The one where I say bad stuff about beloved stories and quote a lot of clever people to make it seem like I know what I’m talking about.
The most important feature of Who, one might argue, is its sheer size and scope. Hundreds and hundreds of stories, all woven together, interconnected in a complex, dazzling nebula. I made that point before – it’s hard to narrow down, even though narrowing down is sorely needed when it comes to interacting with fiction. We still need to apply concepts to it – canon, continuity – even though those concepts can’t entirely gel with the deeply strange nature of the show. And there are, well, problems with this state of affairs. There are, of course, the divisions between the fans that believe in a strong series of mythos-related commandments, and those that embrace Who as a force of boundless narrative entropy – I could almost say conservative and progressive, really, if I were in a controversial mood. But, when we examine the specific issue of the Daleks, well, two issues arise.
First – the iconic status of the Daleks is a double-edged sword. It makes them a fascinating catalyst for metatextual commentary, granted, but it also paralyses them. We all know the beats of a Dalek story, the greatest hits reel. And there’s always something pleasurable in hearing the first “EXTERMINATE” of the series. Their legacy is a safe, treasured thing, but to linger in it is antithetical to the very nature of Who – there’s a tension there, nowhere better explained than by Rob Shearman in “Dalek“. Think about it – deep down, it’s a Dalek breaking down of a museum, a place of still, boring worship and witnessing, and killed, well, by emotions, by humanity. Really, it gets killed by modern storytelling: the story itself recognizes a sort of deep, strange absurdity at the continued existence of the Daleks in the twenty-first century. Nothing surprising from the part of someone who wrote the great piece on Daleks and pop culture, “Jubilee” – it’s the same process that makes you go from a severed Cyberman head under a glass casing in 2005 to that same head being thrown as a proud challenge by a competent, female leader in 2014. So, yes, the continual existence of the pepperpots is indeed a bit of an aberration. Not necessarily a bad one, mind you – but questions need to be asked. Why are the Daleks still relevant now – and how can you make them relevant now? Those are the essential questions, the key points: because without those, the Daleks’ only raison d’être is themselves, their past history. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a recurring pattern, a meme almost – and yes, they are a bit of a meme already and they always will be, there’s no denying that: be it only because they are one of the essential categories through which we see and understand Who, because they’re a symbol through which the legacy of the show can be filtered.
So, we acknowledge that the Dalek have a problematic status within the show because of this – the thing is, and that’s the second point, their own canon, their own story within the show, is in itself problematic. Not just because it doesn’t make much sense from a linear storytelling perspective – but rather because the episodes that shaped their wider perception, the stories that made their history, are not, well, always … good.
Ergo, “Genesis of the Daleks”.
“Genesis” is a story I don’t see many defenses of. Mostly because its high quality is apparently an almost universally acknowledged consensus. It could use a few of them, though, because as far as I’m concerned (and I’m not alone here, the spectres of Janine Rivers and my own colleagues stand at my side on this one), it’s pretty dire. Most of the time, the answer I get when exposing my feelings towards it is a “but it’s a central part of the show’s history! It contributed so much!”. And, well, yes, that is rather impossible to deny – “Genesis” is a classic. Of course, it all depends of what you’re calling a classic …
Okay, this is the part where we do some critical theory. Strap in folks.
I’m going to rely on that book called Qu’est-ce qui fait la valeur des textes? (literally: What creates the worth of a text?), a collective work edited and directed by Christine Chollier, a French professor of American Literature, released in 2011. If you’re into that kind of things, it’s a pretty good, albeit very very dry, read. The parts that tackle this notion of “classic” argue that, if you want to bestow that moniker onto a work of fiction, you are in fact saying that this work is creating its own horizon, expanding narrative possibilities – it marks a rupture, a rift, and does so through the articulation of his own narrative and the wider aesthetic and socio-cultural context. This “classical” status is then upheld by an ensemble of cultural institutions – the people that want to witness the whole of the history of an art form, see the trends, and the shifts, and associate those trends and shifts with specific works. When it comes to literature, we’re talking colleges and teachers, we’re talking the Académie Française – when it comes to Who, we’re talking fandom and fanzines and narratives spread through the internet. As you may have noticed, though, we’re not talking about the quality of the episode, here. Worth, value, is not something that is inherent to a work – it’s a construct that is built through a dialog between the work and those that interact with it. There’s really no denial that Genesis is a crucial moment in the history of the show. Of course, it’s the first story to feature Davros which is kind of a big deal in and on itself, but it’s not all. The famous “do I have the right?” scene is equally important, in that it may be the first time where the show creates such an important narrative setpiece. There were moral interrogations before – let’s pick, I don’t know, “The Silurians” – but those were framed within the context of a single story, without much influence on the wider narrative of the show. And there were big storytelling twists and gambits before, but those were mostly a direct consequence of the external production necessities of the shows: characters left, because they actors had to or wanted to; the show limited itself to Earth, because the producers thought it was a good idea. But this is the first time where you get the feeling that the authors behind the scenes crafted of their own volition a massive dilemma that could change drastically the future of the show – which is, one has to admit, a tiny bit exciting on principle. In a way, it opens, very slowly, the way to the New Show, which is all about important decisions and moral quandaries – Jamie Mathieson defines the Doctor as the one who “still has to choose” even when all his choices are bad ones. The trolley problem appears us a bit trite, now, but it still carried some weight back in the day. And really, what I’m saying here is also true on a metanarrative level, considering it was later established that the mission orchestrated by the Time Lords on Skaro was the first step in the Time War, the birthing act of said New Show.
