Doctor Who: The Top 10 Dalek stories

Top 10 Rob Hill 15 Apr 2010 - 19:37

As Doctor Who's deadliest foes prepare to do battle once more, here's our pick of the ten best Dalek adventures of all time...

In honour and anticipation of this Saturday, when everybody's favourite pepper pot inspired, plunger and whisk toting villains make their return to Doctor Who in Victory Of The Daleks, I've been having a thorough scratch of the head, stroke of the chin and gnaw on the arm whilst trying to decide upon the definitive top ten Dalek stories since the inception of the series in 1963.

For a start, what actually qualifies as a Dalek story? Does The Five Doctors count? It's got a Dalek in it. They also make a passing appearance in The War Games. Is Frontier In Space strictly a Dalek story, or were they just guest stars? More pressingly, if I squeeze my eyes shut really, really tight and cast my mind away to a happy place, can I pretend that Daleks In Manhattan, and Evolution Of the Daleks never happened?

To a casual fan, Doctor Who and the Daleks are inexorably linked. Some people even assume they appear in every episode. If they were reading newspapers during the 2005-2008 period, it's hardly surprising. But, in reality, there have only been 22 complete Dalek tales. And that's including the one we're about to see.

Some have been amongst the greatest drama the show has ever produced. Some have been so appallingly terrible that you'd consider burning your Tom Baker replica scarf and switching your allegiance to Sliders.  

Join me as I take a trip through yesteryear. Or today. Or tomorrow. Trying to put a date on Dalek stories - that should have a category all of its own...

10. Death To The Daleks - Jon Pertwee (1974)

Jon Pertwee, in what was a bit of a blasphemous remark for an ex Doctor, once remarked that he never enjoyed working on the Dalek stories. Which is a shame, because he got four of them in total, second only to William Hartnell in his exposure to Skaro's natives.  Death To The Daleks is probably more interesting than great.

The Daleks apparently crash land on the planet Exxilon, drawn in by a beacon on the planet's surface which is draining power from passing spacecraft. A human spacecraft has also been downed, and so, of course, has the TARDIS.

The planet is also the only known source of Parrinium, a precious mineral which causes a plague which is deadly to humans and Daleks alike. The Daleks claim that the plague is wiping out several of their planetary colonies, and, for a short time, form an alliance with the humans and the Doctor to mine and recover the Parrinium.

The Daleks being the Daleks, of course, attempt to naff off in their spaceship with all the Parrinium and fire a ‘plague missile' at the planet, making future mining trips impossible, killing all life and leaving them with the galaxy's only supply of the mineral.

They were then, apparently, going to use this as a bargaining tool to blackmail all the major galactic powers into accepting their demands. The alternative was, of course, extermination.

For the first time, the Daleks were using negotiation rather than slaughter to achieve their objectives. Naturally, all the Parrinium had been switched and they did, in fact, have a bomb on their ship, which exploded and killed them all, but it was a lovely thought.

Maybe if the Doctor had allowed them to get away with it, they wouldn't have gone on to be quite so mean? That man, sometimes he doesn't see the bigger picture...

9. The Chase - William Hartnell (1965)

At the height of ‘Dalekmania' in Doctor Who's early years, this was a gratuitous attempt to introduce an equally marketable robot opponent for them. The Mechanoids, from Mechanus. With such deep thought applied to their backstory and name, it's hard to work out why they never quite took off in the same way.

The story itself is utterly bonkers. The Daleks quite literally chase the Doctor through time and space, taking in a vast array of locations and eras. During this, we visit the top of the Empire State Building in 1966 (an idea that Russell T Davies and Helen Raynor would shamelessly steal and crash into the sea during the aforementioned Daleks In Manhatten atrocity), the Marie Celeste (where we find out that an appearance by the Daleks is the real reason the ship was abandoned) and the Festival of Ghana in 1996, where we meet Frankenstein and Dracula. No, really. And they're robots. 

We then land in a jungle on Mechanus itself (why a planet populated entirely by spherical flame throwing robots has a jungle is never adequately explained), where the Daleks use their ‘Replicator Machine' to make a robot copy of the Doctor. Which the real Doctor then disables with his walking stick.

Anybody whose mind hadn't completely melted amongst the beautifully OTT nonsense that had already been thrown at them was then treated to the spectacle of a Dalek vs Mechanoid battle in which just about everything explodes.

