Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Genesis of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney

This story in a nutshell: Can the Doctor stop the development of the Daleks?

Teeth and Curls: I’ve just finished watching the whole of season twelve and it confirms what I have always suspected – that Tom Baker took a little while before he truly found his feet in the role. When the material is top notch (The Ark in Space & Genesis) he fits into it like a comfy slipper but when it titters on the verge of being average (The Sontaran Experiment) or downright shocking (Revenge of the Cybermen) he is completely at sea but still trying to make his mark. Robot he’s allowed as a breather because anybody would be a little manic in their first story. Filmed out of sequence, Genesis was the last story of that season filmed and it shows because Tom has found his groove and would continue to play this moody, if occasionally playful, hero for the next two years in this vein. There is a confidence and brio to his performance here that wasn’t there before – this the fourth Doctor that is instantly recognisable. The one who cracks jokes in the face of a rifle, walks blithely through minefields, locks swords verbally with a psychotic genius and questions his right to murder. It's one of Baker’s best stories and considering how good he is throughout his run that is no small statement.

The Doctor is shocked that the Time Lords would have nerve to ask anything of him after stripping him of his second life, exiling him to Earth and treating him like their delivery boy. Once they gave him back his freedom (he did save the entire universe after all) he thought that was it and he will no longer tolerate their continual interference in his life. Unfortunately the Time Lord agent has the one word at his disposal that makes the Doctor’s blood run cold; Daleks. ‘Who is this Davros?’ – oh Doctor, you’re going to wish you never asked. In an iconic scene Davros introduces his Mark III travel machine to his staff and the Doctor almost becomes the very first victim of a Dalek. The intensity and seriousness of his plea to the Kaled government is impressive, once the Hinchcliffe era is over there would only be a few scant moments of that kind of gravitas in the remaining four seasons. The ‘deaths’ of Sarah and Harry, two of the sweetest companions he has ever travelled with gives Tom Baker the chance to really show the audience what he is made of. He launches himself at the firing pad to stop the rocket that will kill his friends and when he fails he falls, defeated and despondent with only his mission pushing him on as if he has to complete that to make their deaths worth something. So often we explore the companions reaction to the possibility of the Doctor being dead but it is rarely the other way round and after this wave of depression its easy to see why not. Clearly his friends make his existence worthwhile, otherwise it's just duty and where’s the fun in that? He’s so thrilled to see Harry and Sarah, grabbing his hand excitedly and embracing her. Davros proves once and for all that the Doctor’s companions do obstruct his life as well as enriching it by using them to extract the information for every Dalek defeat. The Doctor looks disgusted that Davros could describe a conscience as an ‘affliction.’ In a seminal moment for the fourth Doctor he has the choice to destroy the Daleks or not and he is paralysed by the decision. Holding the two wires perilously close together he questions if he would be any better than the Daleks if he causes their genocide. He remembers the worlds that became allies because of the Daleks, perhaps seeing some good in their tyranny. The story opts out of forcing him to make a choice which is a shame because I would have loved to have seen which we he jumped. Its ironic that this is exactly the same choice faced by the eighth/ninth Doctor when the Daleks invaded Gallifrey. Had the fourth Doctor intervened his people would still be alive but he would also be every bit as battle scarred and tortured as the ninth Doctor. It’s a fascinating quandary both in its own terms at this point in the shows mythology and considering what comes later.

Investigative Journalist: Poor Sarah, she hasn’t had much of a time of it of late! After watching the Doctor die she was the object of affection for a Giant Robot, she was accidentally put into cryogenic storage, tortured by a Sontaran and now she is left for dead amongst a heap of corpses as gas fills her lungs and is put to torturous work by the sadistic Thals carrying their poisonous weapons! It's enough to make a girl want to head back to London and have a rest! I bet it puts her work as a investigative journalist into perspective. Sarah falls into the hands of the very sweet Muto Sevrin who takes care of her whilst she is a prisoner of the Thals. She hasn’t lost that season eleven spirit after all as she whips the exhausted slaves into a fighting unit to escape their captivity. I don’t care how contrived it might have been, the first time I saw the freeze frame cliffhanger that has Sarah falling from the scaffolding of the rocket I was absolutely gripped with excitement. There’s nothing quite like a Doctor Who cliffhanger that sings this well and I was desperate to know if this was the end of my favourite companion. The fear that Elisabeth Sladen displays as she has to cross to the rocket and is playfully kicked to her death by a sadistic guard is unlike anything we have seen from a companion before, that is real terror in her eyes and it is really uncomfortable to witness. It's one of the few moments that this fluffy show tips over into sadism – it makes for a great scene but that discomfort must mean the boundaries have been pushed as far as they can go. I find it very cute that the scene where Sarah warns the Doctor about heading down the ventilation shaft is played almost identically in her own series with the eleventh Doctor in many years to come. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I Say: It’s a shame that there is simply too much going on in this story to give Harry the attention he rightly deserves but Ian Marter makes the most of every moment he is given. Harry shows incredible courage in his willingness to hold the landmine as the Doctor lifts his foot off, anybody else would be out of there in a shot and it says something about how much this Doctor cares for his Doctor. He looks oddly comfortable with a gun and pair of handcuffs! As a Doctor Harry finds the idea of racial cleansing horrible. Like Louise Jameson being gnawed on by a giant fluffy rat, Ian Marter gives his all when Harry sticks his foot in a deadly clam and almost convinces that it is a deadly threat. That’s how good he is.

