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19 January 2015 @ 07:40 pm
The Randomizer: Genesis of the Daleks  
Genesis of the Daleks is really very good. I mean, I knew it was a classic, but somehow it wasn't on my mental radar in the way some of the more typical Phillip Hinchcliffe productions like Pyramids of Mars were. This is possibly because its a strangely rambling story that succeeds in spite of its structure, where the Gothic horror style tales that typify Hinchcliffe's time are often quite enclosed with a small cast and claustrophobic locations.

I wasn't unfamiliar with the story since I grew up with the audio version the BBC released at some point. We used to listen to it in the car on long journeys. In some ways it is quite odd to watch the full six episodes instead of the trimmed version from the audio. Sometimes whole conversations were familiar and, at other moments, it was just a few lines of dialogue from a larger scene. Some of the oddities of the audio version remain. For instance Gharman appears, apparently from nowhere, in episode five in order to lead the opposition to Davros in the bunker. This is presumably because Davros has just had the previous coordinator of opposition, Ronson, shot. Simply substituting a completely new character at this point really shouldn't work, but somehow it does, possibly because Nation is working hard (especially given he's only got about four sets) to suggest a wider society beyond that we see. It seems natural that there should be other disaffected elements who the Doctor just hadn't encountered. Similarly the thal, Betan, appears from nowhere in the later episodes, because the story needs someone at that point to start rounding up Thal survivors.

I was trying to work out if NuWho could attempt a story like this, because it has been envisioned on a grand scale with the interwoven politics of the Kaleds and the Thals in their domes, plus the scientists and the military in the Kaled bunker. Timewise, I think it could, if only because the audio version is comprehensible and fits into the 90 minutes of a NuWho double episode. You could probably manage to trim more, particularly Sarah's abortive escape attempt up the Thal rocket. However, it is hard to imagine the style of the new series, which is very focused on the Doctor and Companion as the drivers of a story, presenting something like this in which they act much more as catalysts which prompt other individuals and groups into a series of interactions. Even the Eccleston series, in which a repeated motif was the way the Doctor inspired others to action, didn't tend to have those others going off to do things on their own in quite the way Genesis does. While the Doctor, Sarah and Harry, are important characters in this story, they are not the only important characters by a long shot and those others all have competing agendas which interact independently of the Tardis crew.

It's a very sombre story. The Doctor spends a lot of time delivering restrained, somewhat doom-laden speeches to politicians of various stripes, and musing on the futility of the war. There is little of the mania and sparkle that one tends to associate with Tom Baker's performances - though the story is not, thankfully, entirely humourless. Most of the other characters, who are mostly middle-aged men, thesp earnestly back at the Doctor. Given the fairly minimal sets being used in some places the whole thing occasionally feels more like a piece of theatre than television.

Harry is very good in this and he's an often underrated companion, but he's not at all the bumbling slightly upper-class buffoon he is sometimes painted as apart, perhaps, from the moment when his foot gets stuck in a giant clam - but the less said about the giant clams probably the better - the audio version wisely omits them entirely. It's not such a great story for Sarah, who spends a lot of her time away from the Doctor getting captured and failing to successfully escape while whimpering and screaming in a not entirely convincing fashion (though my awareness of the whimpering and screaming may have been heightened by encountering it in audio only the first few times around). She also, for no readily apparent reason, changes her outfit halfway through the fifth episode (the Doctor finds some clothes in a cupboard and gives them to her and she, presumably, nips off somewhere and puts them on).

The other thing that struck me, especially given a conversation dm12 and I were having about School Reunion, is that in the defining moment of this story - where the Doctor tries to decide if he can bring himself to completely wipe out the daleks - it is Sarah who urges him to kill them, while the Doctor wrestles with doubts and qualms. This is completely the reverse dynamic to the one that the new series has, which likes to suggest that the role of the companion is to keep the Doctor in check.

This is an ambitious story, imagined on a large scale (which the production almost rises to, give or take the giant clams and the fact there are, apparently, no female kaleds). It's nothing like the later Baker stories for which the era is famous and is, perhaps, more like the later Pertwee era stories which often had an interest in the rise, fall and interaction of civilisations and empires. It really shouldn't work given the way it rambles all over the place, and the ending in which it is unclear if the Doctor has achieved anything much at all, but somehow it does.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/138053.html.
dm12 on January 19th, 2015 08:28 pm (UTC)
That is an interesting point about Sarah Jane's role in this vs. "School Reunion." Perhaps it's a function of maturity? The young tend to see things in black and white; once one matures and gains some life experiences, one sees a little more gray. Things aren't always what they seem, you gain a sense of mortality yourself and realize that perhaps that is how things should be.

It was a good question to ponder, though. If you had the capability of going back in time and preventing the start of something which you see in the future will cause huge problems in the universe should you do it? You would have to know for certain what would happen if you did; maybe something worse will come along, or maybe your choosing not to intervene would change things for the better. Even a Time Lord can't know everything with that degree of certainty, even if they say they can. (I would be more inclined to trust a TARDIS; they've been around longer and may have an even more developed sense of Time/Space than the Time Lords...)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 21st, 2015 12:14 pm (UTC)
Although, of course, the Doctor is younger here than he was later. I suspect, its partly that the classic series never really worried about what the "purpose" of the companion was, and was also less interested in the Doctor as someone with major flaws.

