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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part five)

Bit of a low day around the old pad. It was nice to escape into Davros’s escape-proof bunker for a half-hour. You’d think that this wasn’t a particularly thrilling segment for kids, but our son was pretty riveted, wondering what would happen next. At the end, when the Doctor’s being throttled by one of the organic Dalek mutants, he was reminded of the brief animated appearance of the Dalek creatures in “The Power of the Daleks.” Glad to see his memory banks are working at capacity.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part four)

Some things our son pays good attention, surprisingly good attention, to… and some things he doesn’t. Tonight, as the first squad of Daleks enters the Thals’ city to avenge the mass murder of the Kaled people, our son wondered whether they would recognize the Doctor. We had to remind him that these are the very first Daleks. They haven’t met any of the Doctors yet. “Oh, yeah…” he said.

But on the other hand, regular readers know that I playfully feign despair over our son’s inability to recognize even the most distinctive actors. Tonight, though, he recognized a voice! When Davros started ranting right before sending this death squad into action, our son said “He sounds like that gold Dalek… the one… their leader.” And later, when Davros has our heroes captured, demanding the Doctor tell him all about the Daleks’ future defeats and failures, he repeated “That is exactly like that gold Dalek!”

He’s referring to the Dalek Supreme, from “Planet of the Daleks,” and he’s right. Michael Wisher, the actor who plays Davros here, did the voice of the Dalek Supreme. Good for him! He was so happy to hear that he was correct that he clapped hands and high-fived his mom. Now let’s see what happens the next time Burgess Meredith turns up somewhere.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part three)

Last time, I talked about how much I enjoyed “Genesis of the Daleks” when I first saw it. I was twice our son’s age, though. This is a pretty complex story for a six year-old, and part three is quite talky and political. There’s a brief flurry of gunfire at the beginning, and then Harry and the Doctor bump into that giant clam we talked about last time, and it tries to eat Harry’s leg. This was certainly our son’s favorite part of the story so far!

The Daleks’ creator, Davros, is played by Michael Wisher and it’s a terrific performance. We saw him last night alternately clinical and ranting, but this time out he has to be subtle and calculating. He’s accompanied by the wonderful Peter Miles as Nyder, who is willing to act as the devil’s advocate and ask Davros whether he’s absolutely sure about his actions. Nyder isn’t a simple toadie; when we met him in part one, it was obvious that he’d be an extremely dangerous opponent even if he weren’t loyal to Davros.

But as for the political edge, the villain here is working to his own agenda and it’s not communicated in a simple enough way for our kid to understand his machinations. This is a case where us grownups definitely have to step in and underline the ramifications. Davros is so obsessed with the goal of developing the Daleks that he’s willing to switch sides and help the Thals murder everybody in his city before the city councilors can interfere with his experiments. This is the sort of thing that when you’re watching with a six year-old, you learn pretty instantly you’re going to have to explain in more detail.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (parts one and two)

My first experience with Doctor Who came when I was in the fifth grade. One of our local channels, 36, had a Sunday morning monster movie – Godzilla, Gamera, Gorgo – and one week they played what I later learned was the second of the Peter Cushing Dalek films. I gave it twenty minutes and switched off when it became apparent there wouldn’t be any giant monsters in it.

A year later, I checked out a book from the Griffin Middle School library. It was probably Daniel Cohen’s Science Fiction’s Greatest Monsters. I speed-read part of it, badly, and didn’t pay attention, but concluded that apparently Doctor Who was the British equivalent of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, somehow, and that Daleks were regularly-appearing monsters in the stories, kind of like if the Zanti Misfits popped up in lots of Limits episodes or something.

About a year after that, WGTV showed “The Five Doctors” on its American premiere, about five weeks in advance of starting the Tom Baker years in January 1984. I kept either missing it or being told to go to bed – the show started at 10 pm Saturday nights – but I really wanted to see this “British Outer Limits.” On the fourth week of its run, around the same time that viewers in the UK were enjoying the latest serial, “Frontios,” I got permission to stay up, and long, long before a Dalek showed up, twenty-odd minutes into this two-and-a-half-hour TV movie, I was completely hooked for life. Of course, when the Dalek showed up, I said something like “Hey, it’s one of those robots from that monster movie that didn’t have any monsters in it.”

