More Steel than David McCallum

More nerve than VX gas.

More hate than the Middle East.

More comebacks than Tom Jones.

Now with added airpower.

They make Cybermen look like the Bee Gees. The Master looks like “the Still Learning” in their shadow. Autons look camp and ineffectual, Sontarans lumbering and clumsy.

There is only one monster who the Doctor is truly afraid of, only one race of xenophobic, hate-filled, abominations who can actually achieve Universal Domination.

The Daleks are back…

“What the hell are you on about now?! Charlotte, Kasterborous guy has lost it AGAIN! And he said ‘gay’!”

Oh look, it’s the Man again. You remember the Man, right? He’s the guy who finds it necessary to stop me mid flow with his pointless comments and emails to me and my friends. What is it this time, Man?

“You’re on about the Doctor being afraid of Daleks are you?”

Evidently.

“That’s rubbish! *They* are afraid of *him*, not the other way around!”

Oh get on with your book and let me finish.

The thing is, the Daleks have lulled us into a false sense of security. General Public (you might remember him from The Android Invasion) has this image of the Daleks as cobbled together from toilet ballcocks, sink plungers and egg whisks and having voices like Zippy from “Rainbow” (that’s the kids tv show, not the Ritchie Blackmore-axed rock group). Terry Nation’s finest creations were, over the original 26 years of Doctor Who, demoted from Universal enslavers of the free minded into feeble, stair-phobic, three-wheeled pepperpots.

Why did this happen? Who was responsible for this down-grading of malevolence? It would be very easy to say the introduction of Davros affected the Daleks menace – there is yet to be a televised Doctor Who story featuring the Daleks without him before this Saturday – but he’s far too easy a target. BBC budgets too are a soft hit, despite the fact that no number of cardboard cutouts makes three Daleks look like a task force. No, there is one culprit responsible for the impotency of the Daleks between 1975 and 2005. Terry Nation.

It’s commonly known that Nation was getting a little tired of his most famous creations in the early 1970s, and allowed their use on a couple of occasions in scripts that he didn’t have a hand in because he felt other writers might inject something new. Come the Tom Baker era though, and you have a whole different ballgame, an opportunity to explore the creation of the Daleks. Terry Nation was hooked on this idea, to give the Daleks a human face and a character.

At some point in the last 11 years from the beginning of Doctor Who to the mid 70s, someone decided that watching Daleks have conversations was dull. All of a sudden, Daleks needed human stooges, Robomen or Ogrons to do their lifting and carrying and to communicate plot developments. What this someone failed to realise is that watching Daleks talk to each other needn’t be dull if it is executed correctly…

Davros became the face of the Daleks, designed to allow interesting exposition of plot instead of staccato monotone exposition. But this introduction of the Fuhrer merely reduced the impact of the Daleks from The SS-Totenkopfverbande to junior members of the Hitler Youth. While the message was still there – hate and xenophobia are wrong – they were channelled through this single mouthpiece. Fascism in Doctor Who was watered down and turned into the rantings of a mad scientist when before it had been the creeping hatred displayed by the Daleks as they travelled through time in pursuit of the Doctor, laying traps for him and his friends.

While Nation wasn’t exactly covering new ground with the first Dalek story in 1963, he was setting the tone for the rest of the shows history. While during the 1960s the Daleks were feared by the viewing children, in the 1970s and 1980s it was the disfigured Davros who stole their thunder. Nation successfully degraded his own iconic creation by giving the terrible alien menace a humanoid face.

There are of course moments of total brilliance involving Davros – his first appearance in Genesis of the Daleks where he interrogates the Doctor to acquire foreknowledge of Dalek defeats, and his revolting plan to build an army of Daleks at the Tranquil Repose in Revelation of the Daleks. The stories themselves have brilliant Dalek moments – my favourite being the moment the Daleks are first unleashed in Genesis of the Daleks, which creates the same atmosphere as the moment in Terminator 3 when SkyNet goes online and the robots start attacking. Both truly fearsome moments but of course Doctor Who got there 30 years earlier.

So could we have had a Dalek race without a creator for the last 42 years? No. Which is the interesting thing. As I said above, someone decided that Daleks having a chat was boring because they basically couldn’t think of another way of executing it. While we might be able to conceive a more interesting method in the 21st century, technically it would have been impossible in the 1960s and 70s when the Daleks were at their prime; hence the use of Ogrons, Robomen and the Controller in Day of the Daleks.

Davros was vital for the continued survival of the Daleks, both in a fictional context and within an ongoing narrative. While his presence did detract from the Daleks own threat of extermination, we can for at least one episode of Doctor Who sit back and watch a Dalek slowly regain its former glory without a humanoid barking orders at it. Perhaps this weeks episode by Robert Shearman should have been called “Renaissance of the Daleks”?


Christian Cawley

About

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


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