In universe, I suspect the answer is that this Doctor, untraumatised by the Time War has a much less visceral reaction to monsters and so is better able to consider the wider moral questions in an abstract fashion.
dm12 on January 21st, 2015 12:36 pm (UTC)
That's probably right, too, but I was thinking about Sarah Jane's maturity as well. When she was younger, she had that sense of things are either totally right or totally wrong, there is nothing in between.

The Doctor, on the other hand, had the reverse process happen. Before the Time Wars, he could see the gray. In later years, he was much more hardened. Still, he offered a choice and one chance (to his enemies, not his friends, but that's another can of worms) before he destroyed them.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 19th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
This actually took me a long time to warm to and even now it's not a particular favourite, although I admire it without loving it. I'm not entirely sure why. I think it all feels rather sterile. I did 'get' it more when I watched all Doctor Who in order. I think it fitted better. You remark that it seems like late Pertwee, which is true (it was commissioned by Barry Letts, not Philip Hinchcliffe - neither Hinchcliffe nor Robert Holmes liked the Daleks). But watched after seasons eight to eleven, suddenly this and The Ark in Space feel tonally very different. I hesitate to say 'adult' or even 'mature', but certainly more serious and brutal. I wouldn't want Doctor Who like this every week, but on occasion it works well (see also season seven and The Caves of Androzani, both of which I prefer to Genesis).

Also, I'm surprised you wrote a whole mini-essay on Genesis mentioning Davros in passing and not mentioning Nyder at all! I think Michael Wisher and Peter Miles really do elevate the story; Davros is a good part, but Miles elevates Nyder from a stereotypical henchman into a memorably nasty piece of work.

Incidentally, Gharman actually does appear earlier (IIRC, he's with Davros at the end of part one), but I agree he's in the background with Ronson as the focus of opposition in the bunker.

Most of the other characters, who are mostly middle-aged men

Whenever I watch this, I do wonder how the Thals are going to repopulate the planet, given they only appear to have one woman!

Sarah's sudden clothing change was introduced when someone realised that she had on a different costume in Revenge of the Cybermen (filmed first, but broadcast afterwards), but I agree that on screen it's a bit strange.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 21st, 2015 12:21 pm (UTC)
Genesis takes itself very seriously, which isn't always a good idea for a Doctor Who story. It isn't having fun and lacks a lot of the charm of many of the stories.

I find Nyder a difficult character to be honest, at least that it is difficult to see in the later episodes what is motivating him beyond blind loyalty to Davros and yet, somehow, he doesn't come across as blindly loyal. It is certainly the case that Genesis is mostly packed with thoughtful characters who are well-intentioned but somewhat out of their depth. The exception being General Raven who doesn't appear particularly cerebral but it eventually appears is more or less well-intentioned and certainly out of his depth. Only Davros and Nyder are not apparently well-intentioned (though they give lip service to it, it isn't at all obvious that it is the survival of the kaleds that motivates Davros by the time we meet him) and right up until the very end they are not out of their depth.

*g* The Thals are at least, ahead of the kalends. They have one woman to their name!!!
a_cubeda_cubed on January 20th, 2015 12:38 am (UTC)
The closest NuWho has come to this in the "existing system with complex dynamics" is, I think "The Beast Below". Of course they are in a typical Groundhog day, although one without time travel - interesting variant on the Groundhog day of everyone forgetting the problem periodically as soon as they actually discover it, with the doctor's arrival being the event that jolts them out of it.
TBB one definitely has the companion as a brake on the doctor, though.
Turn Left, of course, hangs a lampshade on this tendency, and since you've just watched Runaway Bride, which Turn Left features as "the companion saves the doctor's life, not just his sanity and morality", that's an aspect that's going to be in your mind.
One of the themes running through NuWho has been, I think, the impact of the Time War and his role in it on the Doctor. The fact that 9, 10 and 11 (or 10, 11, 11b/12 and 13 if we want to be precise ;-)) all think they had to destroy the time lords because they failed as 4 to destroy the daleks when they had the chance, gives a plausible reason for the Dalek-like hatred the Doctor has for the Daleks, and some of his self-destructive streak.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 21st, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC)
Even in the Beast Below, though, you only really have Liz 10 with a separate agenda (which happens to align closely with the Doctor's own) and she mostly acts with or reacts to the Doctor, rather than to anyone else in the story.

I've always felt the Time War has very much hung over the new series and in fact that Gallifrey had to be brought back simply because the weight of responsibility for its destruction was beginning to be unnecessary baggage on the Doctor that the audience was no longer interested in. However when I put this theory around this time last year, several (well definitely at least one) people argued that, in fact, the 11th Doctor explicitly "moves on" from the Time War and is supposed to have laid that particular ghost to rest. Comparisons between the Doctor and the Daleks are tempting, but outside that specific instance in Dalek I'm not convinced they work all that well because they are mostly not actually that comparable.