Doctor Who – Top Ten Classic Who Dalek Stories

As Classic Who’s most iconic and enduring monster, the Daleks appeared many times throughout the 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who following their initial appearance in the show’s second aired episode. Over the many eras of Classic Who, the Daleks usually appeared at least once – and although their creator Terry Nation wrote many of their early episodes eventually other writers stepped in with alternate interpretations of the pepper pots and how they should be used on-screen. This, coupled with the fact that Nation himself toyed with many varying ideas related to the Daleks, means that their episodes vary dramatically in tone, setting and content, and this inevitably leads to varying levels of quality to match.

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Honorable Mention – Destiny of the Daleks

Included here as an honorable mention is Destiny of the Daleks, simply because it cannot hold a candle to any of the other Dalek episodes on this list. Despite being written by Terry Nation and featuring Douglas Adams as the script editor, this episode is an absolute shambles in terms of the show’s lore and the depiction of Davros. The worst moments include scenes in which both the Doctor and Davros refer to the Daleks as robotic creatures, and the Daleks contradicting themselves by first claiming that self-sacrifice is illogical before volunteering themselves for a literal suicide mission. The only real upsides are Romana II, the great dialogue and Tom Baker as the Doctor, but otherwise this episode is hardly worth the time.

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10 – Revelation of the Daleks

As previously discussed in How to Fix – Revelation of the Daleks, the Sixth Doctor’s only televised Dalek episode has its issues, particularly related to acting quality, pacing and story focus – it is still an enjoyable watch in its current state, although it does come across as a missed opportunity. The Doctor and Peri barely feature in this episode – and too much screen time is given to a strange DJ – but by far the highlight of the episode is Davros, and Terry Molloy is great as usual. Davros’ scheme is certainly twisted and insane, but what makes Revelation of the Daleks important to Davros fans is how it links two of the best Davros audios, Davros and The Juggernauts, as in the former we get to hear how Davros lays the foundations for his dreadful plans on Necros and the latter describes what happened to Davros immediately following this story, meaning Revelation forms the middle of a bizarre Sixth Doctor and Davros ‘trilogy’. One of the other highlights of this episode is the Glass Dalek, a monstrous creation by Davros that houses a human who has been mutated into a Dalek in much the same way that the Kaleds were in Genesis of the Daleks, laying the groundwork for Davros’ experimentation on the Dalek physiology that would ultimately culminate in the Imperial Daleks from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. Whilst it is undoubtedly an important milestone in 1980s Dalek lore, Revelation does not stand up to many of the other Dalek stories on this list, particularly due to its odd pacing and tone issues that plagued many mid-1980s Doctor Who stories.

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9 – Death to the the Daleks

This episode features one of the best Classic Dalek designs and colour schemes, with the ‘science division’ Daleks featured in this episode sporting a unique silver-and-black finish that is certainly striking, Unfortunately, as far as Classic Dalek episodes go, that’s about the best thing that can be said about this episode – although the idea of using a power drain to force the Daleks and Humans to work together is an interesting one, Death to the Daleks does little more than this, especially considering the fact that the Daleks get alternate weapons before long. Still, the sequences inside the Exxilon City are interesting, and the Exxilons themselves are an interesting species with tribal chants that give this episode a distinct vibe, making Death to the Daleks an iconic episode even if it is not among the best Classic Who Dalek serials. Interestingly, this story is apparently Nicholas Briggs’ favourite Dalek story, and several Big Finish audios pay homage to it including the Fourth Doctor Adventures story The Exxilons and the Dalek Empire story also entitled Death to the Daleks!. One of three Dalek stories in the Third Doctor’s era (ironic, considering Jon Pertwee himself disliked the Daleks as villains) Death to the Daleks ranks as the weakest, although Jon Pertwee and Elizabeth Sladen’s performances in this story are not to be underestimated, and fans of this Doctor-companion pairing will enjoy Death to the Daleks for that reason alone.

