Daleks! Genesis of Terror

Daleks! Genesis of Terror
Daleks! Genesis of Terror cover art.

Written by: Terry Nation

Starring: Nicholas Briggs, Sadie Miller, Philip Hinchcliffe, Samira Ahmed

Big Finish has always had a penchant for delivering lost Doctor Who stories to its audience, and often, they’ve worked very well, with only the occasional reaction of “That wasn’t really a loss at all, was it?”

In particular since the company has re-cast Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan though, a new and tantalising prospect has emerged. Season 12 is widely regarded as one of the best of the Classic Era’s years – Sarah, Harry, a brand new and entirely remarkable Doctor in the body and the voice of Tom Baker, and a combination of returning super-foes and great new body horror monsters – the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Wirrn, and so on.

As it turns out, the scripts that made it to screen as Season 12 had a significant number of alterations from their original versions, and so Big Finish has begun essentially re-imagining them.

Season 12 – Early Stages

In the case of Return of the Cybermen – the Gerry Davis script that, after significant sledgehammering by Robert Holmes on script editing duties became Revenge of the Cybermen – it was fairly obvious on release why some of the changes proved necessary. There’s an altogether run-of-the-mill Troughton-style story there – as you’d expect from Gerry Davis if he were writing the Cybermen back in that period. They don’t especially advance very much in the original script, and the politics of the Vogans, which in the transmitted version does at least deliver something almost-interesting to cut away to when the Cybermen storyline gets tiresome, is also significantly more dull.

In Doctor Who and the Ark – originally submitted by John “Marco Polo and Aztecs genius” Lucarotti, we get a version of what would later see light as The Ark in Space that, while it more or less fits the same premise and template, is nevertheless strikingly different, with a very different take on the alien menace and a Doctor that, like Davis’ in Return of the Cybermen, is fairly far removed from what Tom Baker would eventually conjure on screen.

And then there’s Daleks! Genesis of Terror.

It’s fair to say that fans have been less than kind to this release – but there are some good reasons for that. The overall sense of the slightness of the whole thing is the chief culprit here.

While we get a re-voiced multi-cast Episode 1 which is substantially the same as what was eventually broadcast, barring the intricacies of how the Doctor, Harry and Sarah first arrive on Skaro, the rest of the story is literally a series of swift readings of writer Terry Nation’s episode summaries for how the rest of the story would play out – which also show a story that more or less makes it to the screen intact.

Which, when you compare it to the full-cast full versions of Return of the Cybermen and Doctor Who and the Ark has all the potential to feel like a bit of a swizz, right enough.

It’s just sliiiightly ironic that the reason for the swizzy feeling is that there’s so little difference between the episode summaries and what ended up on screen, though. Big Finish had the opportunity of re-recording the whole six-part story, but given that what they were working from were simply episode summaries, that might well have seemed like an over-expensive folly. But to release one episode and some note-readings as though they constitute a lost story is always going to put the backs of fans up – especially during an ongoing cost of living crisis.

Reasons To Buy

So, are there reasons to consider buying Daleks! Genesis of Terror, then?

Yes, there are two, since you ask.

First and most spine-chilling, you get the end of Episode 1 more or less as it played out on-screen, but with Eighties and audio Davros supreme, Terry Molloy, sitting in for the sadly deceased Michael Wisher. And it. Is. Superb.

Seriously, it’s a properly “cold fingers of dread up the spine” moment to hear Molloy’s take on the lines that introduced Davros to a world of viewers. It’s pretty much Wisher’s take, which is scary enough, but with that added edge you get when you’ve played a role off and on for decades, including in an origin story set that’s beyond exceptional.

Quick plug – if you’ve never listened to the I, Davros story arc, do yourself and your ears a favour and get it now – it’s Molloy in a series of stories that take the young Davros through all the trials and tribulations it takes him to become the twisted genius we first encounter in Genesis. It’s just possible that’s what makes his reading of the original Wisher lines here quite so special – it’s a moment when the Molloy Davros comes full circle and it feels sublime.

And we’re not going to lie, once you’ve heard that ending to Episode 1 with Molloy, you do end up really wishing Big Finish had delivered a full-cast version of the rest of the story, more or less exclusively so you could have that Molloy Davros experience all the way through a retelling of the inaugural Davros story. But hey… at least this release gives you that tantalizing end to Episode 1.

The second thing that makes this release worth parting with cash for is the extended interview of Classic era producer, Philip Hinchcliffe by Samira Ahmed.

Hinchcliffe, bless him, has the air of someone who’s entirely mystified that people are still talking about a job he did fifty years ago, but it’s a mark of the man that he manages to remain avuncular about the whole thing, and Ahmed, to her credit, raids the paperwork archive to find nuggets and details about his time producing Who that have either not been widely known before, or at least have never been put to Hinchcliffe in an interview setting.

Her interview technique is left-field but skillful, well-informed and able to deliver follow-up questions lightly – think a slightly more focused Louis Theroux and you’re not too far off. Hinchcliffe, for his part, while never wishing to speak ill of the now departed, reveals some reasons why, for instance, scripts like Return of the Cybermen and Doctor Who and the Ark got the significant re-writes they did – and quite how he got around artistic egos in the process. This is delicious stuff that rather cuts to the truth of making a TV show, and goes against much of the happy smiley everybody loved everybody fantasy that such interviews often maintain.

Of all the many feature interviews Hinchcliffe has done for DVDs and audio releases, Ahmed brings out something special in the one on Daleks! Genesis of Terror, that makes it worth both listening to and paying for in its own right.

If the “feature” material of the release feels slight – and it still undoubtedly does – the tingle of a Molloy Davros there on Skaro at the end of Episode 1 and the insightful, cheery, but pleasingly deep interview with Philip Hinchcliffe do their best to anchor the release in your “must-buy” list.

Yes, Daleks! Genesis of Terror leaves you wanting more – particularly of course, more of Molloy’s Davros in those classic scenes against Tom Baker – but if the release is more of a tapas plate than roast beef and all the trimmings, there’s joy, and flavour, and a reason to sit down at the table nonetheless.

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