The Daleks are grey barrels with spinning heads, studs everywhere, and an electronic voice, who run around Doctor Who's Universe killing things.

They seem to have a problem with Russell's Paradox, which occasionally causes robotic brain meltdown. If you say "this sentence is false" to them smoke will come out of their heads and they will spin around helplessly.

But when they're not worrying about that, they like to EXTERMINATE ALL HUMANS!.

Also, if the floor is anything but perfectly smooth, they levitate.

Introduction

The Daleks. Far and away the most well known and popular of the Doctor Who villains - only the Cybermen come close. Due to their huge fame, there is a truly vast quantity of written material available on the Daleks. I shall try to provide a summary of only the most relevant information - the interested reader will have no problems finding more information on the web.

The writeup is split into 'Fact' (where I'm writing actual genuine facts) and 'Fiction' (where I'm writing from the context of the Doctor Who universe).

Description

Side view of a Dalek (note, approx 5'4" (163cm) tall):
     _n____n__
    /         \---||--<>
   /___________\
   _|____|____|_
   _|____|____|_
    |    |    |
   --------------
   | || || || ||\
   | || || || || \++++++--<
   ===============
   |   |  |  |   |
  (| O | O| O| O |)
  |   |   |   |   |
 (| O | O | O | O |)
  |   |   |   |    |
(| O |  O | O  | O |)
 |   |    |    |    |
(| O |  O |  O |  O |)
======================
======================

See also the Dalek gallery on the BBC website - http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/gallery/dalek/ - for some great pictures (at 1024x768!).

Fiction

The Dalek is something of a cross between an electric wheelchair, an environment suit and a tank. It may look like a robot but there is in fact a living organism inside the metal unit. The organic Dalek creature cannot, however, survive outside its metal shell except in a highly irradiated environment.

The top protrusion is the Dalek's eyestalk, through which it sees the world. Hanging, for example, your hat on the eyestalk will effectively render it blind.

The Dalek has two arm-like protusions. Whilst they may vary across Daleks, it is most common for the left one to be a deadly energy weapon and the right to be a manipulator arm (resembling an Terran sink plunger). Flamethrowers, claws, machine guns and devices for emitting poisonous gases are other possibilities. The Dalek has only limited movement of these devices.

The lights on the Dalek's head flash when the Dalek speaks.

The hemispheres studding the sides of the Dalek are sensors.

The Dalek's method of locomotion is a large rotating ball in the base of the unit. They appear to glide across the ground. It is worth noting, though, that they have exhibited the ability to float off the ground, in order to ascend stairs.

The Daleks have used various different power sources. Some models were powered by static charge picked up from the floor of their own, specially outfitted city. The Daleks who invaded the Earth had a dish attached to their backs which apparantly picked up power, perhaps from their own microwave transmitter or possibly even our own Sol, although a model of Dalek with more familiar Terran-style solar panels exists. However Daleks have been encountered which apparantly have no need for external power, or at least can survive for a long time witout it.

The Dalek speaks with a synthesized electronic voice. When it becomes excited or agitated, the voice tends to rise in pitch. Its most common phrases are "I obey", uttered when taking an order from another Dalek, and the famous battle cry - "Exterminate!"

Fact

The Dalek units were made out of plywood and plaster. They were controlled by an operator sitting inside, who had limited vision through the wire mesh section of the head. The reason the lights on their heads flash is so that the viewer can identify which Dalek is speaking, since their voices are much the same.

The 'manipulator arm' is clearly made from or at least heavily inspired by a sink plunger, and, this breaking news from Master Villain, the typical 'energy weapon' arm, perhaps the most feared weapon in the universe, is made from the wire bits of a paint roller.

Genesis of the Daleks

Fiction

Both the Daleks and their oft-time enemy, the Doctor, have the capability for time travel. This may explain why their history is a little confused. The following is based essentially on the events recorded in Genesis of the Daleks.

On the planet Skaro, the two humanoid races, the Thals and the Kaleds, had been fighting for generations, leaving much of the planet as radiation-scarred wastelands.

Davros, the head Kaled scientist, conducted experiments on Kaleds that had been mutated by the radiation. He believed that the mutations were inevitable, and sought to create a mobile device to protect these mutants and allow them to exist in the hostile environment. Originally the 'Mark IV Travel Machine', this ultimately became the Dalek. Armed with energy weapons and unencumbered by morals, the Daleks were a formidable force.

