The case for Daleks

This image always makes me smile.

This image always makes me smile.

Daleks are almost as iconic to Doctor Who as the TARDIS itself – even if you don’t watch the show, it’s likely you still recognize the bumpy pepper pots with the plunger and egg beater for arms. They appeared in the second story of the show as the main protagonist, and they captured the imagination of the viewing audience, as a powerful, inexorable enemy. Every Doctor has battled them (the Eighth Doctor did not meet them on television), some more often than others. And even when they’re defeated and wiped from the universe, they always find a way to return.

Daleks are the monster of all of the Doctor Who monsters. Others, notably the Cybermen, return and menace the Doctor, but nothing is as horrible as a Dalek, and nothing else brings out the Doctor’s hatred and anger quite as well. And yet, they’re starting to get passé, simply because they appear so often. Every series of the modern show except Series 6 has at least one story in which the Daleks – the race that was supposedly completely destroyed – are the main antagonists. Some viewers have suggested that it’s time to leave the Daleks behind, that they’re overused and no longer interesting. Is that true?

I posit that honestly, the Daleks themselves were never interesting. They are a completely lawful species, with a strict hierarchy and very well-defined thought pattern: Daleks are perfect, and kill everything that is not Dalek. There’s only so far a writer can go with that.

So what is it that makes some of the Dalek episodes so good? It’s not the Daleks themselves. It’s the reaction of the other characters to them that makes the story. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is all about how a small group of resistance fighters works to throw off the Dalek masters, and how David and Susan’s romance blossoms in the midst of this. The brilliance of “Genesis of the Daleks” is due to the moral dilemma facing the Doctor: can he commit genocide knowing the horrors that the Daleks will perpetrate if he doesn’t? “Destiny of the Daleks” explored the limitations of logic, as two purely logical races faced off against each other. “Remembrance of the Daleks” showed off the manipulative nature of the Seventh Doctor as he subtly maneuvered two factions of Daleks into destroying their own homeworld.

This trend continues into the modern show. The genius of “Dalek” is in the contrast between the Doctor’s and Rose’s reactions to the Dalek’s existence, the experienced warrior and the innocent. It also explored the concept of Dalek corruption, becoming less Dalek and more human, something explored further in “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” (a story which, if you can ignore the pig slaves and the rather ridiculous design of Dalek Sec, is actually rather fantastic, and showcases the only modern Doctor who doesn’t actually hate the Daleks). “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” deals with what the Doctor has become after battling against the Daleks and the other evils of the universe for so long. And “Asylum of the Daleks” has the Doctor for once dealing with Daleks who are not his enemy, and in fact are asking for his help.

That’s where the Daleks shine: when the story uses the ultimate evil that they represent to tell a story about themes in reaction to them. As a counterexample, look at “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”. This is a fine episode, but really is only well-regarded because of the concept of Daleks and Cyberman trash-talking and battling each other and the final scene at Darlig ulv Stranden. Otherwise, the story simply has the Cybermen and Daleks appearing and the Doctor being powerless to stop them from tearing the planet apart until he comes up with the idea of sucking them into the Void. He, as well the audience, learns nothing new from this experience.

The appearance of Daleks in the show usually promises an action-packed episode with lots of robotic screaming, laser shots, and deaths, but their real strength as enemies is that against them, the Doctor explores deeper themes and learns more about himself and his companions. There’s always the danger of too much of anything, but as long as the Daleks can continue to bring out these complex storylines and intriguing questions and conflicts, then they’re still perfect for Doctor Who.

Playing with time

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I spent a bit of time last night doing some research on the Last Great Time War, because I’ve got this idea for a fanfic set during the war and needed to iron out some details. I found it absolutely fascinating that I spend far more time researching Doctor Who history, both the lore as well as what we see in the episodes, than I ever did for papers and projects during school.  The same activity can be considered work or play, depending on the context.

I wanted to get a good feel for the history of the Time War, how events progressed, and it was completely fascinating – there’s so much that’s been established that’s not in the TV show (and I haven’t gotten to yet in all the audios). Here is a little bit of the history.

