Fourth Doctor

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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Insect-Like Conformity (The Ark in Space)

The Ark in Space is a Doctor Who serial from 1975. Although never acknowledged as an influence, it has a great deal in common with Alien (dir. Scott, 1979), despite being broadcast four years earlier. Whereas Alien focuses on issues of gender equality, The Ark in Space’s central theme is of non-conformism; a favourite of mine. This post will analyse the serial, focusing on the depth and effectiveness of its central theme and its similarities with Alien.

The Ark in Space sees the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his two companions, Sarah (Elizabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian  Marter), arrive on board a space station in the far future named the Ark. Here the last remnants of humanity have escaped Earth to avoid an apocalyptic catastrophe. As in Alien, the humans rest in cryogenic chambers. Sarah accidentally gets caught in the Ark’s automated indoctrination process and joins the crew in stasis. During the process, a recorded message is played, which refers to Sarah as “sister”. This use of family titles draws comparisons with the ship’s computer from Alien named ‘Mother’. In Alien, this implies a future genderless society, where human merger with technology has led to the termination of traditional gender roles. In The Ark in Space, it implies assimilation into an artificial family unit and loss of identity. The Doctor and Harry stumble upon a room where a record of human knowledge has been catalogued and stored on microfilm. The explorers then discover the sleeping humans filed and stacked together in their cryogenic chambers resembling the stored data. This indicates that the human race has now become no more than an assemblage of accepted knowledge and lacks any free thought. The Doctor gives a speech in which he seems to praise the human race’s aptitude for survival, but both his delivery and the incidental music bear an ominous tone. This suggests, as much as the Doctor respects the human race, he fears the lengths they will go to in the name of survival.

With the arrival of the Doctor and his companions, the Ark’s systems are activated and the sleeping crew begin to awake. First to awake is Vira (Wendy Williams), she uses disciplined, characterless language – showing her loss of identity – and is immediately abrasive towards the Doctor and Harry. She is critical of the Doctor’s flamboyant speech, claiming it proves he is a regressive, and evaluates people in a machine-like manner, indicating that conformity results in a lack of creativity and personality. When she is notified that Sarah has been trapped in a cryogenic chamber and her life is at risk, she asks, “is she of value?”. Indicating that humanity’s conformity has also robbed it of its compassion and ability to appreciate anyone beyond what practical use they may have in their established system. Vira has a prejudiced attitude towards the adventurers, seeing them as unsophisticated, inferior, and not to be trusted. The crew’s leader, Noah (Kenton Moore), who is referred to as “prime unit”, again showing the crew’s machine-like conformity, has an, even more, severe attitude. He sees them as being a threat to the human race’s genetic pool and orders them destroyed. Like the Ark, Noah takes his name from the Biblical tale in which God murders all humans he deems undesirable. The talk of regressive elements being eliminated to maintain the purity of the human race also evokes a historical case of eugenics, namely, the Nazis’ ‘final solution’. The Nazis exterminated approximately ten million people they judged ‘inferior races’ to prevent them mixing with what they deemed the ‘master-race’. The Doctor references such holocausts in his earlier speech and his fears about the lengths humans will go to in the name of survival are also connected to ‘the final solution’, as the Nazis used Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory to justify their atrocities. The Ark’s crew have adopted similar principles. Noah is said to have been “pair-bonded” with Vira, and although they do show limited affection for each other, the term ‘pair-bonding’ suggests this future society’s mates are selected for them to keep the genetic pool pure, and love is no longer a factor to consider. The crew’s desire to become the master-race is also suggested as the body prints on their capsules resemble the fascist statues that decorated Hitler’s Germany, which were meant to depict the perfect physical form.

