Doctor Who: what next for the Daleks?

Feature Mark Harrison 6 Sep 2012 - 11:02

Mark ponders what the Daleks' most recent appearance means for the future of Doctor Who's pepper-pot villains...

This feature contains spoilers for Asylum Of The Daleks.

They are the Doctor's most iconic foes, and more words have been written about them on this site alone than even one of Skaro's brainiest could instantly count up. You already know that their arrival in the second Doctor Who serial, The Daleks, came at a time when the programme's creative forces didn't intend to parade “bug-eyed monsters” through their educational show, and that Dalekmania resurged with the 2005 revival.

But in the midst of Steven Moffat settling in as Russell T. Davies' successor, 2010's Victory Of The Daleks didn't exactly give the characters their intended relaunch, with much fan consternation about the new, multi-coloured Dalek paradigm that made their debut in the episode. You could also argue that the story sidelined the Daleks for its denouement, which instead centred on Bill Paterson's complicit android character.

In this writer's eyes, at least, Saturday's Asylum Of The Daleks was a far better recalibration of the monsters,  and a great start for Moffat's third series as showrunner. After the boom-and-bust cycle that the Daleks' numbers have gone through since 2005, Moffat has made more of an in-universe commitment to using the Daleks in the future.

We already knew that a new Dalek empire would come out of their previous appearance, but after their most recent return, it feels like we can reasonably speculate on what Moffat might have planned next for everyone's favourite pepper-pot bastards.

Parliament of the Daleks 

The idea of Dalek politicians was mentioned by Russell T. Davies in an email to journalist Benjamin Cook that was published in The Writer's Tale, and conceived at a point when Davies considered using the Daleks in the Tenth Doctor's swansong, The End Of Time. The idea came back in a big way at the beginning of Asylum Of The Daleks, which saw the Doctor, Amy and Rory beamed onto a spaceship that served as a Dalek Westminster.

Fan discourse has already seen people confused about the practicalities of a Dalek parliament and Prime Minister. Do they have a codified or uncodified constitution? And either way, does it consist of more than the word “Exterminate!”? Did the Daleks hold elections? What does it mean for the “officer class” that we saw in Victory, with its long-established office of Supreme Dalek?

With Doctor Who being quintessentially British, it has frequently aligned itself with recognisable paradigms of UK society, culture and politics, and that's a more likely reason for the appearance of a Dalek parliament, as opposed to, say, a Dalek senate, or a Dalek Congress.

There's also a popular academic theory about the series, that the Daleks' characterisation over time is usually represented by the type of human character with whom they're juxtaposed, i.e. the middle-class bigots of Remembrance Of The Daleks, and the American capitalists of Dalek and Daleks In Manhattan.

If they're appearing in a parliament now, having appeared with a more warmly-regarded UK prime minister on their last big jamboree, perhaps Moffat's take on the Daleks will continue to take shots at the corridors of power in UK politics. Still, in the week of the Cabinet reshuffle, the idea of a Dalek parliament might not seem nearly as ridiculous. Without getting too political, I wonder how many of us wouldn't have preferred a Dalek Health Secretary to what actually transpired.


Imagine if the Cult of Skaro had dreamt up the Asylum's security system during Daleks In Manhattan, when they were all about turning humans into Daleks. Moffat borrowed something of the horrific scenes in which Dalek eyestalks forced themselves out of victims' foreheads from his first story for New Who, The Empty Child, but at least it was a way of converting humans into Daleks that actually made sense.

It would, however, be interesting to see if this idea is reprised in future Dalek stratagems. More likely, it's a one-off - the Daleks are way into racial purity, and the nano-cloud only seems to have been built to prevent any accidental visitors to the Asylum planet from breaking out the insane inmates, accidentally or on purpose, by converting them into a part of the already heavy security.

Even if this use of technology by the Daleks is only pertinent to the one story, we know that its ramifications are bound to echo through the rest of series seven, after the Ponds depart and the Doctor finds himself travelling with a new friend...

The Further Adventures of Oswin the Dalek 

No, not another spin-off à la Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures, however much that subtitle may sound like a great idea. Arguably the biggest surprise of Saturday's episode was the appearance, and subsequent crucial involvement of Jenna Louise Coleman's character, Oswin Oswald. For those who've been living in a crashed spaceship and making soufflé for the last year, Coleman has been cast as the Doctor's new companion, beginning with this year's Christmas special.

Her performance was one of the highlights of the episode, immediately setting herself apart from the current companions, but alas, her character didn't make it to the end alive. Hell, she didn't even make it out as a human being. The reveal that Oswin isn't a human starship entertainment manager, crashed in the heart of the Asylum, but a Dalek who was converted from human form by the nanogenes, is clearly going to be a big deal once Coleman joins Matt Smith in the TARDIS every week.

