Thursday, October 20, 2005

'Genesis of the Daleks'

6 episodes

So here we have it - one of the towering high-water-marks in Doctor Who history, and to be truthful something of a bittersweet moment for me. Having worked my way in order from the beginning to the middle of the programme's epic run, uncovering many hidden gems along the way, this is the very last of the acknowledged top-tier true 'greats' of Who that I've never ever seen: I've already watched 'Pyramids of Mars', 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang', 'City of Death' and 'The Caves of Androzani' in years past, which are probably the only serials of comparable standing that come chronologically after this, so after today there are no more treasures of such magnitude to be unearthed.

I'm glad to say that 'Genesis of the Daleks' is every bit a good as they say it is. A startling reimagining of the monsters' making, their real-life creator Terry Nation drags his most famous spawn out of the rut that they and he had got into in their last few stories in the grandest of style. From the shockingly powerful opening shots of Thal soldiers being mowed down in slow-motion, this is Doctor Who at its bleakest and grimmest. The nightmare that the Doctor and friends walk into on Skaro is epitomised by the Nazi-like figures of Nyder and his Kaled troops (even the relatively appealing General Ravon is played by future ''Allo 'Allo' Lieutenant Gruber Guy Siner), while even the Thals, previously seen as friendly and pacifistic, enter into the horrors of war with gusto. Peter Miles' Nyder is excellent - as fanatical and ruthless as his superior, he is the public face of the growing atrocity that is his master's work, and his duplicitous efforts to root out opposition amongst the Kaleds are particularly nasty. The Kaleds in general aren't too nice either, with their ethnic cleansing policy that sees the scarred and malformed Mutos banished into the wildnerness of no-man's-land.

And then there's Davros. Ruthless, malevolent, mad and utterly evil, Davros is perhaps THE iconic villain of the Who canon. He looks fantastically twisted and deformed, with blind eyes superceded by the electronic third one in the middle of his forehead, a single withered arm, and trapped in his wheelchair whose design echoes his later creations. Michael Wisher's performance is nothing short of superb; considering the limitations imposed by mask, wheelchair and the character's infirmity, he does an excpetional job with little more than his voice alone, and when that voice has in previous stories been used for the Daleks themselves it makes sense that it is chilling, bitter and powerful, without ever slipping into caricature. Davros comes across in this story as someone almost on the far side of madness, who cannot be reasoned with by the Doctor in a way that even the Master, say, could be - this is vividly portrayed in the fantastic scene where the Doctor compares the Daleks to releasing a virus that would wipe out all life in the cosmos, and instead of realising his wrong Davros contemplates this idea and decides that he would indeed do that for the ultimate power it would grant him, his feeble fingers clutching and smashing an imaginary phial of the plague. It is an electifying moment.

The actual Daleks arrive late in the day - naturally, since this is the tale of their creation and what led to it - but new, sleek and gleaming, they are very effective when they do. Exterminating the Thals and Kaleds with equal disdain on their creator's insane orders, it is only when they wipe out Davros' remaining loyal henchmen, even Nyder, that he realises the magnitude of his achievement and folly - he has made them to accept the survival of no other race, and so in the end they even turn mercilessly on him.

It's not perfect, of course - there is a notorious diversion involving giant mutant (and unconvincing) clams attempting to snack on Harry that is pretty needless in its entirety, Sarah's cliffhanger fall from a rocket gantry is awesome until its cheap cop-out resolution, and both of the two warring factions seem to pop in and out of the other's citadels with alarming ease considering they've been waging a war of attrition and espionage for a thousand years, apparently practically on each other's doorsteps. Still, these small quibbles are trifling when laid against the general excellence on display, and perhaps the most iconic scene in Who history - the Doctor's legendary "have I the right?" quandary over whether he can justifiably destroy the Dalek race at the moment of their birth, sparing millions from suffering but unwilling to prevent the positive side-effects that would occur along the way and unwilling to commit genocide. Whatever the arguments for and against, this is Doctor Who at its best.

And, as I say, the last that I will have the priviledge of experiencing as a myth turning into actuality before my eyes. Forty-two years after the programme began, twenty-plus years of having it as part of my consciousness, sixteen years after it was taken off the air, eight years since I became a born-again Whovian, started to hear about these great adventures of the past and began to watch them with a novice's enthusiasm, and fifty days and two hundred and eighty-nine episodes into this quest, the last of the giants has fallen. There are no more of the truly exalted, fabled stories that I have yet to witness, no more epochal achievements of writing, directing and acting that have yet to lay bare their riches in front of me - none that still survive, anyway. It is a great day, but a sad day. On I go...


Episodes watched: 289
Episodes still to watch: 433

Four complete stories in one day - a new record, if not actually the most episodes watched!

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