Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


Practically from the start of Doctor Who, one group of adversaries have become synonymous with the series; though they were initially incapable of scaling a flight of stairs, they were able to send generations of children scarpering behind their settees. Their monotone voices heralded more doom and gloom than John Major during the recession of the early 1990s - they were the Daleks!

GENESIS OF THE DALEKS: With the need to get Tom Baker firmly established as the new Doctor after Jon Pertwee’s series-saving run, there was almost a conscious effort to have him go up against some of the most beloved of monsters during his initial series, leaving the fledgling Time Lord pitted against the Cybermen, the newly-established but popular Sontarans, Nessie and his most ultimate foe: the Daleks. With their Emperor biting the big one during their final end, it became necessary to explore the motorised dustbins from another angle, so what better place to start than right back at the beginning, to the Genesis to the Daleks. Yay, they said it!!

"The Mark 3 Travel Machine will be called - a Derek.  Oh, shit... I mean Dalek!"

The Time Lords intercept The Doctor whilst in a T-Mat beam, landing them on the planet Skaro at the point when the Daleks are created as the ultimate destination of the Kaled race, the metal monsters being the final solution in its thousand-year war with the Thals. A horribly disfigured scientist creates them as power of death and conquest, but just how long will the new creations take orders from a genetically inferior being, and will The Doctor have the courage to do what he is asked, killing the Dalek menace before it has even begun? With a deadly new variety of missile being prepared to snuff out the Thals, the race is on to make sure that it doesn’t take off, but such things seem like small beer when the first Mark III Travel Machine rolls off the production line...

Who better to examine their origins than Terry Nation, the very man responsible for so many urine-stained sheets in kids bedrooms across the country. Nation was about to revert to type by knocking out another thrilling story for the kiddies, but Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts wanted to the go down the ancestry route, to put a fresh spin on it. Nation decided to come up with new roots for the Daleks, sweeping aside the more obscure lore he had come up with, including Dr Yarling as their creator, and bring someone new to the table: Davros! But with a lacklustre script was turned in, it was painfully obvious that Nation was old-fashioned writer banging our similarly old-fashioned work in modern world, re-writes were undertaken and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe decided to mould the whole project to a more mature, self-aware audience, confident that kids would love seeing the Daleks too much to worry about anything else happening in the plot.

"Heil, how are ya...?"

The imagery of the war zone depicted in the first episode is wonderfully evocative, as though every single scrap of horror from the First World War was brought in to give it as much significance as possible. It is a nightmare of gasmasks, screaming bombs, smoke-filled air and deadly landmines. The concept of modern and antiquated weaponry all coexisting throughout a battle raging for a millennia is enough to hook even those with the mildest sense of curiosity, and that all the soldiers fighting for the Kaleds are young guys hammering home how war craves new blood to sustain it.

The very notion of seeing the Daleks coming to be is a fascinating one, highlighted by choosing to have them be the third attempt at giving the mutated Kaleds a chance at life, not just magically having it right the first time. We get to see the first one roll out of the lab, later fitted with the first weapon which would become notorious across the universe for wiping out entire races. It’s almost pornographic in giving fans exactly what they want, and you really have to praise the decision to have Davros possess many of his creations’ traits, and it makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end when he gets so very agitated that he sounds exactly like a Dalek! It was surely the dream of every kid, and they certainly got their wish for more about the barking pepper-pots than they could have expected!

Above everything else, there is a brooding sense of dread and inevitability running right the way through Genesis of the Daleks, with the almost monochromatic colour schemes bringing to mind themes of good/evil, right/wrong and the shades of grey in between. Everybody understood that the Daleks were the galactic versions of the Nazis, with their insatiable thirst to exterminate anybody considered to be genetically inferior, but this was the first time it was alluded to so directly. It was probably quite a jolt in its day, with some who fought still only in their late forties, but these days it comes across as quite shocking to see such attitudes coupled with uniforms which looks unquestionably like those worn by the Nazis during the war. There are those who would question their use these days, but we’re of the opinion that it is tastefully done, and helps to cement the true nature of genocide through the medium of science-fiction, taking a themes of social/historical importance and putting them into a form which can be understood and debated universally. The same goes for getting prisoners to work for their captors in an environment purposely designed to bring about their death, in this case, getting the captured Thals to pack the rockets out with a payload of Distronic explosives, certain to have them die of Toxaemia with hours, considering the slaves not worth things like protective shielding against the radiation.

