The Time Lords send the Doctor and his companions back in time to Skaro just before the birth of the Daleks with the aim of preventing their creation, altering their development, or at least learning a weakness that could be exploited: anything to stop them becoming the dominant creature in the universe.
A plot we’re all familiar with; Genesis of the Daleks needs no introduction. Before the advent of multi-channel television and streaming services, it was one of the most (if not the most) repeated stories of Doctor Who. It was voted favourite story by readers of Doctor Who Magazine in 1998, is in the unique position of having an edited audio version released on vinyl by the BBC back in 1978, and was one of several stories repeated on television in a truncated 85 minute omnibus format. And of course, along with most stories from this era of Doctor Who, a Target novelisation by Terrance Dicks.
The book came out around the time Dicks was at his most prolific. Looking at the publication dates of the Target books, it appears Dicks was producing a novel a month around this time. Dicks wrote six of the 10 books published in 1976. Released in July, Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks followed its Season 12 stablemate Revenge of the Cybermen (published in May) and was rapidly followed by the Troughton classic, The Web of Fear (August). In case you were wondering, the other three Dick’s books published that year were adaptations of Terror of the Zygons (as Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster), Planet of the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars.
Coming in the middle of such prolific output, one would be forgiven for expecting Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks to be a rushed (dare I say hacked out?) job. How does Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks stand up 45 years on?
One thing I instantly noticed was the character interiority Dicks offers throughout this book. Sarah in particular benefits from this; we are on this adventure alongside her. Quite early on, she is separated from the Doctor and Harry when “buried beneath a pile of rapidly stiffening corpses”. You feel her sense of confusion, panic but with a gritty determination that won’t allow her to be overcome by it.
The backstory of Skaro really comes to the fore here. Reading about the rise of the scientific Elite in Kaled society rather than hearing about it in a few bits of dialogue gives the reader the space to ponder the ramifications of the power handed to Davros and his “Elite Corps”, a group of society’s leading scientists — a technocratic elite, protected by heavy security.
Reading this today, one can’t help but notice that, as we continually use more advanced technology, the inner workings of which are beyond the comprehension of most, we find ourselves forced to cede to those with the most knowledge. We trust the computer programmers that create the code that drives everything we use from the Word Processor I’m using to write this review to the washing machine entering its spin cycle in the other room; we eagerly read news articles presented to us by an algorithm designed by teams of data scientists using the latest cutting-edge machine learning technology. Have we considered that any of these people could turn out to be Davroses? Megalomaniacs twisting technological advances for their own ends, rather than for the benefit of everyone?
Overall, this was a fine way to revisit the story. It gave me more admiration for Sarah Jane Smith and gave me something to think about regarding technological growth and the risks involved. Not bad for a “kids’ book” published nearly half a century ago.
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks is available to read as part of the anthology title, The Essential Terrance Dicks: Volume Two.