As a story, it makes little to no sense, but as a spectacle it's truly a thing of wonder.

8. Resurrection Of The Daleks - Peter Davison (1984)

Bleak. That would be one way to describe the 5th Doctor's solitary dance with the Daleks. Uncompromising. That would be another.

Writer Eric ‘Slaughterhouse' Saward, piles up what must surely be the highest onscreen body count in Who history in an adventure where the Daleks are trying to do everything at once and, as a result, achieve nothing.

On the plus side, Rula Lenska, Leslie Grantham and Rodney ‘Likely Lads' Bewes are all pushing up daisies by the time everything is said and done.

The Daleks, in no particular order, are trying to rescue Davros from his human captors, win the war with the Movellans, take over the Earth (old habits die hard) and clone the Doctor in order to infiltrate and assassinate the High Council of Gallifrey. That's a lot of plates to spin, a task made all the more difficult when you don't have opposable thumbs.

Here, Davros initiates his plan to genetically assemble a new breed of Dalek loyal to himself rather than the Dalek Supreme, resulting in two opposing Dalek forces, a theme which would continue for the remainder of the original series' run.

Ultimately, the Daleks are killed by a Movellan virus which makes them melt and go sticky, a lovely visual, second only to the mutations caused to human faces by the poisonous gas the Daleks use to subjugate them.

By the end, essentially everyone other than the TARDIS crew is dead, and even the Doctor's companion, Tegan, has had enough, deciding that her travels have "stopped being fun" and fleeing the Time Lord at the story's conclusion. It's powerful and compelling, but so relentlessly grim that it's hard to call it enjoyable.

Why's it included here? Because it's confirmation that, after too many stories where they appeared vulnerable or misguided, the Daleks really are bad, bad creatures who will kill you purely for the sake of doing so. Children firmly back behind sofas.

7. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End - David Tennant (2008)

I know it was a bloated, over-egged pudding of a story, but I feel this genuinely contained some of the finest Dalek moments of all time. Yes, there were far too many of the Doctor's companions featured. Yes, the ending was dreadful and damaged the character of Donna. But think of everything that went before it!

Julian Bleach, here making his first and, hopefully, not last appearance as Davros, utterly owns the part. The madness, the malevolence, the twisted cackling and gleeful wickedness of the character has never shone so brightly, nor has his brilliance as a scientist.

The Daleks, once more, are unstoppable and recognised as an undefeatable foe. Captain Jack kisses his Torchwood team goodbye and Sarah Jane instantly bursts into tears as the word ‘EXTERMINATE' is broadcast to Earth radio, over and over again. They know they're finished.

The Doctor, again, can't stop them. Even a half human clone of the Doctor can't stop them. Once again, it's the Doctor's companion, Donna, infused with ‘Time Lord energy' from the Doctor's aborted regeneration, who is left to carry out the all important duty of saving reality itself from the Daleks twisted scheme.

This time, you see, they've learned a lesson. They've given up on the concept of conquering the universe by military domination, and have instead opted for "the destruction of reality itself", leaving them as the only surviving entities. You've got to give them credit for scale of ambition.

All this and Bernard Cribbins shooting a Dalek in the eye with a paint gun.

6. Remembrance Of The Daleks - Sylvester McCoy (1989)

This is the one that's always missed by smug tabloid journalists, who fell over themselves pointing out that Daleks could finally climb up stairs in 2005. One of them does so right here in their final ‘classic series' story, ascending the steps into the terrified mush of the 7th Doctor.

There's a terribly complicated plot going on involving the recovery of the ‘Hand of Omega', which the 1st Doctor confusingly buried on Earth in the 1960s for safekeeping. The device itself tampers with stars. The Daleks want to use it as a weapon.

The Doctor, schemer that he is, allows Davros' Imperial Daleks (still at war with the Supreme Dalek's Renegade faction following the events of Resurrection Of The Daleks) to capture the device and detonate it, at which point it blows up Skaro's sun, as the Doctor had rigged it to do so. This being done, he then goes out onto the streets and literally talks the Supreme Dalek to death, pointing out that it's the last of its kind and its existence is therefore futile. It self destructs.

Factor in a creepy little girl being used by the Renegade Daleks for her imagination to assist them planning, a subplot about racism in Britain in the 1960s, and a wonderfully written cafe scene in which the Doctor debates the ‘ripple effects' of his interfering in time with a world weary shop assistant, and you've got a diamond of an episode. 