“Genesis” is an important story. A classic, if you want. Thing is, you don’t want to elevate your classics above all else and turn your culture into a museum – a special status, justified or not, should never serve as a defense against criticism. Important doesn’t mean, and has never meant good. And I’m not even getting into the Mikhail Bakhtin line of “counter-culture is always by definition more interesting than the official one and the classics are always lesser than their subversions”, although, he does kind of have a point – gimme “The Happiness Patrol” or “In the Forest of the Night” over this any day.
So. Let’s get to the actual “criticism” part. Or, as I like to call it, the part where we try to take the pretentious principles we have came up with and accumulated over the past few weeks, and apply them to it.
So, what is wrong with “Genesis”? Well, quite a lot, but let’s not dwell too much on the most basic of criticisms, i.e. that it drags like a dying cow with arthritis in a muddy field, failing to justify its six parts and not giving the actual moral center of the debate enough room to exist; that it contains the giant clam, one of the most impressively stupid monsters in the history of Who, which is no small feat when you know said history contains stuff like the Nimons, the Abzorbaloff, and whoever wrote “Unbound : Exile”; that the second part cliffhanger, with Sarah Jane falling off the scaffolding, is one of the cheapest the Classics did and more than proves the fact that there’s a good reason for serials to have disappeared from mainstream telly with time. And let’s evacuate the qualities, too: the directing is very good for Classic Who standards, with a lot of good ambiance work and some clever use of the frame – showing Davros’ death using only a synecdoche shot on his hand is a really good instinct, for instance. Michael Wisher does a fine job as Davros, especially in the quieter moments, and it’s not his fault if the new series cast the infinitely superior Julian Bleach. The sets are pretty nice, and some tension scenes do really work – the opening of part 4, showing the destruction of the Kaled dome, is a highlight.
Let’s rather focus on that sweet sweet thematic manna instead. And put forward a proposition: this episode doesn’t really get the Daleks. Or at least, it gets the Daleks much less than than other, not-as-beloved stories. Phil Sandifer theorizes, in his piece about Genesis, that the story is in a way the result of Nation trying to mix his early Dalek stories with the writing guidelines Whitaker came up with, and, yes, I would agree with that. Some of the symbolical elements that were at work in this earlier story come up again: the Daleks are very much contained in a central room, an inner sanctuary that has to be unlocked so that they can unleash their malevolence on the universe (the bunker in general, and more specifically that mutation chamber haunted by aggressive blobs). They have this element of myth, of all-powerful legend to them. That is good – but let’s apply the criteria we have put into place last time to action, shall we? It’s arguably the most crucial moment in the history of the Daleks, the most fundamental of their many origins, so this famous “moment of emergence” we discussed, should be especially hard-hitting. Except it really isn’t. Of course, the Daleks gradually multiply, and they slowly take over the story until the point where they execute their creator and start on the course that will have them waging war across the cosmos. But see, they arrive in the story already fully-formed and ready to fight: they are even used as a cliffhanger – at the end of the first episode. The Daleks are already there, really, their Genesis, which is used as the title, happens before the story even starts.
