Sue looks over at the DVD’s Episode Selection screen and her heart sinks.
Sue: Oh no! Six episodes? This is not good.
And then, mid-way through the title sequence, she is suddenly buffeted by two conflicting emotions.
Sue: Genesis of the Daleks! Yes!
Swiftly followed by:
Sue: Terry ****ing Nation!
This could take some time so I pause the DVD.
Me: We watched this story together almost 19 years ago to the day. It was my first (and entirely unsuccessful) attempt at converting you to Doctor Who (along with a Peter Davison story that you didn’t much care for). It was back in the very early days of our relationship. Do you remember anything about it?
Sue: Only that I thought it was good. Or maybe I just said it was good so you wouldn’t finish with me.
Me: It’ll be interesting to see how much of this you actually remember.
Sue: I was probably far too busy looking at you to take much notice, so don’t get your hopes up, love. And given that I’ve already seen this story, does that mean we can skip it? I’ll give it an eight.
Genesis of the Daleks opens on a desolate wasteland populated by men in gas masks. But before Sue they get a word out, they are all murdered in a hail of machine gun fire. In slow motion.
Sue: I can see why you decided to show me this one. This is definitely not for the kids.
Me: That was the reaction I was going for. I wanted you to believe that Doctor Who was gritty, complicated and action-packed.
Sue: In other words, you lied to me.
The Doctor appears in the middle of this eerie battlefield where he is met by a strange man dressed in black.
Sue: Is it the Master?
I decide to ignore this as a reaction will only encourage her.
Sue: His collar is a bit limp. He looks like a court jester.
When the Time Lord has finished briefing the Doctor on his mission to stop the Daleks at the moment of their creation, Sue demands that I pause the DVD.
Sue: Right, so are they allowed to do this? And if they are, why don’t they do this kind of thing all the time? When does he stop the Cybermen from being born? Or the Ice Warriors? Where do you stop?
Me: Well, that is a very good question. I don’t think the Time Lords are “in the right” for trying this, and they are clearly using the Doctor because it will give them deniability if they **** it up. So, in short, no, they shouldn’t be doing this. Some fans claim that this story is the first shot fired in the Time War.
Sue: About bloody time. I was beginning to wonder when we’d get to that.
The Doctor finds Harry and Sarah and they set off across the wasteland, avoiding a missile barrage as they go.
Sue: This is very good. The direction is excellent. Best use of a quarry in Doctor Who yet.
Unfortunately, our heroes find themselves standing in the middle of a minefield.
Sue: Just detonate the mines with your sonic screwdriver. You’re always doing it. Or maybe he’s worried about getting hit in the face by a flying rock. That would make sense, actually.
The Doctor steps on a mine and Harry has to rescue him.
Sue: I like Harry now. He just risked his life to save the Doctor so he’s okay in my book.
As our heroes continue on their way, a strange shape appears to be watching them from a nearby cliff top.
Sue: Is that thing hitchhiking?
As night falls, the action switches to the trenches outside the dome.
Sue: It’s a shame that we had to switch over to video, but at least they’re trying to make it look as seamless as possible; the smoke and atmospheric lighting help to sell it. Someone must have sat down and really thought about this. It looks great.
The Doctor and his companions are suddenly caught up in a firefight between the Thals and the Kaleds.
Sue: This is very adult. It feels like we’re watching a documentary about Serbian war crimes or something.
The Doctor and Harry are taken inside the Kaled bunker while Sarah is left for dead outside. Sue is slightly vexed that both the Doctor and Harry don’t make a fuss about this, even if they are dazed and confused. And then Sue settles into what will become one of her regular silences as Tom Baker dominates the next scene, where he manages to extract more information from his captors than they can from him. In fact, the only thing I managed to get out of her for ages was “Ooh, Thals”, which made me smile.
The Doctor and Harry manage to turn the tables on their captors, but when they usher a Kaled named Ravon out of the room, Sue becomes incandescent with rage because the Doctor has left the contents of his pockets on a table – including the sonic screwdriver!
Thankfully, she is soon placated by Skaro’s set design.
