Make the Daleks Scary Again
Guest contributor Owen Davies believes the Doctor’s oldest enemy has lost its fear factor, so what can be done?
EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! Who could forget that battle-cry that has been such a popular part of British culture since 1963? From the moment the Daleks first trundled onto our screens in the aptly named The Daleks, they have earned their place as the Doctor’s oldest and greatest enemy. But they haven’t been the most feared for a while now.
These days they are usually met with cheers when they show up, rather than the whimpering terror that meets an enemy like the Weeping Angels (Although, they aren’t as scary as they used to be. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to have us see them moving.) I am told by my dad, a fan who watched when Tom Baker was still the Doctor, of times when he and my uncle would cower behind the sofa every time the infamous exterminators arrived. Yet, these days, I barely so much as bat an eyelid when they are the main enemies of the story. Even when watching Dalek on its premiere back in 2005 as a seven year old, I was far from behind the sofa. So why are the Daleks far less scary than they were back in 1963? I’ll be giving my point of view on the subject.
Why are they not scary any more?
When the Daleks were first created in 1963, the world was only 18 years out from World War Two, which Britain had suffered greatly from, due to heavy bombing of British cities and heavy rationing that continued until 1954. The Nazis were the symbol of that. Whereas in the United States, they barely touched the ordinary citizen, British people were very much always aware of the Nazi threat, due to events such as the Blitz and the aforementioned rationing.
There is evidence that the Daleks are an allegory for the Nazis. First of all, Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, grew up during World War 2 in Cardiff, which was heavily bombed by the Nazis. He knew the terror of the Nazis first-hand and this influenced the creation of the Daleks.
Secondly, many parallels can be drawn between the Daleks and the Nazis. For example, both believe that all not like them should be destroyed, they both seem to exhibit an unquestionable obedience when it comes to orders and they appear to be uncaring in what they do, which is killing millions. Furthermore, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Daleks refer to the destruction of Earth as “the final solution” which is what the Holocaust was sometimes referred to as, further hammering home the Nazi allegory.
If the comparison between the Daleks and the Nazis is an apt one, then this may be part of the problem of why we just don’t find them scary today. The obvious reason is the Nazis haven’t been a real threat to the world since 1945. The things that we were scared of in 1945 aren’t the same things we are scared of today. Children aren’t raised on horror stories about the Nazis. We study and learn that this sort of thing must never happen again, not actively fear them.
Furthermore, the Daleks have been done to death. Pretty much every season, we see them wheeled out to cries of, “Oh. It’s the Daleks. Yippee.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think the Daleks are awesome but I think new things need to be done with them. Rather than just being a ‘cool’ enemy, they need to be feared again. So what can be done?
What Can Be Done?
The first appearance of the Daleks in New Who, as I mentioned above, did not scare me at all on first broadcast. This is strange indeed because I had to leave the room halfway through The End of the World, a pretty tame episode for me on re-watch, but I digress.
When I watched it again, I actually found Dalek to be fairly chilling. Not like the Weeping Angels, who rely solely on appearing suddenly to scare us but an underlying fear. First of all, when the Doctor sees what is in Van Statten’s vault, we immediately see how scared he is of the thing in there. Now, if you were a fan of Classic Who before New Who, try and see this from the viewpoint of someone who didn’t become a fan until 2005.
Think about it. If you have watched all the episodes up to this one and are still watching, chances are that you’re hooked on Doctor Who. You see that the Doctor can battle the enemies seen in the previous episode with no fear at all. He’s not afraid of anything, is he? This is much the same as what Rose must be thinking at this point, as this is her first encounter with a Dalek as well. She must be terrified of it as well, although she does go into the vault later to talk to it, perhaps to understand why the Doctor fears it so much.
But when you see the absolute terror in his eyes (very well acted by Christopher Eccleston, by the way), you think, ‘What scares the man who has no fear?’ and then you become more fearful of the Dalek in the vault than perhaps even the Doctor.
Throughout the episode, as well, the Dalek demonstrates absolute power versus a whole platoon of guards. It kills a whole room of them at one point, bulldozes through others and flies up stairs while another desperately shoots at it. Much to the cries from my dad of, “Ha! They can fly up stairs now!” which I then googled and informed him they had been able to do that since the late eighties. I was a very obnoxious child. But I digress. Again.
My point is that we see the Dalek massacring all these heavily-armed guards with nary a scratch on its casing. And that’s just one Dalek. What could thousands do? This sets us up for The Parting of the Ways, where there would be thousands of Daleks attacking our heroes.
In conclusion, the Daleks need to be shown to be an unstoppable force again, much in the same vein as Dalek. The most recent Dalek outing, Asylum of the Daleks, attempted to make them scary again but they just weren’t for me in that particular episode, although I did appreciate all the Classic Dalek cameos. I still think the scariest outing in New Who was their first, due to the unstoppable force they are shown to be.
So, perhaps have another story like this, where there is just one Dalek and we can show how much the Doctor hates and fears them. It doesn’t even have to be a Dalek. Perhaps it could be Davros who is found alone and the Doctor has to decide what to do with him. Does he let the man who caused the deaths of billions live or does he execute for his war crimes? This would make for a brilliant dynamic and a very interesting episode, in my opinion.
I also think the Daleks should be even more ruthless than they are now. For example, look at the scene in Classic Who, from the episode Attack of the Cybermen, where the Cybermen torture Lytton by brutally crushing his hands. We need the Daleks to do more things like this now (within reason. This is still family viewing in the UK after all.) We need to see them causing actual physical harm to people, like the hate-filled machines they are. We need to see them be more sadistic.
Asylum of the Daleks was certainly a step in the right direction, but Doctor Who needs to go further than this by changing the Daleks, so they are feared again by the people of the 21st century. Hopefully, the cry of, “EXTERMINATE!” will once again become one of the most feared noises in fiction.