Monday, 12 August 2013

Story 78 - Genesis of the Daleks

In which the Time Lords intercept the Doctor and send him to Skaro. He and his companions had been returning to the Ark by transmat, but now find themselves in a desolate wilderness. A Time Lord emissary informs the Doctor that he has arrived just before the creation of the Daleks. His mission is to prevent their genesis, or at least cause them to be less belligerent creatures. The Time Lords have foreseen a time when they might otherwise dominate the universe. A war of attrition has been fought for hundreds of years between the Thals and the Kaleds. Their domed cities lie on opposite sides of the battlefield. The Doctor and Harry are captured by Kaled soldiers and find themselves in a bunker outside their city. This is home to a special scientific-military elite. In control is Davros, a brilliant scientist confined to a wheelchair after a terrible accident. Concerned about the ultimate evolutionary form for his race, he has been working on the Mark III travel machine - a mobile armoured shell which will house the Kaleds' mutated form. Future generations will know this as a Dalek.

Sarah sees a Dalek being tested in the wastelands, before being attacked by a group of "Mutos" - scarred remnants of both races who are forced to scavenge. She is saved from death by one of them - Sevrin. They are both captured by Thal troops and taken to their city. Here they are put to work, loading a rocket with distronic explosives. The radiation from these shells will ultimately kill them. An escape attempt fails. The Doctor and Harry escape with the help of a scientist named Ronson. They should go to the Kaled city and try to get Davros' experiments halted. Many of the elite are not happy with the nature of his researches. He has been genetically manipulating the mutated embryos to remove any sense of pity or compassion. When Davros  finds his work threatened by his own government, he and his henchman, Nyder, travel secretly to the Thal city. He offers the formula for a chemical which will soften the Kaled dome - and allow their rocket to break through. The Doctor and Harry witness this treachery when they break into the city to rescue Sarah. Soon after, the Kaled city is destroyed. Davros feigns indignation and accuses Ronson of being a traitor. He becomes the first victim of a Dalek. A squad of the creatures are sent by Davros on a "revenge" attack on the Thal dome - massacring everyone they encounter.

With the war over, Davros can concentrate on the creation of his Daleks. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry are captured, and Davros forces the Doctor into revealing his future knowledge of the creatures - recounting their various weaknesses and defeats. An elite officer named Gharman begins to organise opposition to Davros. Sevrin frees the Doctor and his companions from their cell. The Doctor sends him into the wasteland to find a Thal woman named Bettan, who had earlier helped him. Together they must form a resistance against Davros from amongst the Thal and Kaled survivors, as well as Sevrin's people. After destroying the recording of future Dalek events, the Doctor is on the point of blowing up the mutant nurseries when his conscience stops him. To commit genocide would make him no better than the Daleks, and some good will come from people joining together to fight them. He is relieved when it appears that Gharman's group will succeed and force Davros to give his creations a moral conscience. Davros is only playing for time, and his Daleks exterminate Gharman and his people. However, they then turn on Davros' own supporters - including Nyder. They disobey their creator and start the Dalek production lines. When he tries to assert his authority, Davros is ignored and shot. The nurseries are blown up inadvertently by a Dalek patrol. Bettan seals the bunker after the Doctor and his companions escape. As they resume their journey back to the Ark using a Time Ring, given earlier by the Time Lord emissary, the Doctor contemplates that he has only delayed the emergence of the Daleks by a millennia or so...

