Big Finish: Doctor Who - DALEKS! GENESIS OF TERROR Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - DALEKS! GENESIS OF TERROR Review

Matthew Kresal discovers a familiar Genesis.
What is there to say about it that hasn't before? It's been called one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made, been novelized and condensed into an iconic LP record, and influenced generations of fans. But, like all good stories, it had its origins. Exploring that is the May 2023 Big Finish release, Daleks! Genesis of Terror, part of the company's recurring Lost Stories range.

Based on writer Terry Nation's first draft of the serial's opening episode, Daleks! Genesis of Terror (likewise Nation's original working title) opens with a full-cast drama. And it's clear from the opening moments, with Nicholas Briggs reading Nation's evocative stage directions, that the familiar is mingling with the new. The setting for the meeting between Tom Baker's Doctor and the Time Lord that sets him on his mission, for example, isn't a war-torn landscape but a garden evoking memories of the First Doctor's brief introduction in The Three Doctors. It's a contrast of imagery lost in the TV version, yet Nation put much thought into its presence from the stage directions.

Those differences become a recurring theme of the dramatized episode. There are dialogue changes, with lines delivered by different characters or in altered forms from their TV counterparts. Nation's original vision of the fight outside the Kaled bunker is quite different, down to a rather surprising moment from the Doctor. Indeed, a sizable action sequence from the TV version of this episode is entirely absent here, which affects the introduction of an iconic supporting character. Perhaps the most significant is the portrayal of the Kaleds themselves, lost in the transition from page to screen but remains intriguing nonetheless. Indeed, as a longtime fan of Genesis, getting this vision of its origins was a fascinating experience over 45 minutes.

As a longtime Big Finish listener, it's hard to fault the actual production. There's a certain thrill in listening to Tom Baker revisiting an iconic story in a new performance, particularly when lines and moments change. Meanwhile, having established themselves as Sarah and Harry in other productions, Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor are dang near uncanny here. Many of the supporting cast have only brief appearances, including Terry Molloy as Davros. Briggs as narrator, having done similar duty for The Curse of the Daleks stageplay, offers a subtle but effective presentation of Nation's stage directions and descriptions, bringing the writer's original vision to life in words. Combined with Jaspreet Singh's sound design and Briggs's music, each finding a middle ground between the iconic TV version and their own thing, it's a solid release from a production standpoint.

The rest of the release is dedicated to extras. Rounding off the first disc are readings of Nation's original episode outlines by the cast, with Miller and Naylor reading theirs in character as Sarah and Harry, respectively. There's behind the scenes interviews with members of the production per usual. Of them, those with Briggs and Producer Simon Guerrier offering insights into the history of Nation's scripts and the decisions made in presenting it as such here.

It's in the second disc that the extras hit their stride. Samira Ahmed, Guerrier's frequent collaborator for various BBC Radio documentaries, fronts a lengthy interview with early Tom Baker-era producer Philip Hinchcliffe that looks at Genesis and the season it was part of. It's a season and era frequently covered and in great depth, with the territory that Ahmed and Hinchcliffe return to will be familiar to anyone who has watched DVD extras or heard commentaries. Even so, the interview has moments of insight, particularly when Ahmed has the former producer looking at surviving production memos from the 1970s, including how Return of the Cybermen became the quite different Revenge of the Cybermen and dealing with Mary Whitehouse. The result is one of the better interviews with the producer available for fans wanting to know more about the production side of the programme.

That said, the question remains: is this worth picking up? It's a difficult question to answer in the face of criticism in some corners of social media, sometimes evoking over-the-top imagery of Big Finish producers swimming in money as if Scrooge McDuck by calling it a pointless cash-in. Listening to the extras, it's clear the amount of time and thought that went into making this and trying to make it the best it could be. As a fan of the broadcast serial and someone interested in alternate takes on Doctor Who's history, I can appreciate its presentation of Nation's original vision of the serial's opening installment. Whatever else this might be, it's certainly not a pointless cash-in, even if the differences are quite as dramatic as one might have thought. That said, I can sympathize with the point of view that only having a single episode with Nation's brief episode pitches might have suited this more to be a bonus disc on another Lost Stories release, ala Nation's The Destroyers pilot included with the Second Doctor Lost Stories box-set. Or, for that matter, having an extended interview with Hinchcliffe form the basis of one of Big Finish's series of interview releases.

Daleks! Genesis of Terror is a curiosity release. One that fans of Genesis of the Daleks or with a strong interest in the series' history will get the most from. But one that listeners should hear for themselves and discover the gulf between a writer's vision and a final production, birthing a classic story in-between.

Doctor Who: Daleks! Genesis of Terror is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2023, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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