Scarred Scientist: Michael Wisher gives the single most impressive performance as Davros in the characters run. The Terry Molloy version has taken flight on audio and his prolific nature means that I still consider him to be the definitive version but I would never suggest that Wisher’s performance here is anything less than bravura. In a sequence that redefines the word iconic, Davros is first seen in the half-light whispering to his subordinate that the weaponry of his new creation is perfect and we pan back to reveal a Dalek. We’ve never seen anything quite like Davros before. Sure there have been some pretty gruesome monsters but this monstrous grotesque, somewhere between an ordinary man and a twisted gargoyle truly sours the stomach. For a moment you could be forgiven for thinking this is a nasty looking statue because he is perfectly still and his icy, purring voice seems at odds with its lifeless natures. His limp, scarred hands shake their way towards the buttons on his wheelchair – what’s astonishing is how powerful this character seems despite his obviously crippled nature. The metal grips that is embedded in his head is nasty – it is literally knitting his skull together! What could have possibly happened to make a man so disfigured? Only Davros could possibly think that ‘the best is yet to come’ when talking about giving a Dalek the ability to cold bloodedly kill. His wheelchair having a Dalek design is a great touch because it makes total sense of where that part of their design came from. There is something stiflingly claustrophobic about the way Davros commands the bunker with practically all of his workers terrified of him and opposing the Dalek project. Davros is also a skilled politician who can manipulate the government with gentle words whilst performing the most outrageous acts of treason by giving the opposition the ability to destroy his own people. That was the point where he went from being a superb villain to the best we have ever had. It's such a diabolical act of cowardice to ensure that he can continue with his work you almost have to admire his sledgehammer techniques. That is the point of no return where Davros has surrendered everything to his work on the Daleks and nothing will stop their completion. Even if he has to tear the entire planet apart with his bear hands the Daleks will see the light of day. If you betray his trust he will finds a way to kill you as Ronson discovers. Davros lays the blame for his own treachery on the scientists doorstep and orders him exterminated. It's fascinating to see how Michael Wisher builds to a tyrannical, Hitleresque shriek as he orders the mans death almost as if he surrenders to his own Dalek side when his bloodlust boils over. Even Nyder looks appalled at the notion that Davros would murder his own people to suit his needs (although its not enough for the man to show a flicker of emotion, naturally). Davros talks of peace and prosperity on Skaro, a new dawn for the Thal race but as soon as they fire their rocket to wipe out the Kaleds he sends the Daleks in to massacre them all! It's typical Davros to talk about erasing ‘stupid emotions’ from his workforce so they can still make use of their inventive skills. The Doctor tries to convince Davros to make the Daleks a force for good in the universe and his nemesis toys with the idea playfully but that was never going to be an option. In Davros’ warped view of the world power comes through strength and the ability to threaten and kill and the only way the Daleks will survive is if they are dominant life form destroying everything else. It turns out Davros’ one weakness is a hunger for knowledge and he tries to turn on the charm to extract the Doctor’s scientific secrets. Davros actually considers the Daleks a force for good because once they have destroyed all other lifeforms there will be no need for fighting – that’s some warped philosophy. Wonderfully we get to see just how vulnerable Davros is, the Doctor practically killing him by a mere flick of a switch. He’s little more than a robot after all. There’s a stunning moment where gunfire sounds and Davros is alone in the dark in his laboratory waiting for the Elite to find him, plotting silently. Your average villain wouldn’t get a moment of chilling reflection like that. Just when you think that Davros cannot sink any lower he exploits democracy to buy himself time to get his Daleks back from their last massacre to wipe out the few scientists that are left on the planet. Skaro is literally a sea of corpses with the Daleks the only thing to show for the slaughter. After his psychotic attacks I cannot believe there are people who would still stand at Davros’ side. Ignominy is something that all power hungry dictators have to face and Davros’ punishment for his actions comes at the hands of his own creatures. Their lack of pity, the very emotion everybody has been telling him to imbue the Daleks with, is what brings Davros down and it has a delicious taste of irony to it. His dying scream is the one moment where you feel for this character in over two and a half hours, cut down as he tries to bring his creations to an end.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We must keep the Kaled race pure…
‘Now undoubtedly Davros has one of the finest scientific minds in existence but he has a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his machine. He works with conscience, without soul and without pity and his machines are equally devoid of these qualities.’
‘The Council have signed the death warrants of the whole of the Kaled people!’
‘I have betrayed the future!’
‘To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb…enough to break the glass would end everything! Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the Gods and through the Daleks I shall have that power!’ – we don’t usually have dialogue as thoughtful as this to savour and it really is relishable. I love the way Davros snaps his finger and thumb together to simulate releases the virus, the old loon!
‘Rebellion is an idea in the mind! Suppress it and it hides away and festers…’
‘Do I have the right?’
‘Have pity!

