Development of the Daleks

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Guest contributor JR Wood examines how the Daleks have changed from their beginnings all the way to Asylum of the Daleks.

In December 1963 a story entitled The Dead Planet afforded us with the first glimpse of those maniacal pepper-pot war machines: the Daleks. I say ‘glimpse’ because it wasn’t until The Survivors, the second episode of the serial, that they were revealed in all their glory. And it’s clear from their latest outing in Asylum of the Daleks that visually they’ve changed very little. Be they silver and blue, grey and black, copper and bronze or Paradigm variant, that shape is instantly, recognisably Dalek. So they haven’t really changed a great deal in 50 years, have they? On the surface, perhaps not, but the deeper you delve, the clearer it becomes that, with every incarnation of the Doctor, the character of the Daleks has undergone some interesting and sometimes surprising developments.

The Hartnell Years – No one is Safe!

Their first appearance established the Daleks as a threat, in spite of any apparent shortcomings. Despite their inability to leave their city due to a reliance on static electricity to enable them to move, they were revealed to be a nuclear power that was prepared to stop at nothing to wipe out its enemies, the Thals. The second Dalek serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, returned to the theme of inescapable threat as they enslaved humanity (or at least most of the south of England!). The scenes showing them trundling around famous landmarks of London seemed to suggest that the Daleks could go anywhere and do anything – no one was safe!

Although the next story to feature the Daleks, 1965’s The Chase, could perhaps be described as more of a time travelling romp around diverse locations ranging from alien planets to the Empire State Building and a haunted house, it once again proves the Doctor’s enemies to be an inescapable danger, equipped as they are with their own time machine which allows them to pursue the TARDIS wherever it goes.

October of the same year saw Mission to the Unknown, the prelude to the epic Daleks’ Masterplan that spanned a colossal twelve episodes and portrayed the Daleks at their most threatening yet as they form an unholy alliance with humans and aliens to develop a weapon known as the Time Destructor, capable of wiping out any living thing. Again the crew of the TARDIS does not escape the danger posed by the Daleks as Sara Kingdom, a short-lived companion of the Doctor, is rapidly aged and ultimately disintegrated by the Daleks’ terrible weapon.

The Troughton Years – The Wily Dalek

So, if the Hartnell years established the Daleks as the most threatening of foes, what of Troughton’s tenure? Both The Power of the Daleks in 1966 and Evil of the Daleks the following year introduced us to a more devious side to the Daleks. The threat certainly hadn’t disappeared, but the Daleks were now shown to be much more conniving than before as, in the former story, they win the trust of the Earth colonists on the planet Vulcan (“I am your servant!” is perhaps the best and most chilling line ever uttered my them). This allows them to use the humans’ power source to reproduce in alarming numbers.

Similarly, Evil of the Daleks has the creatures from Skaro manipulating human scientists in order to isolate the so-called ‘Human Factor’, seemingly to help them learn why humans are able to defeat them. This is eventually revealed to be an elaborate deception to instead enable the Daleks to identify the ‘Dalek Factor’ and implant this into all of humanity.

The Pertwee Years – The Dalek Masters

During the early 1970s, the deceitfulness of the Daleks took a backseat as they were established as the puppet-masters of whatever situation in which they found themselves. Day of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks, Death to the Daleks and even their brief appearance in Frontier in Space always presented them as having a subjugated alien race at their proverbial heel to carry out their bidding. The Ogrons in Day and Frontier were used as the brutish and somewhat more mobile muscle to quell rebellion, whilst the Spiridons in Planet and the Exxilons of Death were effective slave labour and test subjects for a vaccine for a bacteria bomb and a new design of weaponry respectively.

Not only were the Daleks shown to be the masters of enslavement, but they were also clearly becoming the masters of technological adaptation and advancement. Planet of the Daleks revealed them to be experimenting with invisibility, whilst Death to the Daleks forced them to adapt their malfunctioning armaments so that they could once again subjugate the native species of the planet on which they had crashed.

The Tom Baker Years – A Return to Ruthlessness

Not only did 1975 see the introduction of the Daleks’ creator Davros, it also reaffirmed both the ruthless nature of the Daleks and their lack of regard for ethnic difference. Clear parallels were drawn in Genesis of the Daleks between the Kaleds (fore-runners to the Daleks) and the Nazis, as their chief scientist tinkered with their genetic structure and bred them to be utterly intolerant of any other form of life. Similarly, Destiny of the Daleks four years later portrayed the Doctor’s ultimate foes to be unerringly focused on their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing, dispatching dozens of humanoid slaves (rather humourously on occasion, it must be said!) in order to find an entombed Davros and enlist his help in destroying the Movellans, a race with whom the Daleks were at war.

Where Genesis showed the Daleks to be utterly merciless killing machines, leading to them finally murdering their creator, it was in Destiny where weaknesses of Daleks began to present themselves. Anyone perceived as the slightest of threat to them had to be controlled or exterminated (see how the Dalek at the end of the first episode relentlessly screams orders at Romana), and so great was their apparent fear of anything “other” that they had to enlist help in order to defeat their adversaries.

The Davison Years – Disadvantage of the Daleks

The Daleks did not feature in their own story again until 1984. By the time they appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks, it was clear that their reliance on assistance had grown. The story revolved around the Daleks’ desire to once again raise their creator from the dead to help them combat a virus developed by the Movellans. Not only did the Daleks require Davros’ scientific assistance, they had also enlisted human troops to bolster their numbers (which were presumably dwindling due to their losses in the Movellan war) and were using human duplicates in an additional plot involving the Doctor and his companions.

