The Doctor Who Column: Five ways to fix the Daleks
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Let's not go down that pot-holed road again now that old-school Daleks are to enter the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who....
As reported by Calvin earlier this week, the Daleks are due back in the next series of Doctor Who. Apparently, it's not just your run-of-the-mill Dalek return either – no sir, the production team are apparently bringing back a range of past Dalek types. For instance, a promotional picture has been issued featuring what appears to be a '60s era Dalek posing with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan – Gillan incidentally appears to have been snapped in the middle of practising some weird sci-fi Tai Chi.
On the surface this is great news. Especially since Lord Moff has been quoted as wishing to concentrate on introducing new monsters rather than the old foes. Kids are happy because they can go around imitating Daleks in the playgrounds. Fans can revel at the prospect of several types of Daleks – whether this means that Dalek Sec has been brought back from beyond the grave I'm not sure. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And in fact, thinking about it, the prospect of bringing back the deadly pepperpots does raise a few issues. The problem with the Daleks is that their iconic status can lead to that small feeling of disappointment if their latest story falls short of expectations. There has been a string of Dalek classics over the years – Genesis Of The Daleks. The Evil Of The Daleks. The Daleks' Masterplan. Revelation Of The Daleks. Even the stories that polarise opinion such as Resurrection Of The Daleks, Death To The Daleks and Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways have an awful lot to recommend them.
The lesser Dalek stories though – well, show a new convert something like The Chase or Destiny Of The Daleks and they won't exactly be joining the Dalek fan club any time in the future. What's worse is that recently the Daleks have gone through the mill a bit with regards to their reputation. The two-parter of Army Of Ghosts and Doomsday came so close, but the problem is, the big shoot-out between the Daleks and Cybermen kind of got slotted into second place behind Rose and The Departure That Never Was. From that point on, Dalek Drubbing became something of a regular pastime in the new reboot of Who. The Manhattan two-parter boasts a number of interesting and quirky ideas, but somehow they didn't quite translate so well to screen. Dalek Sec in particular looks like something that should be on after the watershed and what with gossiping Daleks in sewers, made the tinpot meanies a bit laughable. They got off to an impressive start in the Stolen Earth finale, by making every single human being nearly cry his or herself to death. All that was blown apart in the next episode when they became easily defeated laughing stocks, moving and spinning around like a malfunctioning Dusty Bin.
The final nail in the casing seemed to be with the tepid Victory Of The Daleks, when the traditional Daleks made way for hideous Dayglo models. Behold the new breed of Teletubby Daleks. So bright, they can turn night into day. Not only that, but their latest awesome plan is to – well, run away. Which, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't a very Dalek-y thing to do. The big return of the Daleks was largely seen as a damp squib and was regarded as a big disappointment.
With all that in mind, how's about a wish list for when the Daleks do re-surface next season? If ever Steven Moffat decides to devise his own version of Jim'll Fix It, then here is a request to Fix the Daleks. Because, Davros knows they need a fix at the moment, judging by their last lame outing. The Fix comes in a number of stages as follows.
Make sure the Daleks use their brains
The Daleks are at their best when they have cunning plans up their sink plungers. They have been capable of devising fiendishly sneaky plans in the past - tricking gawky scientist Lesterson into getting their power, isolating the Dalek Factor rather than the Human Factor or even turning the tables on Davros, their creator. The Daleks' evil tactics give them just that little bit more credibility rather than the same old “Take Over The Universe” ploy.
A good example of tinpot brains comes in Death To The Daleks when they find themselves as powerless as The Doctor. The traditional Exterminate cliffhanger of Part One is quickly turned on its head when they find out that their guns don't work. So in typical Dalek fashion, they not only pretend to form an alliance with The Doctor and his new Marine Space Corps chums, they also fashion makeshift guns with bullets in order to continue their mass killing sprees. Death To The Daleks isn't one of the best remembered Dalek stories, which is a shame, since among other good points that the story has, the Daleks are seen to be quick-thinking, devious brain-boxes. Which makes them all the more terrifying to kids.
"hopefully, in the new season's Dalek story, we'll actually see the Daleks that we all know and fear – vengeful, vicious creatures who manage to send the kids behind the nearest sofa in fear"
The Daleks hate other races. So what do they do? They exterminate them – well, unless you're Morton Dill (obviously the Daleks were having a bad day that day).
