Monday, September 7, 2015

"Genesis of the Daleks"

Aired Mar 8 - Apr 12, 1975


6 Episodes

Story 78

Written by: Terry Nation

Directed by: David Maloney



Synopsis

Intercepting the transmat beam taking the Doctor and his friends to Nerva, the Time Lords send them instead to the planet Skaro. There, the Time Lords give the Doctor a mission, avert the creation of the Daleks or alter their development so the they evolve into less destructive creatures. The Doctor is given a time ring that with return him and his friends to the TARDIS once the mission is complete.

They find themselves in a period of Skaro's history where the Kaleds and the Thals are locked in an seemingly endless war of attrition to exterminate each other. The chief scientist of the Kaled side, Davros, has been experimenting to create the final evolutionary form into which the Kaleds will mutate, altering these creatures to make them more aggressive and more successful survivors. He has also created a weaponized protective casing into which these creatures can be placed to further help them survive and dominate. The Doctor and Sarah instantly recognize these as Daleks.

Harry and the Doctor are captured by Davros and his Elite, a faction of scientists who reside in an underground bunker and have one purpose; to win the war at all costs. Though Davros' plan is supported by many of the Elite, including his loyal right-hand man Nyder, there are those who feel the Daleks are an abomination, genetically modified by Davros without pity, compassion or mercy. The Doctor and Harry foment this faction to rise against Davros' leadership, but the brilliant Davros conspires with the Thals to wipe out the Kaled city, leaving only the Elite in the bunker and his Dalek creatures. While the Daleks wipe out the Thals, Davros attempts to learn from the Doctor every future defeat the Daleks will face, and make plans to counteract those failures.

Eventually, the Elite revolts against Davros' rule, buying the Doctor time to set up a bomb that will wipe out the Dalek creatures, but Davros has foreseen this revolution, and unleashes his Daleks on the Elite, exterminating them. However, the Daleks turn on their creator, seizing total control and wiping out the remaining Kaled Elite, including, it seems, Davros himself. Thal survivors plan to detonate explosives at the entrance to the Elite bunker, sealing everyone inside, and the Doctor, Sarah and Harry manage to escape just as the explosives are set off.

The Daleks remain sealed inside, plotting, waiting. The Doctor estimates he has only set back their development by perhaps a thousand years and comforts himself that even out of the existence of something as evil of Daleks, must come something good.

Analysis

As they began planning the stories that would appear in Season 12, outgoing production team Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks asked Dalek creator Terry Nation to provide his annual Dalek story. When Nation met with them to discuss his outline for the story, Letts reportedly said, "It's very nice, Terry, but  it was very nice when you submitted the same story the last time, and the time before that." Apparently, this may have been the first time anyone had pointed this out to Nation, which is frankly astonishing.


Letts suggested this time exploring the origins of the Daleks, and Nation happily agreed. As he worked on the script, the new production team of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes surveyed the stories that had been commissioned. They weren't fans of the Daleks, but once Nation's scripts came in, they worked with the writer to darken the tone and complicate the moral questions of the script into something more in keeping with their vision of the series.

The result is one of the best stories in the history of the classic series. It's a reimagining of the Dalek origin story as presented in The Daleks, but a much stronger one that also creates one of the great all-time villains in the history of the programme, the driven, brilliant and insane Davros.The Kaled scientist  offers the series the chance to explore a purely scientific mind untempered by morality or ethics, whose entire reason for being is to foster his creations to their ultimate form. Davros believes that diversity breeds conflict, that only through a single dominant form of life will peace be achieved. Far from being some world-conqueror or despot, Davros represents all the Doctor stands against, all that the Doctor fears. And what makes him all the more chilling is his sincerely held belief that this is the right and honest and correct way to achieve a kind of peace. He is an idealist, it's just that his ideal are completely without morality. All of this is captured in a superb performance by Michael Wisher, who takes what could have been a immensely difficult role and turns it into a star turn. It's widely known that in rehearsals Wisher opted to sit in a chair and put a paper bag over his head so he could acclimate his performance to the limitations of the make-up, a move that forces him to rely solely on his voice. Davors could have bee little more than a ranting nutter, but Wisher shades in the performance with such nuance and depth. It's one of the great supporting performances in the history of the series.

The scripts are clearly Nation's best for the series, the ones where his somewhat bleak sensibilities are perfectly pitched and merged with his predilection for evoking the horrors of WWII and equating the Daleks with the Nazis. It's never more overt than it is here, but it's also never more powerfully resonant.  This creates a tone that evokes a society on the verge of collapse, a paranoid one where war and hatred has become a way of life. It's by no means subtle, but it is effective. Matching this is the dilemma the Doctor faces of whether or not he has the right to commit genocide, even in the face of all the misery and destruction the Daleks will bring about. The story never really answers the question, which is a flaw, but simply posing it is compelling stuff. The thematic and atmospheric material in the scripts is so good, you completely forget all the flaws, like how it's basically a runaround from place to place with the locations of the Kaled and Thal domes ludicrously close together, and how the Daleks themselves really don't play much of a role. But it doesn't matter because the scenes and dialogue and characters are so well-drawn and interesting.

The direction by David Maloney is among his best for the series to date. He clearly embraced Hinchcliffe's desire to use low lighting and impressive design to emphasize atmosphere and production value. The result is a fast-paced and creepy  story with a bleak look that matches the horrific tone. This is also helped by makeup artist John Friedlander's work on the Davors mask. Friedlander had been doing stellar work on the programme for years, and Davros might be his crowning achievement.

The guest cast is uniformly excellent, with Peter Miles giving his best performance for the series as the cold and ruthless Nyder, a character so interesting and well-done he almost steals Davros' thunder. The regulars are all superb, with special notice to be given to Tom Baker's intense turn. It's not the best story for Sarah Jane, who seems to spend it getting captured and re-captured, but it's a great one for Harry, who's clearly the main companion in the story.

Genesis of the Daleks is frequently cited as one of the best stories in the history of the classic series, and it absolutely deserves its place as one of the best the programme ever produced.

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