Thursday, 16 July 2009

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

Part One

“We Time Lords transcended such simple mechanical devices when the universe was less than half its present size.”

The story starts in what could be a First World War trench, a good location and an atmospheric beginning, as is to be expected from the director of The War Games. A Time Lord, dressed most peculiarly and not unlike a jester, asks the Doctor to perform a task, to his strong resentment- this is an arc which has been running since The War Games, when Doctor Who was less than half its present age, and the resentment has festered. Only at the mention of the Daleks does the Doctor agree to help, although his agreement has, naturally, already been assumed.

The first episode essentially serves to introduce the TARDISeers to the situation on Skaro; a thousand year war between Kaleds and Thals, regression of technology, mutos. But this is done, in a nice fusion of Nation and Holmes, by means of peril (soldiers, a landmine) and an escape and recapture. Nyder’s introduction is very effective- Peter Miles is magnificent- and his iron cross shows us what Kaled society, or at least its scientific “elite” is like, reinforced by the line “We must keep the Kaled race pure.” If that’s not enough, we even get a young Guy Siner.

And then we get a sight of the mysterious Davros. And a Dalek…

Part Two

“No tea, Harry.”

No reprise, surprisingly. But Michael Wisher is great from the off, and the plot’s kicking off in earnest. Terry Nation is writing this, so naturally the muto following Sarah (Sevrin) turns out to be a goodie. He and Sarah are captured, and forced to work on a rocket, where they risk contracting something called “distronic toxaemia” instead of radiation for some reason. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Ronson and his fellow dissident scientists, who are uneasy about Davros’ Dalek project. 

There’s some dodgy science on show; the Kaleds’ evolution is headed towards a “final form” apparently. Time to just smile and nod, I think. We get some more Nationisms as the Doctor and Harry trek through an underground passage marked by monsters and peril, while Sarah leads the Thals’ slaves in an escape attempt so exciting it happens on film. And what a cliffhanger.

Part Three

“Excuse me. Can you help me? I’m a spy.”

Well, it’s a disappointing resolution as Sarah just lands on a ledge, but as far as I can see there’s no re-editing as legend would have it. And it’s also disappointing that, having jumped over a chasm, Sarah and Sevrin are swiftly recaptured by a couple of sadistic Thal guards.

Harry, meanwhile, is menaced by a giant clam in a scene which has rightly assumed legendary status, but he and the Doctor eventually get to Thal dome. Now, is it me, or does it stretch credulity somewhat that, firstly, the Doctor, a non-Kaled and a non-person in a time of war, would be allowed to address the Kaleds’ ruling castle, let alone manage to convince them? Surely, from their point of view, his tale of time travel and other planets would result in at least some scepticism?

Agree they do, however, and Davros is ordered to suspend his work. Michael Wisher is outstanding in Davros’ speech to Mogran, apparently agreeing to his demands. But he is in fact ready to kill all Kaleds ouside the bunker of the elite. It’s a genuine shock to see Davros in the Thal dome betraying his own people.
Incidentally, it’s often pointed out that the Kaled and Thal domes are rather close to each other, which is said to be implausible. I’m not sure, though- both civilisations seem to consist of only one city, with the rest of the planet apparently depopulated (either that or just not taken into account by Terry Nation, of course!), so surely the fact these two city-states are at war at all would indicate they’re quite close together?

Part Four

“Thank you. That’s what I wanted to know.”

This story is great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not going to pretend it stands a chance of getting any less than a 5/5 in spite of a few of Terry Nation’s usual foibles being there, but the tone’s a bit odd. The Kaled dome is destroyed in scenes of pure horror which touch some dark themes, and as the story progresses we’re going to see the tone darken and lots of basic moral philosophy. But all this co-exists with the usual Terry Nation Flash Gordonness and functional dialogue in a rather odd way. The story deals with some very adult themes in some places and feels very much pitched at young kids in others.

Things get even darker as Daleks turn up at the Thal dome and start shooting everyone, but at least Sarah and Harry are alive. There’s a genuine feeling of hopelessness, not least because Gharman and his fellow rebels are so wet. It couldn’t be more obvious that Nyder, who couldn’t not be sinister if he tried, is tricking him. But even the menace Nyder exudes pales in comparison to the threat posed to Harry by some motionless giant clams on the way back. The welcoming committee of Davros and Nyder (bit of a coincidence, that!) pale in comparison.

The ending is chilling, with Davros demanding the Doctor gives him the reason for every future Dalek defeat (“You will tell me!”) or he’ll inflict more pain on Sarah and Harry. But why doesn’t the Doctor just lie?

Part Five

“Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods!”

The Doctor gives Davros what seems to be unnecessarily thorough account of future Dalek defeats, although he makes a continuity blunder in claiming that The Dalek Invasion of Earth takes place in 2000. this scene takes an odd view of time travel and causality, too- surely if the future is changed once, the other defeats won’t arise in the same way because of the butterfly effect? Nevertheless, Michael Wisher is magnificent in these scenes.

Gharman shows himself to be very pacifistic, probably too pacifistic to stand a chance, particularly in a story written by Terry Nation. We can see from the start that he’s a weak character who clearly stands no chance.

It may be Gharman giving the ultimatum to Davros from an apparent position of strength, but Davros speaks and behaves as the one in control at all times, giving an impressive speech. He simply decides that the meeting is to take place in one hour and Gharman lets him. In a simple but clever piece of dialogue Davros ends the scene by saying to Gharman “You may go.” It’s obvious what Davros is planning, and that he will succeed, but there’s a horrible fascination in how he sets about doing it. This is a perfect portrayal of a high-functioning psychopath.

Part Six

“Pity? I have no understanding of the word.”

The Doctor’s dilemma, over whether to commit genocide by destroying the Dalek embryos, is a powerful moment, however unpolished the lines may be. Significantly, the Doctor doesn’t get to decide, being interrupted by Gharman- but perhaps he’s too quick to wash his hands of it, and it’s partly wishful thinking that makes him believe Gharman stands a chance. We, the viewers, know perfectly well he doesn’t, and are not at all surprised to see the Daleks exterminate all those not loyal to Davros.

Appropriately, it’s a Dalek, not the Doctor, who connects the wires and destroys the Dalek embryos, but it’s too late to avert their creation. In fact, everything about the end of this story seems fitting, with the Daleks’ final betrayal of Davros being the perfect ending. The Doctor has achieved something; blowing up the Daleks’ incubator room as apparently delayed them by “a thousand years”. But the story ends with us in no doubt of the Dalek threat.

Well, that may not be as deep as its reputation among fans would suggest- it’s a Terry Nation script, not Edge of Darkness- and it may have functional and sometimes poor dialogue at times, but it has to be an easy 5/5 in spite of everything.

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