Sue: Finally, we have some atmospheric indoor lighting. It just goes to show what you can do if you put your mind to it. This should be the template for all the stories to come. The direction is very nice, too – there is plenty of movement and interesting angles – it never feels stagey. They’ve cast this well, too.
Me: Do you remember anything about it so far?
Sue: Not a thing. Although the Nazis do ring a bell. I do seem to remember that it’s very depressing. I actually believe that the bad guys will hurt Harry and the Doctor if they don’t get their way. They are scary because they seem so real.
When Davros is mentioned, the Doctor asks who he might be.
Sue: Surely the Doctor would know who Davros is if he comes from the future? It would be like travelling back in time to stop the Nazis from invading Poland but not knowing that Hitler was the leader of the Nazis. It doesn’t make sense.
Meanwhile, outside the bunker, Sarah gets her first look at Davros himself.
Sue: There’s the big man.
From her hiding place, Sarah watches in horror as a Dalek emerges from the shadows.
Sue: Of course, Sarah has met the Daleks before. You’d have thought the Doctor would have warned her that she might bump into them again this week. That was a bit of an oversight.
Sue: What happened to the recap? There’s no episode recap!
Me: We only watched the last episode two minutes ago. And besides, they aren’t pissing about this week. There’s far too much to do.
Sarah is rescued by a mutant named Sevrin.
Sue: I bet the mutants are nice. Mutants are always nice.
Me: Do you recognise the actor playing this mutant?
Sue: Recognise him? It’s so dark, I can hardly see him!
It turns out that Sue never watched Howard’s Way anyway, so Stephen Yardley is completely lost on her, even if his voice is vaguely familiar.
Davros demonstrates his new Mark 3 travel machine to some Kaled scientists.
Sue: I can’t believe they actually made the Daleks scary again. I never thought I’d see the day.
A Dalek is armed and It immediately rounds on the Doctor. But just as the Dalek is about to exterminate its very first victim, a scientist named Ronson intercedes. Davros goes ballistic.
Sue: You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Davros. I bet the kids were terrified of him.
Me: I certainly was. I still am. A bit.
Meanwhile, Sarah has been captured by the Thals and imprisoned with Sevrin and a Kaled officer, whose face definitely rings a bell.
Sue: He looks like Rodney Bewes from The Likely Lads.
Me: Rodney Bewes in Doctor Who. That would be… interesting.
As Sarah is led to the Thal’s rocket, Sue starts throwing out compliments like confetti at a wedding.
Sue: The set design is great. You can see where all the money has gone this year. This story has it all – massive sets, loads of extras, location work, Daleks – the lot.
Sue is also impressed with the plot.
Sue: Both sides are just as bad as each other and that’s quite unusual. I’m used to seeing the Thals as the helpless good guys. This is very bleak. Some of the performances are very intense as well.
She especially admires James Garbutt’s passionate performance as Ronson but she doesn’t have a bad word to say about any of the performances.
Meanwhile, Sarah decides that slowly being poisoned to death with radiation isn’t really for her, and so she plans a daring escape plan.
Sue: Sarah Jane is great in this story – she’s actually taking charge of the men. Yes, I can definitely see why you chose this particular story to show me. If it had been The Zarbi Planet you would have been out on your ear. This is really rather good.
As Sarah and Sevrin climb the rocket’s scaffolding, Sue appreciates the difficulty of their situation.
Sue: She’s doing really well in those heels.
Me: I remember watching this go out in 1975. I can remember sitting with my nose right up against the television screen and my father telling me that I would go blind if I didn’t move back a bit.
Sarah appears to fall to her death and the episode ends on a freeze frame.
Sue: Brilliant cliffhanger. Let’s watch the next one.
Me: We can’t. Two episodes a night, remember?
Sue: Spoilsport. How many episodes did we watch 19 years ago?
Me: All of them.
I should probably point out that it wasn’t the 1993 BBC2 repeat of this story that we watched. It was my copy of the official BBC VHS tape. Back when it was called The Genesis of the Daleks.
