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.