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16 February 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 412: Genesis of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Since Lis Sladen joined the series with The Time Warrior, I’ve been taking the opportunity to listen to the audio book of her autobiography again. I’ve heard it all before when it was first released a couple of years ago, but having her turn up in the show has given me a real desire to hear all of her anecdotes again. There’s one she tells about this story, and specifically about the filming of the sequence in today’s episode where Sarah Jane and the other prisoners make a break for the scaffolding in an attempt at freedom.

She talks about David Maloney’s desire to make the scene the best that it could be, so while she’d expected it to be a short day filming a simple climb up the scaffolding, they were up and down all day until they had the scene just right. Sladen’s biggest complaint is that the bars of the scaffolding were that bit too far apart, which made it more of a struggle to climb, and even more exhausting than it might have otherwise been. You can see that, watching the finished scene, and she really does have to struggle to reach every new rung during the climb… but it’s so effective! Had the bars been closer together and the actors were able to climb up just like a ladder, it would have made the escape attempt look too easy. As it is, you can really see them having to work for it, and it adds a certain layer of realism to the proceedings.

It also helps that it’s such a lovely set. Right from the first forced perspective shot of a model rocket, the whole room simply works. Once we’re onto film for the climb sequence, it just looks brilliant. The lighting is very well done, the direction makes good use of switching from longer shots to close ups… yeah. It’ all just holds together well. It’s something that’s evident right the way through this episode – the sets and the design are all very well done. I spent a fair bit of time praising the way in which everything held together during The Ark in Space, but then this is just on a whole new level.

Everything is drawn from a very muted colour palette. The entire world of Skaro is painted in blacks, whites, greys, and silvers. Even when we get glimpses of the ground outside, it’s a kind of flat, washed-out brown. Everything from the barren, smokey landscape outside to the reflective corridors of the Kaled bunker conforms to this simple palette, which makes it all the more exciting when the Doctor, Sarah, or Harry arrive on screen (it’s not – ironically – the multi coloured scarf which helps the Doctor stand out, but rather the deep burgundy of his jacket), or when we get our shot from the inside of the ‘incubation chamber’, and the screen is filled with a vivid green light.

It’s almost cinematic in the way that colour is being used here, and you really get the impression that a great deal of work and thought has gone into making it all look just right. The only thing which I’m finding distracting is the Thal’s guns… because they’re the same ones as used by the Drahvins in Galaxy 4! I noticed it yesterday, when the Doctor compares the weapons as being several centuries apart in their development, but assumed they’d just pulled something out of the BBC props store for use in the one scene, but it seems like they’re continuing to use them throughout the rest of the tale, too. I rather like the idea that these props still existed ten years after their initial use, and can be pressed into service once more for the Doctor’s adventures.

When I’m not sat thinking about how good this story looks, I’ve been admiring the dialogue. There’s some really great exchanges scattered throughout these 23 minutes, and I’ve written down far more snippets of conversation than I could ever repeat here in one blog entry without simply replicating the script. All of this great dialogue is helping the cast to turn in some absolutely stellar performances, and once again I find my praise being drawn to our new Doctor. Genesis of the Daleks was the penultimate story filmed during Tom’s first production block (Terror of the Zygons was filmed after this one, but was then held back for Season Thirteen when the start date was brought forward), and you can really see that he’s found his feet by now. I’ve been singing his praises since the very first episode of Robot, but here he’s really managed to get the performance down to an art. The key moment has to be when scientist realises that the Doctor must be from an alien world, and as he spells out the realisation… the Doctor just grins at him. We’ve seen Tom flash his huge smile plenty of times by now, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it quite like this.


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