Doctor Who - Genesis of the Daleks, a six-part story from 1975 starring "Fourth Doctor" Tom Baker, is a highly satisfying adventure featuring those pepper pot androids bent on conquering the universe. The many references to past stories will leave those new to Doctor Who's universe hopelessly confused; series neophytes are advised to start with the BBC's Doctor Who - The Beginning or the newer 2005-2006 show, available as Doctor Who - The Complete First Season. But for those already familiar with The Doctor, the T.A.R.D.I.S. (absent here, actually) and Time Lords, Doctor Who - Genesis of the Daleks is a real fan-pleaser - and the BBC has once again delivered a superb array of extra features.
In this story, the 78th in the series and the fourth starring Baker, The Doctor and his companions Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) find themselves on the barren wastelands of Skaro, the same planet first seen in the second Doctor Who story, 1963's The Daleks, which also introduced for the very first time the popular title menace. (The story, incidentally, was subsequently remade as Dr. Who and the Daleks, a 1965 theatrical feature starring Peter Cushing).
Anyway, back on Skaro, the Doctor is essentially blackmailed by a Time Lord (John Franklin-Robbins) into undertaking a perilous mission: stop the Daleks before they ever evolve into the merciless killers they'd soon become. The trio find themselves in the midst of an ages-old war between two humanoid races, the Kaleds and the Thals (the latter featuring prominently in "The Daleks"). There's also a third group of characters, the Mutos: radiation- and chemical weapons-scarred mutants leftover from past battles.
The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are mistaken for Thal spies and interrogated by Ravon (Guy Siner) and later Nyder (Peter Miles), both slimy neo-Nazi types in the Kaleds' fascist regime. They also meet the Daleks' creator, the sinister Davros (Michael Wisher), not-quite-human creature with a single, cyclopsian artificial eye who, half-paralyzed, moves about with a wheelchair-type device that resembles the bottom half of a Dalek, and whose voice is likewise disturbingly Dalek-like.
Davros proved a big hit with viewers, to Doctor Who what Ernest Stavro Blofeld was to James Bond, or Professor Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes. Wisher, formerly a Dalek voice actor in previous stories, is superb: devious and unrepentantly evil yet coolly intellectual and persuasive, a formidable challenge for the Doctor. He'd return to the series repeatedly, though never again used quite this well.
The teleplay came about after the Daleks' literary creator, Terry Nation, was chastised by the show's producers for essentially recycling the same ideas in his last few scripts, and to whom they suggested something on the origins of the Daleks themselves. The result isn't especially original - it leans heavily on that old time travel chestnut: Given the chance, would you stamp out evil by destroying something innocent? Would you kill an infant Adolph Hitler to spare the world the carnage the future adult Hitler will create? Genesis of the Daleks deals with these issues in intelligent ways, however, and in any case is mostly is concerned with action and suspense, which it does rather well.
By 1975 standards, Genesis of the Daleks was considered quite grim and violent for what was still primarily a family show, though most children today would probably find it pretty tame.
Video & Audio
All six episodes of Genesis of the Daleks, running 142 minutes in all, are presented on Disc 1 of this two-disc set. Shot on a mix of videotape (for studio interiors) and film (for location exteriors) the shows look very good for their age. Unlike many Doctor Who stories which have been lost over the years, or exist only in part or were shot in color but survive only in black and white, Genesis of the Daleks is complete and entirely in color off good masters. The mono sound on all four shows is fine, and optional English subtitles are available. This reviewer's single complaint is that the long intro preceding the actual menu screens takes forever: an option to skip all the introductory material would be preferable.
As usual, the BBC has done an outstanding job here. Included on Disc 2 are two long documentaries. Genesis of a Classic runs 62 minutes and is presented in 16:9 widescreen. As one might expect, it's a thoroughly detailed "Making Of" featurette, with lots of great behind-the-scenes photos and new interviews Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Peter Miles, director David Maloney, and many others. (Michael Wisher, who died in 1995, discusses his role in an extensive, archived interview.) The show is long, but as with other BBC/Doctor Who features, this is extremely well done and also provides viewers an excellent primer on British television production methods of the 1970s.
Equally fun is The Dalek Tapes, also 16:9 running 53 minutes. This very entertaining documentary traces the evolution of the series' most popular menace, with clips from every series appearance, as well as the creatures' often oddball guest shots on other British shows, including Whicker's World and Blue Peter.
For those that can't get enough of Baker, Sladen, Miles, and director Maloney, an Audio Commentary Track on Disc 1 follows their reactions through all six shows and, to its credit, is pretty entertaining even after watching the story and Genesis of a Classic. The commentary can be listened to in conjunction with Information Text which appear like subtitles and provide gobs of background on both the series and this particular episode. (It's almost a book in itself, however; some may prefer reading the text, then listening to the commentary.)
Also included are six minutes worth of what's called Continuity Compilation, a set of BBC network bumpers and promos that originally aired at the head and tails of Genesis of the Daleks airings spanning four (!) decades. That this material survives at all is pretty amazing. (More recent promos from a few years back, when the program was rebroadcast on BBC 2, feature Daleks in the shape of the numeral "2." Cute.)
Excerpts from an episode of Blue Feature focus on a teenage model builder's miniature recreations of various sets and characters, while a Photo Gallery is crammed with good images. Both segments run about seven minutes.
DVD-ROM features include a Doctor Who Annual and Radio Times Billings, both in PDF format.
Doctor Who - Genesis of the Daleks is exciting entertainment and high recommended for Doctor Who fans, while the feast of supplements make this a must-have.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.