And that is quite an issue. Well, really, it’s telling of Nation’s vision, in a way. Fascism as a block, as an entity that emerges fully-formed. His experiences fighting in World War Two turned into a monster made to horrify the viewers. But well, if this is all that the Daleks have to offer, do they really deserve their status as the cornerstone of Who’s fame and success? No, of course, and we have already pointed that out. Really, though, the greater-scope issue is that it gives a false image of fascism – as something fundamentally alien to us, something that comes from this other country, this other planet, that can’t really ever get behind our lines, into our politics and heart. It’s … frighteningly naïve, and while Who is often idealistic, I don’t think it does a service to its viewer and itself by adhering to such a cookie-cutter conception. Of course, the story provides you with a context. The military regime of the Kaleds, and the Thousand Years War. But the thing is, it never goes to the point where it actually connects its world-building to the story at hand – the worlds of “Power”, or “Into”, are quite simple, much less elaborate that what you see here, but they serve the points of the story, feed directly into them. Why do the Daleks exist? Because they are the logical product of the degeneracy such a long conflict would produce? Because they are the logical endpoint of a fascist society? Not really, no – the story never portrays the Daleks as the last stage of the Kaleds’ degeneration. They are “creatures”, distinct from them, bred for hatred and war by a mad scientist – not human in the slightest. Not a species, but a tool – they’re not even called Daleks, at the beginning, being nothing more than a Mark III tank. They are connected to the Kaleds, but there’s no clear link of cause to effect. Certainly, the Kaled society is not shown to be as toxic as you could imagine: oh, clearly the symbols are there, Nation very much wants you to think about Nazis. They’ve got the uniform, the whole “racial purity” lingo, the salute, an iron cross … Which, you know, is not what I would call incredible writing – it’s a fictional show, take the opportunity to distance from reality. But when you really look at it, people living in that bunker are only dissenters, most of them scientists, or complete non-characters. Nyder, for instance, is our Gestapo stand-in for the hour, and is also an incredibly empty creature. Why does he serve Davros? What are his feelings towards this ideology? We see why some of these people reject fascism, and the prospect of neverending survival and purity through the Daleks, but we never see anyone accept it and embrace it – which makes you wonder how the situation ever got to that point in the first place. Fascism is an alluring prospect, really. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t. People adhere to those ideologies because they offer them prospects of a better future, and above all justification for their own failings: you are part of the Grand Nation, the First Race, the Elite, you are entitled to a good life, it’s not your fault if you haven’t got one, you haven’t any efforts to make, you don’t have to try to better yourself. Fascism is not beautiful, of course, but its specific brand of ugliness is one that can entice – think the Two Minutes of Hate in 1984. Nation may understand the power of Nazism as an image, but he certainly doesn’t get Nazism.
Nyder and Davros are at the center of that nexus, really. They are the real antagonists of the serial, and, well … There’s really no way around it: they’re not characters. Their only traits is that they’re fascists. Different brands of fascists, granted: you have the faithful lapdog, half-Goebbels, half-Heydrich; and you have the mad genius, half-Hitler, half-Mengele. Maybe it’s a sacrilege to denigrate Davros that way, but in all honesty, I don’t think he works at all there. Davros was created, really, more than anything, as a mouthpiece for the Daleks: you can’t really show the Daleks interacting too long with the Doctor, having prolonged conversations with him, because that wouldn’t really suit their nature, and because their voices would be really grating really quick. I quote Alasdair Wilkins’ review of “The Magician’s Apprentice“:
“Davros was not inevitable. That’s certainly true in narrative terms. As the creator of the Daleks, he was a natural addition to the Doctor Who mythos, but he only made it to the party in “Genesis Of The Daleks,” 12 years and three Doctors after his children debuted. And, if you go back and watch “The Daleks” with no knowledge of what’s to come, the history detailed there doesn’t exactly demand the presence of a single creator, as it’s suggested in the 1960s serial that the Daleks mutated and encased themselves simply in response to radiation. Davros came into existence because Doctor Who needed someone who could articulate the Dalek perspective with at least a hint of nuance and without shrieking “Exterminate!” every five seconds.”
Therefore, Davros – who is basically, for all intended purposes, a human Dalek: look at the way he screams when angered, for instance. His ideology, his mannerisms, even his appearance (he’s basically an handicapped man shaping monsters that look like his wheelchair – and yes, one could argue about the themes of disability in that story, but I hardly feel competent to tackle that kind of subject), all are direct echo of the Daleks’. Which tells you all you need to know, really: the Daleks were really created by a Dalek; fascism is this distant, incomprehensible thing that reproduces itself, an ouroboros of improbable, superlative evil. There are glimmers, here and there, of a genuinely more interesting side to the character, mostly the moment where he insists that the Doctor and he speak “from scientist to scientist”, but outside of that, he mostly misses the point.
