Death to the Daleks! – Are the Daleks still relevant in the 21st century?

When listing monsters from Doctor Who that are considered ‘scary’, there are dozens of examples of original monsters that are specifically designed to invoke fear in the viewer. Monsters like the Silence, the Weeping Angels, the Haemovores, even the Cybermen in their original form (although I’ve already done an entire article about that). However rarely will you ever hear anyone in the modern era list the Daleks among their picks for scary Doctor Who monsters. It is true that the Daleks used to be scary: the infamous ‘hiding behind the sofa’ catchphrase that is often seen in the papers when referring to Doctor Who is said to have come about due to 1960s children and their fear of the Daleks. This seems almost comical by today’s terms: the Daleks don’t look scary, but even something as ridiculous looking as the Stormtroopers from Star Wars can appear menacing if they are used correctly, and the Daleks have been menacing in the past, even in NuWho. But scary? Not really. But why is that the case?

One of the most important things to consider when assessing any villain is what kind of message the writer of the story is trying to relay to the audience through their villains. A villain can be used to demonstrate the worst of a political or religious ideology, they can be used to critique society through their actions, or they can be used as a means of forcing the audience to face the mirror, to see how humans affect the environment, animals, or indeed each other. When Doctor Who first aired in 1963, Britain was a very different place from what it is today. The Second World War was a recent memory; for many it was an experience that affected them personally in some way or another. The aftermath of the war lingered over the heads of the citizens of the nation for decades, and the Daleks perfectly captured a very specific fear that had begun to root itself in the hearts and minds of the British people: a fear of Nazism.

The creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, was very specific about the exact nature of Dalek psychology and philosophy. The Daleks are driven by a pure, unadulterated hatred of all living things that are not Dalek. Their hatred of all other life parallels the classic representation of the Nazis, and Terry Nation harnessed the national fear of Nazism that erupted as a result of World War 2 to essentially create a fictional representation of the ultimate form of Nazism – and in so doing made the Daleks perfectly terrifying for audiences of the day. The Daleks were scary because they killed people – without mercy and without cessation. The Dalekmania that gripped the nation in the 1970s seems almost obscene to those in the know, since the Daleks essentially represent the ultimate in racial cleansing – their doctrine does, after all, involve total extermination of all life.

But times change. And as times have changed, the Daleks have not. Their physical design has been updated, the effects are better, the voices sound clearer and more menacing, and they have appeared in NuWho almost as much as in the Classic series – but they have adhered to the same ideology that Terry Nation wrote for them in 1963, and for whatever reason, people being mercilessly killed doesn’t seem to scare people the way it used to. So as a result of this, the Daleks – and their menace – faded from the public consciousness. To a 21st century child, the Daleks are not scary – and that in itself is pretty scary. You can argue that a child in the modern era will never be scared of a bulbous, practically immobile talking wheelie bin, but the physical appearance of the Daleks is irrelevant. They could just as easily be black-clad armoured troopers, or axe-wielding psychotic maniacs, or take the form of the Easter Bunny: it is their motives that makes them scary. Like the Blackshirts, the Nazis, the Klan or the Stormtroopers, the Daleks don’t care that people think they look stupid – one even says so in Doomsday. They just want to kill you. Whoever you are, wherever you live, no matter your race, gender, appearance, religion – they just want to kill you. How is that not scary?

The answer is apathy. People today – particularly children – have lost the fear of Nazism that was so quintessential to the British way of thinking in the 20th century. We see this all the time, with Nazis and other fearsome 20th century factions being seen today as a comedic device. Even Doctor Who itself is guilty of this. Anyone remember that episode where they crashed the TARDIS in 1930s Berlin and stuffed Hitler into a cupboard? The fear factor is gone, and in a way it’s our own fault. We laughed at the Nazis during the war out of fear; we laughed at the Nazis after the war out of relief. We laugh at the Nazis now out of apathy, a sheer ignorance to their true nature. And the same can be said for the Daleks.