5. The Daleks - William Hartnell (1963)

It would be impossible to compile this list and leave out the story where it all started. Back in December 1963, in only the second full Doctor Who story ever broadcast, we saw the Daleks for the first time. Everything that has happened since takes root here.

Looking back, it's difficult to ascertain where, chronologically, this fits into the Dalek timeline. Their technology is limited to the point that they are unable to move outside their steel city because they rely on static electricity. There's no sign of Davros, and after the events of Genesis Of The Daleks tampered with Dalek history in Tom Baker's era, it may well be that this story never ‘happened' at all.

There is a certain amount of un-Dalek-like behaviour: they have stocks of food within their city, they fire upon people to incapacitate rather than kill (indeed, the TARDIS crew spend the majority of the story as prisoners), and they even allow Susan to return to the TARDIS to pick up some essential anti-radiation drugs for the Doctor.

Yet, right at the end, we get a sure sign of things to come as they double-cross the Thals, Skaro's other natives, during an "exchange of food", and open fire upon them gleefully.

The Daleks do not actually say "exterminate" in this episode, but at one point a Dalek is told that the Doctor and his friends must be "exterminated" upon sight, following their escape.

By the end of the episode, it appears that the Thals have overcome and destroyed the Daleks completely in an act of genocide. Nearly 50 years later we know better. A proper TV legend had been born.

4. Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways - Christopher Eccleston (2005)

This one was a surprise. We'd been told by the BBC all the way through the ‘revamped' show's 2005 run that the episode Dalek was a one-off appearance, and that, itself, had only happened at the last minute due to licensing issues with Dalek creator Terry Nation's estate. As in, Terry Nation, the man who came up with the concept of the Daleks.

I'm not implying that Terry Nation was Davros. However, it wasn't to be. All the way through this series, the Doctor had been stalked by the words ‘Bad Wolf'. Finally, the phrase brought him to Satellite 5 in Earth's far future where, out in the darkness, an entire Dalek fleet was waiting to once again take over the Earth.

What's fantastic (excuse the joke, Eccleston fans) about this episode is the depth of emotion and horror that it involves for the Doctor. At this stage, he genuinely believed that the Daleks were dead. He'd lost his own race, but he'd done the universe a service by eliminating, in his own words, "every last stinking Dalek from the sky".

The realisation that he had failed, and an army of half a million still remained, crushed him. The Dalek emperor even torments him with this knowledge, and taunts him as a "coward" when he can't bring himself to sacrifice the Earth in order to wipe them out again.

From a story point of view, this is the Daleks in their ascendancy. They can fly freely through space. They devastate Earth in a matter of minutes. They fly to the lower levels of the space station to slaughter the humans taking refuge there just because they can. They even track down and kill lovely ‘Lynda-with-a-Y', whom the Doctor had taken under his wing. Captain Jack can't stop them. The Doctor himself, by the end, is powerless.

Ultimately only Rose, who has absorbed the Time Vortex itself from within the TARDIS (surely the very definition of deus ex machina?), is able to stop them, using the raw power of time to disperse the Daleks and their emperor into atoms.

To add to the sense of horror that permeates throughout the episode, these Daleks aren't ‘pure'. The Emperor has created them from discarded humans. To quote him: "We waited here in the dark space, quietly infiltrating the systems of Earth. Harvesting the waste of humanity. The prisoners, the refugees, the dispossessed, they all came to us. They were pulped, sifted, purged. The seed of the human race is perverted, only one cell in a billion was fit to be nurtured."

If that ain't evil, folks, I don't know what is.

3. The Power Of The Daleks - Patrick Troughton (1966)

Back in 1966, the producers of Doctor Who had a problem. The Doctor had regenerated for the first time. William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor and the only actor that audiences had ever seen play the part, was gone. They had to immediately prove to a waiting public that Patrick Troughton was playing the very same man, and that the show was going on unchanged.

How to do that? Send for the Daleks.

A pivotal moment in the history of the series, the Daleks here are scheming and conniving. Their ship crash-landed and they rely on the assistance of a human scientist to reactivate them. They then spend some time pretending to be servants of a human colony whilst, in fact, breeding in the background and waiting for their chance to break out.

How they breed is never explicitly detailed, and not being in the market for Dalek porn (unlike Katy Manning), I'd rather not know.