I quote “The Magician’s Apprentice“: “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?“. Or, to be more accurate – who IS Davros?
But fine. Let’s humor Terry Nation for a while. You have fascism – what do you do with it? Here comes the big scene – “do I have the right?” And here we run into issues. First off, as a moral dilemma, it’s made weak by the very nature of the show: it’s hard to buy into the Daleks being wiped out completly, and, by making this moral questioning a relatively small part of the episode, if an important one, the decision doesn’t carry that much weight. But of course, that’s a reading influenced by a good forty years of distance with that story – doesn’t mean it’s without value, but it’s approaching the text in a biased way. No, the problem is deeper – it comes, mostly, from forcing nuance out of a situation that lacks nuance. One needs to consider the way the episode opens: a Time Lord clad in black approaches the Doctor, coming out of the mists like he was Death itself, fresh out Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, to warn him of a future where the Daleks will rule supreme, where they will have destroyed every other lifeform. The Doctor is fundamentally human, fundamentally flawed, yes – but here, he is working directly on behalf of the Time Lords; and at this point in the history of the show, we have not yet reached “The Deadly Assassin” and their progressive retcon into a bunch of degenerate patriarchs, of old sleazy politicians – they still very much are that unstoppable force (bar their little fight with Omega in “The Three Doctors”) we saw at work in “The War Games”. They are maybe not omnipotent, but we can very much assume that they are omniscient. The choice the Doctor faces is not one where he has to decide between two, uncertain options: he has to pick either the destruction of the Daleks, which leads him to the unknown, or their preservation, which will take all the universe onto a pre-established course to Armageddon. And yet, he chooses to let them live – there is a nice ambiguity at work here, though: you can’t quite say how the scene would go if the Kaled leadership didn’t come to get him out of his dilemma. And Baker plays it all very well, as usual, because he is perfect and has wonderful hair. Why does he, though? And that is the problem. Because, well, the arguments he puts forward are not very convincing.
There’s, of course, the genocide argument: “if I kill them, I become like them”. The immediate response this elicits from me is a “oh, stop with the liberalist bullshit please” – the episode goes veeeery close from considering the violence that defies opression and the violence that defines oppression one and the same, which is honestly a pretty disgusting notion. We’re gonna talk about that in depth, at one point – and here I glare at Peter Harness and growl. That kind of parallels always has a rancid taste, always seem to come from a society that “is more concerned with tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity”, to quote Martin Luther King – and yes, I do realize the level of lameness a white guy quoting King to attack a thirty-years old piece of television reaches. Thing is – I do really believe political violence, in real life, is a complex topic where no easy answers really exist: the great Nazi-Punching Controversy of 2017 is there to prove it. My role is not to entangle the impact of those questions in real life, though – go on YouTube and subscribe to Contrapoints, she’s far better at it than me – but just to examine whether or not the diegesis of the episode provides a good enough reasoning for renouncing violence. And really, I don’t think it does – because the very term of genocide implies that you recognize the Daleks as actual living beings, with thoughts of their own, a culture, a life worth preserving. The episode doesn’t do that – the Daleks are not even a degeneration of what was once a culture worth saving, they are this immutable block of mutated tissues, a creature; a monster in the most mythological sense of the term, really, the product of an unnatural birth, catered to by an insane parent and ending up being the ruin of their dynasty/race. They’re the Minotaur, in a way – and the bunker is their labyrinth. The point of the Daleks is their distance with any form of life – and this story even refuses them the thematic ties they generally have with the actual human or human-like societies: how on Earth can you then defend them as a a lifeform? Sarah Jane is the one with the best argument, really – “if it were a bacteria, you wouldn’t hesitate”. How do the Daleks, in that story, really differ from a bacteria? Political violence can be refused on the grounds of holding the life and physical integrity of other humans sacred – or because it might have terrible consequences in the future. But both those points are moot here.
There comes the second argument – that some good might come out of that evil. It’s a better point, but expressed as it is in the episode, it sorts of end up in the weird place. The idea that the races of the universe need a common enemy to unite, to progress, to advance, to find Good with a big G … For a scene that tries to push a pacifist message, it ends up being very bellicose: war as a source of creation – a way for the human to define itself against the non-human (the fact that in that case the non-human is legitimately non-human and not an artificial ideological construct doesn’t change the fact that’s a shady line of thought). Really, it’s the exact same ideology Davros is pushing – creative conflict.