Considering their penchant to eradicate anything non-Dalek, at this point in the Daleks’ evolution they seemed to have become more conscious of their own short-comings. Even Davros himself recognises their reliance on logic disadvantages them on the battlefield, suggesting they could be re-engineered, but only to make them more effective killers.

The Colin Baker Years – A Corruption of Nature

The next time we saw the Daleks, in the 1985 adventure Revelation of the Daleks, they had indeed been re-engineered. In a way, the story harked back to how and why the Daleks were created. Genesis of the Daleks revealed that they were the mutated remains of the Kaleds, a race of humanoids and similarly Revelation told the story of how Davros, using the pseudonym of ‘The Great Healer’ was stealing the remains of dying humans and engineering them to create Daleks loyal to him. Rather than covering any new ground, Revelation seemed to serve as a reminder of the Daleks’ origins and tells the story of their inception from a slightly more human angle as we see the father of one of the peripheral characters actually being transformed into a Dalek mutant.

The McCoy Years – Civil War

1988 saw an unusual twist in the development of the Daleks. Until this point they had always been deceiving, fighting or enslaving any number of alien races, but Remembrance of the Daleks saw the Daleks battling each other! The grey ‘renegade’ Daleks, under the command of a black supreme, and the white and gold ‘imperial’ Daleks, lead by their ‘Emperor’, come to blows in the quest to find the mysterious Hand of Omega which is hidden somewhere on Earth.

The majority of the story revolves around the two factions trying to outwit each other, with the ‘renegades’ again making use of human sympathisers to attempt to gain the advantage. The story also neatly links to Resurrection of the Daleks as both groups of Daleks have acknowledged their apparent weaknesses and added interesting weapons to their respective arsenals in order to compensate: the ‘imperials’ unleash their silent but deadly Special Weapons Dalek on their adversaries, whilst the ‘renegades’ hardwire a child into their battle computer to give them the advantage of ‘instinct’ that Davros originally spoke of.

Despite their apparent advancements, the classic series of Who concluded with both factions of warring Daleks destroyed. They wouldn’t return to television again until 2005 and when they did, their air of menace had taken on an entirely new layer of significance for the Doctor.

The Eccleston Years – The Human Factor?

When that single, lone Dalek appeared in the aptly titled Dalek, their history with the Doctor had taken on a terrible new twist as, it seems, they were responsible for the destruction of Gallifrey during the legendary, but as yet unseen, Time War.

This Dalek re-established them as the devious, cold-blooded exterminators they had been in the classic series. There were no slaves, no duplicates, no resurrected creator to help now – only Dalek. However, this one’s contact with Rose Tyler introduced an interesting facet to the development of their characters as it began to develop human attitudes, looking inwardly and realising the hatred it exuded and the fear it engendered in those around it, resulting ultimately in its decision to end its life.

The final stories in the first new series of Who cemented these human qualities as The Parting of the Ways reveals the Dalek Emperor has been using human material to resurrect his once great race, thus, according to the Doctor, making them utterly insane and more dangerous than ever before.

The Tennant Years – Daleks Conquer and Destroy

Never more so were the Daleks’ attempts to rebuild an empire, restart their war machine and destroy anyone who stood in their way more prevalent than during Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor, as his first series’ two-part closer saw an army of Daleks unleashed from the Genesis Ark to destroy both humanity and the Cybermen. Perhaps it was because special effects would finally allow it, but this was certainly an age of cramming as many Daleks onto the screen as was possible to show just how numerous they were and what a threat their numbers posed.

Having said that, Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks saw the return of only four Daleks (the Cult of Skaro who first appeared in the previous series), but their empire building tendencies were just as strong as ever. This story arc saw the Daleks once again attempting to conquer the human race and resurrect their empire by creating human-dalek hybrids.

Despite their defeat, the Daleks once again returned to Earth in 2008’s The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. Their empire seemed to have strengthened greatly since their last appearance and they proceed to subjugate the planets they have stolen and experiment on their populations. This two-parter re-introduced themes from earlier serials such as the enslavement of the human race, the creation of a cataclysmic weapon and their need for Davros to assist them in their resurrection. However, this time their creator was firmly under their control; in fact his entire purpose in the operation had been orchestrated by Dalek Caan in order to (once again) cause the Daleks’ downfall.

The Smith Years – A Return to Old Ways?

And so to the present day. Victory of the Daleks (2010) could almost be described as a mirror of some of the events in 1966’s Power of the Daleks as the creatures appear to be willingly assisting Winston Churchill’s war efforts in WW2 (“I am your soldier!”), only to turn on their trusting allies in order to attempt to restore their race using the Dalek Progenitor and to destroy the Earth – all classic Dalek qualities.

Asylum of the Daleks re-introduced additional classic themes, such as their reliance on human slaves and the manipulation of others (notably the Doctor) in order to achieve their goal. It also bolstered the show’s continuity by mentioning planets upon which they encountered the Doctor in the past, and introduced the Parliament of the Daleks, a new power structure hitherto unmentioned. However, from this story emerge some interesting questions: Were the Daleks actually frightened of entering the Asylum to tackle their unstable counterparts? If so, have they become more aware and even wary of the threat that they pose not only to other races, but to themselves? The term ‘asylum’ is normally associated with something curative, so had the Daleks, when it was first established, envisaged that the Asylum would help to cure its occupants? Does the fact that Daleks do not always evolve to be perfect examples of Dalek purity suggest that they are more flawed, or more vulnerable than we may have originally thought?

It’s clear that, as the Daleks have evolved from one Doctor to the next, so have their defining characteristics. Certainly their threat has remained a constant since their first appearance, as has their ingenuity in the face of adversity, but what other obstacles may they face that will cause their characters to develop further? Do they themselves pose more of a threat to their own survival? And how might their relationship with their greatest enemy be affected now that they have, apparently, forgotten him?