Doctor Who #399: Genesis of the Daleks Part 6

"Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that's it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word Dalek."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.12 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor must decide if he can destroy the Dalek nursery, the Daleks turn on Davros, and the resistance blows the bunker to kingdom come.

REVIEW: Early in, we get the second of two key speeches from Genesis as the Doctor ponders whether he has the right to commit genocide, even when we're talking about a species bent on nothing but genocide itself. It's one of Who's great moments, but not just for the obvious reasons. It is, of course, a great ethical dilemma that exposes the Doctor's code of ethics, espoused by most of his incarnations. But it is also about the great responsibility a Time Lord bears, aware that the ripples through History are too chaotic to really predict. So while his people (or at least, the CIA) gave decided to roll the dice and create a universe without Daleks in it, it IS a roll of the dice. A more ethical being, the Doctor must ask whether the Daleks didn't cause some good as well, in the alliances made against them by other species, for example. It's not quite Hartnell's "not one line", but it's in the same vein, and Sarah Jane, the new Barbara, is the one prodding him on. If he stops now, it'll surely be because of Davros' speech in the previous episode. He's seen the darker side of this act and cannot bear to become like Davros. He sighs with relief when Gharman's rebels win the day, for it seems what a time period's natives decide to do for themselves isn't on his conscience, but the decision's taken out of his hands before he's thought it all through. At the end of the episode, he finally goes through with it (with the help of a Dalek, ironically), though the Dalek victory by that time means only a minor setback as they will inevitably rebuild (but see Theories).

Davros' hubris gets him into trouble this time around, though it seems like the rebels are playing right into his hand. He's willing to cooperate, but wants to put things to a vote only to buy his Daleks time to return from the Thal dome. In doing so, he plays on fears as much as sympathies, and provides evidence of the good he's done (artificial hearts, for example). Though he is less than sincere, we see a glimpse of what Davros might have become had he not become obsessed with what he calls "survival" (a Davros that had never been maimed?). These rebels are a rather indecisive bunch though, and for a people supposedly hardened by war, have a deep pacifist streak. I can't side with Davros, but I can see why he felt he needed to breed aggression and arrogance in his creatures. His model for them was more Nyder than Gharman, certainly. What Davros wasn't counting on was the Thal/Muto resistance bombing the bunker and trapping him and his Daleks down below. What he wasn't counting on was the Doctor cleverly figuring out Nyder could open his safe and destroy the tapes required to prevent future Dalek defeats. But what he REALLY wasn't counting on was his Daleks doling out some poetic justice by suddenly seeing him as an inferior being. In the end, Davros has a genuine altruistic moment. He begs the Daleks not to kill the men loyal to him, but alas, he's bred mercy out of his creations and they shoot him before he can press the (highly amusing) Total Destruct button.

It's not a perfect episode, mind you. When the Time Ring goes flying, it's an eye-rolling moment, too soon since its recovery. Sevrin seems to find our heroes on his dog-like loyalty to Sarah Jane alone. And the Doctor's final sentiment, finding a silver lining in his mission's failure as the three of them spin around in space - Graham Chapman might almost have come in to proclaim it all too silly - feels unnecessary. He said it all much better in the opening speech. However, this feels like nitpicking at this point, since the rest is so strong.

THEORIES: So did the Doctor change anything? The 1000-year delay likely changes nothing. When the Doctor meets the Daleks for the first time, they appear to be Skaro-bound, and the Thals have had time to evolve into monsters, then back into humanoids. Even at the accelerated rate Skarosians mutate, it probably takes thousands of years, one more or less won't make much difference (if it actually delays them that long). But the Doctor's presence does cause changes. He forces Davros' hand and forces him to destroy the Kaled dome, but it's likely the Daleks would eventually have killed all the Kaleds anyway. He inspired Bettan to build a resistance, which directly causes the sealing of the bunker (and the supposed delay). And most crucially, he makes Davros decant his Daleks before he's done tinkering with their brains, and these Daleks (temporarily) kill him, so they'll never be "finished". This has no doubt weakened them. It's entirely possible that the time line where the Daleks take over the universe has been averted, but that we've always been living in the proper time line. The Doctor was always part of these events, even before he knew it. Because the Daleks are time travelers, it's possible they made such a time line happen "after" all their meetings with the Doctor. Imagine a Dalek mission that took them back to their beginnings and gave themselves a boost. Now they return and the bunker's been sealed. Temporal incursion interrupted! There is one final change, but it's something we'll have to pick up in Destiny of the Daleks, and that's Davros himself. His apparent demise creates a myth that insures his revival, while earlier stories did not even acknowledge his existence.

VERSIONS: Story changes in the Target novelization are minor, like Sarah's Muto assailant trying to escape over a wall, and Nyder not waiting for an order from Davros to stop the production line.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Lots and lots of delightful irony accompanies some great Whovian moments, including one of the Doctor's most memorable speeches and the Daleks threatening to take over the universe.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - One of Who's very best, though I'm partial to thinking that a lot of it is due to Bob Holmes' influence as script editor. Terry Nation was never this clever. The "secret origin of the Daleks" could have been another of his repetitive quests/chases filled with cardboard characters, but instead is a cracking thriller featuring a genuinely great new villain, and directed like a gritty war film. Worthy of its reputation.


snell said...

The problem with the "Davros myth," of course, was that it was so powerful that it took over Doctor Who would be 30+ until we got a Dalek story without Davros.

This became a detriment to the Daleks themselves--they were never the true menace anymore, just the tools--and to the storytelling, as the audience was trained to wait for Davros to show up in the story. This doesn't mean all the subsequent old-series Dalek stories were bad (YMMV), just locked into a formula, trying to cloak themselves in the glory of Genesis.

Siskoid said...

Completely agree. But it also means the Doctor succeeded: He gave the Daleks a weakness that prevented them from achieving their ultimate goal. Davros' presence meant they were either locked in a civil war or following the orders of a madman.

JDJarvis said...

Remove Davros. And we get Super Daleks of the modern seasons. Hmmmm...wonder if those were the Daleks the good Dr was meant to stop?

The moral quandry was great, do you stop the greatest evil knowing great good will never rise up in reaction?

Peder said...

First time I'd watched this in years. I was struck at how much more menacing the old Daleks were. This may just be the difference between CGI and actual metal but these Daleks have much more visual heft to them. An excellent story.

googum said...

I know this wasn't the first Dr. Who I ever watched; but it's still the first one I really remember.


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