I enjoy Genesis of the Daleks most when I think of it as a twist on the John Lucarotti historical, except rather than being trapped in unremittingly brutal and horrible events in Earth’s history, the Doctor and friends are trapped in Doctor Who’s own past. The Thals and Kaleds might as well be Protestants and Catholics; Davros could be Tlotoxl to Ronson’s Autloc, and there’s even a cave of 500 eyes (all belonging to one of Davros’s previous experiments). Uniquely for a non-historical, the audience already broadly know this is going to end in tragedy (I guess there’s a question mark over whether the Doctor will wipe the Daleks from history, but it never seems a very likely outcome), so, apart from the obvious excitement of seeing how the show’s biggest stars came to be, the real interest is in how the Doctor will escape.
This is very much The Daleks backstory re-told through the prism of contemporary views on war. In their previous appearances, the Thals have been basically heroic; here, they’re running a slave labour camp, working captives to death to carry out a genocidal attack against the Kaleds. Sarah Jane’s experience suggests they’re as bad as the other side. The Kaleds, meanwhile, have abandoned such weapons research to instead focus on their own survival, at any cost. The unveiling of the Mark III Travel Machine is an appropriately big moment, and it’s entirely fitting that the Dalek’s first ever line is, ‘Aliens. I must exterminate’ setting the standard for their entire future. But, for me it’s the smaller scene of Ronson unveiling the Kaleds’ ‘final mutational form’ to the Doctor and Harry that really lands the horrible inevitability of the story; that the Kaleds’ future is all Dalek.
I really enjoy the links to the past in this episode: not only to The Daleks (the Lake of Mutations and the caves leading into the city), but also to earlier stories this season. There seems to be a running joke of the Doctor and Harry being painfully scanned (Ian Marter pulls the same face as in the sterilisation chamber in The Ark in Space), and Harry explicitly mentions Robot’s Think Tank to connect the scientific elite running the show for the Kaleds to the ultimate ambitions of the SRS. Which, I suppose, makes Davros the Skarosian Hilda Winters (both wear skirts, anyway).
Next episode: Genesis of the Daleks – Part Three