So how can this be reversed? And more importantly – why should it? Surely its a good thing that the world has moved on, and that we have reached a point in time where we can live free of fear, free to point and laugh at those evil, stupid-looking fools from a century long departed. Perhaps. But we must also be cautious that fascism doesn’t take advantage of our lapse in fear and take the opportunity to sneak back into a society that firmly rejected it nearly 100 years ago. At the beginning of this article I spoke briefly about how if a good villain is used right then it can plant seeds of ideas in the minds of the audience, and the Daleks should be used in this way once again. They have proven they can be menacing, but we need them to be truly scary again, now more than ever, and that is where the relevance of the Daleks in the 21st century lies. They exist as a cautionary tale, regardless of what era you watch them in, but what is required now is for the writers of Doctor Who to take responsibility for this, to amp up the fear factor of the Daleks using any means necessary so that they can truly fulfill their function of making people fear Nazism, and indeed any extremist ideology – as Terry Nation intended, and as our society today desperately needs them to.

Doctor Who – Lost Episode Animations & Saving the Patrick Troughton era

It’s time to confess. I haven’t seen The Evil of the Daleks.

But can you blame me? After all, very few people alive today have seen The Evil of the Daleks. According to legend, on May 20th, 1967, Part One of Evil of the Daleks aired on BBC One, and the story concluded with its seventh part on July 1st, 1967. But after that, it was never seen again. The Evil of the Daleks is just one of many Doctor Who episodes that are, for all intents and purposes, lost forever. Aside from a few scraps of visuals, the audio track in its original form and a handful of pictures, most classic Doctor Who episodes that are lost are truly lost.

It’s a real shame too – The Evil of the Daleks sees not only the debut of a great companion in Victoria, but also sees the first appearance of the Dalek Emperor, as well as the first in what would become a long list of Dalek Civil Wars. We see the true Evil of the Daleks as they attempt to infect the human population with the Dalek factor, a plot that was essentially recycled by Russel T. Davies in Series 3 of NuWho. That seems to be a recurring theme with lost episodes as a matter of fact – often their plots or plot elements will be reused in newer episodes. Think about it. The Evil of the Daleks and Evolution of the Daleks seem quite similar, don’t they?

But The Evil of the Daleks is comparatively lucky. It’s audio track is in fairly good condition, and it even has one of the seven episodes fully intact (for the most part) – episode 2, the first appearance of soon-to-be companion Victoria Waterfield, survives and can be viewed to this day. But there are some episodes that are not so lucky – one of them is 1966’s The Power of the Daleks which, despite being Patrick Troughton’s debut as the Second Doctor, as well as being the first post-regeneration story ever and being many fan’s top pick for best Dalek episode ever, is officially lost with all hands. All six episodes were wiped with only scattered fragments, pictures and of course the audio track giving us an idea of what the episode was like.

Sadly, like Evil, Power has also fallen victim to a posthumous plot autopsy by NuWho writers – but this time Mark Gatiss is the culprit. Fans have noticed a striking similarity between Power and the infamous Series 5 Dalek episode Victory of the Daleks, with the “I am your servant”/”I am your soldier” parallel being the most overt. With both Power and Evil wiped, two of Troughton’s strongest stories are lost with with them dies the impact and the menace that Terry Nation’s creations had in their early years. In a sense, it is not just simply The Evil of the Daleks and The Power of the Daleks that are lost – an essential chapter in the history of the Daleks is lost, and the Daleks themselves are less as a result.

However, there is hope. Thanks to the BBC’s amazing dedication to preserving the long history of Doctor Who, The Power of the Daleks has now been restored to its former glory thanks to a full-blown remake of the episode, using the original audio coupled with new professional animation. The concept of animating old lost Doctor Who episodes is not a new one – but The Power of the Daleks is the first time that a full story has been animated in this way – traditionally this technique has only been used to fill ‘gaps’ in mostly surviving stories – The Tenth Planet springs immediately to mind, since in the official release of that story episode 4 had to be completely animated by Planet 55 since the original is missing.