Fact

The Daleks' first appearance on television was in the second story in the very first season of Doctor Who, in September 1963. Terry Nation's script described them as:

"...machine-like creatures. They are legless, moving on a round base. A lens on a flexible shaft acts as an eye. Arms with mechanical grips act as hands. The creatures hold strange weapons in their hands."

Ray Cusick was the man in charge of props and special effects for the series. Together with his fellow designers, he came up with a design for a robot resembling a five foot tall salt shaker. (However, Cusick has dismissed as a myth the popular suggestion that the BBC canteen salt shakers actually inspired the design).

Behaviour

Fiction

The Daleks are convinced that they are the superior life form in the universe. They act without compassion or remorse and will adopt any means to achieve their ultimate goal of destroying or subjugating all other life.

They have time corridor technology, which allows them to travel in time. The Dalek time travel capability is pretty close to the Time Lords' - their time machines are dimensionally transcendental (bigger on the inside than the outside) like the TARDIS. Having no qualms regarding altering history, the Daleks' complicated history may be due to them interfering with their own timeline.

The Daleks have been known to use mind control devices in order to enslave members of other races, including humans, to do their bidding.

The Daleks typically travel in flying saucers.

The chain of command amongst Daleks is absolutely rigorous. When two Daleks meet, they immediately compare databases to establish which Dalek has lower rank, and then that Dalek will take orders from the other without question.

However, the events depicted in Remembrance of the Daleks indicate that this system fails if one Dalek does not recognise the other as being a Dalek. Being originally created to wipe out non-Daleks, Daleks are very keen on racial purity. At some point in their fractured history, they separated into Imperial Daleks, lead by Davros, and Rebel Daleks, led by the Supreme Dalek. The two factions do not recognise each other as true Daleks and so are just as keen to wipe each other out as they are every other race.

Note - at one point the Imperial Dalek power structure was headed by a large, static Emperor Dalek (which may or may not have in fact been Davros), with a Supreme Dalek as second in command.

Fact

The Daleks were immediately incredibly popular with the viewing public. Although originally there were no plans to write more Dalek stories, the public demand ensured that they showed up again and again. At the height of their popularity, the Daleks were something of a phenomenon, spawning endless merchandise, and even now they are deeply embedded in the national psyche in the UK.

Before the appearance of Davros, the Dalek stories showed them led by the Supreme Dalek and/or the Emperor Dalek. The Daleks had been around from some time before Davros was retroactively added to the scene in Genesis of the Daleks. At the end of Genesis of the Daleks, Davros was apparantly killed off.

However, the character was so popular that he was brought back. He gave a relatively human face to the Daleks, and certainly worked well, story-wise, as their spokesman. He appeared many times as the leader of the Daleks in subsequent stories.

This of course was slightly contradictory to previous stories where Davros was nowhere to be seen. The events of Remembrance of the Daleks, describing two separate Dalek factions, may have been an attempt to establish some semblance of continuity.

Appearances

The Daleks appeared in the following Doctor Who stories.

They also appeared in colour for the first time in the two Peter Cushing movies, Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., although these are not considered canonical.

Additionally, they showed up in the Doctor Who stage productions, The Ultimate Adventure and Doctor Who and the Seven Keys to Doomsday, and have made numerous appearances in comics, various TV specials, adverts, and so on. They nearly made it into the Paul McGann TV movie, but were relegated to a tiny voiceover part at the start, and The Master became the villain of the piece instead.


References -

  • http://members.iinet.net.au/~althomp/mutant/chrono1.htm
  • http://www.eyespider.freeserve.co.uk/drwho/
  • Doctor Who - Remembrance of the Daleks, ISBN 0-426-20337-2
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/
  • http://www.dalekbuilders.co.uk/history.html
  • http://www.scopie.com/asciiart/
Many thanks also to my Whovian friend Jonathan Harding for proof-reading and suggestions, and to E2's resident Whovian Master Villain for numerous additions.

Doctor Who - The New Series

1.06: "DALEK"

TX: 30 April 2005

Written by: Robert Shearman

Directed by: Joe Ahearne

Running time: 44' 40"

Location: A hidden base outside Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Date: July, 2012 AD

Monsters and villains: Henry van Statten (a billionaire tyrant with a collection of alien artefacts); a Dalek (a species of mutant engineered only to hate, encased in a robotic body).

