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GENESIS OF THE DALEKS
"Somehow, that just doesn't ring true."
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
Well, here it is. The Big One. The adventure commonly voted Best Who Story of All Time. Does it deserve the acclaim heaped upon it? Yes. And no.
There's no doubt that Genesis Of The Daleks makes a stunning impact. It's fantastically atmospheric, with a beautifully sustained mood of apocalyptic doom. The inevitability as well as the futility of violence are brilliantly conveyed. The story of the Thals and the Kaleds is as heartbreaking as it is riveting. The character of Davros is an inspired creation. And in the Doctor's famous "Have I the right?" scene, we hold our breath as the fate of billions comes down to the distance between two wires. The Doctor holds the constellations in the palm of his hand as we see fate changing before our eyes. It's dizzying. It's awe-inspiring. It's a monument to the power of the imagination. Amazingly, it's a children's programme.
But. But, but, but. The trouble comes when, after recovering from the dazzle, you start to look beneath the surface at what's underpinning the story. Disappointingly, it's an illogical, inconsistent mess.
Let's start with the Time Lords sending the Doctor back to Skaro to stop the Daleks evolving. Hang on a minute. Isn't this kind of meddling exactly why they punished the Second Doctor? And if they're this keen on tidying up history, why don't they do it all the time? Why not nip back and get rid of all the troublemakers, from the Cybermen to Hitler to those annoying price stickers that leave a squidgy mark? Because you'd be creating hideous time paradoxes right and left, that's why - just as the Doctor would wiping out the Daleks. We've come a long way from the First Doctor's "Not one line!" stance, and it's down a bad, bad road. Besides, who's to say that removing the Daleks from the timeline wouldn't make room for somebody even nastier? Nope. Rubbish idea all round.
Then there's the Doctor's attitude towards the whole thing. He happily accepts the Time Lords' commission, but with a wire in each hand, suddenly he isn't so certain. All perfectly fine by us - genocide no doubt sounds a lot more fun in the abstract than it does when it's you personally wiping out all those cute baby Daleks.
However, having made the decision, he then fudges his way around the consequences by facilitating the accidental destruction of the lab by the Daleks themselves. Come on, Doctor - what's the difference between twisting the wires together yourself and leaving them on the floor knowing a Dalek will run over them? His hands are clean, but only on the slimmest of technicalities.
Also, the Doctor labels blowing up the embryos as genocide, but he doesn't seem to see persuading the scientists/Davros to stop Dalek evolution in the same light, even though they have exactly the same effect.
Finally, instead of sticking to his guns, that whatever the consequences he couldn't destroy the Daleks as doing so would make him as evil as they are, at the end the Doctor takes an each way bet by maintaining that it's all okay anyway because out of evil comes good. Well, which is it, Doctor? And if that's the case, why does he take the job on at all?
In any case, the whole genocide thing is riddled with inconsistencies. The Doctor seems to think that getting rid of the incubation room will get rid of the Daleks altogether, presumably on the basis that Davros has been stopped so no new ones will be made. But even if things had panned out that way, why is it so urgent for the Doctor to get rid of the ones in the incubation room? Surely the scientists can take care of that in due course? And then later, the Doctor knows that there are already Bad Daleks on the hoof but says that the scientists can deal with them. Considering that said Daleks have just wiped out the entire Thal city, this strikes us as a wee bit optimistic. Anyway, there's no point in the story at which the two famous wires by themselves are ever going to lead to genocide.
We're also disappointed by the way Terry Nation chooses to draw such a strong parallel between Davros and his scientists and Nazism. It's all there, from the uniforms to the Iron Cross to the concern with racial purity to the way Davros advances through appeasement, and it's all just a little bit obvious. Nazism's an easy-to-recognise shorthand for evil, but the point about evil is that it's banal: it's everywhere, not just confined to the Third Reich. It's a lazy way of making a point that trades instant accessibility for reduced impact. That's all over, after all - couldn't happen here.
Needless to say, as a six-parter Genesis Of The Daleks is replete with enough padding to stuff a small sofa. For a start, whoever thought those appalling clams were a good idea should be mown down with a flamethrower. Our favourite part is where the Doctor hits the fake clam with a fake rock. Argh. And whatever possessed Harry to stick his foot in the damned thing anyway?