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8 – The Daleks

The debut of the Daleks in Classic Doctor Who, The Daleks is definitely worth a watch but does suffer from issues of pacing, particularly since it is seven episodes long. Whilst this can be forgiven due to the fact that it was only the second ever serial of Doctor Who to air, The Daleks is perhaps best watched with the foreknowledge that it is in many ways a ‘prototype’ for future Dalek episodes – although at the time the creators had no idea the Daleks would become such an enduring recurring villain, many elements of this episode are developed in much more detail in subsequent Dalek stories, and The Daleks does dedicate a lot of its run-time to what is clearly filler. The best example of this is the chasm jumping sequence, in which the episode stops dead as we watch all five or six members of the Human-Thal party jumping over a chasm, taking up the majority of its episode’s run time. Ultimately, being the first Dalek episode and a very early episode in the show’s run, The Daleks is worth watching for historical interest but doesn’t contain as much Dalek action as it perhaps could, although there are many extended scenes in the Dalek control rooms that give the audience a good idea of what the Daleks are really like early on, as they scheme and manipulate the humanoids in the story with sinister mercilessness, with a particularly chilling moment being the line in which the Daleks decide to alter the environment of their planet to kill the Thals rather than adapting to the planet’s radioactivity.

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7 – The Power of the Daleks

Although this episode is entirely lost, thankfully a complete animated recreation was released by the BBC in 2013 with all six episodes restored using the original audio and some of the best animation for a Doctor Who DVD release to date. The episode shows the Daleks at their best – manipulative and ruthless – and their scheme to appear docile in order to siphon power from the human colony is devious. As this was the Second Doctor’s first televised story it set the standard for Dalek stories to come, as many fans view The Power of the Daleks as among the very best Dalek stories, but its length and pacing mean it has not aged as well as other much-loved Dalek episodes. Another slight drawback to this episode for many is the lack of original visuals, and although the animated reconstruction is welcome, many have noted the apparent poor quality of some of the recreated scenes – particularly the initial post-regeneration sequence and basically any other scene where it is not immediately obvious what the original actors were doing in the episode. Regardless, the animated Daleks do look spectacular and hopefully The Power of the Daleks will be the first of many fully-animated lost Dalek episodes.

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6 – Day of the Daleks

Having been recently remastered, Day of the Daleks went from being a somewhat mediocre Dalek story to a classic thanks to updated effects, re-dubbed Dalek voices performed by Nicholas Briggs and even whole new scenes filmed using the original camera equipment. In the original story, the final battle used only three Dalek props – the most that were available at the time – so the effect is lessened. With new Daleks added with CGI, the battle scene has been reinvigorated, and for Classic Who this episode is particularly exciting. With a complex time-travel plot that is similar to, but actually predates, the Terminator series, Day of the Daleks is a great action-packed Third Doctor story that incorporates time travel into the story as a core aspect of its main plot rather than simply a means of reaching Point A from Point B, making it unique among Dalek stories. Since its remaster, this episode has jumped up in quality from a mediocre Dalek serial that was bogged down by budget and production issues to a reinvigorated classic that is actually more like a longer episode of New Who than many other Classic Dalek serials. Living up to the action-adventure themes of the Third Doctor’s era, Day of the Daleks is well worth the time now that the much-needed remaster in the Special Edition has been released.

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5 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Resurrection of the Daleks begins the three-part ‘Dalek Civil War’ arc involving Davros, the Daleks and various factions of in-fighting Daleks that also includes Resurrection  and Remembrance, and of the three Resurrection has by far the best depiction of Davros in all his manipulative, scheming glory. Terry Molloy’s debut as the twisted Kaled scientist is a must-watch for Dalek fans, and fans of the Fifth Doctor can rejoice as this episode features many watershed moments for his character, including his deliberation over whether or not to shoot Davros, and the fact that Tegan departs the TARDIS, both situations that test the more human and fallible Fifth Doctor. As far as the Daleks go, however, Resurrection portrays them as being noticeably weaker than previous Dalek stories, with the Movellan War crippling the Dalek Empire and forcing the Daleks to employ humanoid soldiers for assistance in combat situations. This leads to the introduction of Lytton, a fantastic character who appears in this episode and Attack of the Cybermen, and is somewhat of an anti-hero in both episodes.