I loved everything about “Genesis of the Daleks.” I loved the videotaped studio footage and I loved the bleak atmosphere. I loved the unbelievable body count and I loved how amazingly ruthless and nasty Davros and the Daleks were. I loved the heroes: the Doctor was interesting, but Harry and Sarah were the best sidekicks I’d ever seen. I did not mind the low-tech laser effects; everything else was amazing. I loved the killer clams, which show up in the next part. British fans who write books inevitably bring up the clams, with a disappointed sigh. British fans were evidently never twelve years old. I loved the acting and the incredibly weird ending. So these three travel in space… how? It was just me and the TV from 10 until 12:30 the next morning, figuring this out as I went. No Wikipedia, no forums, no books, and nobody, for many, many months, who knew one minute more about this incredible show than I did.

I couldn’t convince anybody, for ages, to try it. (That’s the story of my life, actually.) I’m not kidding: many of my pals refused to try it because it was on the same channel as Sesame Street, and consequently it must also be for babies. Seventh graders, we must remember, are horribly desperate to be grown up and cannot bear to be reminded of anything they enjoyed when they were children, which is why I sadly anticipate this blog concluding around the time our son turns twelve, if not before. See also this earlier entry of an occasion when Middle School Me went apoplectic about an early Batman episode.

My best mate at age 12 was a neighborhood kid called Blake, who did trust my judgement and wanted to see the show. Unfortunately, they went to church Sunday mornings and his mother wouldn’t let him stay up to watch it. Sometime in April 1984, she finally relented, and let Blake stay up while she watched to “approve” of the show. The title of that week’s story was “The Robots of Death.” She saw that name, turned off the TV, and ordered him to bed.

(I shouldn’t mock; she very kindly came to pay respects when my dad died, but that woman drove poor Blake batty. Remind me to tell you the story of the Root Beer Incident one day.)

Anyway: “Genesis of the Daleks.” It’s written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney, it has Michael Wisher and Peter Miles in critical guest star roles, and I’m utterly incapable of being objective about it.

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (part four)

Well, that was about as bad as I remembered. Like all of the many Doctor Who stories that fumble, this one has a couple of neat concepts in it. This one should feature the remarkably interesting idea of a living city, but because this is just Who by the numbers, the city is just a location for a deeply boring and slow chase with Daleks somewhere behind them. The “Pop Goes the Weasel” / “Three Blind Mice” music emphasizes just how slow and stodgy this is.

It’s never interesting, and never even fails in an entertaining way. I’m reminded of how “The Claws of Axos” looked and felt so shoddy and rushed. This doesn’t have any of that story’s weird editing decisions or poor acting, but it also doesn’t have that story’s sense of doing something weird, new, and unique. “The Claws of Axos” tried to be different. This just tries to be the same Dalek adventure that they did the previous season.

Mercifully, the Dalek adventure in the next season would try to be something entirely different!

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (part three)

As we suffer through this Christmas turkey, we’d like to say thanks for reading, we hope you’re having a great holiday, and I hope you all found several classic films and TV shows under your tree! More to come later!

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (parts one and two)

I’ve always been one of those insufferable list-makers. Five favorite Miles Davis records, all the Bond films best to worst, make one last Beatles LP with tracks from their first couple of solo albums, and, inevitably, the five worst Doctor Who stories. Since the show came back in 2005, three of the five previous residents on that list have been replaced by new turkeys. Two of ’em even dislodged “The Twin Dilemma” as the all-time stinker. If you had told twenty year-old me after they cancelled the show “Don’t worry, it will be back one day and you’ll love it and it’ll become so popular that it will air in the US the same day it’s shown in Britain,” I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had added “And there will be two stories even worse than ‘The Twin Dilemma’,” then I’d have known for sure you were lying.

