Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
BBC1, tx. 08/03/1975 - 12/04/1975, 6 x 25 minute episodes (colour)
Written byTerry Nation
Script EditorRobert Holmes
ProducerPhilip Hinchcliffe
Directed byDavid Maloney

Cast: Tom Baker (Doctor Who); Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith); Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan); Michael Wisher (Davros); Peter Miles (Nyder)

Show full cast and credits

The Time Lords summon the Doctor to Skaro, home of his old enemies the Daleks, at a time in history before they evolved. There he meets their creator, the evil scientist Davros, and is confronted with a moral dilemma.

Show full synopsis

Tom Baker's fourth story as the Doctor, Genesis of the Daleks marked the return of the Time Lord's most famous enemy. Writer Terry Nation, the Daleks' creator, decided to revisit Skaro, the dead planet on which he had set their debut story, The Daleks (BBC, 1963), to explore the origins of their evil nature by having the Doctor assigned a mission by the Time Lords: destroy the Daleks before they are created.

Skaro is the site of a thousand-year war between two humanoid races, the Thals and the Kaleds. Genesis introduces Davros, the disfigured Kaled chief scientist, whose genetic experiments give rise to the Daleks. With his single eye, single arm and motorised travel machine, he is a megalomaniac who both resembles his creations and acts as their spokesperson. He also makes a worthy opponent for the Doctor, demonstrating a cruel eloquence and cunning lacking from the belligerent pepperpots he spawned.

In contrast to the Pertwee era's tendency towards dashing heroes and cartoonish villains, this story anticipates the 'Gothic' era of Doctor Who. Its violence (almost everyone dies) and its preoccupation with gruesome experiments drew attention from Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, who described the show as "tea-time brutality for tots".

Genesis draws on World War imagery, opening with shots of trenches, landmines and gas-masks. Obsessed with the racial supremacy of his creations, Davros takes the Darwinian idea that evolution favours the strongest to the next level, and genetically modifies Kaled embryos to eliminate the 'weaknesses' of conscience and pity. If Davros resembles Hitler, then Kaled society parallels Nazi Germany, as implied in touches like the rigid Kaled salute and the Iron Cross on Security Chief Nyder's uniform.

The Doctor's dilemma is whether destroying the Daleks - an act of genocide - makes him as immoral as the Daleks. On one hand, this shows the series developing a more complex appreciation of the moral issues surrounding being a monster. This partly reflects Baker's Doctor being more liberal and indecisive than his predecessors: after all, he has never really had moral qualms about destroying evil-doers before. On the other hand, the plot contrives to prevent the Doctor from having to make the difficult decision himself anyway. He delays Davros' plans, but he does not change the future. Lacking the courage to answer the questions it raises, Genesis shows how challenging, and how infuriating, children's TV can be.

James Donohue

*This programme is the subject of a BFI TV Classics book by Kim Newman. Visit the BFI Filmstore to browse the collection.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Episode Four (complete) (23:39)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Baker, Tom (1936-)
Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)
TV Sci-Fi