been seen in Doctor Who for many a day. That was right, and that was important – if you’re going to tell the story of the genesis of the ultimate evil, you need the atmosphere to be intense, because you have to answer the question of why the Daleks could even have conceivably been thought to be a good idea.

The six-part story ran from 8 March-12 April, 1975, and there are people who will tell you it has yet to be bettered.
The way into the story is unusual and full of exposition. Arriving by time ring, rather than as usual by Tardis, and arriving absolutely not where he intends, the Fourth Doctor is visited by a Prologue, in the form of a Time Lord who tells him there may be a time when the Daleks wipe out all other life. The Time Lords are sending the Doctor in at the moment of their creation, to destroy them, to avert their creation, or to gain some vital knowledge about them that could help stop them ultimately ruling the universe.

It’s an unusually clunky beginning, which is followed by an extended moment of almost domestic terror when the Doctor treads on a landmine and has to get help from his companions, Sarah Jane and Harry, to avoid having his leg blown off a handful of minutes in. They are on Skaro, home planet of the Daleks, and this is clearly not a nice place. Moments later, we learn quite how nasty the place can be, as a creeping barrage and a ghastly gun attack are shown in almost relentless, chilling detail, bodies being hit and falling in an underscoring of the futility and horror of war.

Here’s the thing about the Genesis of the Daleks though. There’s a lot of toing and froing that could really be cut down. The pacing of the landmine incident, the lead-up to the attack, and most of what follows, is languorous and expansive, rather than tight or urgent. When the Doctor and Harry are captured by one side in the war going on outside, and Sarah Jane is led away by ‘Mutos’ – the genetically wounded who have been cast out to fend for themselves – the toing and froing begins. The Doctor and Harry are captured by Kaleds (yes… quite!), who are among the least subtle Nazi parallels in the whole of Doctor Who history. That’s understandable, given that it’s the Kaleds who will go on to become the Daleks. The Kaleds, even before they achieve their destiny in personal tanks, live for one thing and one thing only – the destruction of the other humanoid race on their planet, the Thals.
From the moment the Doctor and Harry arrive in the Kaled dome – the grand city of the Kaleds – there’s a lot of shifting from pillar to post, as they try to rescue Sarah, undergo interrogation, and are forced to give up all their knowledge of the stars and space travel.

Sarah, having encountered the Mutos, is then captured by the Thals – themselves little better than the Kaleds at this point in their endless war for existence and supremacy. She’s forced into slave labour, building a rocket that will destroy the Kaled dome forever.

Yes, there’s lots of toing and froing in Genesis of the Daleks, with the Doctor and Harry crossing the wastelands of Skaro more than once, to warn both the Kaleds and the Thals about what’s happening. Sarah and a Muto friend, Sevrin, even add to the toing and froing on a vertical axis, with an escape attempt from the Thal dome which involves climbing up the scaffolding surrounding the Thal rocket and out onto the roof.

So while some people feel Genesis of the Daleks is a high point (or even THE high point) of Doctor Who storytelling, more sober souls recognise the padding around its middle.

The thing is: nobody much cares about the padding, though.

Nobody much cares because of one central performance. The performance of a man named Michael Wisher, who had provided Dalek voices during the Jon Pertwee era, and had also appeared in non-Dalek roles.

In Genesis of the Daleks, he embodies the story’s fundamental master-stroke – Davros, the in-universe creator of the Daleks.
From the moment Michael Wisher’s Davros appears on screen, the whole story is about him. Not only does he give us the most vivid visual and philosophical impact as a disabled humanoid, using the base of a Dalek as his wheelchair and life support system, but he acts as the ultimate product of a racist, politically ruthless, and scientifically driven society. Injured in a Thal attack, only the technology in his Dalek chair keeps him alive, but he is nevertheless a scientific genius, and he uses the basis of his own experience to build the Mark Three Travel Machine – the Dalek casing – as a home for the radioactively mutated embryo-creatures he has calculated his race will eventually become.

Michael Wisher may just possibly have been a performance genius, because with a disturbing mask of withered old age on his face, through with he could see very little, he gave the performance of a lifetime, making Davros cold, but rational. Ruthless, but persuasive. Scientific, but when the moment calls for it, murderously insane. He, with his secret police-style lapdog, Nyder (Peter Miles), are clearly both ultimate end products of a war of insane notions of genetic purity, and the driving forces for the actions that can bring it to an end.

As the story progresses, we thrill to the politicking Davros does as resistance against the course of his work builds among the more humane Nazis of the scientific corps. Ultimately, for his creation – the Dalek – to survive, Davros will go beyond the point of preserving Kaled life. The Kaleds and the Thals BOTH will be sacrificed to the genesis of the Daleks.

Beyond the powerhouse that is Michael Wisher’s performance, one of the things that make Genesis so memorable is a handful of genuinely world-class philosophical speeches. The Doctor and Davros, discussing scientific ethics, expound the idea of power as a responsibility sometimes more honoured by its non-use, using the example of a deadly virus. The Doctor, contemplating destroying the Daleks, gives a speech outlining the ‘Hitler as a child’ dilemma – could you kill the child before he became the dictator? Davros, describing power, gives a diatribe about the creeds of cowards, including democracy as a system ‘that listens to a thousand viewpoints and tries to satisfy them all.’ And at the end of the story, when the Thals have destroyed the Kaleds, and the Daleks have destroyed almost everyone else, a Dalek itself gives a speech direct to camera, screaming that they will inevitably becomes the most powerful creature in the universe –
Which of course is where we came in. At best, the moral indecision of the Doctor has set the development of the Daleks back a thousand years or so. He ends by claiming that he knows the Daleks will also act as a force for good, bringing together allies to fight their greater evil (a neat reference to the Second World War – and to the greater European cohesion in the decades that followed).

Genesis of the Daleks is long and padded, but as we said, nobody cares, because Michael Wisher’s Davros is such a sublime piece of characterisation and storytelling. He makes absolute sense of where the Daleks came from, and Davros went on (without Wisher in the chair) to feature in every single Dalek story for the rest of the Classic era of Doctor Who.

The Daleks were always a warning against totalitarian thinking. Adding Davros in Genesis of the Daleks was a stroke of genius that reinforced their original message, and provided a grim warning that the Daleks were once humanoids like us – and that totalitarianism was a human trait FIRST, before it was ever locked in a tank and sent out into the universe. The corruption of the human SOUL leads inexorably to the genesis of the Daleks – whether they’re in an armoured shell, or whether they still LOOK like the humans around them.

Watch Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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