DOCTOR WHO - GENESIS OF THE DALEKS
Region 2 (UK) Edition (also Region 4)
Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Michael Wisher, Peter Miles
Genesis of the Daleks was the fourth
story of Tom Baker's first season of Doctor Who. It was originally
transmitted in March and April 1975, and it's a strong candidate for The Best Doctor Who Story Ever Made. It's certainly one of
the fans' favourite stories, and its popularity is reflected in the number of
times it's been repeated by the BBC (it was repeated in 1975, 1982, 1993
and 2000, sometimes complete, but as often as not in edited omnibus format).
The story finds the Doctor and his two
travelling companions, Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter), on
the Daleks' home planet, Skaro. They have been sent there by the Time
Lords, who want the Doctor to intervene at the very start of the Daleks'
rise to power: to nip the problem in the bud, so to speak.
The travellers arrive during a
centuries-long war between two races: the Thals and the Kaleds (the story
effectively re-writes the history of the Daleks that was established in
the show's second story,
in 1964). Here the Daleks are being developed by a crippled megalomaniac
scientist, Davros (Michael Wisher), ostensibly as travel machines to house
the Kaleds, after they mutate, due to the radiation effects of their war
with the Thals. In reality he plans to turn the Daleks into ruthless
killing machines, wiping the Thals off the face of the planet.
Genesis of the Daleks was a
controversial story which didn't shy from a rather brutal depiction of the
horrors of war. Certainly there is little attempt made to disguise the
Kaleds' Nazi influences. Indeed, under newly-appointed Producer Philip
Hinchcliffe, the series was becoming increasingly more violent, incurring
the wrath of self-appointed moral guardians like Mary Whitehouse
It's true that there's a bit too much
running up and down corridors, or crawling through air vents, in the
six-part story, but in most other respects Genesis of the Daleks is
a remarkable story, with a strong moral core, well-developed ideas, and
some of the best production values of the entire series. The Daleks are
the focus of the story, but they appear only at the periphery, with no
more than a handful of lines of dialogue. The real villains are Davros,
and his sadistic left-hand man Nyder (a wonderful, sneering performance by
The story is superbly directed by David
Maloney, one of the series' most talented contributors. He has a flair for
the dramatic, and a very good eye for composition. He manages to keep the
story rattling along at a breathless pace, even when Terry Nation's often
routine plotting is working against him. One of the key strengths of this
story is highlighted several times on the DVD, during the documentaries,
and in passing during the commentary: Duncan Brown's magnificent lighting.
Most BBC TV drama productions of this
period have a characteristic look, where every square inch of the studio
is blanketed in light. Indeed, two other stories from this season of
Doctor Who follow this pattern, creating the suitably sterile
environment seen in The Ark In Space and Revenge of the Cybermen.
Genesis of the Daleks was shot with a painterly feel for light and
shadow. It's not murky, though: everything you need to see is perfectly
accentuated. This gives Genesis of the Daleks much of its
atmosphere. If you didn't know better, and there weren't the tell-tale
technical signs, you might think that the entire story was shot on film. I
must admit that, until it was pointed out, it hadn't really occurred to me
that this was an important factor in the success of the story, but
watching it again with it in mind brings a new appreciation to its craft.
The other thing I wanted to note is that,
although Genesis of the Daleks is one of my favourite Doctor Who
stories (which means I've seen it more times than I care to count), seeing
it again for the first time on DVD made me realise that I'm far more
familiar with some of the edited versions than I am of the story in its
entirety. When Genesis of the Daleks was first repeated, as an
eighty-five minute compilation, on the day after Boxing Day, 1975, I
recorded the soundtrack onto cassette. I practically wore that tape out
over the next couple of years. To this day I could probably re-assemble
that version shot-for-shot. I was also very familiar with the BBC Records
LP version of the story, which further condensed the story down to an
hour, with added narration by Tom Baker (this version, which isn't nearly
as successful, is still available on CD). Seeing the story again on DVD
was full of little surprises: bits I'd forgotten, and things I'd never
noticed before (thanks to the clarity of DVD, you can see that one of the
things the Doctor removes from his pockets is the Honourable Member of to
the Alpha Centauri Table Tennis Club card, a small in-joke first mentioned
in Baker's debut story, Robot, for example).
The two-disc set offers the six episodes of
the story on one disc, with commentary tracks and production subtitles;
and all the other bonus materials on the other.
Picture quality is generally excellent. As
usual, the show was recorded on 2" quad video, with 16mm film inserts for
scenes shot on location (and, in this case, for scenes shot on film at
Ealing Film Studios, because they were too difficult to mount at TV
Centre). As usual, we're stuck with the telecine transfers made at the
time, because the original film inserts weren't kept after the production
Scenes shot on film inevitably have a
soft-focus look to them compared to the crisp VT material. BBC film
inserts are usually pretty grotty, too, because they weren't handled very
carefully. Typically they're showered with dirt, and often exhibit a
flickery effect caused by the comparatively primitive telecine equipment
in use at the time.
