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Anniversary Week: Genesis of the Daleks Review

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the revival of Doctor Who, some of TGT’s writers will be chatting about an episode that they love – it may be a fan favourite, or it might be an under-appreciated gem. Today, TGT writer Jenna will be talking about a story that may not be part of the revival era, but has had a huge impact nonetheless – Genesis of the Daleks.

Episode: Genesis of the Daleks 
Written by: Terry Nation
Director: David Maloney
Starring: Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan, Peter Miles as Nyder, and Michael Wisher as Davros

Genesis of the Daleks is one of those stories I had heard about even before I started watching the Classics, and I was looking forward to it. After watching it I can honestly say, while Jon Pertwee is still my favourite Doctor, Genesis of the Daleks is my favourite serial of the Classics.

Written by the brilliant Terry Nation, the plot of Genesis involves the origins of the Daleks (as its name suggests), and the Time Lords sending the Doctor back to the time of their creation to destroy them. It’s an origin story at its finest, providing backstory on the Kaleds, the predecessors of the Daleks for the first time. It also introduces Davros, one of those perennial enemies of the Doctor.

One of the things that had always fascinated me with the Daleks was their obvious resemblance to the Nazis. I remember watching The Daleks for the first time about a year ago and feeling acutely uncomfortable with some of the dialogue about the Daleks despising everything not like them and, when one said “Exterminate” for the first time, the true significance of that word struck me as it never had watching New Who. At the time that serial aired, the world was only two decades removed from the end of World War II, I’m sure the horrors of it still fresh in the collective memory. But rather than shy away from the parallel, Nation faces it head-on, expanding it even further in Genesis. The Kaleds were a militaristic, exclusionary race, wearing uniforms and giving Nazi-like salutes, as well as harboring an obsession with racial purity. I am fascinated with history, especially when it influences popular culture, and there is so much to work with in Genesis of the Daleks.

The other thing that really impacted me about this serial was the heavy choice the Doctor had to make about the Daleks. In the end, he must choose to either destroy them and save the universe from the horrors they will ultimately unleash, or let them live. “Have I the right?” he ponders, considering the two wires that could bring about the destruction of a species. I have seen the “hero’s dilemma” in other movies and TV shows, but never one as impactful as this. Terry Nation’s wonderful script comes into play in this scene more than ever, as the Doctor must choose whether to, for the good of many, kill some. If he does, he will be no better than the Daleks themselves and, while the audience knows he won’t be able to do it, he could, and that feeling never left me as I watched it. This one scene has shown its influence even on the new series, as the lone Dalek in 2005’s “Dalek” tells the Ninth Doctor, “You would make a good Dalek,” and again in 2014 a Dalek tells the Twelfth Doctor, “I am not a good Dalek; you are a good Dalek.” Every choice the Doctor has made about the Daleks stems from this pivotal moment, including his failure in the Time War. This is the reason the Daleks will continue to come back again and again in the series; they are his true nemeses, more than the Master, the Cybermen, or any of the others.

While Genesis of the Daleks is a well-known Classic serial, I don’t think many fans of the new series alone have seen it, which is a shame. I would encourage everyone to watch it, even if they’ve tried the Classics before and didn’t like them, or haven’t seen any Classics. Not only does it introduce a classic villain and show the origins of the Daleks, but it touches on several major philosophical issues, too. Terry Nation is already a legend in the Doctor Who universe, but I truly believe this serial was his best work. I think modern showrunners can learn a lot from this serial. While it was spread out over six episodes, and had more time to work with in developing the plot, a similarly poignant story could be produced in a two-parter. The episodic adventures are fun to watch, but one with real weight and significance should come along every once in a while to bring a sense of purpose into the show.