Sidenote: a little later, we watched some of the DVD extras for this story, including a continuity compilation where the announcer also included the definitive article. Twice! Sue can’t believe that fans didn’t ring the BBC to complain after the first time.
Glen Allen doesn’t make the same mistake. Obviously.
Sue: Six episodes in one night? Bloody hell, I must have been keen on you back then. I’ll tell you what – let’s do it again. Let’s watch all six episodes tonight!
Me: No ****ing way.
Sue: Oh, come on! We could relive that night when we were young and in love.
Me: You have got to be kidding me.
Sue: You have no stamina any more, that’s your problem. What does this say about our relationship, I wonder. I just offered to watch six episodes of Doctor Who with you and you turned me down. Never say that I don’t offer.
Me: You know someone who worked on Genesis of the Daleks, don’t you, Sue?
Sue: That’s right, I do. Rosemary Crowson. I noticed her name in the credits to the last episode. I knew she’d done some Tom Baker Doctor Whos.
Me: She was the PA for two stories and she was also the Production Manager for three episodes of Blake’s 7.
I looked that up in advance. I’m not Toby Hadoke, you know.
Me: How did you know her?
Sue: She taught Production Management at a Media Training School in the early 90s.
Me: Did she ever talk about Doctor Who?
Sue: Yes, she did. In fact, I might have some gossip for you.
Me: Go on.
Sue: Well, apparently, and I don’t know if this was common knowledge or not, Tom Baker didn’t suffer fools gladly. He could be very funny and charming but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, he’d bite your head off.
Me: Is that it?
Sue: Oh, and he used to change his lines all the time; it would drive Rosie mad. I hope she’s okay. If you googled yourself and you are reading this Rosie, please get in touch.
The story resumes with Sarah falling from the gantry, but she miraculously lands on a platform below.
Sue: That was a stroke of luck.
Sarah’s bravery is tested further when she is forced to “jump” from the gantry to the rocket cone.
Sue: She is making a mountain out of a molehill, here. She didn’t even need to jump. She just stepped across a tiny gap. Come on, Sarah, the way you were carrying on, you’d have thought you were going to Parkour over there.
Aside from this, Sue is gripped.
Sue: Of all the stories for Rosie to work on, she didn’t half pick a good one.
Me: The other one she worked on isn’t too shabby, either.
Go look it up. Unless you’re Toby Hadoke, of course.
Sue: Just think, Rosie was calling the shots in the gallery during this bit.
Me: Just think, if this was the 1960s we might have heard her.
A Thal guard decides to hang Sarah off the top of the gantry for a laugh.
Me: It’s sadistic, don’t you think?
Sue: Yeah, but I do like Sarah Jane’s jumper.
When Harry and the Doctor stumble across some of Davros’ genetic experiments that went awry, otherwise known as the Giant Clams, I sigh. Deeply.
Sue: What’s wrong with it? I don’t see the problem. What else do you expect a giant clam to look like?
When Tom Georgeson turns up as the Kaled scientist, Kavell, Sue (thinks she) recognises him:
Sue: It’s whatshisname from Our Friends in the North.
Me: No it isn’t.
Sue: Yes, it is. It’s Geordie.
Me: That is not Daniel Craig.
Sue: I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before.
Me: You are probably thinking of Between the Lines (which you loved) or GBH. He was superb in both, as he is in this.
Tom Baker urges the Thals not to trust Davros.
Sue: He didn’t blink again. Do you think it’s okay for the leading man to be the scariest thing in the episode?
Me: Scarier than Davros?
Sue: It’s a close run thing. Davros has the opposite problem – corpse eyes. It’s horrible really, like flesh rotting over a skull. The make-up is brilliant. Do we ever find out how Davros ended up like that?
Me: Well, there’s a Big Finish audio –
Sue: Ok, stop! Forget I asked.
The episode concludes with the Doctor attempting to stop the Thal’s rocket from being launched. But just when it looks like he might succeed, he finds himself pinned to an electric fence instead.
Me: I was eating egg and chips when that originally went out.
