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18 February 2014

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

Day 414: Genesis of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

It’s a mark of the quality of this story that when I mentioned it to a colleague at work yesterday, who grew up watching Doctor Who in the 1970s, but only really takes a passing interest in it these days, his face lit up as he declared Genesis of the Daleks to the ‘the best Doctor Who story ever’. It seems to be a really common opinion, and I’m somewhat surprised to see it being shared by even people we’d consider to be ‘not-we’. I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, really, since this story has been repeated on terrestrial television more than any other from the classic series’ run – it must be doing something right!

What’s made a mark on me today is just how much you’re tricked into thinking that it really is the end for Sarah and Harry. The Doctor reminds us that he’s sent them off to the Kaled dome and then we’re forced to watch with him as the dome is completely obliterated. As if it needed any extra impact, the Doctor laments that he’s sent his companions into ‘that holocaust’, and seems genuinely defeated, before resolving that he’ll need to carry on with the task he’s been given, so that they’ve not died for nothing.

He then meets Thal, and minutes later saves her from a Dalek attack – it’s done almost in the way of him meeting a new companion for the first time. If I didn’t know that Sarah and Harry go on to have more adventures after this, and I were coming to this story cold for the first time, I think I’d genuinely believe that we’d lost the pair off-screen in the attack. As the episode then continues, we don’t actually see them until around ten minutes in – there’s not even a hint that they could have survived. In some ways it’s quite bleak, but it fits the tone of the story perfectly, and it does provide some great drama.

When my colleague was raving about how much he enjoyed this story, he did manage to inadvertently spoil a bit for me (in as much as you can spoil a story made and broadcast almost 40 years ago!) regarding the scene today where Nyder meets with scientist in the lower levels of the bunker and tricks him into revealing the names of the people who are plotting against Davros. He pointed it out as a scene that’s a little bit silly, specifically in regards to the way Peter Miles snaps back to attention when he’s got the information that he needs and responds with a clipped ‘thank you’. Watching the events unfold, I clearly knew where we were headed, and he was right – that moment is a bit silly. That said, there’s also something really menacing about the way that Davros then emerges from the shadows to greet the pair.

I’m a fan of the 1980s Davros, but the character we see in those three stories has nothing on the one we see here. The Davros of this story is perhaps the cruellest villain that we’ve ever been given in the programme. He’s willing to see his own race utterly destroyed in fire and pain simply because they dared to stop his experiments. He’ll have people killed when needed, and if he still requires their skills, then he’ll simply have their brains altered to support his way of thinking. There’s something really rather brilliant about it all, sinister and evil as it may be.

And yet, we’re starting to see a transition into the version of the character we get in the later Davros stories. Here, we get to witness him ‘ranting’ on more than one occasion, but it feels like the character’s decent into madness rather than simply something that he does. The ultimate rant then comes right in the closing moments, when he demands that the Doctor give him information on every Dalek defeat, so that he can make sure to overcome it. How do you think the Doctor will explain the one where they’re tricked into leaving Exxilon with bags full of the wrong minerals, and then get blown up?

I joke, of course, but this really does feel a million miles away from the Dalek story we were given in Season Eleven. I don’t know how much of this is down to Terry Nation upping his game (Terrance Dicks tells the story that Nation submitted his script for this story and they found it to be a complete rehash of all the ideas he’d used in Planet of, and Death to, so they suggested that he go away and given them something new, possibly about the Daleks’ origins), or how much comes from Robert Holmes’ input as script editor, but something has really gelled – this is in a whole other league.

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