The Good: · David Maloney has a great eye for memorable imagery and his opening of a mist swathed battlefield with gas masked soldiers emerging and gunned down in slow motion has to be one of the most nightmarish first scenes since Terry Nation’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The War Games and Invasion of the Dinosaurs have similarly dour opening scenes but there we have the Doctor and his assistants to let us know things will be all right. Genesis of the Daleks chucks you in at the deep end amidst bloodshed that it never recovers from. No wonder Mary Whitehouse was appalled – the Doctor and his chums walk across a minefield strewn with corpses and discover a bunker entrance piled high with yet more bodies. It’s a massacre! I love the shots of hulking, malformed Muto pursuing Sarah through the mist – talk about tense! The spotlight in the Muto’s face (revealing his terrified grimace) as he is shot down sticks in the memory and so does the guards reaction, worrying more about a waste of ammunition rather than a waste of life! The sequence of Sarah on the scaffolding is dynamically shot with lots of under lighting to increase the tension. He uses lighting to incredible effect as the Daleks make their way through the Thal city and Kaled bunker on a rampage, throwing their dark shadows on the wall to pre-empt their appearance. The gorgeous shot of a Dalek scouring the battlefield with explosions lit up behind it conjures up images of devastating tanks grinding up filthy land in the World Wars and taking the lives of so many.
· I always thought I sensed Robert Holmes’ hand in the premise of the show because it is so instantly memorable but after having watched Terry Nation's Survivors and Blake's 7 I am not so sure any more. He is clearly a much better ideas man than I gave him credit for. The Doctor being sent back to Skaro by the Time Lords when the Daleks were first created to avert their creation. I can’t imagine even a non-fan wouldn’t be excited by that! There is just so much potential in the scenario ofdiscovering how such ruthless creations came to be, to explore the war that caused their genesis and the moral implications of genocide.
· The first episode is a perfectly formed pieced of drama and is up their with The Invasion part six as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever made. The dramatic premise, the return of the Time Lords, slow motion deaths, explosions, a gas attack, the Doctor standing on a landmine, gunplay, meeting some truly sinister characters, the unfolding horror of the scenario and that humdinger of a cliffhanger that reveals Davros for the first time and the very first Dalek. It’s sublimely good.
· The idea of a war that has been fought for a long time so the resources have been depleted and the technology has become more primitive is fascinating because most modern wars accelerate the technology available. The notion that even as we sink back into primitivism we can still find ways to slaughter each other is a chilling one. It just makes the fight more vicious and nasty. The formation of the Elite to think up fresh methods of killing is frightening, especially when that group has become so powerful they are practically controlling the government. Davros has wormed his way to the top and changed their researches towards the survival of their race but with a sadistic desire to use the results of that research to crush all resistance on Skaro. In one bold stroke Terry Nation and Robert Holmes have taken the outwardly ridiculous appearance of the Daleks and turned it into something that is functional and purposeful. By showing the Doctor the creatures that the Kaled will mutate in to we have a clear reason behind putting them inside the pepper pot casings – simply to keep them mobile and protected. The scope of Genesis of the Daleks is incredible with both sides in this war being wiped throughout the course of the story and a new race being born. We truly are seeing the dying days of this planet and the birth of a blasted wilderness that will dovetail into the very first Dalek story with the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arriving to find the mess that his future self has left behind.
· There is some impressive acting talent on display throughout this story. It's great to see the usually camped up Guy Siner playing a straight part and he’s perfect for the role of the young, sadistic general whose trying to play tough. Even the way he excitedly screams out his hatred of the Thals so unconvincingly helps to explain how he wasn’t ready for this role. Who would ever believe that this is the same Peter Miles who played the violently aggressive Dr Lawrence in Dr Who and the Silurians and the madcap brainbox Dr Whitaker last season in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? Stick him in a Nazi-esque uniform and give him a pair of menacing specs and he becomes Nyder, the cool, unnervingly controlled and sinister right hand man of Davros. There’s barely a flicker of a smile in his performance throughout the six episodes and every move he makes is robotic and perfectly judged. Michael Wisher aside, it’s the standout performance of the story. In a very small part Hilary Minster terrifies as he fucks with Sarah’s mind by pretending he is going to let her fall from a great height.
· Dudley Simpson’s music is such an odd beast because whilst it is recognised as some of the best that the show featured there is also the feeling that it can also be a little predictable at times. My opinion is that he was a superb composer who occasionally got a little too cosy. I find most of his work during the Troughton era to be of a superb standard (Evil of the Daleks, The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death all feature memorable scores) and whilst his music became a little safe during the Pertwee era (with some exceptions – I find his most memorable music for that era is during the year he was forced to go electronic!) it would seems that the high violence count and atmosphere of the Hinchcliffe stories has re-invigorated him! The Ark in Space had a top notch, moody soundtrack but it can’t hold a candle to what he achieves in Genesis of the Daleks. He’s relying heavily on the piano a lot here and proves what a dramatic instrument it can be and there are some terrific moments of underscoring (Davros first revealing the Dalek has a sinister underscore) and excitement (listen as he bashes away on the piano when the Daleks go in the attack in the later episodes).
· The script plays fun games in trying to convince you that Nyder is working against Davros. The idea has merit because even he looks taken aback at Davros’ mania at points but as soon as I saw him smile (it looked more like a sneer) I knew he was up to no good. When he plays his hand, Peter Miles aces the robotic response to remind you that this quisling is completely without remorse just like his mentor.
· Astonishingly this story gains momentum by scaling the story down as it goes along. Power of the Daleks worked in reverse by opening very small scale and working its way up to a Dalek slaughter. Genesis starts on an ambitious grand scale and as each side is diminished we find ourselves losing more locations until we are trapped in the claustrophobic walls of the bunker. Then the remaining scientists are bumped off which leaves one last victim; Davros. I love how the script goes from the epic to the intimate because most stories work the other way around. It literally feels as if the story is closing in around you until there is nowhere left to run.

