Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks
(6 episodes, s12e11-e16, 1975)
The last story was an experiment in splitting six-part serials into smaller pieces to remove story padding. That two-parter is followed by this six-parter, which would be ironic if not for that fact that it’s one of the most beloved stories in classic Who. When I ask classic fans what the Doctor means to them, this is usually the story they point to.
Because of that, I was really excited to watch this one.
The Doctor and his companions have departed future Earth after defeating the Sontarans, but they don’t arrive as expected on Nerva. Instead, they are on misty planet drowning in a battle that echoes World War II. In short order, the Time Lords arrive and reveal that they redirected the Doctor to Skaro in the distant past. The Doctor is upset about the manipulation, but acquiesces when the Time Lords tell him about his mission: To interfere in the development of the Daleks. They provide him a Time Ring to return to the TARDIS after his mission is complete.
The travelers soon find a warrior, who is soon killed in an artillery barrage, and note the distinct anachronisms in everything around them. They continue on, stumble into a minefield, and eventually discover a large domed city surrounded by trenches. The Doctor theorizes that the anachronisms are due to the battle raging on so long that technology has regressed as resources were depleted. The trench is attacked by chemical gas rockets, and the Doctor and Harry are spirited into a bunker and transported into the city.
The attackers are the Thals, and the Doctor’s captors are the Kaleds, a very Nazi-like organization. The Doctor surprises the Kaled commander, who keeps referring to the Doctor as a “muto”, and takes him captive. The Doctor and Harry return to the wasteland, but Sarah Jane has already recovered and moved on, and the duo are surprised by Security Commander Nyder, who raises the alert in the base. The pair of travelers are soon captured and interrogated by Nyder, who refers to Davros, the greatest scientist of the Kaled people. He also explains that the mutos are Kaleds who have been genetically scarred by the war, and that they are exiled to keep the Kaled race pure.
They are laying this Nazi allegory on thick.
Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is on the surface being pursued by the mutos as night falls. She comes across a weapons test led by Davos, a scarred man with a third eye in a robotic chair. The test is of a Dalek, which isn’t quite autonomous yet. After the test, Davros departs, and Sarah Jane is nearly spotted by the Kaleds before being abducted by the Mutos. The Mutos fight over whether or not to kill Sarah Jane since she is a “norm.” They are interrupted by a Thal patrol who take Sarah Jane and the Muto Sevrin for physical labor.
Back in the bunker, the Doctor and Harry are delivered to the holding area where they are scanned. The scanner detects the time ring, which is physically removed under the Doctor’s protest. As scientific examiner Ronson examines the Doctor and Harry, he discovers that they are aliens to Skaro. That discussion is interrupted by Davros, who demonstrates the Dalek – known at this point as a Mark III Travel Machine – for the assembled scientists. When shifted to automatic mode, it detects the Doctor and Harry and almost exterminates them until Ronson interrupts the experiment. A furious Davros gives Ronson the night to investigate the travelers, but it must be done from their holding cells.
The Doctor discovers from his interrogation that the Kaled scientists were formed as an elite group for research, but over the years they became more powerful and influential. Ronson notes that the Doctor used the term “Dalek” well before Davros called the machine by the same name, and the Doctor reveals that he is from the future. Ronson discloses his fear that the Kaleds are becoming more evil and immoral, including experiments by Davros to create the final form the Kaled mutation. The travel machine, the Dalek, is the vehicle to house and propel that being. Ronson believes that if the government knew about any of this, they would shut down the entire program, and engineers an escape into the cave system surrounding the bunker.
The Thals are using the slave labor to pack a rocket with distronic explosives, but they are not provided any shielding or protection, so the workers will die from exposure to the material. After the first shift of rocket loading, Sarah Jane attempts to spark a rebellion and plots escape through the top of the dome. She distracts the guard and the prisoners flee. The guard sounds the alarm as the prisoners climb, and the Thals open fire, killing several of the prisoners. Sarah Jane loses her grip and falls, landing on a lower platform unharmed. Sevrin helps her recover and pushes her onward, and they nearly escape before the Thals catch up to them.
The Doctor and Harry reach the city tell the Kaled Council about the Daleks and the future. The Council won’t shut down the bunker entirely, but decide to inspect and audit the programs. As the Council adjourns, the Doctor and Harry learn about Sarah Jane’s whereabouts and set out after her. Davros discovers that the Councilors are meeting in secret and that the travelers were in attendance. He agrees to the investigation, but in secret begins his plan for complete extermination of the Kaled people by arming the Daleks with the mutations.