The Doctor fails to stop the Thals from launching their rocket and the Kaleds are wiped off the face of Skaro.
Sue: This is not the Doctor’s finest hour, is it? How many people have just been killed, do you think?
Me: Thousands? Tens of thousands?
Sue: No wonder the Doctor is pissed off. The Time Lords will be furious.
Davros uses the disaster to rally the Kaled survivors behind him.
Sue: The script is very good. It’s very complex.
Me: I know. I don’t believe that Terry Nation could have written this.
Sue: But his name is on the credits. It must be Terry.
Me: I detect the hand of Robert Homes.
Sue: Maybe Terry pulled his finger out and he finally delivered the goods. It’s not impossible. Maybe I’ve been wrong about Terry all this time. And the foot rubs are very nice, I must say.
As a Dalek patrols the trenches, silhouetted against a bruising night sky, Sue nods vigourously.
Sue: I definitely remember that shot. That’s a very iconic moment.
As Nyder continues to plot and scheme on Davros’ behalf, Sue finally decides to pass judgement on him.
Sue: Nyder is very creepy. Why is he doing this? What’s in it for him?
Me: I think he’s in love with Davros.
Sue: I think you are reading far too much into this.
Me: I love Nyder. I set up a fake Facebook page for him once.
Sue: Oh yeah, I remember when Facebook used to look like that. How old are you again?
Me: I made a Davros one as well.
Me: I stopped before I got to Ronson. That’s when sanity took hold again.
Sue: Thank God for that.
Me: Although I did pretend to be Nyder on Twitter for a while. I’d ask people what I should get Ronson for his Christmas present and then I’d say “Thank you, that’s just what I needed to know” – just like he did just then.
Sue: I wonder about you sometimes.
Me: I’m better now.
As the Kaleds conspire to bring Davros back under their control, Sue notices an historical parallel.
Sue: This reminds me of that Tom Cruise film.
Me: Oh, this doesn’t sound good.
Sue: You know, the one where they try to kill Hitler from inside. Valkyrie.
Me: Actually, that’s not a bad call.
Davros decides to tie the Doctor to a chair.
Sue: That’s a nice tracking shot. You don’t see a lot of those in Doctor Who. This is very nicely directed. It’s almost as good as Camfield.
When Davros threatens to extract the history of the Daleks from the Doctor, Tom Baker gives it both barrels.
Sue: See! He is bloody terrifying.
Me: Mary Whitehouse got a bee in her bonnet when she saw this story. I think she called it “Terror at tea-time for tots”.
Sue: You can see her point. This is ****ing bleak.
The Doctor is forced to recount the Daleks’ past defeats. This will take him quite some time.
Sue: Isn’t the Doctor changing the course of history by telling Davros about all of this? The Time Lords aren’t going to very happy with him. They might bugger up his TARDIS again as punishment.
Sue even recognises one of events mentioned by the Doctor.
Sue: Does this mean the one where the Daleks invaded Earth is a few episodes shorter now? Is that how it works?
And then Sue clams up (sorry) as the Doctor and Davros go head-to-head.
Me: You aren’t saying very much.
Sue: Just make something up. Pretend we are have a row. Now shut up, I’m trying to watch this.
She will, however, occasionally chip with the odd compliment. For example, when Kavell attacks a guard with his cosh:
Sue: It was the correct decision to cut away before he hit him. It’s much more horrific if you are left to imagine the violence instead of watching an extra pretending to fall over unconscious.
Sue enjoyed the implication that Harry and Sarah have had their own little adventure, completely independent of the Doctor, but she is also overjoyed when they finally reunite.
Sue: They make a good team. I even want Harry to stay now.
The Doctor is adamant that they must recover the recording Davros made of his interrogation.
Sue: Why? How is that going to help? Davros could just write it down or dictate it to Nyder. You have to kill Davros if you believe getting the tape will be the end of it. Unless Davros’ memory is as bad as mine, of course.
The Doctor takes Sue at her word and he heads for the Dalek incubator room armed with explosives.
Sue: He won’t do it. I know he won’t do it. He doesn’t have the right. I remember now. He decides not to press the big red button, just you wait and see. Maybe my memory isn’t so bad.