Plot Synopsis: Responding to a distress signal sent through time, the Doctor finds himself about to become the star exhibit in a billionaire's museum of alien antiquities. But things become much worse when the origin of the distress signal turns out to be one of the Doctor's oldest and most dangerous enemies.

Bad Wolf Reference: Henry van Statten's helicoper is called "Bad Wolf One".

Trivia: (1) This episode marks the first appearance of temporary assistant Adam Mitchell, played by Bruno Langley (better known for his role in British soap opera Coronation Street).

(2) Prior to writing this episode, Robert Shearman had been a long-term author of Doctor Who audio adventures. This particular story was based on his audioplay "Jubilee" which found the sixth Doctor (played by Colin Baker) trapped in the Tower of London with a Dalek.

(3) Displeased at the way the BBC had licenced out the Daleks for use in comedies such as Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the estate of Terry Nation, original creator of the Daleks, decided to affirm its control over the characters by denying their use in the new series. As a result, this episode was re-written to star a different (undisclosed) monster described as a child-like beast that kills for pleasure. Thankfully, negotiations with the estate worked, and the Daleks were reinstated.

(4) The robotic head that the Doctor examines in the museum is that of a cyberman, an enemy from the original series of Doctor Who.

(5) If you look a little to the left of the TARDIS during the long shots, you will see an egg pod from the movie Alien.

(6) The idea of Daleks being warped by human DNA was used in the second Doctor story The Evil of the Daleks.

(7) This episode went through several title changes, including "Museum Piece", "Creature Of Lies"; and "The Creature Inside".

(8) Prior to the broadcast of this episode, the BBC set up a website at www.geocomtex.net. In the Whoniverse, Geocomtex is the name of Henry van Statten's company.

(9) An explanation for the "time traveller DNA" plot point is given in 2.13, "Doomsday".

Spoiler Synopsis: The Doctor picks up a distress signal sent through time and arrives in a museum of alien artifacts. He makes the mistake of touching a glass case containing a cyberman head, setting off an alarm. He and Rose are quickly arrested.

The massive underground complex is owned by Henry van Statten, billionaire and controller of the worldwide Geocomtex corporation. He is accompanied by Adam, a young British genius with a passion for alien technology, and Diana, his second-in-command. Van Statten asks the Doctor to look over some of the pieces in his museum and, realising that he has an expert on his hands, asks him to look at a living exhibit deep in the cellars of the museum. The Doctor agrees to take a look at this creature, which van Statten has named "metaltron", but soon discovers that it is a Dalek, one of his most terrifying enemies. The Daleks are mutants genetically engineered to feel nothing but hate, encased in a metal bodies. The Doctor pounds fruitlessly on the door to be let out, until he realises that it cannot fire; the Dalek is crippled.

It emerges that the Daleks were the creatures that the Time Lords fought during the Time War. Both sides extinguished each other during the battle, with this Dalek fleeing through time until it landed on Earth and was captured. The Doctor, overcome with rage at the creature that helped kill his people, electrocutes the Dalek until van Statten's men drag him away. He has the Doctor bound whilst he subjects him to terrible tests, proving that the Doctor is an alien and therefore a suitable new exhibit.

Rose, oblivious to all of this, talks with Adam about his past - how he was a child genius picked up by Geocomtex to help van Statten examine his exhibits. She talks him into allowing her to see the "metaltron", which pretends to be sad and suicidal. Pitying it, she touches its side, allowing it to absorb her DNA. It turns out that it needed the DNA of a time traveller to regenerate itself. As it rebuilds its metal body, Adam and Rose flee, and scientists pour in to restrain it. It's no good - soon they are all dead and the Dalek is using Geocomtex's internet connection to learn everything about Earth.

With the base on red alert, van Statten frees the Doctor and demands his help. The Doctor says that there is no stopping the Dalek - and he seems to be right, as soldier after soldier is exterminated by its lasers. Even steps do not faze the legless creature as it uses boosters to fly up the stairwell. Rose and Adam flee the cyborg as it takes its time electrocuting a room full of soldiers; Adam manages to dive through the last remaining bulkhead as it shuts, but Rose is left trapped with the Dalek. It trundles up toward her, aims, and fires.

But Rose lives. The Dalek cannot kill her, for reasons it does not understand. Using Rose as a prisoner it negotiates access to the ground floor of the complex, where it can escape. The Doctor, knowing that everyone in the nearest built up area - Salt Lake City - will die if it flees, takes a gun from Adam's personal stash (he kept them in case he ever had to escape - van Statten is in the habit of wiping the memories of those who leave his employ) and goes up to the roof to kill the Dalek.