  1. The first event is the Daleks creating a virus that would corrupt Time Lord DNA to wipe them out.
  2. The Daleks then hack into the Matrix so that they can use it to invade Gallifrey. Romana traps them in the Matrix and shuts it down, to trap the Daleks in a time loop.
  3. Narvin (from the CIA), unaware that Romana’s fixed the situation, gets the Fourth Doctor to attempt to stop the Daleks from being created or delay their development.
  4. In retaliation, the Daleks try to create a clone of the Fifth Doctor to send him to assassinate the High Council.
  5. The Daleks then attempt to get the Hand of Omega, to gain mastery over time. They are stopped by the Seventh Doctor.
  6. At this point, the Daleks start the Last Great Time War.

In case you haven’t noticed, point 3 is “Genesis of the Daleks,” point 4 is “Resurrection of the Daleks,” and point 5 is “Remembrance of the Daleks.” Basically, while creating the history of the Time War, the showrunners went backwards and worked classic episodes into the timeline of the war. They’re no longer just random encounters the Doctor had with Daleks; there are now reasons for what happened, all part of the Time War’s history. The way they did this is just so cool, fitting this all in. It’s also wonderful to see the pre-Eighth Doctors having some hand in the Time War (it’s always bothered me a little that the Time War lasted for hundreds, probably thousands of years, but the classic Doctors were not involved in it at all [not that they could be, mind you, from a beyond-the-fourth-wall point of view]). I suppose this is one of the advantages of a show with a long history that deals with time travel: you can manipulate the history into loops, creating an even richer backstory than you originally intended.

Greetings and a few mutant Daleks

Well, apparently the Doctor Who: Legacy Facebook page found my mini-strategy guide and posted it, deluging this blog in views! I don’t think I’ve ever had anything I’ve written reach more than a few people. Thanks very much for visiting! I hope the strat guide helps!

Sadly, I don’t have anything really interesting in mind to say today to all these visitors. Ironic, huh?

We watched “Revelation of the Daleks” this weekend, a Sixth Doctor/Peri episode. It wasn’t a very strong episode. Ignoring the DJ that interrupted the action every five minutes (I mentioned him in a previous post), the story went along pretty well after the Doctor and Peri finally got to the necropolis; before that, the episode spent way too much time following them as they walked. I’ve noticed that the classic episodes love to have many different factions warring with each other, so that you never quite know who to trust. In this episode, there was Davros and his Daleks (ok, you know he’s gotta be the main bad guy), the corporation running the necropolis, the girl in love with the main mortician, the morticians who were getting suspicious of the necropolis’ leadership, the rebels who were infiltrating the necropolis, and the assassin and his squire. All of these characters kept you in suspense for quite a while.

The overarching plot didn’t work well, but there were some gems along the way. I think the thing that really didn’t work for me was that Davros was demanding money from the corporation running the necropolis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in Doctor Who care about money. It might have worked better if Davros had made it clear that he needed more money to fund his project (creating Daleks from human bodies in suspended animation), but even then, no other evil villain in the show has ever cared about the financing of his empire.

The first thing that did work very well was why Davros was stopped. You might have noticed that he was creating Daleks from humans. That’s not exactly something that Daleks would like, since part of their credo is racial purity. Near the end of the episode, real Daleks show up and kill the mutant Daleks, then take Davros back home to punish him. Never mind the fact that if none of the other events in the episode had happened, the Daleks would have stopped Davros anyway: the show stayed true to its canon and gave a reason for the real Daleks to appear and actually choose not to fight the Doctor – Davros was a bigger threat.

The second good thing was the way that the assassin and the Doctor worked together while imprisoned by Davros, through expressions and gestures. The assassin character in general was well-characterized and had a very interesting backstory, and had a noble death.

I think the worst thing about this episode was Peri. She spent the entire episode complaining. The last time I saw Peri was in “The Caves of Androzani,” in which she did complain a lot, but had a fantastic story with Sharaz Jek. I’m hoping that her general characterization is more like in Androzani than like in this episode.

I will say, though, that this is the first Sixth Doctor episode I have seen, and I like him. He is arrogant and obnoxious, and a man of action. He’s very different from all of the other Doctors I’ve seen, and yet is still the Doctor. Brilliant!