BBC studios has done a fantastic job with Power, and although it is possible to nitpick this reconstruction for several issues that it does have (most notably the style of animation itself, which works for the Daleks but makes the human characters look like jittery puppets) it would be downright blasphemous to attempt to write this project off as a failure, or even as a disappointment – it proved enormously popular and gives Classic fans, particularly Troughton fans, hope for the future – it could be that one day, we get to see the likes of The Evil of the Daleks, The Daleks Master Plan and The Moonbase fully animated (or with animated versions of the episodes that are lost) to finally fill those decades-old gaps on the shelves of Doctor Who DVD collectors, as well as resurrecting some beloved pieces of television history.

Day of the Daleks Special Edition – Hope for the Future of the Past

I first watched Day of the Daleks when I was about 14, although I don’t remember that it actually was Day of the Daleks at the time, since I’d been told that Day of the Daleks was a story about time travel, political intrigue, manipulation, betrayal, sacrifice and explosive battles. The short action sequence from Day of the Daleks that I saw as a child depicted no more than three Daleks wobbling along over a grassy field being halfheartedly flanked by reject stock from Planet of the Apes. What a young fool I was.

It is a simple fact of life that the special effects in Classic Doctor Who have, for the most part, not aged well at all. Oddly enough, this isn’t a continuous process – it isn’t as simple as ‘the further back you go, the worse the effects are’ – that is an ignorant standpoint. If you watch The Daleks from 1963, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Remembrance of the Daleks from 1988, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Terror of the Autons from 1971, another episode that involves large gunfight-style action sequences made a whole year before Day, you will see that the effects are good. So why, I hear you ask, does Day of the Daleks and episodes like it have such bad effects?

One of the simplest answers is money. Doctor Who has been consistently made on a low budget typical of shows from the BBC. But there must be more to it than that – allocation of funding can explain why some episodes of Doctor Who look better than others, but this is a Dalek episode – the first Dalek episode in five years, no less. Surely the BBC could have funneled more money into this?

The short answer is no. Day of the Daleks has an Achilles heel, and that is that there were only three Dalek props available for the filming of this story, and no amount of BBC budget was going to create new, functional Dalek props in the time between the final decision to go ahead with the episode and the filming date it was scheduled for. As such, the BBC were forced to round up all their surviving Dalek props, dust them off, paint them up and do the best that they could with what they had.

This leaves us with a Dalek episode that has a fantastic plot, great acting, superlative pacing and yet the one thing that everyone notices now when watching Classic Doctor Who is the ‘wobbly sets’ and the terrible effects. So maybe it’s time to change that.

Day of the Daleks: Special Edition replaces all the technical effects with new, updated CGI lasers and sounds, Nicholas Briggs replaces the original Dalek voices with his instantly recognisable NuWho-style Dalek performance, and the team even went so far as to shoot entirely new scenes with the same cameras that would have been used to film back in the early 1970s, adding in new death scenes for soldiers and, thankfully, swelling the Dalek army from a miserable three to a much more respectable 10, at least.

Now, thanks to the Special Edition, Day of the Daleks takes on a whole new lease of life, with added CGI shots of the future Dalek city to point out to viewers when a time-shift has taken place, more engaging action sequences that better demonstrate the high stakes of this episode, and a fantastic and visually stunning new effect for the blaster weapons that are used regularly throughout the episode. Watching Day of the Daleks now makes it seem less like an episode made in 1972 and more like a modern episode written, produced and filmed in the style of a 1970s-serial, and that is definitely a good thing.

For Dalek fans, Pertwee fans and 70’s fans alike, the Day of the Daleks Special Edition is a welcome addition to the ever growing Doctor Who DVD collection, and represents a beacon of hope for the future of classic stories and how they can stay relevant in the 21st century.

Remembrance of the Daleks – A Classic

Remembrance of the Daleks is a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Not only was it one of the first episodes of Doctor Who that I ever saw, not only did it introduce me to the Daleks that I would come to love, it actually holds up as an enjoyable episode even today. For most people, Classic Doctor Who episodes are hard to watch because they are slow, the production values are awful and the monsters look cheap and fake – this is not true of Remembrance. Not only does it stand the test of time but it remains one of the Daleks best appearances in the Classic series and serves as the perfect finale of the ‘Dalek Civil War’ trilogy consisting of Resurrection of the Daleks in 1984, Revelation of the Daleks in 1985 and finally Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988.

