The Brilliance of the Daleks
Guest contributor Zachary Bernstein on what makes the Daleks so brilliant.
What makes the Daleks so terribly…brilliant? Over the span of decades, as Doctor Who has been televised across the world, no villain has incited as much fear as the Daleks. Though the Weeping Angels, Cybermen, Silence, and countless other foes currently give the Daleks’ reputation a run for their money, no villain, save the Master, has meant more to our beloved protagonist. How could a pepper-pot mean so much to us as an audience?
The Daleks are killing machines, their uncanny resemblance to tanks of war are apparent. Often armed with a single ray gun, with an iconic burst of energy and sound, the Daleks’ weaponry fires like the bombardment of a tank shell; infamous and unforgettable. Yet, the machinations of these aliens do not distinguish the Daleks from other antagonists throughout science fiction. It is not only the capacity to kill that makes an idea so horrifying, but rather the context of such an idea that resonates as something iconic.
Perhaps it is not the design of the Daleks that gives us pause, but rather what the Daleks signify. Seeing as the Daleks are practically the Doctor’s first villain, the second serial of the show, The Dead Planet, premiered on the 21st of December, 1963, their real world creator Terry Nation most likely conceived of their kind from the memories of war torn England. World War II is viewed as one of the greatest calamities to befall our kind, and the turbulent crossroads of destiny have unraveled only to find that we as a civilization still yet live with the immediate consequences of that era. Words common to our tongue these days such as genocide and ethnic cleansing are unfortunately all too common. Many parts of the developing world are yet recovering from the arbitrary boundaries established by European empires; today these nations are in fact falling into the dance of order and chaos. Mass hatred, perpetuated by technology, did not end with the fall of the Third Reich. In a sense, the Daleks can be seen as the personified machinations from the memory of that war. This is why the Daleks are still as relevant today as they were in 1963.
A species that prides itself on “Extermination” and xenophobia resounds an unfortunate perception, and truth, about the history of the human race. The Daleks can be viewed as a darker version of humanity. The Daleks have factions, and a history of violence. After viewing the Tom Baker era episode, Genesis of the Daleks 1975, there is a theory that the Dalek which killed Davros was elevated to the status of Emperor, later on. The Emperor was known as an individual maniac who was contrasted by a species of drones. A simple governing structure to be sure, but it was the first of many.
In time, a civil war broke out as a resurrected Davros created a new Dalek race on Necros, establishing the golden colored tone that marks the Daleks of New Who. We human beings fight amongst ourselves, but we don’t call them civil wars; just wars in general. During the Dalek Civil War between Necros and Skaro, the Daleks were divided by the authorities of the lower Supreme Dalek, and Davros himself disguised as an Emperor Dalek.
Remembrance of the Daleks 1988 saw the destruction of Skaro when the 7th Doctor tricked Davros into using the Hand of Omega. This event was most likely the immediate cause of the Time War, or rather a catalyzing instance, that resulted in the Time Lords attempt at appeasing the Daleks with the Master, and putting him on trial in the TV movie, Doctor Who 1996. At this time, the interregnum between Classic Who and New Who commenced, and the details of the Time War are now best left for another occasion. However, it would be assumed at such a time that warring factions in the Dalek race banded together against the Time Lords, much as human populations forge alliances to battle common enemies.
As recently as 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks, a governmental parliament had been established, with a Supreme Dalek, and a Prime Minister. Though the Daleks pride themselves on their resolute perfection, they do in fact change their governing structure all too often. Oddly enough, the Daleks seem to have adopted a more diplomatic stance, even a democratic one. One perspective of the Daleks is that they are drones who serve a tyrannical leader at any one time. This new episode showcases the idea that since a majority of Daleks are the same, as in equals, their governing structure resembles one of equality. It must seem very strange to see such words associated with the Daleks, but this fact is no stranger than the varying accounts of human history.
Moreover, the Daleks have a contrasting world view of beauty and hatred. In the episode Asylum of the Daleks, Steven Moffat wrote in a kind of positive outlook that the Daleks have towards the world around them. Instead of perceiving the world in a purely hateful sight, the Daleks have a capacity to see beauty in themselves and others, including the Doctor’s blood-soaked past. The unpleasant reality behind this is the idea that love and hate are locked in an intricate spin, and one does not exist without the other. This notion helps to paint the Daleks as complex creatures, much as human beings are not morally good nor evil.
Into the Dalek 2014 was also one of those stories which explores the capacity to see goodness in places where many think it not to exist. While the Daleks could in fact represent a cynical viewpoint of the human race, such a perspective should not be discouraging for the sake of the notion that the Daleks have been contrasted by many complicated figures, such as the Doctor. In a world where the Daleks are absolutely evil and the Doctor is absolutely good, I would believe that to be an almost unhealthy way of perceiving one’s enemies. It is important to remember the flaws in all living things, but to embrace the best parts of any person is the most surefire way of staying positive. This theory that the Daleks are, in essence, a dark shadow cast by the grave errors in humanity’s past would make many people uncomfortable. This theory inherently relies on the vulnerability of human beings as defensive creatures, and I have always viewed this as a humbling notion.
It is in our abilities as thinking creatures to find the best alternatives to living in this world. The Daleks serve as a healthy reminder of what we shouldn’t be. The Daleks are in no case our destiny, and we should do well to never forget the meaning that they instill in our hearts.