Once again, the master tapes have been
expertly re-conditioned by the Doctor Who Restoration Team. It's a cliché
to say that they've breathed new life into them, but no exaggeration. Many
of the improvements are subtle, and are only apparent when compared to the
original recording (as seen on TV, and on the original VHS release).
The film sequences have been re-graded.
There are noticeable improvements to the colour saturation and fidelity.
This also means that, with the studio sequences often looking much more
like film than usual, thanks to Duncan Brown's lighting, the usual jarring
changes from film to VT are much smoother than usual.
The studio material is sharp, and nicely
saturated, with good contrast and detail. There are one or two unavoidable
minor glitches (the interference patterns caused by the bursts of
machine-gun fire, for example), but even these have been tempered.
If you doubt that the Restoration Team work
miracles on the BBC's quad tapes, then you only have to compare the
results with contemporary material that they haven't cleaned up. As it
happens I was watching a 1979 BBC production released by another label
just before the Genesis discs turned up, and it was in a very sorry
state, with numerous drop-outs, line flashes, and entire sequences
suffering from mis-tracking. It was a stark reminder of just how creaky
thirty-year-old quad recordings can be. An account of the cleanup work
undertaken for this story can be found at the Doctor Who Restoration Team
Quad material is notoriously difficult to
transfer to DVD, but the results here are very good indeed, certainly
comparable to the best of the four part 70s stories released on disc. The
average bit-rate appears to be 7.19Mb/sec, and is very adaptive, with high
peaks, and low dips. There's a bit of softness to the image in one or two
spots, but thankfully little sign of the noise-pumping and
MPEG-compression artefacts that marred earlier discs like Robots of
Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
The audio for the story is standard BBC
mono, which is to say that it's of a pretty high standard, with good
dynamic range, and no glaringly obvious flaws. Again, much of the
restoration work (adjusting levels, re-cueing spot effects, etc), is
virtually invisible to the home viewer: you'd have to listen to the
original version side-by-side to appreciate the tweaks made to bring it up
to such a high standard.
The episodes and the bonus material has
optional English subtitles, but, once again, there are no subtitles for
the commentary track. Frankly, you're not missing much this time.
Each of the six episodes is accompanied by
a commentary track. The contributors are (in various combinations) stars
Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, director David Maloney, and guest star
Peter Miles (a veteran Doctor Who performer who also appeared in
two Jon Pertwee stories). I have to say that I was a little disappointed
with these tracks. They're rather hesitant, and there are often long
passages where nothing insightful is revealed. Baker occasionally chips in
something amusing, often a disparaging comment about his own performance,
but usually seems engrossed in what he's watching. Things pick up a bit
towards the end, but you'll need some perseverance to get there. On other
Doctor Who discs the contributors are jollied along by a
knowledgeable moderator, and one was desperately required here. Baker is a
great source of anecdotes, and there were sparks here that needed
kindling. A bit of banter between Baker and a moderator who knows how to
get the best out of Baker's repertoire might have enlivened things
The other bonus feature on disc one is the
option to view Production Notes subtitles while the story plays.
Usually these are a mine of trivia and information, even for a reasonably
dedicated fan. This time, though, they didn't seem as interesting as
usual, and often skimped on information that's routinely been offered in
the past (the names of the un-credited cast and crew members, for
example). Often you feel that a great deal of in-depth research has been
undertaken to create the Production Notes subtitles, but the ones
here don't really give that impression. They lean rather heavily on
pointing out the differences between the early versions of the script, and
the transmitted version: information that's better conveyed in the superb
book Doctor Who - The Scripts - Tom Baker 1974/5. The most
interesting information was explaining that the story's cliff-hanger
endings were not usually as they appeared in the scripts.
The second disc features two documentaries
that were especially made for this DVD set: Genesis of a Classic
(62m) and The Dalek Tapes (53m).
Genesis of a Classic is a detailed
examination of Genesis of the Daleks, from its origins as a
re-heated and rejected Terry Nation story, to the finished programme. All
aspects of the production are touched on, including the design and
creation of Davros. It features interviews with an astonishing array of
contributors, including guest stars James Garbutt, Dennis Chinnery and,
via archive footage from a Reeltime Pictures interview, the late Michael
Wisher. Often the contributors have little more than a minute or two of
screen time: Doctor Who fans are certainly getting value for money!
It's here that Duncan Brown's lighting is discussed as being a big factor
in the story's success, and he is interviewed to explain how he tackled
Finding an attractive way of presenting
interviewees in Doctor Who DVD documentaries has been a bit
hit-or-miss in the past. Sometimes the backgrounds have been so garish
that they have distracted from what the interviewee is saying. Here the
contributors are sharply lit against black, and placed alongside
appropriate grey-and-black images from the story that drift very, very
slowly, subliminally adding momentum. It's a very clean, professional
look, and works very nicely indeed.