"Those bastards at Skin2 swore blind it looked great on me in the shop!"

Baker had found his space-legs by this time, and there are more than a few moments of genius from him which came to characterise his run, giving it huge dramatic sweep when needed, quite little moments of introspection, great dollops of crowd-pleasing humour and nice touches of warmth to remind us all why we love the character in the first place. There are two examples to be found here of how he was able to take nothing and really sell it as a cliffhanger, from the tricky business of making electrocution work on screen, to the legendary way he too a lifeless bunch of rubber and brought it to life by wrapping it round his neck and screaming blue murder! This is quickly followed by the iconic piece where The Doctor is given the opportunity to destroy the Daleks before they even exist, reasoning out of the easy option in light of alliances which would be lost without the deadly menace to bring them together. All this is wonderfully handled by Baker in only his fourth story!

The poshest-talking scouser in the galaxy - Ms Lis Sladen, ladies & gennmen!

Elisabeth Sladen is as fully-rounded as she ever would be, the character now fully developed into the one held so dear by the fans, with her spunky resolve and playful sense of intrepidity a pleasure to watch, even when the story wasn’t good - alright, who said Revenge of the Cybermen? You could argue that her being so easily captured goes against the feminist leanings she was conceived with, but it’s almost traditional for the female companions to get caught. Here, she manages to strike up an alliance which sees both blood spilt and victory attained, so at least she makes good on her captivity.

Now, we’ve always liked Ian Marter; Harry Sullivan will always be the most underappreciated of all the assistants and he was given the most ungracious send-off when not wanted on the show anymore, even eclipsing the unceremonious departure of Jackie Lane. Harry was a real everyman, making all of the alien environments accessible to anyone watching, and all done with a delicately light touch. At times pompous, blundering and ignorant, but always with a streak of humanity, really was a joy to watch, and so much more than the physical manifestation of The Doctor which he was originally hired to be. It was always a damn shame that he got Marter'd for the sake of the show.

Fucked over by the Beeb and died young.  One poor bastard. Well, at least he did some Target novelisations...

Then we get to the wonderful creation of Davros, played with more menace than you would have ever expected to some from the pint-sized body of Michael Wisher, a scientist with a quest for perfection which will see his own ideals twisted into something so deadly he loses sight of exactly what he was striving for in the first place.  With all of the subsequent stories to feature him, it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t viewed as a baddie by everyone in his initial outing, being a scientist in the service of the Kaled government, although only playing along with them when it comes to investigation and other matters of bureaucracy, making him a more complex villain. There are few baddies who can meet Baker head-on and hold their ground against him, but Davros manages to do so in spite of having more than a few qualifiers for a yellow badge on his own, personal travel-machine. The often clip-show’d sequence where Baker puts the hypothetical question to him about creating virus lethal enough to wipe out all life is electric, and we find out just how lacking in any form of morality Davros is in his thirst for ultimate power. Sure, it is a bluff on The Doctor’s part, but there is nothing else to rival it for a face-off during the whole 50 years of Doctor Who.

With this being one the popularist favourites from the original run of Doctor Who, there really isn’t that much left unsaid over the years, but there are more than a few voices out there willing to point out some of the flaws in its construction. For example: the pattern of the story - for all its exalted status - follows one which has been used a lot during the run of the show, in that our heroes get split up, at least one of them gets captured and interrogated, another befriends one of the natives struggling against the ruthless might of the immoral enemies, a doomed assault is launched, the forced regroup, all of the heroes link up again where all of the protagonists set about bringing the aggressors to an end, thanks to an edge given to them by The Doctor. Given that this is another six-parter, some almost irrelevant padding is included to make sure that the extra money can be spent on more elaborate production design. Genesis of the Daleks almost sets the gold-standard in the concept of wasting time, with the Sarah and the slaves climbing up through the missile silo being the ultimate in packing out dead-air with little achieved story-wise by doing so.

"Not another repeat of Genesis of the Daleks?  Bloody Australians don't know when they're born!"

