Doctor Who: The Daleks – Final Review and Comments

Daleks-bgFor all that An Unearthly Child launched Doctor Who, it was The Daleks that guaranteed the show a place in history. The pepper-pot aliens introduced in this serial would become Doctor Who‘s most iconic villains, spawn two theatrical films, and send legions of little children to hide behind the couch every time their cry of “Exterminate!” was heard. In seven parts, The Daleks plays out slowly by modern standards, but gradually escalates the tension between the curious Doctor, the xenophobic Daleks, and the peaceful Thals. It is a masterful introduction to Doctor Who‘s signature villain.

More after the break.

In case you missed them, here are the individual episode reviews for this serial:


Exterminate! Exterminate! (Photo by Josuiván Sierra Barrera)
Exterminate! Exterminate! (Photo by Josuiván Sierra Barrera)


“We started this journey too hurriedly to make any calculations.” – The Doctor

The Daleks could be a cautionary tale about curiosity:  the Doctor sabotages his own ship to see a deserted city, then pays the price as he and is companions are captured. But with the introduction of the Thals, the Daleks’ ancient enemy but now a peace-loving people, the story’s true message against pacifism is revealed. Some enemies, the episode seems to say, cannot be reasoned with or lived with. The Thals must abandon their peaceful ways to fight the Daleks to win their continued peace. In the end, peace is assured not by diplomacy but rather by genocide as all of the Daleks are presumably killed.

We will have plenty of time to look back on the Daleks as we continue through the series, but this first occurrence of the Daleks is in many ways unique. The serial opens with the Dalek race all but defeated: only remnants of an ancient war survive, and even those are trapped in their city, dependent on static electricity and background radiation to survive. With so much on the line, they are cautious, willing to take prisoners when they might be valuable, but also devious. They may be in a prison, but it is one of their own devising and that they understand intimately well. Throughout the story, they stay one step ahead of the Doctor and his friends and are only defeated through a combination of luck and an unlikely assault through their water supply. There is fantastic storytelling here and at times it feels like a game of chess, with move and counter-move, but the Daleks always retaining the center. In the end, they are defeated just a bit too easily and the sudden deaths of powerless Daleks was not well-foreshadowed in the narrative, but we can buy it. Besides, we know they will come back later: a good villain is so hard to find!

Mercury, a key element to the function of the TARDIS.
Mercury, a key element to the function of the TARDIS.

The story of the Daleks will ultimately be the story of Doctor Who, so I do not want to comment on it too much yet. I myself have only seen a fraction of the classic series Dalek episodes and look forward to discovering the histories and plot holes myself. I know from here that the Daleks will have gained the power of spaceflight by The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and crude time-travel by The Chase (both from the second season). There are more than a dozen further appearances of the Daleks in the classic series, and about the same in the revived one, so we will be talking about Daleks for a very long time.

Other elements of this serial will also reoccur later. The Thals will appear next in the tenth season’s Planet of the Daleks, starring the Third Doctor, and Genesis of the Daleks with the Fourth. Skaro itself will be revisited in future stories– one of only a handful of planets to do so. I know that it is destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks (season twenty-five), but thanks to the magic of time travel (or forgetful writers) was back before the TV Movie. I’ll try to puzzle out that mystery when I get there.

Terry Nation, the father of the Daleks.
Terry Nation, the father of the Daleks.

Cast and Crew

The serial was written by Terry Nation who, with tremendous foresight, negotiated co-ownership of the Daleks with the BBC. Terry continued to write for Doctor Who until the seventeenth season. While most of his serials included the Daleks, he also wrote The Keys of Marinus (season one) and The Android Invasion (season thirteen). This serial was directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin. Christopher would subsequently direct nine serials of Doctor Who and then the 1995 unofficial production, Downtime. Richard Martin would direct one episode of The Edge of Destruction, as well as as three other serials, but depart the show after the second season.

Dalek voices were performed by Peter Hawkins and David Graham. Peter would continue to voice Daleks on six other serials, as well as the voice of Cybermen in four more, continuing into the fifth season. David would play Daleks in four more serials, the Peter Cushing films, plus non-Dalek roles in City of Death, The Gunfighters, and The Chase. None of the actors that played Thals continued to work in Doctor Who, although most found success in other ventures. Alydon was played by John Lee, Antodus by Marcus Hammond, Dyoni by Virginia Wetherell, Elyon by Gerard Curtis, Ganatus by Philip Bond, Kristas by Jonathan Crane, and Temmosus by Alan Wheatley.

Final Thoughts

“Stop our power from wasting or it will be the end of the Daleks.”
“Even if I wanted to, I don’t know how.” – The Doctor, resigned to the genocide of the Dalek race.

As I said in my previous post on An Unearthly Child, The Daleks is really where this series begins. This is where we begin to see the companions coming together as a team, the first science-fiction story, and the first view at the series’s iconic villains. We also have some great character moments for each of the team members:

  • The Doctor is shown to place his curiosity above his sense, but as the going gets rough he is able to strategize a successful attack against the Dalek city as well as sabotage some of their key equipment. His final decision whether or not to try to save the Dalek race is a difficult one, and one that will challenge the Doctor’s morality well into the modern era.
  • Susan is strong and can be independent, navigating her way from the Dalek city back to the TARDIS, operating asa scout, and negotiating the initial confrontation with the Thals.
  • Ian is a leader, able to march his expedition of Thals through a swamp and a series of caves to attack the Dalek city. It’s his crisis of conscience that ultimately launches the Thals out of pacifism and, more so than the Doctor, he is the hero of the story.
  • Barbara is still seen as a companion for Ian, though at least the serial puts a lampshade on this when she is quizzed by a Thal whether she would do everything Ian tells her.

The Daleks that Terry defines in this first serial are the ultimate Nazis, a race hell-bent on destroying all others so that they can be given room to grow. The fact that the Daleks neither need this room, nor can take advantage of it once won, just soaks the serial in additional irony. This theme of xenophobia and genocide-to-prevent-genocide will return time and time again in Dalek stories, but the seeds are all sown here.

How can you judge such an important story? I do not think you can, but this will remain my go-to story for introducing people to the “beginning” of Doctor Who. This is also one of only two stories to be remade as films, this one as Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) with Peter Cushing. I will cover that film when I get there; it was released in the summer between the second and third seasons.

Up next will be The Edge of Destruction, one of the shortest stories in the classic series.

Previous serial final reviews:

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