Probic Vent Ood For Thought

30Aug/145

Into The Dalek: We Need To Talk About The Daleks

into-the-dalek-doctor-who

I had my niece around this morning and I fetched out a Dalek model that I've got for her to destroy. She likes destroying things. She thought it was rubbish.

And you know what? The Daleks are rubbish.

What's the defining trait of a Dalek? It hates people and wants to kill them. And that's it. Oh, you can dress it up as 'the worst thing in the universe' and 'the ultimate evil' and 'the perfect killing machine'. But they're not. They're defeated again and again quite easily. And that's fine - they're not exactly gonna win. But you know what's not fine? The Daleks are boring.

There is nothing left to do with the Daleks. They turn up, they exterminate a few people, the Doctor has a face-to-face confrontation with them. And they blow up. Occasionally they just whizz off.

Familiarity breeds contempt. And ennui. We've had 50 years of Daleks. Every single Doctor has faced off against them, they turn up in virtually every end-of-season blowout. If you count all of their appearances (I count 27 stories where they're the main antagonist) they feature in about a tenth of all televised stories. Big Finish ran out of "...of the Daleks" suffixes years ago, recently being forced to release new CDs under the unlikely titles of "Salt of the Daleks", "Axolotl of the Daleks" and "Dalek of the Daleks".

The Daleks are done. Finished. The only stories in which they've worked since Revelation of the Daleks are the two stories that reinvented them: Remembrance of the Daleks and Dalek. Probably recognising this, Mark Gatiss attempted something similar in Victory of the Daleks, which was rubbish. So rubbish that the iconic new design has been quietly - but still rather embarrassingly - forgotten.

Where else is there for them to go? We've had good Daleks, servile Daleks, mad Daleks, human Daleks, multicoloured Daleks, emperor Daleks, Daleks in fucking Manhatten - now we've gone inside a Dalek. Other than a paedophile Dalek to really ramp up the ante, I really can't see where else there is to go.

And it's still the same story because you just can't do anything that hasn't been done before and there is nothing interesting to say about them anymore. The same problem, which Nightmare In Silver spelled out for those who still hadn't worked it out, has affected the Cybermen, who actually haven't been remotely interesting since The Invasion.

I think Moffat has realised that there's extremely limited mileage in most classic monsters, which is why Sontarans, Silurians and Zygons - in pretty short order - were made into comedic cyphers.

In the classic series you could get away with an appearance ever three years or so. The storyline could evolve, the subtle upgrades were sufficient. Like a visit from an old friend who you lost touch with decades ago, it's nice to see them once in a while but you'd get fed up if they turned up, unannounced, on your doorstep every six months. Now you can almost sense the desperation to find something new to do with them - Into The Dalek was all the proof you'll ever need.

It's time to think the unthinkable. They're finished, washed up, not so much exterminated as shagged out. Arm the Thals, build a new Omega Device, freeze them on Spiridon. Doctor Who can survive without the Daleks, just as we survive the end of a relationship than has grown stale. Let's not stay with them out of duty, a sense of obligation, fear of the unknown. Kill them off. We need to destroy the Daleks, once and for all.

A final end.

Death to the Daleks.

19Jun/140

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 39: Genesis of The Daleks

Fourth doctor and thals

I'm a bit bemused as to how Genesis of the Daleks has ever topped any best-of lists. But that doesn't stop it being very good, nor does it stop it being very important.

Terry Nation (apparently at the prompting of Robert Holmes) finally does something interesting with the Daleks after a run of Pertwee stories that are very much diminishing returns. Once again in Genesis, the Daleks are a threat: cunning, merciless, genuinely evil with some unsubtle fascistic overtones - it's akin to the reboot (since squandered) the new series gave the pepperpots.

doctor and harry look

There's always a thrill to see how each new Doctor will tackle them and Tom's newness rubs off the Daleks - so tired and shagged out and a bit ridiculous by Death to the Daleks. And Sarah and Harry make the perfect foil - lending a human perspective. They are appalled at what they see; frightened, horrified. But they respond with bravery and succour for the Doctor, wrestling with his conscience.