The same thing occurs when The Doctor and Harry go looking for Sarah Jane, with their attempts to sabotage the silo existing just to give them something to do whilst creating tension for the cliffhanger, just as before with the end of Episode Two. In the same light, the whole struggle between the Thals and Kaleds seems to be almost a McGuffin for the Daleks to be created and go on the rampage, not to mention existing so as to keep the six-part running time healthily padded. There is a lot of cutting between the diabolical plans of the Davros and the Kaleds and the rebellious plans of the Thals to overthrow them, and all just seems as though they are the rolling countryside on the way to a destination. When it comes to the Kaleds, depending on how loyal they are to Davros determines the degree to which they are fleshed out. Lapdogs like Ravon are almost caricatures, clicking their heels together and obeying orders without question, and the duplicitous Nyder is interesting for his ability to convincingly side with those uneasy about Davros’ plans, not hesitating to arrest them once mined of the names of other sympathisers. Best of all is Dennis Chinnery as Gharman, the Kaled with a conscience, coming as a real tonic to the Teutonic attitudes pervading them.

Speaking of McGuffins, more than a few eyes are found to roll among fans when mention of the Time Ring comes up, as it used not only as a way transporting our heroes around the universe without using the TARDIS, but it comes in handy for making sure that the protagonists can’t just nip off when things get too hairy for them, especially when the weak notion of it being confiscated is keeping them there, becoming something they have to get back or achieve before finishing their mission for the Time Lords. The same goes for the knowledge of the future obtained through The Doctor by torture, detailing all of the Daleks’ defeats for the purposes of making them invincible from the outset. It just becomes another “quest” to go on so as to pad out the running time. Even with these flaws, it's still a classic, and even better when you partner it with...

THE STOLEN EARTH/JOURNEY'S END: Fan-Wank (f-han wahn'k): The act of tailoring dramatic writing of popular entertainment to the absurdist desires of its enthusiasts, in difference to any form of logic or established continuity. See the photo below:

"Fan-wankin', across the universe".

When the skies or Earth are plunged into permanent night, something has gone very wrong, but none of its’ residents would ever guess that their home planet has been stolen, to be used in a nefarious scheme to destroy the entire system of both time and space. Only a call from former Prime Minister Harriet Jones can bring together the disparate forces able to stop the end of all things - but sacrifices will have to be made, as and The Doctor and Donna will soon find out when an earlier prophecy is destined to be fulfilled, and an old enemy is to rise from the ashes.

The double-header of The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End was to be the final series for establishing producers Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson, and they decided to throw in everything including the kitchen sink for the sake of a memorable closer their time on the show, and bringing back not only the Daleks, but also their creator was something which would not only give fans what they wanted, but generate more headlines and magazine covers than anything else, short of killing off The Doctor. OK, they even threw in that one!

The creator of the Daleks looks like he is using the built-in commode in his chair...

We’ve all seen the story, so there seems little point in ceaselessly debating it, not to mention that we have nearly twenty-two reviews to crank out on this set in a very short space of time, so it’s best just to go through and pick out what worked and what didn’t. One of the main thing Nu-Who seems to go out of its way to combat is the general apathy affecting the very age-bracket it is primarily aimed at, with the main tactic being that of a “grabber” for the pre-credits sequence. Be it the exclamation of “let’s kill Hitler” or other attention-getters, they have to come up with something outlandish to nail the little bastards to their seats, giving them little incentive to wander off from the sofa let alone hide behind it. The problem often comes that they just can’t make good on their initial pr(e/o)mise, and the opening seems to be the tail that wags the dog, with the writers scrabbling to make up things to live up the initial gambit.

This is the opposite with Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, where the whole thing about the Reality Bomb and planets being nicked was concocted just to allow the reintroduction of Davros, as there would have to be something pretty damned huge going on for it to be him behind it all. A packet of Roast Beef-flavoured crisps being pilfered from a branch of Premiere wouldn’t be the work of Skaro’s master scientist, so they came up with the fanciful McGuffin of the ultimate weapon to make sure his reappearance was justified enough. As a matter of fact, the return of the Daleks seems almost secondary in the proceedings, with so much of the attentions rightly being focused on their creator, and with a universe-destroying machine ready to blow everything apart, the barking pepper-pots seem to get lost in the shuffle this time around.

"Harriet Jones - miserable cow for New Cross".

It’s rather unsettling that for all the gearing of the story towards the fans by including returning characters and crossovers, it was by no means a shoe-in to get them into the show. Billie Piper, for example, took an extravagant, month-long honeymoon during most of the shooting, leaving her participation much less than they originally wanted. With the BBC so very anal about running times, even though they have no great God of sponsors to appease, the overrunning of the agreed script meant that Davies faced the prospect of having to nix the involvement of Torchwood and/or Sarah Jane Smith to trim back extant ten minutes, until an extension was agreed.