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4 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

It was inevitable following the success of The Daleks that the Daleks themselves would return to Doctor Who, and their second appearance, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, has often being said to be their best episode of the Hartnell era, as depicting the Daleks assaulting familiar ground like central London is far more effective and heavy-hitting than having them attack a band of alien hippies in a forest, as in The Daleks. Relying heavily on imagery from the Second World War, an event that was still directly impacting many of the audience at the time, giving this episode a heavy impact at the time that still endures to this day. As if the depressing imagery of a subjugated Earth was not effective enough, The Dalek Invasion of Earth also features the first instance of a companion departure in the show, with Susan staying behind on the war-torn Earth as the TARDIS leaves, with the Doctor promising that one day, he would come back.

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3 – Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks

As a pair, Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks link together to form one 12-part story involving the Master, the Ogrons and the Daleks attempting to destabilise the relationship between the Human and Draconian civilisations before awakening an army of Daleks, and either episode experienced on their own pales in comparison to watching the entire serial as one continuous story. Because Frontier in Space is just so excellent, featuring the final appearance of Roger Delgado’s Master, and Planet of the Daleks has some fantastic scenes with both Daleks and Thals, the pair of stories combine into an epic space opera revolving around the beginnings of the Galactic War against the Daleks. The only real criticism of this story is the length – although Frontier in Space makes a competent use of its runtime, Planet of the Daleks could have been shorter, and overall twelve parts for the entire double-serial run is just too long.

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2 – Genesis of the Daleks

Arguably Terry Nation’s best contribution to the lore of his own creations, Genesis of the Daleks depicts the creation of the Daleks, centuries before their appearances in The Daleks and subsequent Dalek episodes, as well as being the debut episode of the mad Kaled scientist Davros. Like all the best six-part Classic Who stories, Genesis effectively utilises its run time to deliver a well-paced story with suitable doses of action, suspense, and exciting sequences in each episode. Unlike Planet of the Daleks, there is not a single individual episode of Genesis that feels as though it could have been cut out, and as the plot marches towards the inevitable creation of the Daleks the tension builds until the climax at the end of Part 6. Genesis has been praised for its great characters and dialogue, and there are some fantastic scenes between the Doctor, Sarah and Harry that show how the TARDIS team has bonded throughout the season. The Kaled characters in this story are also fantastic – Nyder, Ronson and, of course, Davros, who makes his debut here played for the first and only time by the legendary Michael Wisher who does a tremendous job as the maniacal scientist. Overall, Genesis is a classic and well-deserved of its status as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who. However, there is one other Dalek episode that takes the top spot, and that is…

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1 – Remembrance of the Daleks

…ironically, the final Dalek episode of the Classic series, Remembrance of the Daleks. The Cartmel Masterplan made its debut in this episode, as script editor Andrew Cartmel decided to include more references to the idea of the question behind the Doctor’s identity, and Remembrance of the Daleks is the first in a series of episode that hint at the Doctor’s dark past and his history with the Time Lords and other powerful races. The depiction of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek Civil War as well as the return of Davros and the introduction of the Special Weapons Dalek make this episode an explosive and fitting finale to the Dalek plot arc in the Classic series, as the episode ends with a much darker and more ruthless Seventh Doctor destroying Skaro and wiping out both the Imperial and Renegade Daleks on Earth. If that were not enough, this episode is considered by fans to be the true 25th Anniversary Special (even thought the inferior Silver Nemesis’s broadcast coincided with the actual anniversary date of the 23rd of November) as this episode is littered with continuity references and is based in 1963, in the same place as the First Doctor and Susan parked the TARDIS in the very first episode of the show.

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Author: Cameron Walker

Writer, Painter, Dalek collector, Walker, General Idealist but Political Realist, Fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, Halo, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Ghost in the Shell, among other things. All Doctor Who discussion particularly welcome, but be warned, I am a huge nerd.

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