Even for a newcomer, Genesis of the Daleks has a reputation that precedes it. However, this six-part serial has perhaps been hyped up too much over the years, and watching it for the first time, I’m left just a little bit underwhelmed by it. I think there’s always going to be a problem when introducing a face to a villain whose main appeal is their facelessness. It happened to Star Trek when they introduced the Borg Queen too.
That’s not to say that Davros isn’t a thoroughly entertaining villain – his travel machine, robotic eye and electronically-enhanced voice are an excellent precursor to the death machines he goes on to create. His feeble physicality is inversely proportional to his ambition, and yet, despite his hideous visage, he is still revered and trusted enough by his fellow Kaleds (I see what they did there) to pull the wool over their eyes, right up until the end.
It’s probably his interactions with the Doctor that are most memorable here. In one scene, we have Davros almost frothing at the mouth at the prospect of holding the power of life and death over the Universe… while a later scene sees the Doctor struggling with the same moral dilemma, as he decides whether or not to destroy the Dalek embryos. It’s a fantastic scene, one of the more thought-provoking in this whole series so far, and it serves as a good exploration of good and evil. But perhaps I just wanted more from the origins of the Daleks. A last minute betrayal adds a touch of tragedy to the tale, but otherwise it’s as straightforward an origin as you could imagine, and one that was already alluded to well enough during their first appearance in 1963.
The ambiguity over the ending leaves the Daleks’ fate up in the air, which is how I would prefer it. Was history changed, delayed or kept exactly the same? Clearly the Time Lords felt it was possible to alter history (despite the Doctor’s previous insistence that it can’t be done), and it was good to see them finally break their non-interference directive. It added to the epic scope of the story, and I enjoyed seeing the early conflicts of the Thals and the Kaleds played out on screen.
Six parts was probably more than it needed, as evidenced again by the ‘captured, escaped, recaptured’ plotting early on, and some of the less memorable secondary characters. I could also be picky and argue the merits of the science behind this one: really, the Kaleds’ natural evolution is one that relies on machines that haven’t been built yet? How would anyone believe that? Moreover, in the original story, wasn’t it supposed to be radiation that altered (and sustained) the Daleks, not genetic manipulation? And just where did their reliance on static electricity come from?
Still, nitpicks aside, this is the best Dalek story Terry Nation has written so far. He clearly loves his Dalek creations as much as Davros himself, so it’s no surprise that he’s gone back and written what was previously only imagined, more than ten years later. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it had the feel of an epic adventure with the highest of stakes, while exploring the origins of Doctor Who’s most famous villains and introducing a memorable new face to the lore. Tom Baker is also excellent in it, but I’ve come to expect that as standard now.