Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, this piece will discuss how the infamous Paradigm Daleks could be improved in future seasons of Doctor Who, should they ever return. As previously mentioned in Doctor Who Theories – What Became of the Paradigm Daleks? the taller, bulkier and multi-coloured redesign of the Daleks that took place in Series 5, Steven Moffat’s first series as showrunner, was not well-received by fans.
The most important thing that was to blame for the poor reception of the New Dalek Paradigm was the lacklustre set that was used for their big reveal in Victory of the Daleks – a tiny room in a disused matchstick factory with a ceiling that was barely high enough for the Paradigm Daleks to even fit. The Dalek props themselves were not nearly as badly designed as fans made them out to be, and alterations to the props for Asylum of the Daleks corrected several issues with the design that were evident from Victory – most notably the plastic-like colours that were replaced with the much nicer chrome finish, but the hump at the back was also reduced in response to complaints about the ‘hunchback’ design. For more information on the specifics of the tweaks to the design click here to visit Dalek 63 88’s comprehensive history of the Paradigm props used in Asylum of the Daleks.
But this seemed to be too little, too late, and the Paradigm Daleks were never seen again following Asylum of the Daleks. In total, they had featured prominently in just four episodes in the entirety of Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, which were Victory of the Daleks, The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang and Asylum of the Daleks. They had also cameoed in The Wedding of River Song and been featured prominently in several video games and comics of that era, but by Peter Capaldi’s first episode as the Twelfth Doctor to feature the Daleks, Series 8’s Into the Dalek, the Paradigm had disappeared and have never been seen since.
Before delving into speculation and ideas as to how to fix the Paradigm should they ever appear again, the narrative issues with the Paradigm must first be addressed. These issues are totally separate from the more commonly cited problem of the Paradigm’s design, but are perhaps caused by it – firstly, the Paradigm should have been introduced as an officer class for the Daleks from the get-go. Although it is clear that they later became this in Asylum of the Daleks, when they were first introduced they were certainly intended to replace the bronze design entirely. In interviews that were included in behind the scenes material relating to Victory of the Daleks with writer Mark Gatiss, who wrote the story and helped with the design of the Paradigm, he envisions future episodes of the show featuring the Daleks being staffed entirely by the red Paradigm variety, as he considered that the new ‘Drone’ for the Daleks and it was marketed as such at the time. Had the Paradigm been an officer class from the start, with the Progenitor in Victory of the Daleks producing a few Paradigm Daleks and then more bronze drones, perhaps they would have been better received and could have been included as recurring antagonists in a similar fashion to Russell T. Davies’ Cult of Skaro.
The second most glaring narrative flaw with the implementation of the Dalek Paradigm was the lack of Dalek stories in the following series to back up their introduction. Series 6 was devoid of a true Dalek story and this is possibly the greatest contributing factor to the failure of the Paradigm. Had Asylum of the Daleks’ design tweaks been implemented as early as the first half of Series 6, perhaps fans would have been more accepting of them, particularly as the chrome finish makes them look more metallic and less like oversized toys. Possibly in reaction to the poor reception of the Paradigm, Steven Moffat chose to put the Daleks on a mini-hiatus until Series 7, by which time he had made the decision to backtrack on the idea of the Paradigm completely replacing the bronze Daleks and introduced the Dalek Parliament, which featured bronze and Paradigm Daleks working together with no explanation as to why. Since this was the last appearance of the Paradigm, it is safe to say that this decision essentially killed the redesign for good.
Interestingly, although the Paradigm were not featured in later Dalek appearances like The Time of the Doctor and Into the Dalek, it was still possible that they were working behind the scenes as the Dalek officer class that they had now become. Information from sources like Doctor Who encyclopedias and fact files from Matt Smith’s era suggest that the Paradigm were still very much alive, and were working behind the scenes to rebuild Skaro and the Dalek Empire, and that the booming voice of the Supreme Dalek threatening the Eleventh Doctor during his initial regeneration scene is in fact a Paradigm Supreme. However, when Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar came around and fans got to see the rebuilt Skaro for themselves, the Paradigm had been entirely replaced with a new form of Dalek command made up of various types of classic Daleks from the show’s history. Not an unwelcome choice of Dalek design for a modern day episode, but a surprising one. Even more interestingly, behind the scenes photographs from the Series 9 two-parter show that the New Dalek Paradigm props were on set at the time, alongside a Peter Cushing movie style Dalek. However, none of these were featured in the episode, and they seem to be the only Dalek props on set at the time that were excluded from the episode. It seems Moffat was considering following through on his idea to have the Paradigm return as the Supreme Council of the new Daleks, but instead opted to imply that they had either disappeared or had been assimilated into the ranks of a newer Dalek hierarchy instead. Either way, the Paradigm were gone for good.
But if a future showrunner decided in the future that the Paradigm should return? Could it be done? The props themselves are almost certainly in storage somewhere at the BBC, and provided enough time had passed the return of the Paradigm could actually be quite nostalgic for many fans. Not only that, but bringing the Paradigm back might give fans of the Eleventh Doctor’s era some closure. But how could it work? For a start, there would have to be some kind of explanation as to why the Paradigm disappeared in the first place. Perhaps the mysterious Dalek Eternal meddled too much in Dalek history, resulting in the mismatched Empire seen in Series 9, and as a result the Paradigm were exiled. The explanation from the Doctor Who Experience, that the bronze Daleks eventually overthrew their superiors, could also make for some interesting television that harks back to the Dalek Civil War story arc of the 1980s Dalek stories.
If the Paradigm were to return in the future, it is highly likely that more tweaks will be made to their design. Although fans in 2010 were highly critical of these Daleks, there are many aspects of their design that are actually really effective that should be retained in future designs. These include the taller figure that makes them more intimidating, the biological-looking eyepiece that is perhaps one of the creepiest designs yet, and the interesting but sadly undeveloped ‘weapons hatch’ at the back that makes every Dalek capable of transporting multiple weapons or tools at once, which is a great idea that makes sense as a logical evolution for the species. The essential factor to take into account when redesigning the Daleks should be less of “What looks cool?” and more “What makes sense?”. An example of this would be the bolts and rivets on the bronze Daleks – they may look great, but don’t actually make much sense in the logic of the universe, as Daleks would hardly be likely to use human methods of construction when building their army. This goes to show that even the best Dalek designs have their flaws, and adaptations of the classic Dalek look are definitely the way forward for future showrunners who want to try their hand at giving the Daleks a makeover.
Whether they remain a cautionary tale of the hubris of the Moffat era, or they are one day picked up by a showrunner who wishes to do them justice, the Paradigm Daleks will forever be remembered as either a blatant mis-step or a tragic missed opportunity by various factions of the Doctor Who fanbase. One thing that almost all Doctor Who fans can agree on, however, is that although no showrunner should feel apprehensive about trying to put their mark on the Daleks, none should ever again try a Dalek redesign with such zeal without first checking to see if the design actually works well on screen.