When the Doctor arrives at the incubator room, Sue decides to fixate on a very disturbing detail.
Sue: They sound like little babies. The Doctor is going to kill little babies!
The episode concludes with the Doctor attacked by several Kaled mutants.
Sue: That reminds me of that thing on Londo’s neck in Babylon 5.
Me: It reminds me of not sleeping properly for a whole week.
The episode begins with one of Doctor Who‘s most iconic moments.
Sue: This is the clip they’ll use on the news when Tom Baker dies.
Me: Thanks for that.
Sue: It’s true. It’s a very powerful scene.
However, before the Doctor can be forced into making a decision, he is interrupted with good news.
Me: Do you think he would have done it?
Sue: Never. There is no way the Doctor would have committed genocide. He’s the Doctor.
As Davros manipulates the Kaled rebels, our attention is drawn towards a large red destructor button.
Sue: Aha! There’s the big red button I was talking about. See, I’m not going mad after all. A lot of this is coming back to me now.
And it’s basically wall-to-wall complements from this point on:
Sue: I like the female Thal. She’s a good, strong character; she would have made a good companion. Every role has been cast well in this story. I can’t find a weak performance to be honest.
Inside the bunker, Davros gives the Kaled elite one final chance to join with him.
Sue: I love the way two scientists decided to switch sides. I didn’t expect that at all.
When Nyder slips away, the Doctor decides to follow him, and he eventually forces the henchman to take him to Davros’ safe, which is decorated with a large iconic eye.
Sue: I see that Davros is a fan of Big Brother.
The Doctor deduces that Davros couldn’t have opened the safe from his chair, and Nyder must have done it for him.
Sue: So Nyder is basically Davros’ carer, yes?
The Doctor destroys the incriminating tape and then he immediately decides to leg it.
Sue: He can’t leave with the job half done! Isn’t he going to check that everything’s going to be okay before he scarpers? It’s not as if Davros hasn’t pulled the rug out from under you before.
But they can’t leave: the Doctor has lost the Time Ring that will take them back to the TARDIS.
Davros unleashes his Daleks and the rebels are all murdered where they stand. Including Gharman, who Sue had a soft spot for. A little later, we see that room is piled high with fresh corpses.
Sue: I bet Mary Whitehouse choked on a scone during that bit.
In the end, the Doctor decides to commit genocide after all.
Sue: Eh? No. That can’t be right.
He returns to the incubator room to finish what he began.
Sue: Where the hell did his coat mysteriously come from? Did he go back for it? He hasn’t got his priorities straight, has he?
The Doctor prepares to make the final connection that he spent ages agonising over earlier, but he is interrupted by a Dalek before he can complete it.
Sue: I can’t believe he’s going to do it.
Instead, the Dalek completes the connection for him and the incubator room explodes.
Sue: He didn’t commit the act himself but the intent was still there. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
She is still pondering this a few minutes later.
Sue: So basically what the Doctor is saying is it’s fine to go back in time and kill a small child. Right…
The Doctor manages to escape from the bunker, just as the Thals blow up the entrance. The Doctor claims that the Daleks will be delayed for a thousand years.
Sue: Are you sure that’s right? Doesn’t he mean they’ll be delayed by a thousand yards?
The Daleks turns on the remaining Kaleds.
Sue: Who is going to tidy up all the bodies when they’ve finished killing everyone?
And then they turn on Davros himself.
Sue: That’s clever. If only he’d given them a dash of pity.
The episode concludes with the Doctor suggesting that some things might be better with the Daleks.
Sue: Yeah, Doctor Who‘s ratings for a start.
Sue: It was on for a ten but the last episode was a bit of a cop-out. But there’s so much that’s good about this – the script, the direction, the performances, the lighting, the production assistance – I can’t really complain. What do you want me to say? It was excellent.
Me: Did you enjoy it more the second time around?
Sue: I think I appreciated it a lot more. Like I said, the first time I saw it, I was probably looking at you more than Davros. You are a slight improvement after all.