Speaking of – the third, unspoken argument, which is also the best. There are a few parallels between Davros and the Doctor – both men of science with a formidable intellect and a complicated relationship with their race. But the element that really differentiates them is that, while Davros embraces the Daleks as a force that will put him above the Gods themselves, the Doctor rejects that kind of power, rejects a position of godhood where he would decide the fate of the entire universe. It’s in-keeping with his character, really, even though it still fails to completely connect with the fact he is given a clear task by his all-powerful, all-knowing superiors that very much decide and have decided the fate of the entire universe. But really, it shows what the biggest issue with the Daleks is. Unlike the Cybermen, or the Sontaran (and their “proud warrior races” ilk), or even the Silence, they do not represent a different ideology, a school of thought, a position alien to those the show adopts – there’s no dialog at play here. They are evil – pure, absolute evil. And the downside of such an antagonist is that it necessarily calls for an opposite force – an absolute good. The Doctor is forced into this position of pure, definitive goodness by the very existence of the Daleks – but deep down, that’s not who he is. The Doctor is not a man of absolutes, he’s an idiot, passing by, a child-like innocent and a master manipulator at the same time. He’s the chaos and the messiness and the joy of life – not a moralistic avatar of goodness, an arbiter of morality. When faced with that kind of choice, the only move the Doctor can make while still being the Doctor is not to play – but not to play, here, is still a choice: when he similarly rejects the option to kill the Daleks in “The Parting of Ways”, or Missy’s gift in “Death in Heaven”, his refusal is framed as the creation of his own ideological path. They are moments of triumphs. But here? The Doctor doesn’t choose a third path, he just doesn’t do anything and the circumstances end up carrying him towards one of the two choices, whose darker aspects we’re meant to simply ignore. The Daleks may be inevitable, in the wider context of the show, and you know what, that is fine. It doesn’t always works, but it can be a powerful tool, in the hands of the right writer. But this story robs them of this absolute dimension. Phil Sandifer argues that the Doctor’s victory, in “Genesis”, is to turn the immutable Daleks into being susceptible to change. But then, there’s an issue: if they can be changed, why doesn’t the Doctor change them? It’s not very satisfying on the drama front, for starters, but, above all, it reads like a refusal of his own power to choose and shape the world. To get all existentialist, we are condemned to choice – and refusing that reality is simply “living in bad faith”, to quote Sartre. Refusing our very nature, and going straight into a cul-de-sac: the Doctor cannot renounce his status as an agent of mutability and chaos. Or at least, he shouldn’t.
Keep in mind, I’m not the only one that has issues with that specific scene. Take Big Finish, for instance – one of their worst impulses has always been to rely too much on pre-existing continuity and ideas, but, in the specific context of this analysis, it’s a good thing, because that means we have at least a couple pseudo-remakes of “Genesis” to look at for comparison purposes. “Blood of the Daleks“, by Steve Lyons (Eighth Doctor Adventures, 1×01 and 1×02), for instance, in which a human scientist, awestruck by the perfection of the Dalek race, shapes some humans into a new breed of Daleks – that are destroyed both by the actual Daleks, who don’t look kindly at such a transgression of their perfect, immaculate racial purity, and by the Doctor. Eight says, about the possibility of letting those newborn Daleks go, that “[he] made this mistake once, [he]’s not going to make it again“. Oh, sure, that’s not what I would call a deeply eloquent critique of “Genesis” – in fact, it’s pretty damn middle-of-the-road, just like the story it’s from, but the intention it betrays is interesting. It’s elabored upon, in a much more interesting way, in “Enemy of the Daleks” (David Bishop, Monthly Range #121), which features the Seven Doctor, Ace, and audio companion Hex in what is, in a way, a beat-by-beat retelling of Genesis – a Japanese scientist on a space colony has created a bioweapon intended specificially to annhilate the Daleks: insects-like creatures called the Kisebya, that devour metal before nesting in organic creatures. Of course, he looses control of it and destruction ensues – it’s a pretty predictible piece. But it’s interesting nontheless, because it does really seem to openly criticize “Genesis“: mostly the Doctor’s claim that the existence of the Daleks will push people to unite and work for a greater good. “Enemy” offers a compelling rebuttal: of course that’s not going to happen, putting people through hell and misery is not magically going to turn them better, it will just make them more desperate and more eager to renounce their humanity. Fire might purify, but it also, and chiefly, burns and kills, to tweak a quote from Andrezj Sapkowski’s Witcher books. The audio gets as cheeky as to destroy the Kisebya by having Ace, at the command of the Doctor, joining two wires together to create an explosion.