The Bad: It would be churlish to focus too heavily on the minor mistakes made in a story that has been put together with such care. The toxic reader by the Thal rocket is simplistically designed and after the myriad of impressively designed sets the caves that the Doctor and Harry find themselves in are distinctly plastic looking and full of crapola BBC props. The electric fence and mutant cliffhangers are that brilliant but they serve their purpose. I would have loved it had they had the guts to end episode five on ‘do I have the right?’ I was utterly absorbed by the story until I saw the TOTAL DESTRUCT button and then I was reminded I was watching Doctor Who.

The Shallow Bit: Don’t dress Tom Baker up in a black leather again. Just don’t.

Result: A masterpiece of suspense and visceral and psychological horror, Genesis of the Daleks lives up to its iconic status and then some. I don’t care whose name is on the credits, this script was either heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes or he gave notes every stage. Under Terrance Dicks Terry Nation produced Planet of the Daleks and the yawning chasm that exists between that story and this is too damn noticeable to be quite believable. Whoever was responsible the script is a work of art in itself; an exercise in world building, character examination, moral dilemmas and how to pace a six part action adventure with real momentum. David Maloney is next in line for credit because he takes this script and refuses to let one iota of atmosphere bleed away. The direction is bold, violent and shocking – you wouldn’t want Doctor Who to be this way every week because it is just too disturbing in places but as a fatalistic one off it is a tour de force. The lighting is superb and Dudley Simpson’s music has really come on since Tom Baker took over the role, highlighting the drama whilst cutting away the melo. It’s a huge cast and nearly all the roles are impeccably performed from the sadistic (Hilary Minster) to the uncomfortably still (Peter Miles) with Lis Sladen and Ian Marter providing impeccable support to Tom Baker’s Doctor who has finally come into his own. The plaudits have to go to Michael Wisher though for creating such a memorable grotesque in Davros – the last three episodes see the action quotient drop but its still completely riveting because Davros’ malevolent behaviour is absolutely delicious to watch. There’s no part of Genesis of the Daleks that isn’t firing on all cylinders and it’s the first major success of many for incoming producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Even the conclusion is satisfying, managing to be both anti climatic and loaded with irony and murderous relish. It's not a story I can watch over and over because its depressing tone can be quite hard hitting but every time I do watch Genesis I am reminded of just how good Doctor Who can be when everything comes together with absolute precision. Outstanding10/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

You're right about Robert Holmes' fingerprints being all over this classic - the dialogue is razor sharp throughout.

David Pirtle said...

10/10? THANK YOU! That's what I wanted to know!