If you’re familiar with the television program and science fiction phenomenon that is Doctor Who, you probably know who and what exactly the “Daleks” are. However, for those unfortunate few who have never seen or heard of Doctor Who, first stop everything you are doing and read Tom Salinsky’s excellent beginners piece for where you should start!
After you’ve done that, read on…
Doctor Who centers on a Timelord, aka The Doctor, who travels through time and space in a 1960s police box called the TARDIS, which stands for “Time and Relative Dimension In Space.” First shown on British TV in 1963, Doctor Who has become a cultural phenomenon in this country, and since the series was rebooted eight years ago, has taken America by storm. Series Six was shown on BBC America last year to great ratings, and Doctor Who was also the number one most downloaded show on the American iTunes store and it airs in a prime time slot on Saturday night’s in the UK.
It has become so internationally popular in fact that BBC are tentatively interested in producing a stand-alone film series that would act separate to the current BBC saga.
With any science fiction staple comes a fair share of villains and monsters. Star Trek is most famous for the Klingons, Star Wars has the Empire, and Doctor Who has the Daleks, as I mentioned in the first sentence…
The Daleks are arguably the most important, and most popular, villain of the whole fifty year series. When Doctor Who is portrayed in the media, chances are the Daleks are shown somewhere, besides the Doctor and the TARDIS (which is most recognizable symbol of Doctor Who). However, the Daleks have a very extensive history since their creation in 1963, when they appeared in the second serial of the show, and have great longevity, one that is ever evolving. Aside from having a very important role in the Classic Series, which ran from 1963 until 1989, they also have a very important role in the New Series, which began in 2005, as well.
Living during the World War II era, Welsh screenwriter and novelist Terry Nation created the fearsome race, he based loosely off of the German Nazis. His aim was to create a very angry and hateful race, one whose occupants would believe amongst all things that their race was the most superior. The main difference though with his fiction creation was that Daleks had no emotion at all, and all evidence of humanity/emotion was removed.
The Daleks are cold and ruthless, for the most part. Like the Nazis, the Daleks have a sense of pride (which is ironic, considering they don’t have emotions) of their own race, and essentially, they worship themselves, and believe themselves to be the most superior life form in the universe. And throughout the 48 years Doctor Who has been on the air, the Daleks have been shown as fearsome creatures who have no mercy for anyone or anything.
Though when the Daleks appear in a photo alongside Terry they don’t look so bad!
The Daleks were designed as cyborgs, meaning half-organic, half-robotic. The Daleks themselves are actually mutated creatures that exist within travel machines, which are the Dalek robots, and that’s how they’re recognized. They’re composed of a top, middle, and a bottom. The top has their visual sensors, which is a single eye “stalk,” and two lights on their “head,” that light up whenever they speak. A neck-like appendage is what connects the top to the middle. The middle is what encompasses the Dalek’s two “arms,” which is a gunstick on the right, and a manipulator arm on the left. The bottom is composed of a “skirt” with globe-like objects protruding from it, and has a sturdy base that allows for movement, and flight. Inside the Dalek, as I mentioned, is the Dalek itself, which is a mutated creature that resembles an octopus.
The Daleks made their television debut in December of 1963, with the second story of season one entitled simply, “The Daleks.” After the story aired, ratings for the show went up dramatically, and fans and the public alike knew that Doctor Who was something more than a children’s show (which is what the show originally started as) and the BBC were tapping into something much deeper and darker than what was on the surface level.
The first showing of the Daleks were even partially to blame for a phrase that goes “behind the sofa,” which meant that children would literally hide behind the sofa during scary scenes/episodes of Doctor Who.
Most people who have never seen Doctor Who, but know of the Daleks, know of this very distinct Daleks look. They’ve been ridiculed on the show plenty of times, described once even as a pepper pot. They also have their own catchphrase to terrify. In almost every episode they’ve appeared in (at least since the New Series), they’re uttered the phrase “Exterminate!” or some variation of it.
Almost every episode the Daleks have appeared in has a very distinct title. They always end in “…of the Daleks,” such as 1972’s “Day of the Daleks,” or 1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks.” And interestingly enough, during the 1960s, an attempt was made to bring Doctor Who to the United States with a pair of films being released theatrically called “Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)”, and “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966).” They starred Peter Cushing, before he was cast into Star Wars as Grand Moff Tarkin, as a human scientist named Dr. Who. The films were very much different from the TV show itself, but were still commercially successful. A small bit of trivia is that actor Bernard Cribbins, who played a character in “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2151 A.D” played the character of Wilfred Mott on Doctor Who from 2008 – 2010.
Out of all the stories that feature the Daleks, the most important one, and a must-see for any Whovian is 1975’s “Genesis of the Daleks,” starring Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, and Elisabeth Slaten as Sarah Jane Smith, and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. The episode is important as it’s the introduction of the Dalek creator Davros, and the episode shows the creation of the Daleks, who were first known as “Mark III Travel Machines.” The episode finally shows some light on how they were created, and Davros created the Daleks during a war between his people (named the Kaleds), and the Thals. Dalek is an anagram on Kaled, which makes sense. Davros went mad creating the Daleks, and the Daleks eventually turned on him. However, Davros would return to make many more appearances, the first being 1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks,” once again starring Fourth Doctor Tom Baker as well as Lalla Ward as Romana II.
Most fans know that the series was cancelled in 1989 due to poor ratings, aside from the self-titled television movie in 1996. But once the show was brought back, thanks to writer and producer Russell T. Davies, he made sure to bring back the Daleks. And he did so with the episode “Dalek,” which was shown in the middle of Series One. The episode was about the Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccelston, whom Americans might recognize as “Destro” in the first G.I. Joe film in 2009) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) winding up in an underground alien museum in Utah that belonged to a man by the name of Henry Van Statten. His prize specimen was a Dalek that came to Earth many years before. The Dalek was in weak health, but Rose touched it, and the Dalek recovered, and wreaked havoc on the base.
The Dalek was noticeably different, and had a different voice as well. It was still robotic, but much deeper. Nicholas Briggs, who voices the Daleks, also voices a lot of the other monsters and villains on Doctor Who, such as the Cybermen, and the Judoon. Since 2005, the Daleks have appeared in almost a dozen episodes or so, the most recent being “Victory of the Daleks” in 2010. A Dalek had a cameo in 2011’s “The Wedding of River Song,” but it was brief.
While the Daleks are fearsome, the Doctor is truly their biggest enemy, or their nemesis, per se. He’s foiled their plans time and time again. However, in 2010’s “Victory of the Daleks,” he let the Daleks get away, because if he didn’t, the Daleks would’ve destroyed all of London by letting the Germans see the city, and therefore, bombing it. However, the Doctor still has put a stop to their plans. The Doctor has many names in Dalek culture, the main one being “the Oncoming Storm,” as the Ninth Doctor referred to himself in “Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways” from 2005. And every incarnation of the Doctor has met the Daleks at some point, except for the Eighth Doctor (portrayed by Paul McGann in the self-titled television film).
Doctor Who has certainly become a British phenomenon over the years, and slowly but surely, it’s now becoming an American one as well. In fact, 2011’s opening episodes “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” took place in the United States, and were filmed in Utah. That was the first time Doctor Who ever filmed in the US. Even since their first appearance in 1963, the Daleks have remained an icon in British culture. Even the word “Dalek” has entered many dictionaries across the world.
Doctor Who, as well as the Daleks, are here to stay.