Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Genesis of the Daleks - "Order the destruction of the incubator section."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Genesis of the Daleks - Details

Season 12, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #78) | Previous - Next | Index

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When we talk about the great seasons of Doctor Who, season 12 comes close to being in the discussion, but no season could have both "The Sontaran Experiment" and "Revenge of the Cybermen" in it and credibly be among the very best. That said, "Genesis of the Daleks" and "The Ark in Space" are two of the classic series' best offerings, so 12 has quite a bit going for it.

My re-watch of "Genesis" happened to fall in the same weekend as the first broadcast of "Into the Dalek," so the two are tightly linked in my mind now. The questions "Can there be a good Dalek?" and "Would it be morally right for the Doctor to destroy all the Daleks before they committed all the atrocities he knows they will?" are tightly coupled, and it seems only fair that the answer to the former could color your decision-making with regard to the latter.

The first question, "Can there be a good Dalek?" is the more interesting one, to my mind. The implication that the Daleks are deprived of sufficient ability to make informed choices about their actions based on their understanding of the universe due to the engineering (by Davros, their creator) of their genetic makeup, as well the engineering of their mechanized components. We see that a Dalek who is not effectively lobotomized by its armor casing alters its actions based on the information it is now able to process. That Dalek, whether informed by the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks, its own satori about life, the universe, and everything, or both, does the Dalek-y thing and is out to exterminate the rest of its own race. So, Twelve (which is what I'm going to call Capaldi's Doctor) went into the Dalek and, after running around it's corridors for a while and mind melding with it, turned it into ... Tom Baker's Doctor in "Genesis".

The second question can never be as interesting because we (real world humans incapable of time travel apart from the garden variety time travel our minds negotiate as entities in the space-time continuum) can never know with the same degree of certainty as the Doctor what the future holds. Even the Doctor, knowing what he knows of the Daleks and the Time War also knows that time can, in fact, be re-written, the universe rebooted, and the evil of the Daleks assuaged, if not eliminated.

"Genesis" is Terry Nation's greatest achievement as a writer for a Doctor Who. (That's not saying all that much, frankly, but it's meant to be praise.) After I watch all of Blake's 7, I'll have a better idea where it stands overall. Generally speaking, the scene that gets all the hype is the moment where Four holds the two wires in his hands that he could put together and destroy the Dalek nursery. He'd ordered Davros to destroy it earlier, so his pangs of conscience here aren't quite as dramatic as they might've been. Tom Baker, plays the scene brilliantly and the fact his misgivings would seem to be only because he's got to do the deed himself instead of ordering someone else to do it don't interfere with the impact.

Rather, it's Davros's moment , his consideration of whether he would, given the chance, unleash a virus that would destroy all other life in the universe, that remains the most dramatically successful. It's a testament to Michael Wisher's talent and the design of Davros himself that his scene of introspection plays so powerfully. There's a direct line from that scene to Davros in "Journey's End," trying to detonate a reality bomb that will take the hypothetical virus to a whole new level. Davros is the most dangerous villain of all: a nihilist. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it's an ethos.

"Into the Dalek"'s Rusty, and the rest of the Daleks we encounter throughout the series  may be essentially what Davros set out to create -- conquerors out to exterminate all non-Dalek life (except when they're not) and preserve their racial purity (except when they waver on that front as well, but exceptions are to prove the rule) -- but they are not evil in the same way as Davros himself.

If we are to understand Davros as a Hitler figure, and the Daleks as Nazis/fascists, then I think it follows that what motivates them is fear. Fear of the Other. Feelings of superiority based on ethnicity reduce to nothing more than fear of people who are not like you. The Daleks are the ultimate expression of a fearful approach to world. Doctor Who is at its very best, it's most useful, and most righteous, when it illustrates that overcoming that fear, approaching the world with openness to new experience from a place of compassion for others, is key to our ability to make moral progress. (This speaks to one of the series's other chief concerns, the consequences of technological advance outpacing our moral progress.)

Season 12 may not be best season, but I'm coming around to suggesting it's the place to start if you're new to Who (Or, #NewToWho, as BBCA would prefer we express it.) "Robot" is far from perfect, but it's Pertwee-era enough to lay the groundwork for a later exploration of that era, introduces Tom Baker so you can grow with him, exposes you to the horrors of misused CSO, and touches on the themes of anti-fascism and madscientistophobia. Some would have you start with classic story, but I think it's better to prepare you for what you're in for. You get the classics as you move into "Ark", skip "Experiment", watch "Genesis", then jump ahead to "Terror of the Zygons". I don't imagine it's possible to stop you seeking out more after that ...

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