Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks DVD

By Eddie Robson on 17 April 2006

All credit to 2entertain, the company which now handles the BBC’s DVD releases, for coming up with a more sensible selection of old-skool ‘Doctor Who’ to issue whilst the second run of shiny new episodes debuts. Last year, curious shoppers could sample ‘The Mind Robber’ (a great serial, but deeply atypical) and ‘The Claws of Axos’ (dodgy alien-invasion runaround): not the ideal choices to pull in new punters. This year, with a nice boxed set of the earliest episodes recently on shelves, 2entertain complement this with the excellent ‘Inferno’ (due out at the start of June) and, this month, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’.

If ‘Doctor Who’ has a blockbuster story, this is it. It’s from the early Tom Baker period, widely considered to be the ‘golden age’ of the series, and (as quick-witted readers may have already gathered) it recounts the creation of the Daleks. However, I don’t believe in golden ages (and neither did ‘Doctor Who’: see 1974’s anti-nostalgia polemic ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’), and I feel that ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ has a self-sustaining reputation that it doesn’t quite deserve. It’s not all that. Accordingly, I have removed the sticker that reads ‘No.1 Doctor Who story of all time’ and adhered it to my copy of 1964’s ‘The Sensorites’ instead.

To be fair, there is some brilliant material here. There was always an aspect of the Nazis in the Daleks, and here their creator Terry Nation makes that element even less ambiguous in his depiction of their humanoid ancestors. They wear black uniforms that are reminiscent of the SS, ramble about peace stemming from the suppression of other races and prize genetic purity. The moral angle is well played throughout, especially the Doctor’s oft-quoted agonising over whether destroying the Daleks forever would make him as bad as them, and familiarity makes it easy to forget what a fine creation Davros – half-man, half-Dalek – really is.

However, the unfolding of the story showcases all of Nation’s weaknesses as a writer. The plot features a lot of capture-and-escape stuff and numerous handy coincidences, and a lot of the story seems to be spent traipsing between the two warring cities – which are within walking distance of each other, despite having been at war for a thousand years. There’s some fairly risible dialogue, too (‘In the space year seventeen thousand…’). The production is up to a good standard for the time, well lit and well directed, but it’s ultimately far more run-of-the-mill than its reputation suggests.

Even so, being such a significant story in ‘Who’ history it does deserve the two-disc treatment it’s been afforded here. The hour-long documentary on the serial, ‘Genesis of a Classic’, just about supports its length because it grabs interviews with so many of the participants and because they clearly remember it so well. Tom Baker’s involvement is a massive bonus (the part where his phone rings mid-interview is wonderful) – he also makes a rare appearance on the commentary track.

The second documentary, ‘The Dalek Tapes’, is a more general retrospective of the Daleks. Some buyers may complain that it’s a bit superficial, but with new fans being attracted to ‘Doctor Who’ I think there’s a value in having some broad overview features like this one on the DVDs. My problem with ‘The Dalek Tapes’ is that it’s very poorly balanced. The 1960s Dalek stories get plenty of airtime, although there’s surprisingly little material regarding the first Dalek story. Then, when going through the 1970s, the serials ‘Frontier in Space’ and ‘Planet of the Daleks’ are skipped over oddly quickly.

The real disgrace, though, comes at the end: 1988’s ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, which is probably the best Dalek story full stop (and certainly one of the most interesting ones), gets all of thirty-five seconds. Just some clips from the story and a voice-over saying ‘There was another Dalek story just before the programme ended, and this was it.’ No discussion, no interviews with participants, not even a comment from a viewer. Nothing. Unforgivable. And, whilst there may be problems with getting clips from the new series, surely the Daleks’ face-offs with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor could at least have been discussed, as evidence of the creatures’ enduring nature. Bah.

That’s the bulk of the package, although it’s topped off with the sort of nice archive-scouring extras we’ve come to expect from the ‘Who’ DVDs: a compilation of continuity announcements from the original transmission and repeats, including a completely awesome trailer for a screening in 2000, and some stuff from a 1975 ‘Blue Peter’, showcasing a viewer’s (really rather good) home-made ‘Who’ models. There’s also some PDF DVD-Rom material that I’d gladly tell you about if Dell had delivered my new laptop yet, but as it is I’m still working on my old, non-DVD-capable PC.

As a generic ‘Who’ crowd-pleaser you can’t go that far wrong with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, but if you really want one of the show’s all-time great stories, the next release – ‘Inferno’ is strongly recommended.

You can buy ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ from Amazon.

Line Break

By Eddie Robson

Comments are closed.