But the Dalek is transforming; Rose's DNA is giving it human emotions like guilt, regret, loneliness and self-hatred. Rose talks the Doctor out of killing the Dalek in cold blood, but she needn't have bothered; unable to handle its transformation into the humans that it loathes, it asks Rose to command it to commit suicide. She does, and it vapourises itself.

Diana overthrows van Statten and has the guards take him away to be memory-wiped. Adam runs down to the museum where he finds Rose and the Doctor about to enter the TARDIS. He warns them that Diana is going to flood the basement with concrete, burying the exhibits forever. Rose asks the Doctor if Adam can join them on their travels and, against his better judgement, he acquiesces.

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Sources:

http://www.imdb.com/ - The Internet Movie Database http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

The Daleks were never supposed to happen.

The British Broadcasting Corporation decided back in the 1960s to create a television show about a girl and her time travelling eccentric grandfather who built a time machine inside of an old police box. Two schoolteachers, following a young female student they're worried about into a junkyard, see her go into the box and follow her in, becoming time travellers themselves.

The gist of the show was to introduce children to history by bringing other milieus and historical situations to life, in a way - taking the stories out of a dry textbook and making historical personages come to life. Including a young woman, two teachers, and an old sage would give the show the requisite DNA to talk about history from a variety of contexts.

They sent some requests for scripts around, and thought they were pretty adamant that what they wanted were historical scripts, not science fiction. It was not meant to be a science fiction programme.

One of the scriptwriters, Terry Nation, didn't get the memo and wrote a morality play about a distant planet in which two races were recovering from a planetary war. One had reverted to a Robin-Hood in the forests style lifestyle, and the other was so genetically damaged it went around in squat metal casings, having been crippled with weaponry to the point of needing life support.

There wasn't time to commission another script, so the props folks built the casing out of wood, some cut-in-half spheres, a metal band or two, some indicator lights from a 60s era car, and a toilet plunger. The Daleks were NOT robots, they were creatures INSIDE machines, but the effect was nothing like previously seen in science fiction. Up until then if you had an alien species, it was someone with painted green skin, a pair of elf ears glued on over real ears, or the kind of "rubber suit" you find in Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Beatlemania was one of the big hits of the 1960s. So was Dalekmania. The moment those creatures hit the screen, playgrounds all over the United Kingdom erupted in cries of "Exterminate!". You could buy Dalek pins, Dalek comics, Dalek sheets, and so forth. The popularity of the new show, Doctor Who, was assured. What was also assured was that the show would always incorporate elements of science fiction.

The Daleks had two genesis stories. A comic produced in the 1960s had the Daleks generated by a Dal scientist (a blue skinned race on the planet Skaro) called Yarvelling, who created them as a way to keep the Dal race going. From the beginning the Dalek casings were designed as a warped cross between a wheelchair, a life support system and a tank. It tried to give some backstory to the first Dalek episode, which featured the Doctor and company getting in the middle of what amounted to a detente between the Thal people of Skaro, and a rebuilding Dalek army. The Doctor sided with the Thal people, and earned the perpetual enmity of the Dalek race. On the original episode, they were very limited in capability, requiring contact with an electrified floor to keep going (one is defeated by pushing the casing over an insulating cloak, rendering the machine powerless.)

Given their popularity they were brought back- at one point influencing Earth's timeline by invading and taking over Earth. 

They appeared as a constant menace to the Doctor Who character - every single version of the show/actor combination has seen them at least once. At first it was due to their popularity, but later because the widow of Terry Nation wrote some licensing contracts (the BBC does not own the concept of the Dalek but merely licenses it from the Nation estate) the Daleks MUST be used in every season of Doctor Who to keep the contract alive.

What is MORE interesting than the Dalek casing, however, is the core Dalek itself - the malevolent creature controlling the armored mobile death-ray. From the very beginning they were space Nazis - examining the remembered horrors of World War II along with the very real fear of nuclear World War III. They were tribal, hostile to other species, and even rolled around their own city with every single member of their race presenting with a readied weapon. 