The Doctor and Harry infiltrate the Thal dome to discover Davros petitioning the Thal Council for peace, claiming that the Kaled Council is not interested in ending the conflict. Davros provides the Thals the means to weaken the Kaled dome and exterminate the Kaled people with their rocket. The Doctor and Harry jump two guards and steal their suits – “Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy.” – before rescuing Sarah Jane and the captives. Harry leads them out of the city as the Doctor works to sabotage the rocket. One of the guards triggers an anti-intrusion system and captures the Doctor.
The Doctor wakes up in the Thal dome’s control room with the bombardment of the Kaled dome underway. They launch the rocket as the Kaled scientists watch in dismay, and the Kaled dome is destroyed. Davros calls in the Daleks and orders them to exterminate Ronson before declaring their rise as the ultimate supreme race. The Doctor is freed in the Thal celebration, and the Thals see Davros as a hero of the people. After Davros orders changes to the Daleks that will remove their consciences completely, the Daleks attack the Thal dome and exterminate with prejudice. The Doctor and a Thal woman, Bettan, escape the dome and she decides to raise a rebellion.
A temporal inconsistency: These Daleks don’t require the static tracks like they did in the Hartnell era, which falls after this war’s conclusion. Did something change in the timeline to remove this detail?
The Doctor makes his way to the Kaled bunker to retrieve the time ring, and is attacked by Mutos and saved by Sarah Jane and Harry. Scientists begin to foment a rebellion against the Dalek program, but are interrupted by Nyder and Davros just as the travelers break into the city and are subsequently captured. Davros discusses time travel with the Doctor and demands that he disclose exactly how he defeats the Daleks in the future. When the Doctor refuses, Davros uses the threat of harm to the companions as leverage. I see where the Daleks get their stunning personalities and penchant for temper tantrums. The Doctor yields to Davros and provides a litany of Dalek defeats which are recorded for the future. As they take a break, Davros trusts the tape to Nyder as he sits down to confer with the Doctor. The Doctor tries to persuade Davros to abandon the Dalek project, but Davros is not swayed. Convinced that Davros is insane, the Doctor seizes control of the leader’s chair and threatens to disable it and kill him if he doesn’t shut down the program. He nearly succeeds before Nyder stops him.
Kavell, one of the leading scientists, breaks Sarah Jane and Harry out of the confinement cells. Nyder escapes, and the Doctor warns that Davros knows what Kavell is planning. The travelers set out to retrieve both the time ring and the recording of the future. Meanwhile, the Daleks have destroyed all resistance in the Thal city, and all that remains is Bettan’s rebellion. Inside the bunker, rebellion also breaks out, but Davros surprisingly orders Nyder’s forces to surrender. Davros tells Nyder that this is a ruse, as is the conference to listen to the rebellion’s demands. At that conference, the rebellion demands that the Dalek project be terminated. Davros asks for time to consider the demands, and agrees to the demands on the condition that the military and scientific elite present the demands to a vote before him.
The Doctor discovers plastic explosives and detonators, and plots commit genocide by destroying the Dalek embryos in the incubation room. He enters the chamber to place the charges, and emerges with Dalek tentacles wrapped around his throat. After being freed, he holds the conductors in his hands but cannot detonate the explosives. Does he have the right? Killing them would secure freedom and peace for the future, but the action would make him no better than the Daleks themselves. He pulls the plug on the plan when he hears that Davros is willing to discuss the demands.
That epic moment in the franchise was worth the price of admission alone. Tom Baker sells it with passion.
The travelers attend the discussion, secretly returning the Doctor’s possessions to him. Davros shows his opponents a button that will destroy the entire bunker — seriously, a big red button to destroy everything? — but no one will press it, which Davros sees as an argument in his favor because it shows weakness. Meanwhile, he has been maneuvering the Daleks to assault the rebels, and Bettan’s forces set charges to seal the bunker permanently.
Nyder sneaks out during the vote, and the travelers follow him. In the ensuing altercation, the Doctor drops the time ring, but convinces Nyder to take them to the tape recording. As the travelers destroy the tape, Nyder escapes and locks them in the office. They bring up the camera feed of the vote as the Daleks roll in and kill everyone. The travelers are soon rescued by Sevrin and start running from the Daleks, and the Doctor sends the companions with Sevrin and the rebels while he returns to destroy the incubator chamber. At this point, he’s at his last straw, and it seems that he’s willing to become the villain to save countless lives. His efforts are thwarted by a Dalek who fires on him, but the Dalek rolls over the conductors, completes the circuit, and destroys the chamber and itself.
The Daleks start the assembly line without Davros’s approval, and kill Nyder as he attempts to shut it down. They rebel against Davros, apparently exterminating him as he attempts to destroy the bunker with that big red button. The travelers escape as Bettan’s forces seal the bunker and use the time ring to return to the TARDIS.
This was a really good story, and it earns the admiration that fans bestow on it. On the downside, it is a bit padded and long, but that easily washed out by the quality and performances.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.