Legacy of the Daleks

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With the Daleks set to return in Series 7, guest contributor John Hussey examines Doctor Who’s most famous monster over the years.

The Daleks, one of the most iconic science-fiction villains in the history of television. For almost 50 years, the Daleks have terrorised the universe with their famous battle-cry; ‘Exterminate’. This article is dedicated to that legacy.

What are the Daleks?

The Daleks are the most ruthless and corrupt beings in the entire universe, wishing nothing but to complete their primary objective of exterminating everything that isn’t Dalek. Their first appearance on screen was during the cliffhanger of ‘The Dead Planet’, the first part of ‘The Daleks’, where one of their sinister suckers approached and cornered a terrified Barbara Wright. Bear in mind this was the second ever Doctor Who story to air on screen. They have been in the show that long. In their debut, the Daleks were portrayed as racial haters entombed inside a metal shell within their metal city. This created their claustrophobic mental status, developing their insanity which would progress over the next 50 years.

Terry Nation was the man who gave birth to the Doctor’s greatest ever enemy, although he didn’t know this at the time. He based the Daleks on the Nazis and their ideology of racial purity. A creature that was willing to do anything to ensure its own survival and destroy all those they saw as impure. He had created something of pure evil.

What makes them so popular?

Their design is a thing that has fascinated me since I was about three. They are so sinister looking and yet the design is so simple. They are nothing more than a giant pepper-pot with a plunger for an arm, an egg-whisk for a weapon and flashing lights to inform us of when their speaking. And yet this simple design has caused fans to cower behind the sofa for almost 50 years. Perhaps it’s the fact that they glide seamlessly across their metal floors or the fact we never really see the evil that lies within those metal shells. What creature could hate Humanity so much that they are willing to kill us without thought or mercy?

The greatest thing about the Daleks is their voice and the main thing that makes them so scary. That electronic shrill that gives off nothing but hatred and terror; voiced by so many brilliant actors throughout the ages. I salute everyone who worked together to form these creatures, because they truly made something of pure genius.

Now, let’s take a short look at some of their highlights over the decades leading up to the present.

The 60s

The 60s were clearly the most popular, and in many ways, the most successful of the Daleks era on screen. During this time their popularity was sky high and produced were some of the greatest of all the stories, with a lot of them unfortunately later deleted from the records.

We had iconic stories such as ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ showcasing the Daleks first visit to Earth, ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ which showed them beyond insanity as they attempted to activate their deadly new superweapon, the Time Destructor. The Second Doctor’s first outing saw him face them in ‘The Power of the Daleks’ where they were shown at their most clever due to their sly behaviour of lying. They also appeared in that season’s finale, ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, where fans were introduced to the Dalek Emperor as they experimented with the “Human Factor,” before attempting to use the TARDIS to spread the “Dalek Factor” throughout time. This story almost saw the Daleks total destruction at the hands of the Doctor.

The 60s featured the Daleks at their darkest due to their plans of conquest. They were also responsible for the deaths of two of the First Doctor’s companions, Katarina and Sara Kingdom, in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’.

The 70s

The 70s didn’t see any massive developments in the Dalek design, but they were progressed into a new decade, along with their first appearance in colour. The Pertwee episodes were good but none of them really had the sinister spark that the 60s produced. ‘Day of the Daleks’ was my favourite of his era, due to the massive time paradox plot in order to prevent the Daleks conquest of Earth in the future, along with the brilliant battle scenes between the Daleks and UNIT.

It wasn’t until the Tom Baker era where new developments were made in the Daleks story. Creator Terry Nation returned with an origin story in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. He invented the insane character of Davros, the Daleks creator within the programme. This Kaled scientist developed his mutated race into emotionless creatures of hate and locked them inside a war machine, built for death and destruction. The character of Davros would return for every Dalek story from then until the revived series, where he would come back one last time (to date) in ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’.

The 80s

The 80s continued the Dalek legacy and the story of Davros, producing the very dark and gothic ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, one of my favourite Dalek stories due to its sinister nature and Davros’ total insanity. This story had Davros create a new race from the frozen bodies stored in Necros’ catacombs. He also ignited the civil war between the Imperial and Renegade Daleks.

The next outing in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ saw the civil war put into full motion in London. It had the first and only appearance of the popular Special Weapons Dalek and the return of the Emperor, now Davros. According to Russell T Davies, the destruction of the Dalek homeworld Skaro at the hands of the Seventh Doctor was the starting point of the Time War.

2005 and beyond

The Daleks, of course, returned to revived Doctor Who in 2005 and were shown as the deadly creatures who caused the downfall and destruction of the Time Lords due to their conflict in the Time War. The Daleks became survivors, with each of their stories showcasing members of this supposed extinct race and their attempts to raise their empire once more. Their most recent return in “Victory of the Daleks”, saw them evolve back into their purest form which brought about the deadly Paradigm.

To celebrate almost 50 years of their terror, Steven Moffat is bringing back every single faction of the Daleks for a massive battle against the Doctor in the opening episode of Series 7, which starts in Autumn.

So the Daleks legacy is huge and wide, and in many ways, responsible for Doctor Who’s survival and popularity. They will always survive to battle the Doctor and in doing so keep generations of fans hiding behind their couches.