Yet again, we have another Nu-Who cop-out on the subject of mortality, pulling a double-header this time around. Rose Tyler comes back from “the dead” for the sole purpose of looking badass with a large gun, proving that you have cheat death when the script (or ratings) call for it, so make sure you have G. Reaper and Associates as your representatives, kids. The other is the payoff to the “Doctor Donna” dying thread which ran through this particular series, where neither of the two actual characters bit the bullet, but a new one was created so that it could be off’d and Catherine Tate would be free to ride the wave of publicity she had generated from lowering herself to appear in science fiction.  

Nu-Who's Ian Marter!

If there was one thing which royally pissed us off, then it was during the flashback of all those who had selflessly lad down their lives for The Doctor. OK, it’s a nice idea to lay a guilt-trip and maybe take away some of peppiness he had exuded of late, but all those shown are from Nu-Who, and makes no reference to the brave few who died during the original run. They didn’t have to showcase everyone, but just by having a shot of Adric and the freighter blowing up would have been a nice nod to the past whilst maintaining continuity.

We really aren’t fans of Catherine Tate, and never liked her inclusion in the run of the show, being firmly of the opinion that she was barely tolerable at best as a gimmick for the Christmas special, The Runaway Bride. She was put in there so as to get an untapped slice of the viewership tuning in, with the characters’ earthy style and cloth-headed plebian qualities appealing to “the kids”, her presence blunting certain stories when they could have been considerably more weighty with another companion. The greatest crime committed by Tate was one which she herself had a hand in, and that was the ousting of Freema Agyeman from the show, and all because the producers assumed that Tate was too hip to ever consider being in anything other than a special. A certain radio interview where she dropped a stunningly unsubtle hint that she was open for business sealed the fate of the personable Martha Jones, and that Donna Noble only stayed a single series must have really twisted the knife. It’s amazing that Agyeman even came back at all. Naturally, Bernard Cribbins is a joy, but we all knew that anyway.

Does this count as a series, Boyo?

Everyone who comes back plays their characters perfectly, although some are tailored/tapered to the writing of Doctor Who rather than the shows they were currently appearing in. The cast of Torchwood aren’t swearing or trying to get into each others’ pants all the time, with John Barrowman going back to how he played Jack Harkness before he got his own series, but any trace of the strong-willed Sarah Jane Smith from her TARDIS days is gone for good, replaced by a highly-emotional woman just wanting to protect her son, and getting a little too distraught when she hear the Daleks repeating their infamous catchphrase. Agyeman makes a smooth transition to into the role of UNIT personnel, becoming a very cool action-based Martha Jones without taking anything away from the character which people liked about her in the first place. The inclusion of members of the Tyler family - Bingo, MILF and Mickey - all seems rather superfluous, just getting the band back together whilst rounding off Rose Tyler the happiest ending possible - her own Doctor. Shit, RTD was even going to include a piece where she was given as “snippet” of the TARDIS, with which she could grow her own one, allowing then to travel the universe together, but - ironically - time put pay to it.

The purpose of UNIT in Nu-Who seems to be so as to provide moments of guns 'n’ ammo type action before quickly becoming cannon-fodder for any alien force choosing to mess with planet Earth, and when you add pompous arseholes into the mix, they really aren’t an appealing bunch. OK, the Brigadier wasn’t exactly all smiling benevolence, and he often butted heads, but things he organised got results. UNIT was kitted out with likeable guys at all levels, including Cpt. Yates, Sgt. Benton, Cpl Bell and any number of scientific advisors and assistants, but they become a colourless, inefficient mass. Happily, this particular story brings in Michael Brandon to lead the boys in green, and gives his character more dimensions than any other member of the UNIT personnel since the show started up again. Just see the episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures with Nick Courtney for a perfect example of the old UNIT charm when away from Nu-Who.

No flies on Michael Brandon.  Well, maybe Four...

Then we get to Davros. We all know that Michael Wisher was going to be a particularly tough act to follow, something which Terry Malloy made crystal-clear to everyone, and there was wild speculation as to just how much they were going to change the original concept of the character, let alone maintaining any semblance of continuity. Let’s just say that there was an air of excitement when a familiar voice came from the shadows of the Dalek ship, and at the moment of the big reveal, a legion of fans went absolutely apeshit to see a perfectly-formed Davros, one born out of a need to keep the original design, but make the best possible version of it. Of course, when his robotic hand flipped a switch on his chair, there were a certain section of fans practically soiling themselves with joy!