But the best audio to tackle that subject is easily Robert Shearman’s “Jubilee”, the audio play that was used as base for “Dalek“. The point he makes there is that the Daleks corrupt the show, lead it astray, far from its emotional and ideological core, into a much too simple battle of good versus evil, just like they corrupt the different civilizations and cultures that come in contact with them. That’s how he paints the alternate UK of “Jubilee“, which has fallen into an awful, degenerate dictatorship in the aftermath of a war with the pepperpots. Not because the Daleks did something to the people, no – just because they developed an unhealthy fascination with the Daleks, made them into a part of their culture, their everyday life, their religion, their politics, to the point where they ended up absorbing the very essence of the Daleks, their ideology, distilled into something different and much more human. That’s not a metaphor, by the way, they literally drink “Dalek Juice” as a rare, precious delicacy. Meanwhile, the images of the Doctor and the Daleks are used as propaganda tools by the regime: the Monster and the Savior – the narrative getting simpler and cruder all the time, the Doctor becoming, in the eyes of the people populating this alternate world, an action hero accompanied by a hot young lady and blowing up stuff. An easily told, comforting story – and, above all (and there we circle back to the beginning of the article), a way to rationalize. To make the vastness and complexity of the universe, its beauties and horrors and weirdness, into something simple, into a strong, easily marketable visual identity. I say “the universe” – I mean, “Doctor Who”. That’s the problem with the Daleks, really. They’re a part of the show’s history, and an important one – a vital one, even –, but they’re not why Doctor Who is good. And they never will be.
Or will they …?
Enters “The Witch’s Familiar”.
Now, I would hardly call it my favourite story of all times. Truth be told, I’m kind of the mind that this two-parter is, at a purely structural level, one of the worst things Steven Moffat has ever written. But, as often with Moffat, it contains so much pure, raw genius you can’t really dismiss it, even if you’d want to.
One of the biggest issues with this episode is that it’s trying to be a billion different things at the same time. You could write at length on the whole Clara plot, and the way it brilliantly updates the Daleks to embody internet-age fascism (see parts 1 & 2 of that series for more details) – but I’m mostly interested in the way Moffat creates, in all intended purposes, a rewrite and remake of “Genesis”. Or maybe that’s not the right way to put it – I saw a reviewer call it “Genesis of Genesis of the Daleks”, and that’s brilliant so I shall be stealing that. Really, that story offers what is, essentially, the same core story as “Genesis”: the Doctor has a way of eliminating the Daleks once and for all, but chooses not to take it. But it does it so, so much better – while it does not try to actively humanize the Daleks, or treat them as anything other than monsters (“mutants in a tank that would never ever stop, and they never did” – they are characterized almost as a pure function, as pure killing machines), it entirely focuses on Davros. And, oh wonder, actually makes him into a three-dimensional, compelling character – far from a pleasant person, considering even his sparks of compassion and kindness take root in an ugly nationalism (“a man should have a people, an allegiance, a man should belong somewhere!”) – but a person. But really, what matters is the way the dilemma is resolved: by taking care of a child, in a scene that directly echoes Clara’s treatment of the Young Doctor in “Listen”. The parallels between Davros and the Doctor are still here – the last scene shows the child carrying a sonic screwdriver and the Doctor a Dalek gun – but they are not used in a trite cautionary tale about the dangers of absolute morality, about the evil that risks corrupting the Doctor (the series does offer a tale of the Doctor being corrupted – but it does it in a much better and innovative way, by portraying his absolute, insane love for Clara as his downfall), they are used as an opportunity for emotional closeness and closure. As a way to make contact, to talk despite the conflict (and it works, once again, so much better than Capaldi yelling “sit down and talk!” a few episodes later). And it works. The Doctor wins here – he has instilled mercy in the heart of the Daleks. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, in that it shows the poetic, beautiful heart of Who attacking and destroying all those “big”, “important” scenes of terrible, world-shattering choices. It finds a way out, where “Genesis” never could. – in all honesty, I don’t exactly buy that reading, or at the very least, I don’t see how it’s dramatically compelling. But “Witch’s” makes the inhuman into something human – and that is, if you pass me the expression, the best way to make Skaro great again. The Daleks have resisted change so very much, in a show that is built around it – and maybe, in a world where the inhuman and the unexplainable are on the prowl, it’s time for that to stop. Or maybe they’ll just come back next year and shoot at more stuff.
Panem et circenses, I guess.