Genesis of a Classic is
well-structured, and seems to be the ideal length for a documentary of
this type. However, its coherence and gravitas is undermined somewhat by
being punctuated by segments titled Teach Yourself "Dalek" in Six Easy
Lessons, which have Dalek voice artiste Roy Skelton re-creating Dalek
dialogue from the story, and demonstrating how the Dalek voices change to
reflect different circumstances. Apart from demonstrating how similar his
untreated Dalek voices are to his voice for Zippy in the kids' series
Rainbow, these segments seem somewhat superfluous, and certainly at
odds with the generally sensible tone of the rest of the documentary (Tom
Baker sections withstanding).
Genesis of a Classic is in 16:9
format, with 4:3 clips respectfully presented in their original format,
with bars at the sides.
The Dalek Tapes is a beginner's
guide to the creatures, using clips from various Dalek stories, mixed with
comments from various cast and crew members (including directors Ken
Grieve, Timothy Combe Graeme Harper and Richard Martin). Linking narration
is by Terry Malloy, who, as you probably know, took over the role of Davros
The Dalek Tapes has a nice, clever
linking conceit, which helps structure the way its narrative unspools.
It's in 16:9 format, with some clips presented within the 16:9 frame in
4:3 format, where appropriate. Clips that provide texture for the
narrative, rather than illustrate a particular point, have been cropped
and treated quite successfully and artfully.
Long-term fans of the series, who will know
the story the documentary is telling already, are rewarded with brief
behind-the-scenes clips from stories like Death To The Daleks and
Revelation of the Daleks, and rare clips from programmes like
Vision On and Whicker's World. Personally, I'd be much, much
happier if these items were accessible as standalone features, too. Chop
them up and mess around with them to your heart's content in the body of a
documentary if you must, but please, let's also have them intact (and in
their original full-frame 4:3 format), too.
The Dalek Tapes is also a good
excuse to air surviving material from the Patrick Troughton Dalek stories
The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks (some of
this has been seen before, some of it is making its official debut here).
You'll also find a colourised clip from the Hartnell story The Daleks'
Master Plan here, which is nice, in a it's-a-bit-of-fun kind of way.
(Thankfully, this clip been presented intact in its original format on another
Continuity Compilation is a
six-minute collection of BBC continuity announcements and trailers, from
the story's original transmission, and its subsequent repeats. It's rather
nerdy, which is why previously these have been squirreled away as Easter
Eggs. Here, though, there are so many that they provide a nice
demonstration of how these announcements have been handled over the last
The disc's seven-minute Blue Peter
segment was transmitted during Genesis of the Daleks' original run,
and features John Noakes and Peter Purves showing off a collection of
fan-made Doctor Who models (somewhat oddly, without their creator,
Jonathan Sellars). The segment is rounded-off, for no apparently good
reason, with a lengthy clip from the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story
Death To The Daleks. It's interesting to note that future Doctor
Who director Sarah Hellings is credited as one of the Production Team
for the show!
The Photo Gallery (7m) offers a
comprehensive slideshow of photo's from the series, set to sound effects
from the show. In lieu of any behind-the-scenes footage from the story
(none is known to exist), there are a few revealing shots taken during
rehearsals here. There are also photographs from a couple of official photocalls, including the famous one of Tom Baker and the Genesis
Daleks at TV Centre.
Finally, there are two PDF files on the
disc, which offer material via your DVD-ROM drive. The first is a
collection of Radio Times Billings, which collects together the
original 1975 clippings, including a short article featuring interviews
with Tom Baker and Terry Nation, and one for the Christmas 1975 repeat,
which is illustrated by a classic piece of Frank Bellamy artwork. Oddly,
though, listings for the 1982, 1993 and 2000 repeats are not included.
The second PDF file features the 1976
Doctor Who Annual, the first to feature Baker as the Doctor. It's
beautifully presented (these aren't simple scans - you can also
cut-and-copy the text, or have it read aloud, if you're so inclined). The
1976 annual is bizarre, even by World Distributor's warped standards,
with some of the most unappealing, and often downright baffling, art you
can imagine. Still, there's some fun to be had figuring out which
illustrations have been adapted from photo's (they're not always Doctor
Who photo's!) Although the annual isn't particularly difficult to get
hold of, or expensive, this is a very nice addition to the disc. Hopefully
some of the earlier, much rarer, annuals will be added to forthcoming
Hartnell and Troughton DVDs.
One or two lacklustre elements aside,
there's plenty to enjoy on this two-disc set, which has been pitched to
appeal to fans old and new. The story is one of the very best Doctor
Who stories, and it has the Daleks and Tom Baker in it. What more do
you want! The episodes have been expertly re-mastered and transferred to
disc, and have never looked better. The bonus documentaries cover all the
bases, providing solid information to casual viewers, and a treat or three
for more dedicated fans. All this for less cash than you'd pay for some
bare-bones Hollywood blockbusters. Exterminate!