vira1

The Doctor must not only face the threat of the hostile crew but also a far greater enemy lurking in the shadows of the Ark. The Wirrn, a species that, like the Alien, presents a monstrous vision of what humanity’s sin will result in, a gruesome embodiment of the horror of conformity. The Wirrn is a species of identical giant insects that has infiltrated the Ark. Like the Alien, they also impregnate a human host, gestate inside them, and go through various distinct stages of development. A larval stage, in which they resemble giant maggots, a mutation stage, in which they are crossed with their human host, and their final insect form. Also, like the Alien, they absorb human attributes and intelligence, but unlike the Alien, they’re able to share thoughts. When Noah is impregnated by the Wirrn and begins to mutate, his mind becomes one with the Wirrn and a previously infected crew member, Dune, professing, “I am Dune”. The Wirrn’s hive-mind presents them as being symbolic of conformity, not only are they physically identical, but they all think as one. The Ark crew’s loss of identity and desire to function as a single entity shows they aspire to a similar insect-like conformity. Other comparisons are drawn between the humans and the Wirrn, showing the Wirrn represent a vision of what humanity will become if it cannot break free of conformity. The humans live by their accepted knowledge while the Wirrn all think as one. The humans have systematically selected sexual partners without considering affection, in an attempt to create a master-race. Affection is definitely not a consideration for the Wirrn, who reproduce by forcibly impregnating their unwilling victims, using sex to advance their species. The Wirrn have a queen while the humans also have a female ruler; the Earth High Minister. The humans display insect-like discipline, organisation and impassiveness, and their cryogenic chamber resembles a giant insect hive. Furthermore, Noah, the crew’s most stringent conformist, literally becomes a Wirrn. The Wirrn plan to infect the entire crew, transforming them all into insects. The crew’s battle with the Wirrn represents a symbolic struggle with conformity. Noah is at the centre of this struggle, as he fights to break free from the Wirrn’s control, as it eats away at his humanity both physically and mentally.   Ark_in_Space

The crew must literally overcome conformity to defeat the Wirrn. Crew member Libri (Christopher Masters) is able to recognise Noah as being infected by the Wirrn before he mutates because of a subconscious impression, an illogical instinct that breaks from his strict programming. Although the Ark has kept vast records of human knowledge, it only contains intelligence that has been deemed useful by their conformist regime. The Doctor uses knowledge based on gipsy superstition, namely, the belief that the eye retains its final image after death, to carry out an experiment that gives him useful knowledge of the Wirrn. This is not the kind of information that would be stored in the Ark’s records, as it would most likely be considered the imaginings of regressives, yet it helps the Doctor and the crew of the Ark fight the Wirrn, proving the usefulness of imagination and independent thought. The Doctor hatches a plot to lure the Wirrn into a shuttle and transport them off the Ark. Once the Wirrn are lured inside, the Doctor must unlock the shuttle manually from the docking port, meaning that when it launches, he will be killed in the blast. At this point, crew member Roegan (Richardson Morgan) sacrifices his life, staying behind instead of the Doctor. Roegan giving up his life for the Doctor seems a little far-fetched, but it does have some set-up and fits with the serial’s overall theme. With his first line of dialogue, “it’s a stitch up”, Roegan conveys an idiosyncratic personality, showing his willingness to break free from conformity. His last line, “we don’t want trouble with the space technicians union”,  indicates a left-wing political stance that is at odds with the crew’s fascist ideology. His illogical self-sacrifice is a sign of strong independent thought, a heroic deed that could only be possible by breaking free from the restrictions of conformity.

The Ark In Space

As the Wirrn escape in the shuttle, the Doctor theorises that even though he was fully mutated, a vestige of Noah’s human spirit remained and he helped lead the Wirrn onto the shuttle. The Ark receives a communication from Noah. He bids Vira a mournful goodbye, suggesting he held a love for her that was unable to be expressed under their conformist regime, and the shuttle blows up, destroying the Wirrn. Noah’s message confirms he has broken free from the Wirrn’s control. Like Roegan, Noah’s rejection of conformity has allowed him to sacrifice himself, a sacrifice carried out for the woman he loved and the good of all humanity. The Doctor and his companions say goodbye to Vira, who laughs and smiles for the first time, now that she and the rest of the Ark have been freed from the oppression of conformity.

vira 2