At last this classic Tom Baker / Dalek story comes to DVD, on two discs no less. The 6-part tale was originally broadcast in 1975 and although rather dated by today's television standards, still has considerable impact and power! It is also one of the most original and inventive of the many Dalek stories.
Disc one gives us all 6 episodes of "Genesis". The story opens with the Dr and fellow companions Sarah-Jane and Harry drawn "off course" to Skaro - the home planet of the Dr's arch enemies, the Daleks. The Dr's own race, the Time Lords, have summoned the Dr there to carry out a vital mission - to prevent the creation of the Daleks, or at the very least, influence their development so that they become less evil, aggressive creatures. The resulting story deals with the Dr's attempt to fulfil the Time Lords' aim, but there are many obstacles along the way, not least the Dalek's fanatical creator and evil genius, Davros...
As said, this is an original idea and marks a welcome break from the previous Dalek stories of the Jon Pertwee era, which were starting to become rather predictable and formulaic.
The crowning glory of "Genesis" is of course the now notorious character of Davros - a rather ugly chap with a face like a constipated tortoise (sorry couldn't resist) who zips around in a motorised device that looks exactly like the bottom half of a Dalek (you know, the slanty base bit with the round bobbles). Davros is brilliantly played by Michael Wisher, in what must be the definite portrayal of this character. One of most iconic of Dr Who villains, Davros was to return to the show on several other occasions, however later performances really don't match up to this one. Wisher plays Davros with moments of subtlety as well as showing a definite tyrannical side - but he never slips into the ranting, over the top megalomania of later performances (remember "Resurrection of the Daleks"?!). Davros in "Genesis" is sinister, malevolent and dedicated to the Dalek cause and has some truly excellent scenes. For instance there's a gripping stand off with Davros and the Dr, when the Doc asks Davros what he would do if he had the power of life and death.
What else is there to recommend? Well, considering that this is a Dalek story, the aforementioned pepperpot monsters are actually used very sparingly. However this is no bad thing - they still have some chilling scenes, such as the moment when Sarah sees the first Daleks being tested by Davros; or the final episode when the Daleks start to think and act independently of their creator and the other scientists - Davros really has created a monster...
Tom Baker is at the height of his powers here, giving a more brooding, intense performance than the rather maniacal, lunatic Dr he gave us in later years - though still peppered with moments of eccentricity and humour and that familiar toothy grin.
He's also well supported by his companions. Elisabeth Sladen, plays Sarah Jane Smith, one of my favourite ever assistants (and recently back on our screens in the new Dr Who - hoorah!) Although a little bit of a screamer at times she's still a gusty and likeable assistant, and pretty brave when she's climbing up the Thal rocket!
Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan is very much the middle class English man and perhaps has less to do than Sarah but is a good foil to Tom Baker's Dr.
The look and style of the story are generally successful, given the low budget the BBC was working with! There's some interesting allusions to Nazi warfare, highlighted by the costumes and the trench settings. The special effects are fair (again given the time this was made) but the most disastrous/hilarious have to be the giant clam creatures that attack the Dr, Sarah and Harry, making the Muppet show look frightening by comparison.
The story also offers the usual optional commentary, but I have to say I found this particular one pretty disappointing. Elisabeth Sladen and director Michael Maloney make a fair contribution, however Tom Baker's input is disappointingly sparse - given his reputation as a story teller and ability to tell a good anecdote you'd think he'd have more to say. The problem is he seems to have forgotten what the story was about (okay it was thirty years ago, but...!)As other reviewers have noted, the team really needed a good moderator to keep things properly focused on the story, or perhaps they should have slipped Tom the odd naughty beverage or two to loosen up his tongue.
Disc two of this set contains some excellent extras - for example, an extensive documentary which looks at the history of the Daleks and at each Dalek story in chronological order.
My only major criticism of this story is that although it's an excellent piece of drama and very emotive in places, the overall tone does tend toward the dour and grim, (as noted by script editor/writer Terrance Dicks too). The story could perhaps have done with an injection of humour at times - compare this tale to another classic 6 parter already released on DVD, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" which manages to combine both the serious and the comic with great success. It's for this reason that I'm awarding "Genesis" four rather than five stars - too much of the dark and serious tips the balance, in my opinion. Still given the subject matter perhaps it's appropriate that the treatment is so serious.
On the whole this DVD is to be most recommended - so buy it before you get exterminated...