Part of the reason why kids find the Daleks scary is because of their callous contempt for all other life forms and their deadly weaponry. Turning the screen negative when a Dalek victim dies is a simple but effective way of killing the hapless grunt, and better still, more recently, you can see the victim's fried skeleton in the lethal ray. What's more, they can also sink-plunger the hapless victim to death, and in the case of poor old Dr Singh, they manage to crispy-fry the head too.
OK, so that probably puts the frighteners up Steven Moffat, given that his stories still don't feature enough gruesome death. But there's the point to be made – Victory Of The Daleks goes against everything that makes the Daleks scary. It's all very well having The Doctor bellow about how the Daleks are such an evil race, but it's a hollow rant when all the Daleks do in this story is kill two faceless soldiers in a tenth of a second. Some of the Russell T Davies-helmed Dalek stories may not have been perfect, but they do manage to portray the tinpots as super-ruthless meanies. Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways results in a bloodbath akin to the Saward-written Dalek tales, leaving only Jack alive (and even then, that's down to Rose). The death of Solomon in Evolution Of The Daleks proves that the Daleks have no sense of compassion whatsoever. And in The Stolen Earth they open fire on a family's house, just because the family have refused to co-operate. Mum, Dad and kids are destroyed in an inferno – now that's heartless. So hopefully, in the new season's Dalek story, we'll actually see the Daleks that we all know and fear – vengeful, vicious creatures who manage to send the kids behind the nearest sofa in fear.
Bring back Davros
Only because I don't believe that the Davros saga is quite over just yet. There's lots of back story crying out to be explained. Like more of Davros' involvement in the Time War. Or how he came to be little more than the Daleks' pet. And his last few moments in Journey's End scream Comeback louder than Victoria Waterfield at a clump of seaweed.
The whole Dalek/Davros sub-plot is an interesting one – it's a case of Can't Live With Davros, Can't Live Without Davros. While they exterminate the evil genius at the end of Genesis Of The Daleks (because he's programmed them to be the superior beings and so he's now surplus to requirements), they always seem to be looking to him for help in the future (mainly against a gaggle of campy dread-locked androids). “Like an errant child, they have come home once more,” he murmurs at one point in Resurrection Of The Daleks. While many argue that Davros should have stayed dead at the end of Genesis (and I'd be inclined to agree, to a point), there are still quite a few loose ends to tie up. And besides, if they're bringing back past Daleks in the next Dalek story, wouldn't it be a bit rude not to invite the creator along, too?
Don't reduce their credibility
The word Dalek can be found in the dictionary, which is some accomplishment for what began as a teatime terror for tots. But in future revised editions, I hope that the description doesn't run along the lines of “Easily defeated, laughable pepperpots”. Like I said, getting rid of the Daleks shouldn't reduce their initial terrifying status to things to point and laugh at, like in Journey's End. Besides which, destroying the Daleks always seems pretty futile, given that somehow they always come back from the dead. The Second Doctor mused on “The Final End” in The Evil Of The Daleks, but it was just a pause. Genesis Of The Daleks is a great example in which the ending's quite bittersweet for The Doctor. Davros is apparently destroyed and the Daleks are temporarily defeated, but they are not killed outright. Not only that, but the story sums up everything that makes the Daleks such a memorable foe: They're ruthless killers. They're deceptive. And above all, they're clever – starting up the automated production line against the orders of Davros and acting for themselves.
So let's hope that Moffat follows these lines rather than opting for the brightly coloured wimps of Victory Of The Daleks, who could only produce a convoluted plan, a handy get out clause dilemma for The Doctor and a free packet of sunglasses for the viewers at home.
Keep Murray's Pompous Choir away from the recording studio
So there's my wish list – whether or not Moffat will make the Daleks' return a gripping 50 minutes of TV is still open to speculation. The teasers so far sound intriguing and there's all the potential there for a cracking opener to Matt Smith's third season as The Doctor. The Supreme Power Of The Universe? Or just Supreme Chickens? I guess we'll find out in the Autumn.
John Bensalhia is a freelance journalist who has extensively written for more than 10 years on subjects such as franchising, ports, Italy, DIY, tractors, sports and arboriculture. Not to mention reviews for Blake's 7 and Doctor Who, which he's been a fan of ever since he was a little kid.
When not writing, John likes drumming, guitar strumming, cycling, cartoon drawing, pre-1990s music and animals. He lives with his lovely wife Alison and many guinea pigs. Catch some of John's work or get in contact through his website at www.johnbensalhia.co.uk.
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