For his part, the Fourth Doctor still feels alien, dangerous - yet he's funny too. Tom is still taking this deadly seriously, but that doesn't mean he doesn't show humour, fondness for his companions, empathy with the people he meets on Skaro, horror and anger at cruelty and injustice. It's the combination that makes Tom feel so vital at this point in the series. Yes, he's mad, boggling, weird, occasionally frightening. But he's like a bonkers uncle - the Doctor is always on our side; always good, kind, ready with a smile.

fourth doctor and davros

But at the centre of it all, Davros and the Daleks. Michael Wisher's performance is iconic, mould-breaking. Even Julian Bleach, more than 40 years later, doffs his cap to the original. It bears repeating just how hideous Davros is. Like a peach that's been left out in the sun he's wizened, dessicated. There's a whiff of decay and putrefaction about him. The crippled scientist isn't a monster - he's a human who's suffered something truly terrible. Somehow that makes him so much more disturbing and the faint element of tragedy makes him all the more rounded.

The Daleks are at their best - apparently basic, silent, neutered they inevitably, suddenly turn on their creator in a way that seems to make them all the more terrible, all over again. They think Davros is hideous too. Another shot of Sarah and Harry watching on a screen as the Daleks massacre the Kaled scientists is a perfect evocation of what makes the Daleks tick, cannily referenced 30 years later by Rob Shearman when van Statten asks why the Dalek will kill everyone: "Because it honestly believes they should die," explains the Doctor.

Genesis seems to have a reputation as being beloved of po-faced fans due to its supposed 'darkness' or 'grittiness'. In fact, it's not dark or gritty - it's bloody horrible. Soldiers are gunned down in Peckinpah-style slow-motion; Sarah is psychologically tortured ("they say people who fall from great heights are dead before they hit the ground. I don't believe that, do you?"); the Doctor nearly strangled by a mutant; Harry nearly eaten by a genetic mutation; Thals and Kaleds alike are pretty awful people and we virtually have two de facto genocides. Not to mention a scene where our heroes rip gas masks from corpses to survive gas attack.

sarah and thal

But I think what fans like so much about Genesis is that it's epic in a way that Doctor Who rarely was - it's like one of RTD's end-of-season finales, only the universe doesn't get rebooted because the Doctor wants to hump Sarah. Doctor Who only really pulled out the stops like this for regeneration episodes (after The Dalek's Masterplan anyway), as a result this is the series basically telling you that you're seeing something important. And, despite some rather pedestrian 'running-up-corridors' episodes, the story is up to it.

David Maloney's direction is among the best of the era; a cast packed with dependable character actors (Dennis Chinnery, James Garbutt, Peter Miles, Stephen Yardley, Guy Siner and Tom Georgeson - amongst others - in 'what-was-he-in?' appearances); "Have I the right?" is a punch-packing iconic moment delivered by an actor who represents what is probably one of the best bits of casting in television history - an actor who has found something he's been searching for all his life.

nyder ravon sarah sevrin kavell garmin

Genesis of the Daleks is a thorough rethink about what the Daleks are - and how best to use them. It brings down a curtain on Terry Nation's cut-and-paste quest-style narratives, marking a clear break from the past, despite the odd clam. It's also a break from the past that highlights just how much Doctor Who has changed over the previous few years. Oh, Ark In Space and Sontaran Experiment have their moments but Genesis isn't just about the Daleks' rebirth.

No cosy UNIT family here; no mother hen. The Brig isn't around, nor are Yates or Benton. Not even the vaguely avuncular Master, nor a TARDIS to fall back on. Jo has departed for the Amazon in what is surely one of the most allegorical departures in the series - growing up and growing out of the series - and the Third Doctor gone is a blaze of radiation and what seems most like a death of any of the regenerations.

davros and daleks

In their place mustard gas, minefields, holocaust, barbed wire, machine guns, fascism and genocidal violence. There's still humour and companionship, but it's set against a backdrop of genuine horrors that resonate with a time barely 30 years past. Just imagine Jo being dangled hundreds of feet above the ground by a sadistic Thal; Benton decked out in the might-as-well-be-Nazi outfit of a Kaled soldier, wielding a machine gun. Or the Third Doctor, stock still, his foot balanced precariously on a landmine. Pertwee and Delgado - two men who served in WWII - in a story about fascism and racism is, conversely, unthinkable. It just doesn't work.

have i the right

That Terry Nation got it up one last time is impressive; that he was able to tear the series away from its rut of the previous few seasons so violently and so confidently is astonishing. 12 years on from defining Doctor Who he redefined it for Tom Baker, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe.

Given how shagged-out the pepperpots are by the time the City of the Exxilons is crumbling in Death to the Daleks - and how depressingly familiar the narrative in Destiny of the Daleks is in a series again changed beyond all recognition just five years later - Genesis is perhaps the most important Dalek story of all.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

Sign up here for more of this frack

Powered by WordPress Popup