But two episodes into this rewatch, “Death to the Daleks” remains on the list. It’s dire. It was written by Terry Nation on autopilot, directed without any flair or care at all by Michael E. Briant, and the only interesting acting performance is by John Abineri, who gets killed early in part two. Duncan Lamont, who had a small but memorable role in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit, is the lead guest star, and he looks like he has better things he could be doing.

At least it starts okay. Before the sun comes up on the quarry planet of Exxilon, it’s lit well and looks creepy. But then the sun rises and we meet the boring humans and then the Daleks show up and it gets downright dull, which is Doctor Who‘s worst sin. And it sounds like the end of the world. The music is by Carey Blyton, the same oddball who ruined Doctor Who and the Silurians in 1970 with his kazoos. This time, he’s got the London Saxophone Quartet in tow, and their apparent goal was to deliberately undermine the drama in every single scene with inappropriately whimsical tunes. What could have been a crash-bang wallop cliffhanger to part one is accompanied by something about as threatening as “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

The only interesting thing that happens is the Daleks’ ray guns stop working and so they install some machine guns instead. That’s not the interesting part. What’s cute is that they practice their projectile weapon on a teeny model TARDIS. Why do they have that? Do they load a crate of toy police boxes on every Dalek ship for them to use as stress squeezies? Do the Daleks collect Doctor Who action figures, the same way humans collect trading cards of serial killers and famous criminals? Nothing happens in these two episodes as remotely interesting as wondering why they have that toy!

Our son enjoyed it, happily, with the caveat that the primitive, cave-dwelling Exxilons are much, much creepier than he’d prefer. They are really kind of frightening to him. The Daleks are as exciting as ever, and he’s surprisingly glad that they’ve had to unplug their death rays for machine guns, because the bullets are less scary!

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part six)

The Thals turn out to be pretty good guerrilla fighters against the Daleks once the Doctor shows up. Two Daleks get killed by the liquid ice explosion in their tunnel, two more are killed by the bomb, one falls all the way down the ventilator shaft, two get led into the ice pool on the surface, and two more are locked forever in the sealed germ lab with lethal bacteria. That seems to leave seven in this episode, so maybe sixteen on the planet in total. The Thals said that there were about a dozen Daleks here. They were off by four. Their hit and run tactics are better than their field intelligence, I guess.

In the best scene in this episode, the newly-arrived Dalek Supreme, represented by a refurbished prop from the two Dalek movies produced by Amicus in the 1960s, gets sick of one of the seven remaining Daleks’ failure and exterminates him. Our son, who really, really enjoyed all the last-minute escapes and explosions this time, had eyes like dinner plates. “Daleks killing other Daleks?!” he shouted, amazed. He was petrified by the bit where the Doctor has to drop down onto the floor of the Daleks’ refrigeration chamber and retrieve a bomb while groggy Daleks start emerging from hibernation and hid behind the sofa.

One other little moment of note: the show has told us that Jo has gone into space four times now: “Colony in Space,” “The Curse of Peladon,” “The Mutants,” and the arc of these last three stories. (Since she begins “Frontier” wearing the same outfit she wore in “Carnival,” and has Drashigs fresh on her mind, I suggest they didn’t go back to Earth between the two.) This is the second of her four trips away from our planet where she’s broken the heart of a space boyfriend. Fortunately, she looks pretty well done with space travel by the end of this one.

(Although, twelve years after this serial was made, a later TV adventure called “Timelash” would establish that this Doctor took Jo and an unnamed third traveling companion to the planet Karfel, the setting for that story. Ten years after “Timelash,” the author Paul Leonard wrote a pair of novels for Virgin Books that explained that little continuity blip, and showed that sometime after “Planet of the Daleks” but before the next adventure, the Doctor, Jo, and Captain Yates had some adventures together. I’ll only accept that as canon if Jo broke some other spaceman’s heart along the way.)

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