Genesis of the Daleks is one of those classic Doctor Who episodes that is often considered to be the best, alongside other popular Tom Baker episodes like The Ark in Space and The Deadly Assassin, and with good reason. Genesis appears at the height of Philip Hinchcliffe’s run on the show, an era defined by its dark imagery and thrilling sci-fi concepts – and if Hinchcliffe’s era is the Golden Age of Classic Who, then Genesis of the Daleks is the crown jewel.
Rarely does a six-part episode make good use of its run-time, with other Dalek six-parters like Planet of the Daleks and The Chase falling victim to pacing issues as the writers padded out the length, but Genesis of the Daleks is a great example of a six-parter done well – it seems as though to cut anything out of Genesis would detract from the story, as opposed to many other six-parters in which it seems entire episodes could be removed with little or no impact on the story. Genesis incorporates the capture-and-escape formula of many other Classic Doctor Who episodes, but spreads the narrative focus across enough elements to maintain the viewer’s interest. Combining this technique with the rich amount of political intrigue and conflicting motivations of each of the main characters creates a story in which the plot propels the audience through a dark and exciting tale of betrayal, obsession, murder, desperation and genocide and managing to keep the tension high throughout all six parts.
As the name implies, a key element to this episode is the Daleks themselves – and Genesis of the Daleks manages to find the exact balance between keeping the Daleks as the narrative focus without dedicating so much screen-time to them that they become boring. Throughout the episode the ever-present threat of the Daleks looms, and their sporadic appearances early on divulge enough information about their nature to make this episode accessible for newcomers to the show, and this was undoubtedly the intention of Terry Nation – the original creator of the Daleks and writer of this episode. In fact, this episode acts as a sort of ‘reboot’ of the Daleks – it tells the story of their origins that differs from the exposition explaining their origins that we hear in The Daleks written over ten years prior, and the Daleks had gone through several character shifts throughout the 60s – Terry Nation clearly didn’t know what to do with the Daleks initially – they appear less aggressive and overtly evil in their debut, and The Chase portrayed the Daleks as comical buffoons whilst The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Dalek’ Master Plan painted them as more sinister characters, a characterisation which thankfully stuck and contributes greatly to the atmosphere in Genesis of the Daleks.
Terry Nation seemingly killed the Daleks off for good in The Evil of the Daleks, though they were sheepishly brought back to Doctor Who under Jon Pertwee’s tenure after a disappointing American movie breakthrough. Nation had several misfires in Dalek story quality in the early 1970s – Day of the Daleks was limited by its physical props and quality of effects that was only corrected years later, Planet of the Daleks is a classic example of a four-parter padded out to fill a six-episode runtime, and Death to the Daleks explores interesting ideas but ultimately its reception was lackluster. And so, Genesis of the Daleks explores an idea that, until then, Terry Nation had only briefly explained in passing – the origin of the Daleks, and an explanation of how they came to be. Before Genesis, the original evolution of the Daleks was explained in a comic book – one of the many contributions to the Dalekmania of the 1960s was a range of bizarre and colourful comic books – but Nation was nudged towards writing an episode around the Daleks origins by the producers, since his recent scripts had become rather samey. As a result, by a collaboration between arguably the best showrunner that Doctor Who has had in its run and the man who originally created the Daleks and was responsible for their direction as a character, Genesis of the Daleks was born.
But a question remained How could a race like the Daleks actually evolve? Genesis answers this question in the most practical way possible – the Daleks did not evolve, they were created. But in establishing this concept, Terry Nation also had to establish the concept of a creator. And thus the character of Davros began to take shape – and he was actualised by the fantastic Michael Wisher, who sadly did not go on to play Davros in later appearances of the character due to filming commitments, but here he shines as a psychotic megalomaniac, hell-bent on achieving his goal whatever the cost may be. The character of Davros was designed to provide a more human angle to the Daleks and a means of conveying their intentions in a way that did not devolve into chants of ‘Exterminate’. And although Davros would go on to draw attention away from the Daleks in subsequent appearances, here he shines as a player in the plot in his own right. His debates with the Doctor about the morality of what he is hoping to achieve are fascinating, and set the scene for continuations of their debate in the future.
The introduction of Davros is one of this episodes core strengths, but the other supporting characters in this episode cannot be underestimated. Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter are, as always, on point with their representations of Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. The trio spend most of their time apart in this episode, with Harry assisting the Doctor in his quest to prevent the Daleks from ever having been created, and Sarah Jane simply attempting to survive, first on the harsh war-torn surface of Skaro and then deep within the Thal city. By far one of the best aspects of this episode is the cunning and manipulative Nyder, who serves as Davros’ right hand man, playing double-agent and essentially collaborating with every evil act which Davros commits in this episode – and he even carries out some of these deeds himself. Another particularly interesting character is the young General – we see him arguing with the Doctor early in the episode, convinced of the Kaled superiority, but he also works with the Doctor later in the story – similarly, the scientist Ronson falls victim to Davros’ earlier scheming due to his mercy towards the Doctor and concern over the morality of creating a creature as merciless as a Dalek.
However, this episode also introduces a moral dilemma that resonates throughout the show well into the New Series. The Doctor is determined to avoid the inevitable choice of having to destroy the Daleks by relying on his ability to persuade or manipulate the Kaled scientists into betraying Davros and changing the Daleks, restoring their positive emotions. But as the options begin to run out, and Davros tightens his grip over the Kaled bunker using any means necessary, the Doctor is eventually faced with a choice – to destroy the Daleks, or to not destroy them. At this point he seems paralysed, unable to decide which is best – in destroying the Daleks before they have a chance to evolve, he becomes like them, and that is something he cannot face.
So those are my thoughts on Genesis of the Daleks, leave a like if you enjoyed and be sure to like us on Facebook or follow us here on WordPress for more content like this!
Also, click the link below to see my collection of Genesis of the Daleks figures:
Classic Series Dalek Customs Collection Tour – 1970s era Daleks