Do I have the Right? (Genesis of the Daleks)

Genesis

INT. CORRIDOR – NIGHT

The Doctor bursts out of the incubation room gripping a Dalek mutant that is wrapped around his throat suffocating him.

SARAH: Get it off! Get it off!

Sarah and Harry pull at the mutant, tearing it apart. The severed pieces are thrown back into the incubation room, and the Doctor slams the door.

They move down the corridor, and Harry passes the Doctor two wires that lead to the explosives inside the incubation room. The Doctor holds the wires but hesitates putting them together to close the circuit and detonate the explosives.

SARAH: What are you waiting for?

DOCTOR: Just touch these two strands together and the Daleks are finished. Have I that right?

SARAH: To destroy the Daleks? You can’t doubt it.

DOCTOR: Well, I do. You see, some things could be better with the Daleks. Many future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.

SARAH: But it isn’t like that.

DOCTOR: But the final responsibility is mine, and mine alone. Listen, if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?

SARAH: We’re talking about the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented. You must destroy them. You must complete your mission for the Time Lords.

DOCTOR: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that’s it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word Dalek.

SARAH: Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn’t hesitate.

DOCTOR: But If I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I become like them. I’d be no better than the Daleks.

SARAH: Think of all the suffering there’ll be if you don’t do it.

GHARMAN: Doctor! Doctor, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Davros has agreed to our terms.

HARRY: He submitted?

GHARMAN: He did, but he asked only one thing. That he might be allowed to address a meeting of all the Elite, scientific and military.

DOCTOR: He’s going to put a case?

GHARMAN: Yes, but a vote will be taken. It’s a foregone conclusion. There’ll be a complete landslide against any further development of the Daleks. We’ve won.

DOCTOR: I’m grateful to you, Gharman. More grateful than I can tell you.

GHARMAN: The meeting’s about to begin. Will you come?

DOCTOR: Yes.

With one sharp tug, the Doctor pulls the wires out of the incubation room.

This is probably the most misinterpreted scene in Doctor Who history. Many consider it an endorsement of pacifism; if one kills a killer, then they become as bad as the killer (even though they are not the aggressor), that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means. If we were to ignore the rest of the serial and just view the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah’s (Elizabeth Sladen) debate, then this is perhaps understandable. To fully appreciate the scene, it must be contrasted with this earlier philosophical debate between the Doctor and the Daleks’ creator, Davros (Michael Wisher).

It is clearly intentional that these two scenes be contrasted to display Davros’ and the Doctor’s conflicting philosophies; Sarah even compares the Daleks to a disease in reference to the previous debate. Once we do this, it becomes apparent that it is not simply the taking of life the Doctor is rejecting, but the power to take away people’s free will, to take their lives in his hands, to give them no choice but to obey his will. Davros has not only created life in his image, but he wishes this life-form to be the only in existence, for all of creation to fit his single vision, believing his will is more important that anyone else’s. If the Doctor were to change history to fit his vision, he would be accepting Davros’ philosophy, giving himself the power to ‘play God’ and control people’s destinies. It is this ‘right’ that the Doctor is questioning.

If we look at the Doctor’s dialogue during the debate with Sarah, he is constantly considering the bigger picture, the effect his actions will have on other people, and the right of one man to decide the fate of others. Eventually, he decides he would be as bad as the Daleks, the creatures that consider mastery over all races their right, if he were to decide another race’s fate. He talks of future worlds becoming allies because of their fear of the Daleks as a positive. Presumably, these worlds will form rebel fighting forces, much as he encourages the Thals and the Mutos to do when he instructs them to destroy the bunker; actions and words at odds with a pacifist philosophy.

Through Sarah’s dialogue, we are reminded that the Doctor is on a mission for the Time Lords, and it is they who have guided him to carry out these actions. Robert Holmes, script-editor for this serial, who it is suspected was responsible for much of the dialogue, is greatly responsible for the series’ depiction of the Time Lords as an oligarchy of self-appointed custodians of time and space. Moreover, as underhanded manipulators, who are happy to exploit others, including the Doctor on multiple occasions, to serve their own interests. In this way, their philosophy is much akin to Davros’, and the Doctor’s failure to complete their mission adds weight to the argument that it is this philosophy he is rejecting. The beginning and end of the scene, which are often cut when it is discussed on clip shows, documentaries and Doctor Who nights, reveal a great deal about the true intention of the scene. Firstly, the scene begins with the companions killing a Dalek mutant that is attacking the Doctor, an odd way to start a scene if you intend to portray a pacifist message. Secondly, and even more importantly, the scene ends with the Doctor being saved from having to make his decision by Gharman (Dennis Chinnery), who has found a ‘democratic’ solution by calling a meeting in which the remnants of the Kaled race will decide their own destiny.

Genesis of the Daleks depicts a horrific world ruled by a strict dictatorship, by a man with ‘a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his creations’, who is willing to conspire to wipe out his own race so his sole vision can be fulfilled. The rejection of this world and Davros’ way of thinking, in favour of real democracy, is the true purpose of this scene and the entire serial. Sadly, the Kaleds’ meeting is disrupted by a group of Daleks that Davros has already activated, who kill all those who oppose them. The Doctor is then forced to return to the incubation room and destroy the remaining mutants; so much for pacifism.

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