For the first time, we actually see the mutant that exists inside a Dalek, and the process of Daleks being created within the spaceship. The story itself isn't exceptional, it's a rehash of a base under siege story, with a few human deaths, the Daleks defeated by the Doctor destroying their power source, and everybody home in time for tea.

As is so often the case, it's the occasion rather than the script that makes it remarkable, and had the producers opted not to use the Daleks to ease in the 2nd Doctor era, the show may never have lasted.

2. Dalek - Christopher Eccleston  (2005)

It's difficult to emphasise how exciting this, as a television moment, was five years ago. Before Russell T Davies overused the Daleks to the extent they almost became impotent, their return to the series carried a massive sense of occasion. The press went to town with it, and it didn't disappoint.

Loosely based on Rob Shearman's Doctor Who audio drama Jubilee (Shearman himself is credited as a scriptwriter for the TV adaptation), the episode focuses on the single, lone, titular Dalek.

Alone, marooned and tortured by its human captors, this soldier Dalek has been silent and inert for years. Until the Doctor turns up. And suddenly it's very active indeed, killing dozens, if not hundreds of human guards in its quest to locate and kill the Doctor.

In the process, it confirms what thousands of hardcore Doctor Who fans have always known: one Dalek alone is more than a match for an entire human army. The scene where it floats up the stairs is a triumph ("ELEVATE!"), but the real beauty of the script is its standoff with the Doctor. Both believing themselves to be the last of their race. Both alone in the universe. And the Dalek maliciously taunts the Doctor with that knowledge, bringing out the worst in the Time Lord, incurring his murderous rage to a point where he tortures it and implores it to die, leaving the Dalek itself to concede, "You would make a good Dalek".

Ultimately, Rose is the key to stopping it. In absorbing her DNA to help repair itself, it also absorbs some of her humanity and starts to mutate.  Although it must be said it also absorbed "the entire Internet", and therefore terabytes of pornography, pop-up adverts, spam and viruses. No wonder it goes a little off the rails shortly afterwards.

In the end, it decides it would like to expose itself to the sunlight, so, presumably, when Rose touched it, it also absorbed Billie Piper's tenure in Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. Faced with the prospect of mutating into a creature with compassion and warmth, it declares itself ‘sick' and self destructs. That's commitment to your cause.

1. Genesis Of The Daleks - Tom Baker (1975)

You probably saw this coming, but for my money, nothing Doctor Who has ever done has topped this story.

The ‘prequel' to the Daleks, this episode tackles their backstory and where they came from. We meet Davros for the first time, and learn how the Kaleds, the Daleks genetic ancestors, mutated by a prolonged nuclear war with the Thals, were mutating.

Instead of healing them, Davros accelerated the process and built a ‘travel machine' for them to move around in. Then stripped them of all pity, empathy and compassion. The Daleks were born. And the Doctor has been sent back in time by the Time Lords themselves to stop it happening, an event that Russell T Davies would later refer to as ‘the first blow of the Time War'.

Presented with the opportunity, the Doctor is unable to execute the task, arguing that he doesn't have the right, and that many future races will meet and ally out of fear of the Daleks. He also gets a wonderful scene debating ethics with Davros, querying whether the scientist would develop a virus capable of destroying all living matter if he had the ability to do so.

Davros, having given it some thought, confirms that he would, and that, through the Daleks, he shall have this power. After this, the Doctor concludes that he is entirely insane, and that reasoning with him isn't going to work.

Davros does take this theory to its logical conclusion in Journey's End, so it could be argued that it was the Doctor who put the idea in his head in the first place.

The story itself is a powerful statement about the perils of nuclear war and radiation, broadcast as it was, in the 1970s, against the backdrop of the Cold War. Davros and his Kaled allies, dressed in black, goose stepping and committing all manner of sin in the name of ‘experimentation', are a very clear allegory of the Nazis.

This is Doctor Who at its very best, taking real life issues and reflecting them back at the audience without patronising, but also telling a powerful, enthralling and entertaining story at the same time.

So, that's the legacy that Victory Of The Daleks must attempt to live up to this Saturday. What do we think of its chances? Well, having ‘of the Daleks' in its title is always a good indicator, but aside from that, we're going to have to tune in and find out!

Check out the new and ever growing Doctor Who page at DoG, where we are marshalling all the Who content at the site, including interviews, DVD and episode reviews, lists, opinions and articles on our favourite time traveller...

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