Image Description: Davros with a selection of Daleks at the Doctor Who Exhibition
In a jaunt away from new TLV content, John Salway takes a look at the stories featured on the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray, and their place in TLV canon. This time, Genesis of the Daleks…
This is a very difficult review to write – Genesis of the Daleks must be one of the most discussed Doctor Who stories of all time, and there’s very little I can add to the genre that won’t have already been said by scores of reviewers before me, whether in praise or criticism. So rather than providing an overall picture of a story that almost all my readers are guaranteed to have already seen, and formed their own thoughts on, I’m going to hone in on a few aspects that really caught my attention on this particular re-watch, with the events of Time Lord Victorious running through my mind.
So how does this story’s plot tie into the multimedia saga? The short informational booklet included in the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray places this story as the start of the Time War, as the Doctor is tasked with stopping the Daleks from ever existing. This is echoed in the events of All Flesh is Grass, as one of the Daleks’ objectives in the Dark Times is similarly to destroy Gallifrey and prevent the Time Lords from ever having existed.
In one of the story’s most important moments, the Doctor holds the fate of the Daleks in his hands, as he deliberates whether or not to press two wires together and trigger an explosion that will destroy the mutants. “Do I have the right?” he famously asks, knowing that this decision to change history could have tremendous consequences that can’t possibly be foreseen. The Time Lord Victorious stories, and the episode that spawned them, The Waters of Mars, instead show us a Doctor who does believe he has the right. He chooses to exercise that perceived privilege, first by saving Adelaide Brooke, and then by destroying the Kotturuh. When the Tenth Doctor is given the chance to destroy his squiddy Dalek foes, he does take that choice, following some hesitation, and the rest of the plotline follows the unforeseen consequences of that action, which eventually threaten the whole universe. In a way, TLV can be seen as a comment on this moment in Genesis, showing us that the earlier Doctor was right to consider the ramifications of his actions and the destruction that can result when he stops asking these important questions.
I find it quite interesting, watching this story with knowledge of the future Time War, how amusingly slapdash the Time Lords’ attempt to erase the Daleks really is! Firstly, they choose to send in only one Time Lord – in particular, a renegade they don’t really trust – and then they beam him with no preparation into the middle of the warzone rather than one of the nice safe domes. They provide him with no equipment, no information about the societies involved or their political situation, and he’s even without his own TARDIS. This is not to mention that if his mission is to prevent the Daleks’ creation, it may have been a good idea to place him on Skaro before they had actually been engineered rather than trying to halt a programme that has already successfully produced Dalek casings and mutants! The Daleks’ plan in All Flesh is Grass is much more strategically sound – to destroy their future enemy’s planet by total obliteration from space!
One of my major problems with the TLV saga has been its lack of strong female roles. While most of the individual instalments have featured female characters, none of these has really been important to the range as a whole. They pop up within a story and are then tidied away before the next instalment, destined to lounge in obscurity – Angela comes to mind. Even Rose, who has a prominent position in the main promotional artwork for the range, doesn’t get much chance to show her own personality and strength in the comic that features her. Genesis doesn’t do much to help this gender imbalance. While Sarah Jane, who features as the Doctor’s companion alongside Harry, is much-loved, she doesn’t contribute a great deal to the ongoing events in this story. Particularly disappointing is Sarah Jane’s exciting climb out of a missile silo in Part Two. This is a thrilling action scene, and represents a major proactive moment for the character as she organises an escape attempt. It’s a great shame, then, that this impressive set-piece and cliffhanger culminates in Sarah being re-captured, and right back where she started, making what could have been a real highlight feel more like a waste of time.
Genesis of the Daleks has always been a much-loved story, and while it still has its fair share of problems (notably, some rather clumsy narrative shortcuts taken in the second half), it’s full of strong ideas, a well-maintained sense of tension, and presents events on a far grander scale than was usual for the time. Initially I was rather dismissive of its inclusion in the Road to the Dark Times. Surely, I thought, we didn’t need two Dalek stories in the collection, particularly as neither has an especially direct connection to the range. But watching it again has shown just how well it complements the universe of TLV, for better and for worse, matching the epic, somewhat cynical tone of the ongoing story. Like a good wine pairing, both are improved by the union.