Terry Nation decided to amp up the exploration of the themes with his absolutely brilliant 1970s masterwork, Genesis of the Daleks. Hailed as the best Doctor Who episode ever written, it rewrites the history of the Daleks to have them the creation of a twisted mad scientist named Davros - a shrivelled, genetically damaged mutant with one usable clawed hand, a robotic third eye that replaces his missing eyes (the eye sockets are scabbed over) and reliant on a motorized wheelchair. The real horror of war is shown in the initial sequence, in which the Doctor and his friends wander through the wastelands of the Thal/Kaled (the donor race of the Daleks was renamed as well) war and see a hodge podge of technology. The war started with ray guns, and has descended to simple machine guns. By the time the Doctor shows up, they have child soldiers considering reverting to clubs and throwing rocks, as they cannot even maintain a World War I level of technology. The war is being fought with whatever can be found, salvaged and/or patched together. Chemical warfare and genetic warfare have further made the planet a living hell.

Davros' aim is to win the war at all costs - by taking the mutations affecting the Kaleds (as a result of the warfare) and deliberately accelerate them, engineering a creature that desires nothing more than the advancement of its own species and the total destruction of every other. Devoid of pity, devoid of love, devoid of anything but the Randian instincts of selfishness and self-and-racial preservation.  In a moment that defines the show's best elements - the Doctor has the opportunity to detonate the lab in which the Daleks are being grown, and kill them entirely before they even start. He hesitates, asking himself if he has that right - to commit pre-emptive genocide even though his mission is to prevent a Time War that sees nothing but the destruction of universes on a mass scale. He decides against it, rationalizing that regardless of the Dalek horror, it causes peace treaties amongst other creatures, and results in an equal amount of good elsewhere.

The story brought a darker edge which later Dalek episodes would exploit. Though the next few stories pretty much had them chasing after the ever decreasing husk of what was left of Davros to see if he could patch them up against some Dalek virus or otherwise take sides in a civil war - the show really started to push the Space Nazi aspect of the creature.

When the show was rebooted by Russell T Davies in the 2000s, the show started with the premise that Gallifrey, the Doctor's home planet and the Daleks had mutually destroyed each other in a Time War - one which went beyond the horrors of normal war as the various players kept going back in time to try and alter the time stream, resulting in pocket after pocket of timeline after timeline of pain and carnage. The show brought back the Time Lords, but also the Daleks. 

Three intersesting things were brought into the show in the new incarnation, though - the first was the idea that the Dalek were so ingrained in their DNA to hate everything besides themselves - and wanting nothing but Dalek racial purity - that they were literally prepared to annihilate all of space and time at once with something called a reality bomb, a weapon capable of destroying all existence. The other was a horrifyingly fascinating episode set on a planet the Daleks decided to use to house aberrant Daleks that were so hell-bent on destruction and hatred that they were nonfunctional as Daleks - even a threat to other Daleks. Why they were not destroyed was that the Daleks consider that level of evil something beautiful and could not bring themselves to destroy something that represents the goal of their species with that degree of purity.

The third was the idea that even a species like the Daleks is capable of redemption. The first Dalek we see decides to voluntarily open its casing, wanting to feel the sun on itself as it breathes its last. Two other Daleks, known now by name, Sec and Caan - are self aware enough to realize the threat their own species presents even to themselves. Sec, however, could be argued did so because he abandoned his own genetic purity to interbreed with human beings, seeing human DNA as something that could save the Daleks from the results of their own pursuit of genetic purity. 

The Daleks have had different generations. The first Daleks are identifiable by bands around their "necks", as opposed to later ones that had vertical "slats" around the collar affixed with a kind of mesh. There have been variants within the generations themselves, with an Emperor Dalek, a Dalek Supreme: also gold casings, black casings, red casings, transparent casings, and eventually a New Generation that pretty much everyone hates - brightly colored Ikea primary Daleks that are larger and more imposing, with a gravelly baritone.

But even though the Daleks have a complete hatred of everything but themselves - they have also been seen with helper or slave races - the tall, primate-like Ogrons, who were played by convicts of a certain imposing size on day release - the Robomen, controlled by machine hypnosis. Dalek Sec made a slave race in 1930s Manhattan out of a pig hybrid at one point as well. 

They were also featured in two 60s era science fiction films made by the Hammer-knockoff horror film company Amicus, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor, as well as countless YouTube fan videos and other Doctor Who spinoffs. It will be interesting to see where they take the mythos from here on in, especially as our understanding of war goes from the outside and external to the introspective and the psychological.

 

 

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