One of the greatest strengths of Remembrance compared to previous Dalek stories is the character of the Doctor and how he is influenced by the story. In Resurrection the Doctor is caught up in a situation that he has no control over whatsoever, and most of the events that occur in the story that move the plot forward have no relation to him whatsoever. This is even worse inĀ Revelation, to the extent that the Doctor may as well not have even been on Necros in the first place. Remembrance, on the other hand, places the Doctor firmly at the center of the plot, he carries it forward whilst springing his trap for the Daleks which puts him in a much more powerful position than in previous Dalek stories.

This is thanks to Andrew Cartmel, the script editor for much of the Seventh Doctor’s tenure and instigator of what many now call the ‘Cartmel Masterplan’, in which Cartmel attempted to make the Doctor a much darker and more mysterious figure, to bring the show back to its roots and shroud the Doctor in mystery once more. This change in the Doctor’s character works perfectly for a Dalek story, where he is willing to manipulate humans and Daleks alike to ensure his plan succeeds.

Another of Remembrance’s greatest strengths is the Daleks themselves and how they are used. After being stuck with the same props for over a decade the BBC finally created some new Dalek props for this episode, bolstering the ageing ranks of the original Daleks with four new Imperial Dalek props, a Special Weapons Dalek prop, several SFX props and a Dalek Emperor prop. This allowed for greater set pieces involving more Daleks on-screen than was possible in the previous Dalek stories, and improved special effects and tonnes of explosives lead to some exciting battle sequences in this episode, particularly when the awesome Special Weapons Dalek is rolled out in Episode 4.

Speaking of the Daleks, their primary motivation in this episode involves defeating an opposing faction of Daleks very like themselves only just different enough to warrant extermination. This theme of extremist racism and ethnic purity runs deep in the story of Remembrance, with dissident fascist groups and a far-right military defector working with one of the factions of Daleks with promise of help to conquer the nation, put also a more domestic view on everyday racism in the 1960s – with a disgusted Ace pulling a ‘No Coloureds’ sign out of a B&B window striking a contrast between the norm of the early 1960s and the much more culturally developed mindset of the late 1980s.

With its position as a classic hardly in dispute, as it consistently wins top spots in Doctor Who ‘favourite episode’ polls, I still feel Remembrance of the Daleks deserves more praise considering how much it achieves with such limited budget. There is a lot of heart in this episode and Ben Aaronovitch deserves credit for such a fantastic script, especially since he later adapted the episode into book format, expanding on the characters in giving detailed insight into the Daleks and how they operate. Overall, Remembrance remains a fantastic end to the Daleks tenure in Classic Doctor Who and is, to many, the true 25th Anniversary Special.

Doctor Who – Will The Cybermen Ever Be Scary Again?

Fans of Doctor Who who have watched the show since they were children have, at some point in their lives, got to accept the fact that the Cybermen aren’t very scary. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the Cybermen were considered to be one of the scariest monsters in all of Doctor Who, and the 1967 Patrick Troughton episode Tomb of the Cybermen is often considered to be one of the scariest episodes of classic Doctor Who.

So why aren’t the Cybermen scary anymore? The answer to that question involves several phases that take place at different points in Doctor Who’s history, the first of which being that they have never truly been used to their full potential. The Cybermen are twisted and mutilated versions of ordinary humans – a terrifying concept that revolves around an equally terrifying conversion process involving body horror and psychological trauma. And yet we never get to see this on screen.

And this leads us to the first phase to our answer of why the Cybermen are nowhere near as scary as they should be – the full potential of what they represent cannot be fully exercised on a TV show like Doctor Who, that caters to family audiences and relies heavily on its reputation as a show for all ages. It is for this exact reason that the Cybermen have an equally strong reputation as silly tin foil men that stomp around like robots, rather than their real potential as a truly terrifying monster.

