Sunday, March 17, 2013

Evaluation of the Daleks

I think it's common knowledge by now that I don't like Doctor Who and will only watch it for the Daleks.

I don't care if that offends, I just can't bring myself to care about anything outside of what immediately concerns these villains. If people aren't being exterminated on screen there's a good chance the show is being campy and silly, so much that it becomes distracting and I walk away feeling cheated. But when it's a Dalek episode, you can be sure that the tone will immediately get much darker and the campy, lighthearted atmosphere will probably be tossed out the window.

Keyword being Probably.

As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, the fact is that the presence of Daleks does not automatically mean it'll be a good episode. In fact, you run the risk of the show becoming even more ridiculous when they appear. It's not hard to make a good Dalek-centric episode. But like any good villain they can be overused. I feel like the writers forget this, or they forget what makes them menacing, which is why their filmography is pretty evenly split between genuinely good episodes and cheesy pantomime. This is why I've decided to compile a list of what I think are the best and worst Dalek episodes, so you don't have to play the guessing game when there's nothing else on T.V.

(Incidentally, someone already wrote a list like this, in case you wanted to compare and contrast.)

The Good

The Daleks

It seems natural to start this list with the first episode to feature Daleks. And why not? They were surprisingly creepy here, much more understated than their later incarnations. These were more like conniving mad scientists than galactic conquerors, more content to hide in their metal city than destroy planets. If nothing else, it's interesting to see what they were like before they really got on their extermination kick.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth

This is when the Daleks made the transition to being interstellar destroyers, when they showed us they meant business. Here, they conquered Earth, enslaving it's citizens, either forcing them to work to death in their mines or transform them into barely conscious shock-troopers. All of this was part of their ingenious master plan to turn Earth into a giant spaceship and ram it into other planets.

 Evil of the Daleks

Another early episode, this saw the Dalek's first steps (slides?) to becoming a time-traveling menace, going back to early 18th Century England to isolate the Dalek Factor, a chemical that would turn Humanity into a race almost as hateful and destructive as themselves. Sadly, because of the Doctor's intervention, half of the Daleks involved started to develop emotions and a consciousness; they were infected with the Human Factor.

The result was a tremendous civil war that nearly destroyed the entire species (which would lead to a long tradition of the Daleks presumably dying out, only to return later, no worse for wear). The war was so huge, so apocalyptic that the BBC couldn't pay for it all and had to use store bought Dalek action figures for some of the bigger crowd scenes.

The scene of the Emperor's apparent destruction is still pretty potent today. In fact, it's almost disturbing.

The Parting of Ways

The Daleks have come back from the dead so many times you'd think the Doctor would stop being so surprised when he sees them. True, the ending was weak, in fact it was probably the biggest cop-out I've ever seen on a show. But when you've built up the Daleks to be as absurdly powerful as they are, there's little else you can do but make a character a physical god long enough to kill them no questions asked and go back to normal before the audience starts asking why they didn't just do that in the first place.

But even that little Deus Ex Machina isn't enough to sour the experience, the chance to hear the Dalek Emperor's superior surround sound voice more than made up for it:

Remembrance of the Daleks

What's that? Davros has been resurrected? He's made a new race of Daleks? Yeah, it's time for another civil war. Who knows, maybe this time someone's sun will explode.


People will tell you this was one of the best acted episodes, with great dialog between the Doctor and Ace. I wouldn't know, because I was too focused on the Special Weapons Dalek atomizing two hapless Renegades, or when an Imperial chased the Doctor up the stairs, the first time they've ever been seen doing so on screen, finally putting to rest the tired old standby for mocking the great space dustbins.


It was supposed to be the greatest battle in the history of the show. Two of the Doctor's greatest enemies fighting for supremacy ; the Cybermen versus the Daleks, the two most fearsome races in all of time and space.

Picture it: Five million Cybermen versus...four Daleks? Yes, just four. And you know what else? They won.

In fact, they won without even trying. It was no war, it was pest control. Without a doubt, my favorite aspect of this episode is just how little impact the Cybermen made to the Dalek's plans. Their weapons were completely worthless against superior Dalekanium armor, yet they had absolutely no defense against the venerable old death rays. About the only time the Daleks ever bothered to go out of their way to destroy a few Cybermen it was only because they were passing through the same hallway and were carrying some precious cargo. As far as the Daleks were concerned, the Cybermen were completely irrelevant, below their contempt.

I love that. Even if they're emotionless cyborgs, you just know that hurt the Cybermen's egos, just knowing that a talking salt shaker can't even be bothered to be worried about you. You're too primitive to be a threat.


It's just after the Time War and the Doctor is still mopey after being forced to kill off his own species. To try and forget the trauma he goes for a vacation, get's a new companion and goes to see the Universe. It's not enough to make him forget the horrors of the war, of course. But at least he can rest easy knowing the Daleks are well and truly dead this time. Right?

In your dreams. It was such a given that the Daleks survived that they didn't even try to make it a twist. It practically says so right in the title!

What's best about this episode is how obviously miffed the Doctor is. He had to sacrifice everything in the Time War, forced to do appalling things to ensure the safety of the Universe and in the end it still wasn't enough. No matter how hard you try, you just can't kill every last Dalek, there'll always be at least one hanging around, that's all you need!

The interactions between the Doctor and the Lone Dalek are few and far between, but each is packed with vitriol. His disgust and despair just keep mounting until he realizes that his bitterness and hate has made him an almost perfect facsimile of his own worst enemy. All of this coming after his most intense, frothing monologue where he all but begs the Dalek to just die.

In the end I'd like to think that the two need each other, in a weird dysfunctional way. The Doctor and the Daleks have been enemies so long could they really imagine an existence where they're not trying to kill each other? More then that, how are either of them going to cope with being the last of their kind? The Dalek in this episode genuinely thought it was alone, the end of it's species legacy. It chose to self destruct, rather than face an existence as anything other than a pure Dalek. Meanwhile the Doctor chose to live on, content that yes, this really was the very last one.

(Until The Parting of Ways that is.)

 The Awful

Evolution of the Daleks

It starts off so promising: The shocking revelation that Daleks designed the Empire State Building.  

That alone should be enough to base an episode around. But no, we also get half-human pig slaves and a Human-Dalek hybrid. Yeah, a little silly.

Actually, compared to other stinkers, this one wasn't that bad. It wasn't good, it could have done without some of the more improbable genetic shenanigans, but if it was on T.V. I'd probably still watch it.

Destiny of the Daleks

It's an easy mistake to make, to assume the Daleks are wholly robotic. We rarely see the gelatinous mutant inside the shell and given their stilted speech and mechanistic way of thinking it's natural to assume there's no part of them that's strictly speaking "alive". But only someone who's new to the show would think this, right?

Unfortunately not. Russel T. Davis forgot  the Daleks aren't robots when he was writing this episode. This is especially embarrassing because he's the one who made them in the first place. As such, we're treated to the Daleks at their least bloodthirsty, a crime in and of itself.

These Daleks try to be cold and logical, it doesn't work. In fact, this pretend game get's them locked in a stalemate with another presumably robotic species. Why? Because neither side could calculate an outcome to the war that didn't result in heavy casualties.

True Daleks don't care about casualties. True Daleks would destroy them all anyway. But wait, who are these mysterious enemies that could match the supreme intellect of the Daleks?

These. Yes, these are their arch-enemies when the Doctor isn't around...people with mops on their head. Space Jamaicans if you will.

Victory of the Daleks

Yeah I know, I've already complained about this one. But you know what? I have every right to. This was supposed to be about Daleks going back in time to World War II, they wasted the opportunity to have them team up with the Nazis. Honestly, if you're going to do this, do it right. I mean, come on, we were all thinking it. The whole concept just screams Nazi Daleks.

But no, we didn't get the bold statement on Fascism this episode set itself up to be, we got brightly colored power ranger Daleks instead. And airplanes. In space. Yeah, great trade off.

Asylum of the Daleks

What's more terrifying than a Dalek? How about a Dalek so criminally insane that the other Daleks are afraid of it? A Dalek so twisted, so evil that it had to be locked away, deep under the crust of a dead planet and kept under a force field, just so it doesn't escape. Now imagine that there's thousands of them, broken, rusting, becoming more aberrant and unstable with every passing decade, a roving hoard of psychotic killing machines, all without any of the stringent restrictions their militaristic society would impose on them. These Daleks could do anything to you if they got the chance. There's no way to tell what they're thinking, because they're completely insane. They might kill you, sure.

They might also try to eat you.

They might try to wear your skin.

They might make a necklace out of your teeth.

That's what Asylum should have been about: insane Hannibal Lecter Daleks. Instead we got a lame soap-opera plot about the failing marriage of the Doctor's current companions. We got to listen to them whine about their marital woes, none of which was even hinted at in earlier episodes. Plus, a lame souffle joke. Yeah, that's more interesting than the mentally unstable death-machines that might escape at any moment.

Besides, the titular asylum was more of a junkyard. You never get the sense that these Daleks are insane, just old and rusty. The only redeeming feature was a single scene, when the Doctor is cornered in a hallway, with Daleks coming from all sides. In that split second he just loses it and starts panicking, cowering in the corner as they come after him.

I don't mind telling you I got a sense of sadistic glee from seeing him lose his cool, folding like a house of cards. After so many years of being defeated by last minute out-of-left-field plot twists, I feel like the Daleks earned that little victory.

Journey's End

As far as I'm concerned, this is it. This is the worst episode of Doctor Who, ever. There's too many characters, too many twists, and too many silly sci-fi cliches. Over a single hour we see the Doctor cloned, Earth almost blows up, Davros returns, Rose returns, the Universe almost blows up and several plot points that had been building up for several seasons unceremoniously swept under the rug, such as a tiny crystal that could potentially explode, destroying a galaxy or two but is instead left in an air vent and forgotten about. The Daleks are defeated when one character becomes half-Time Lord and uses her magic hacking skills to make them blow up.

By the end of it all, so many things have exploded and so many half-baked twists have been thrown around that one get's the impression that the real script was replaced with someone's fan fiction. Practically every character from the Nu-Who era reappears in this episode, so there's hardly any time for them all. There's so much going on that the camera can't focus on any one element for more than a minute at a time, resulting in a nonsensical jumble of unrelated scenes.

If they stretched this episode out over a whole season I feel like it would work. After all, if there's a story idea that deserves a little aplomb I feel like "Daleks Plotting to Blow Up the Universe" would probably be it. But instead, they decided to show all the restraint of a ten year old playing with his action figures and throw as much plot as possible into an hour's time.

And there you have it! If you disagree with these choices be sure to tell me in the comments, that way I can scorn you forever.

Also, in case you're keeping track, this post has broken the record for most uses of the word "Dalek" anywhere on my blog. Congratulations? I guess?

1 comment:

Linda said...

I agree Dr. Who sucks.......I don't like the Doctor now and his companions reek. They need to cancel this side-show bob show.

Post a Comment