There are those who would rather not have seen Mr Smith make an appearance, with a swipe put in at the horrendously camp fanfare played whenever he’s brought into play, but it’s all about solidifying the separate elements which make up the Whoniverse, so you have to take the rough with the smooth. As much as many hate him, it was kinda cool that K-9 was able to briefly escape copyright Hell so as to save the day, and the whole thing feels like the same kind of crossover which Marvel Comics are famous for doing, effectively making this the Avengers of Doctor Who, and a lot of fun can be had from this epic tale where everything is permitted.

"She has illusion, you have reality".

Some of the plotting of both tales might disappoint, but does the A/V quality of these fan-pleasing stories? Will they be fully formed or need more time in the Dalek DVD incubator room, as such efforts will mean bugger all without a decent transfer to make the whole thing shine. Let’s take a look at how it all stacks up in the A/V department.

Video


GENESIS OF THE DALEKS: As to be expected, with all the original PAL tapes surviving, this was going to look good. Quite a bit of work was needed on the first episode to bring it up to specs, but minimal tampering was required after that, with the film footage brushed up to the best they could do with it - they even put Tom Baker’s head back in when an imperfect optical effect took it off in Episode Four. Overall, it’s a really nice looking copy of a much-loved story,

THE STOLEN EARTH/JOURNEY'S END: Filmed digitally, this is a really rather nice SD presentation of the show, with little in the way of imperfections due to the transfer. Of course, there are limitations due to the source material, but aside from a few minor instances of digital smearing and such, there are no complaints. The 1.78:1 widescreen image has pleasing colours, looking their very best when inside Davros’ lair, showcasing nice black-levels when keeping returning characters firmly in the shadows. That really is about it: a two-hour digitally-shot TV show on a duel-layered disc - what can they really get wrong?

Audio


GENESIS OF THE DALEKS: With only a few miscues for music and effects and some repair-work to Davros’ voice and a general clean-up to be done. Clean, unobtrusive and enjoyable. It’s quality workmanship enough to say “nothing to see here” and be impressed by it.

THE STOLEN EARTH: Here we get a pretty damn active Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and it gives Daleks a real sense of threat when their evil deeds are spread across the whole soundstage.  Split-surrounds are plentiful, low frequencies are well-catered for, and the helps give it the feel of a much larger production that it really was, which is the goal of the Nu-Who production team anyway.  If you have only seen this story in two-track, we strongly urge you to what this in all its multi-channel glory.

Extras


It starts with “F” and ends in “uck all”.Yep, these are stripped-down editions of the discs, there to give you as much Doctor Who for your money, so they would rather squeeze in more stories and burden the discs with supplementary materials.

"Not another repeat of Genesis of the Daleks?  Bloody Australians don't know when they're born!"

Overall


GENESIS OF THE DALEKS: Aside from a few niggles, including how the revelation that the Time Lords merely grant The Doctor a degree of freedom in return for the odd favour, which tends to water-down the whole renegade/fugitive/outcast motif which had served the character very well up until then, Genesis of the Daleks is a damn-good story, which might have been utterly peerless if it was written as a four-parter instead of stretching it to six. Davros as a character might have defined the law of diminishing returns, but here he is pure and brilliant, so watch everyone punching their weight and being knocked down by a killer uppercut from Mr Michael Wisher. Your kids love the Daleks? Sit ‘em down in front of this and blow their minds with just where they came from, and try to purge all memory of the bloody Lardeks.

THE STOLEN EARTH and JOURNEY’S END: These two make for a pretty satisfying return of new and old faces to the show, although this mainly works on an emotion level rather than bringing any form of logic to the proceedings. It’s fan-wank, but entertaining, nonetheless. There are Daleks, battles, teleporting, the possible destruction of the world by its own hand, and a superb Davros to give the enthusiasts what they want. As a matter of fact, it might have needed at title change, as might have been better at Christmas, being very rich, decadent and too much of it will leave you feeling gorged. The Stollen Earth might have been better.

Of all the stories bundled together for the Monsters collection, this is probably the one which bridges the generational gap the most consistently. It has direct continuity with a couple of returning characters indentifying each other, and make for a wonderful double-bill to ring in the anniversary.


Links: