Doctor Who
Genesis of the Daleks

Starring: Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 10 April 2006

Transported back in time to the planet Skaro Doctor Who and his companions have to try and stop Davros from ever creating the Daleks...

Back in 1974, Jon Pertwee's friendly 'Mother Hen' Doctor Who was battling puppet dinosaurs and silly giant spiders with the aid of a flying Whomobile, a Colonel Blimp-style Brigadier, and a selection of frilly shirts. Fast forward just one year to 1975, and the entire Doctor Who landscape had changed. A fresh, risk-taking production team had dished up a new, broody and intense Doctor, caught up in the atrocities of war, battling a crippled genius in a morally dubious bid to avert the evolution of an entire species.

Genesis of the Daleks is relentlessly grim, yet was an invigorating breath of fresh air for the series. Under a different production team, Terry Nation's original formulaic script could well have ended up as a simple retread of his earlier works. By this time Nation seemed to be able to get away with rewriting the same script over and over again, with nobody at production level batting an eyelid. But the new team of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes injected a much-needed dose of originality into a tired format and the result was a classic example of Doctor Who at its very, very best.

In truth, much of the success of this story can be attributed to new script editor Holmes. Whilst the bare bones of Nation's original script are there for all to see, it's the liberal sprinkling of Holmes's magic that elevates this story up into the league of classics. It's dark, it's cynical, it's pacey, it's shockingly realistic and it's like no other Dalek story you'll ever see. Although, in fairness, it's debatable whether this is a Dalek story at all. Yes, its inherent concern is the origins of the species but the Daleks themselves appear only fleetingly, and the story is all the better for it. There are no prolonged scenes of metal pepperpots going up and down in lifts and barking repetitive commands of destruction, the real story here is the intellectual battle of wills between the Doctor and Davros, who is played to perfection by Michael Wisher. This is long before the character would devolve into the cackling pantomime villain of the '80s. Wisher's original Davros is played with such subtlety and quietly sinister conviction, and his interplay with the Doctor is compelling.

Genesis of the Daleks stands out as one of the darkest but one of the very best Doctor Who stories ever produced. From the opening slow-motion scenes of soldiers being gunned down to the brutally appropriate climax, Genesis never fails to deliver in a delicious mix of fast-paced action, intriguing dilemmas and sheer horror.

Whilst this story is an undisputed classic, it is of course the wealth of special features that are really going to excite the Who fan, and as usual, we are in for a treat. Commentary is supplied by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, director David Maloney and Peter 'Nyder' Miles. It's always a pleasure to hear Tom commentate on his Doctor Who stories, but this commentary is incredibly special as his admiration of these episodes shines through. He begins the commentary in his usual flippant style but as the story progresses, he has to be prompted to speak as he becomes genuinely wrapped up in the unfolding saga.

There are also two brand new documentaries - Genesis of a Classic which painstakingly chronicles the development of the story with enlightening new interviews, and The Dalek Tapes which delves into the on and off-screen history of the Daleks with stunning rare footage and photographs. It's particularly interesting to hear previous script editor Terrance Dicks have a bit of a pop at the new production team for going too far with the violence and horror in this story, and suggesting that he would have gone for more lightness and humour had he still been behind the wheel. Whilst Dicks has contributed countless wonderful moments to the world of Doctor Who, you can't help feeling relieved that he had gone by this stage, as it's easy to imagine how Genesis could have turned out without a fresh, innovative, forward-thinking team behind it.

Amongst the many other treats, there's a lengthy 1970s Blue Peter item looking at a collection of home-made Doctor Who models (including a very impressive Alpha Centauri made out of, yes, a toilet roll) and a chance to view the 1976 Doctor Who Annual as a PDF file on your computer. The latter is especially welcome, and I hope to see more of this sort of thing in future DVD releases, perhaps giving us all a chance to experience the rare early Annuals and Dalek Books from the '60s.

In conclusion, this 2-disc set features one of the very best Doctor Who stories ever made, accompanied with a feast of very special features. A superb package.

Danny Salter

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