Genesis of the Daleks *****

Is Dalek creator Davros, as played by Michael Wisher, the greatest villain in Doctor Who history?

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Genesis of the Daleks *****

Season 12 – Story 78

"We will avenge the annihilation of our people with a retaliation so massive, so merciless, that it will live in history" - Davros

Storyline
The Time Lords divert the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to Skaro to thwart the creation of the Daleks, or influence their development into less aggressive creatures. They arrive during a grim war of attrition between the Thals and the Kaleds, whose chief scientist Davros is genetically engineering his race to survive as domineering Daleks. Not only is the travellers' mission imperilled by bullets and bombs, radiation and mutations, they are also separated from the Time Ring that will transport them to safety…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 8 March 1975
Part 2 - Saturday 15 March 1975
Part 3 - Saturday 22 March 1975
Part 4 - Saturday 29 March 1975
Part 5 - Saturday 5 April 1975
Part 6 - Saturday 12 April 1975

Production
Location filming: January 1975 at Betchworth quarry, Surrey
Ealing filming: January 1975
Studio recording: January 1975 in TC1, February 1975 in TC8 and TC6

Cast
Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Harry Sullivan - Ian Marter
Davros - Michael Wisher
Nyder - Peter Miles
Ronson - James Garbutt
Gharman - Dennis Chinnery
Time Lord - John Franklyn-Robbins
Ravon - Guy Siner
Tane - Drew Wood
Sevrin - Stephen Yardley
Bettan - Harriet Philpin
Kravos - Andrew Johns
Mogran - Ivor Roberts
Kavell - Tom Georgeson
Gerrill - Jeremy Chandler
Kaled leader - Richard Reeves
Kaled guard - Peter Mantle
Thal guard - Max Faulkner
Thal politician - Michael Lynch
Thal soldiers - Pat Gorman, Hilary Minster, John Gleeson
Dalek operators - John Scott Martin, Cy Town, Keith Ashley
Dalek voice - Roy Skelton

Crew
Writer - Terry Nation
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - David Spode
Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
Script editor - Robert Holmes
Director - David Maloney

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Welcome to a hideous world of sudden death and twisted ambition in what is - let's not debate it - Terry Nation's finest hour for the series. His packed and pacey story is one elongated nightmare - vintage Who, then. As a young viewer I was transfixed for every minute of its six episodes, desperate to see my heroes claw their way out of the darkness.

The temporal trio is certainly thrown in at the deep end, the shock being that it's the Doctor's kith and kin that have tossed them into such jeopardy. It's an astonishing act of intervention, though the Doctor's anger at his people's presumption is soon mollified by the mere mention of his deadliest enemy.

Seeing the actual birth of the Daleks is a simple but brilliant twist on the traditional tin-pot-boiler. We have former producer Barry Letts to thank for this. Dissatisfied with Terry Nation's initial submission, Letts instead suggested an origin story - and an inspired Nation rose to the challenge.

If inventing the Daleks in 1963 was genius, then what word is left to describe Davros? Not only is this Mekon-on-heroin a clever device to bridge the Kaleds and their anagrammatic counterparts but, as portrayed by Michael Wisher, he is also an effortless contender for greatest villain in Doctor Who history.

His underplayed introduction - as Sarah spies this withered man-Dalek in an outdoor shooting range - sends chills down the spine. "Observe the test closely, my friend," he whispers to Gharman. "This will be a moment that will live in history." Indeed it will.

Under a deliciously ghoulish mask with sewn-up eyelids (I was convinced he was going to open them at any moment!), Wisher had only his voice to convey Davros's thought pattern - apart from the impatiently tapping fingers of one hand. But whether employing honeyed tones to feign cooperation with the Kaled elders ("I welcome any investigation into our work here") or screeching his megalomania ("WE… I… WILL GO ON!"), it's a monumental performance.

So successful was Davros that he returned four times in 20th-century Who - though in the hands of others he was little more than a ranting gumby. Happily, his rendition by Julian Bleach in a 2008 two-parter reminds us of former glories.

Even his cronies are impeccably written and played, from Peter Miles' pinched, gimlet-eyed Nyder and his mesmerising inflections ("The order spe-cee-fies midnight") to Dennis Chinnery's conflicted Gharman.

There's uneven rationing of work for the companions: while Sarah is falling off rockets and debating genocide, Harry is stepping on a mollusc. Exaggeration, possibly, but watch the justly celebrated "Touch these two strands together" scene in episode six: it's supposed to be a three-hander but the way Harry is sidelined is almost contemptuous. Such a shame. I loved Harry, and Ian Marter, but he's all but forgotten here.

But back to the plus points. Sound plays a critical role in Genesis, both in Dudley Simpson's strident, militaristic score and the effects - thumping mortars, squealing embryos and hissing gas cylinders made the story a triumph for BBC Records, too.

And where else do you get this level of moral complexity: Is Thal good and Kaled bad? Do the Kaleds deserve to survive? Is the Doctor no better than the Daleks for destroying the incubator room? If quality drama provokes discussion, then Genesis has material for a conference.

It may sound like overstatement, but Davros's demise is positively Shakespearean. Such Coriolanus-like aggression and single-mindedness! Programming the Daleks to reject any other entity as superior makes it inevitable that Davros will be hoist with his own petard.

A Nation on fire… an assured captaincy by David Maloney… Genesis is the quintessence of Who: frightening, fantastic, unforgettable.

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Radio Times archive

RT billings

The Christmas repeat had a lovely Frank Bellamy's cartoon

Introduction

In the 1970s, there could major regional differences in Radio Times. This small feature appeared in most regions. This two-page feature was published in the East Anglia edition (page one, page two). It's one of the earliest interviews with Tom Baker as the Doctor. 

[Available on BBC DVD]

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