Then there's the horrible episode of the rocket climb, which contains a number of gems. There's the worst cliffhanger in history, where Sarah falls outside the gantry but lands inside it. There's the remarkable disappearing dystronic toxaemia, which makes Sarah inexorably weak, screamy and girly (well, there has to be some reason why she suddenly turns into a Grade-A wimp) but which is magically cured by the sight of the Doctor. Then there's the climb itself, which is visually impressive but incredibly annoying, since Sarah fails purely by bottling out. And why does Muto Guy assure Sarah that they'll be safe as soon as they get onto the roof of the dome? Why wouldn't the guards just follow them? And after all of that, the ones who aren't strawberry jam at the bottom of the gantry end up right back where they started. Why, Lord, why?
On the other hand, though, there's tons of excellent stuff. The beginning's a real cracker, and all of that trench stuff, particularly the propped-up bodies, makes a huge impact. The First World War thing is again an easy shorthand, this time for the futility of war, but here it works. Just about every secondary character is interesting, and not just the obvious ones like Davros and Nyder, either. And we love the way there's nothing to choose between the Kaleds and the Thals on moral grounds. The whole thing has a complexity of theme that most weighty dramas directed at adults wouldn't even touch. And the Doctor is dazzling, particularly in his scenes with Davros. His "No, I will not!" sends shivers down our spines.
The underpinnings are shaky. But nevertheless, Genesis Of The Daleks delivers an impact unequalled by any other story. A flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
MORAL: Every Dalek has a silver lining.
JUST LIKE SKETCHLEY'S, ONLY FASTER
The transmat beam appears to have dry cleaned Harry's trousers and lost Sarah's yellow trousers.
ON THE OTHER HAND, THE DOCTOR FELL FOR IT
No wonder neither side has been able to win the war when they don't know they're supposed to bury landmines.
GO AHEAD, HARRY. I'LL JUST PRESS SOME FLOWERS
Why does the Doctor ask Harry, not Sarah, to deal with the landmine? And why later on is it Harry again wielding the pliers while Sarah stands by?
Our heroes taking respirators off dead bodies is a brilliantly chilling moment.
IT DOESN'T DO MUCH TO THE ENEMY, BUT IT REALLY SHOWS THOSE BASTARD ROCKS
What's the point of having a mine explode so far away from the tripwire?
There's some great direction here - we love the way Nyder's framed through barbed wire, and the trapdoor stuff is also nicely done.
WE ALWAYS KNEW HE WAS A MUTO
There's Ken from Howard's Way!
Why don't the muto and the Kaled ask Sarah where she's sprung from?
CIVIL SERVANTS. THEY'RE EVERYWHERE
The Kaleds' elite group of scientists are very like the group in Robot - they're even called the think tank.
MIND THE... OOPS
While Sarah et al are climbing the rocket, the Thal guards start firing at them. Aren't they worried about damaging the rocket, let alone setting fire to the fuel tanks?
Why doesn't the Doctor understand Harry's Latin? He didnít have any trouble in The Romans.
YOU JUST CAN'T GET THE STAFF
If they can get in and out of each other's cities easily-peasily through the ubiquitous ventilation shafts, why don't they post a guard?
AND WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF GENOCIDE
It's a horrifying sight seeing the Kaled dome wiped out. But how does the race continue in order to evolve into Daleks, considering that they're all dead? And where, in any case, did they get their information that they were going to evolve into these creatures? How could anybody know? Maybe it was Davros having a laugh, his intent from the beginning being to wipe out all the Kaleds and replace them with squishy-creature-powered Daleks.
When the Daleks break into the Thal city, they mow down the Thals, leaving the corridor littered with bodies. In the next shot, we see them rounding the corner beyond the bodies. How could they move past them?
WELL, HE ASKED
Why does the Doctor freely admit to Davros that he knows all the future history of the Daleks? And conversely, why does Davros tell the Doctor about his life support switch?
WE COME IN PEACE - SHOOT TO KILL, SHOOT TO KILL, SHOOT TO KILL
Gharman gives a touching speech about how it was supposed to be a bloodless revolution and there's been enough killing - then starts handing out rifles!
THAT WOULDN'T BE CRICKET
Gharman has majority support, yet he still accedes to Davros's demands for a vote and burbles on about having won because the vote's a foregone conclusion. But he's already won! Why does he listen to Davros?
WE WILL CONQUER THE UNIVERSE. AS SOON AS WE LEARN HOW TO STEER
During the confrontation with Davros, as the third Dalek comes in and joins the two others, it bumps into the one in front.
LONG LUNCHES AND LOTS OF NAPS
Why does the Doctor think he's slowed the Daleks down by a thousand years? Surely it's not going to take 'em that long to dig their way out of the tunnel? And surely it won't take a thousand years to evolve more little Daleks? It didn't take Davros all that long, and the Daleks have his records.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US