This six part story was written by Terry Nation, and was broadcast between 8th March and 12th April, 1975.
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had set up the story prior to their departure - to aid both the new Doctor and the new producer into their roles. As recounted on numerous DVD commentaries, Nation originally submitted a fairly average Dalek tale. When asked if they liked it, Dicks told Nation that they did - just like they had when he had offered the same story the previous year. Nation did like to reuse familiar story elements. Tasked with going back to the drawing board, Nation came up with an origins story. The Time Lords send the Doctor back to stop the Daleks being born - or influence their development.
Naturally, we know from the outset that he isn't going to succeed - so the pleasure is in watching him try.
The story allows Nation to be more overt about the Nazi origins of his creations - the Kaleds being given a distinctly S.S. look (Peter Miles' Nyder even sports an Iron Cross in early scenes). Rather than a lab-coated mad scientist, Nation creates Davros as the twisted genius behind the development of the Daleks. By having him crippled, he can mimic his creations by having only one usable arm, a single eye, rasping electronic voice, and a familiar design to the wheelchair.
Michael Wisher had previously been providing Dalek voices. As Davros, he is superb. One of the greatest Doctor Who creations. Famously, he rehearsed with a bag over his head to get used to the restriction of John Friedlander's magnificent mask.

Nation also takes the Thals - usually portrayed as nice, peace-loving people - and shows their darker past. They are presented as vicious thugs and just as capable of war crimes and genocide as the Kaleds. The only truly sympathetic character in the whole of Skaro is Sevrin, and he is an aberration amongst his damaged people. He is portrayed by Stephen Yardley, who will return to the programme in Vengeance on Varos.
Other performances of note are Dennis Chinnery as Gharman, James Garbutt as Ronson, and Harriet Philpin as Bettan. Fans of 'Allo, 'Allo should look out for Hilary Minster as one of the sadistic Thal rocket guards (he had played the much nicer Thal Marat in Planet of the Daleks) and - as the boy general, Ravon - Guy Siner, minus his little tank.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Sarah stumbles upon a Dalek testing area, and sees their creator - Davros - for the first time.
  2. Escaping up the gantry of the Thal rocket, Sarah losses her grip and falls...
  3. The Doctor is trying to sabotage the Thal rocket when an injured guard reactivates the defence mechanism. Electricity courses through the Doctor's body...
  4. Davros threatens to torture Sarah and Harry. He becomes ever more insistent that the Doctor tells him what he wants to know.
  5. Sarah and Harry are wondering what is keeping the Doctor. He has gone into the Dalek nursery to plant explosives. He staggers out, with one of the mutants throttling him...
  6. The Doctor and his companions use the Time Ring to travel on to the Ark. The Doctor considers that he has merely delayed the Daleks - not destroyed them...

Overall, a great story. Hard to fault it in any way - though my younger self watching at the time did bemoan a lack of Daleks. A dark, very adult story. Davros is a wonderful creation in performance and execution. The scene between him and the Doctor discussing the hypothetical deadly virus is deservedly one of the series' greatest moments.
Things you might like to know:

  • A couple of reused props to look out for - an Ice Warrior breast-plate is used for one of Davros' failed experiments in the cave, and the Thal guns were once sported by the Drahvins of Galaxy 4.
  • A freeze-frame is used for the cliffhanger to part two - Sarah's fall from the rocket gantry. This technique will become a regular - often controversial - standard throughout the Hinchcliffe- Holmes era.
  • The Doctor discloses some unseen Dalek adventures when forced to reveal their future history to Davros - including invasions of Mars and Venus. One recognisable story is their invasion of Earth - which sounds more like the Peter Cushing version of events than the Hartnell one. This is moved to the year 2000 AD. Unless Davros has an extremely accurate lie detector, the Doctor may just be making all of this up. However, at least some of what he says must be true - hence his need to destroy the tape afterwards.
  • Another one of the six stories not to feature the TARDIS in any way.
  • The first story to feature the actual Dalek extermination ray.
  • Frequently voted the best Tom Baker story, and a regular top ten entry across the whole of the series, this is also David Tennant's favourite adventure.
  • It is widely accepted that this story marks the beginning of the Time War.
  • Does this story contradict prior Dalek history? Not at all - unless you regard the comics as canon. When the Thals and Daleks describe their history in the first story (The Daleks aka The Mutants, 1963-4) they are quoting a corrupted oral history. The egotistical Daleks are naturally going to have written Davros out of their history.

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