This leads us right onto the doorstep of the second phase of reasoning as to why the Cybermen are no longer scary, and that is the way in which they were handled by the writers of Doctor Who during the 1970s and 1980s. Following the success of Tomb of the Cybermen, and their equally strong impact in episodes such as The Moonbase, The Invasion and, of course, their debut episode The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen were firmly entrenched in Doctor Who mythos by the time the Fourth Doctor came along, but it was during his era that the Cyberman episodes began to decline in quality. Revenge of the Cybermen is considered by many to be the worst story of Season 12 and perhaps even one of Tom Baker’s worst episodes, and the appearance of the Cybermen in episodes like The Five Doctors and Silver Nemesis have them serve as little more than cannon fodder and not the central focus of the episode.

Only Attack of the Cybermen stands out as a story that actually involves the conversion process of a human into a Cyberman, with Lytton’s conversion being both haunting and disturbing, but aside from this the vast majority of later classic Cyberman stories deviate massively from the overall point of the Cybermen, which is to warn us of the dangers of technology and present a horrendous potential future where humans are horrifically altered to the extent that they are barely human anymore, and instead present them as angry robots who march around and then die. So, overall, not a fantastic record for the Cybermen in later classic Doctor Who then. The only area of Classic Doctor Who media post-1970 that seems to actually use the Cybermen properly is the 2003 Peter Davison audio story Spare Parts, considered by many to be the strongest story of the Cybermen.

So, what about NuWho? Russel T. Davies made a bold move when he decided to ‘reboot’ the Cybermen for the new series, particularly since he rewrote them from the ground up, establishing his Cybermen as totally new, with a new origin story and overall design. The debut story of this new breed of Cybermen, Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, offered a promising premise as regards to making the Cybermen scary again, as there are some truly scary elements to the Cybermen in this episode – the fact that they can still remember who they used to be leads to a harrowing scene where a Cyberman reveals itself to a man as his wife, and in his distress he loses sight of which Cyberman it actually was that told him – and as all Cybermen are identical, he can’t figure out which one it is. A Cyberman ‘autopsy’ that takes place in this episode also reveals that the Cyberman specimen under study is actually a woman called Sally who was about to get married when she was captured and converted. Harrowing stuff.

So surely this means that the Cybermen have been redeemed? Well, unfortunately not, as there are still one or two problems with Russel’s representation of the Cybermen, and the Cyberman episodes of NuWho in general, and it is that there is too much of a divide between the Cybermen and the humans in this incarnation of the metal men. They appear too robotic, speaking in monotonous voices and generally appearing more like a race of hive-minded robots than remnants of humanity. Whilst there are some elements of body horror in the NuWho Cyberman episodes, such as the Torchwood workers in Army of Ghosts and the Cyberman head opening to reveal a human skull in Pandorica Opens, the concept of body horror in regards to the Cybermen is practically abandoned in NuWho. Ironically, it is the often lambasted Cyberwoman, an episode of Torchwood penned by none other than Chris Chibnall, has possibly the most focus on body horror in a Cyberman story, particularly since the show is not child-friendly, but again this is a form of media outside of the mainline TV show which, for the most part, tragically misused the Cybermen between the years 2007-2015.

However, after a dreadful period during Matt Smith’s era where the Cybermen literally destroyed themselves because of a baby crying, quite possibly their worst defeat yet, and were redesigned and subsequently rehashed into an app during Peter Capaldi’s first series, something happened that no-one expected. The Cybermen finally returned in full form during the first part of the finale of Series 10, World Enough and Time, and they were actually scary again. This episode finally realises the full potential of the Cybermen as a monster, presenting them as terrifyingly mutilated former humans and focusing in detail on the horrors of the conversion process. The scene in the ward with the partially-converted people desperately attempting to communicate the fact that they were in terrible pain is terrifying, and it made the Cybermen terrifying.

So it would seem that a scary Cyberman episode is possible, albeit rare, both in Classic Who and in NuWho. We can only hope that Chris Chibnall continues the tradition that Moffat has started by making the Cybermen truly scary again after almost 50 years.

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