The peculiar thing is that we already know, from set reports on the filming of the second half of series seven, that the new companion will be named Clara, not Oswin. We've been promised that the Doctor will meet her in the midst of one of the biggest mysteries he's ever encountered, and it would be mad to think that the Daleks won't be involved in that in some way.

This could really turn out to be the ultimate reversal of that boom-and-bust cycle for the characters. They now have a reason to be involved in continuing storylines that are personal to a companion, rather than the Doctor, with their shared history in the Time War. Whichever way the new dynamic plays out, the Doctor will know, just as we do, that Clara/Oswin will encounter nanogenes that wipe her memories and turn her into a Dalek, before his trip to the Asylum.

Given Moffat's penchant for timey-wimey character history, and the fact that he's already pulled this off with River Song, it's possible that the Doctor's first meeting with Clara/Oswin will be her last, and her upcoming arc will be about the Doctor trying to figure out how to save her from the Daleks. If this is the case, you can imagine them turning up a lot more. Imagine how on edge the Doctor would be every time they showed up while she was around, fearing that this might be the day it all goes wrong.

It's also possible that Oswin is actually a descendant of Clara, who will apparently be picked up in Victorian England when the Christmas special rolls around, but even more intriguingly, what if the Doctor actually meets her after Asylum, and reverses the process when he picks her up?

She could always have emergency temporal-shifted off of the exploding planet, and any latent Dalek personality traits would certainly make for the unique companion we've been promised. Certainly, it's something that's going to keep us scratching our heads for the next 13 episodes or so, and possibly beyond, but the Daleks are sure to be central to the story's development too.

Doctor who? 

Regardless of what is to come, Oswin made another big impact on the Doctor in his first encounter with her. As he battles through the Asylum to reach and rescue her, he's cornered by Daleks from the intensive care ward, populated by patients that have survived battles with him in the past. They don't have guns, but they're about to plunger him to death. And then they don't.

With the new addition of the Path Web to the series' extensive Dalek lore, we're given a reason why they've always remembered their oldest foe, despite their screwy, over-written and rewritten histories - a connection to a telepathic hive mind. As intelligent as they are, they might otherwise be a tad forgetful, a weakness that Oswin exploits from the inside to erase all record of the Doctor from the Path Web.

This is one of the only parts of the episode that refers back to the end of the previous series, in which the Doctor faked his own death and promised to step back into the shadows, rather than living up to the legendary status he had accrued. And, once again, we close on the barked question “Doctor who?” By making his oldest, most venomous foes forget all about him, he's given something of an advantage over them in the future.

Sure, they're unlikely to be as scared of him as they used to be, without rumblings of the oncoming storm to give them pause, but if it means that we'll see the Eleventh Doctor operating more surreptitiously than other new series Doctors, it could be an interesting new direction for the character. It also begs the question of Davros' memory, and if the creator of the Daleks is connected to the Path Web. Seriously, we've seen enough classic series stories to know that he's coming back someday, when he does, will he be reminding his creations of their worst enemy?

Other unanswered questions... 

Although there's plenty of ground for speculation above, there are a couple of other unanswered questions about the Daleks in Moffat's era, which we'd expect to be addressed in future episodes. While we can easily ascertain the purposes of most of the new Dalek paradigm from Victory - the red Drone, the white Supreme, the orange Scientist and the blue Strategist - there's a question mark hanging over the mysteriously monikered yellow model - the Eternal Dalek.

Also, the prequel for Asylum Of the Daleks (available to US iTunes subscribers) shows how the Doctor was summoned to meet the Dalek stooge, Darla von Karlsen on Skaro at the beginning of the episode proper. He's press-ganged into it by a mysterious, and apparenty very powerful hooded figure who accosts him in his dreams. Did the Daleks send him? Or does he have his own agenda? Surely he'll remember the Doctor after Oswin's meddling with the Path Web. Or is that the Eternal's job?

Either way, Asylum Of the Daleks has brought some new elements into the dense Dalek mythology that comes hand in hand with Doctor Who. And with their personal connection to the new companion, the stage is set for them to figure in the series for the foreseeable future, and should they take a central role in the 50th anniversary story, it looks like Moffat is already laying the groundwork.

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Disqus - noscript

I think one of the biggest questions is why the bronze models are still in the majority.
It seemed quite clear in Victory, what with the new paradigm exterminating the metallic counterparts that brought about their creation, that the new style Daleks were the way forward. All other models were deemed impure.
Behind the scenes chat also referenced this notion, with talk of in the future seeing hundreds of the red drone Daleks. They are after all "drones" - the foot soldiers...rather than the one or two we see dotted around the parliament.
Of course the reason for this change is that nobody liked the new paradigm Daleks. But it'd be nice to have an in-universe explanation.

I'm just glad they kept the new design ones at all. I LOVE those new ones. Also I love how much bigger they are.

I think there might've been budgetary constraints as well, since the studio probably has about six bronze Daleks, but only the one Red Dalek. Probably just cheaper to use the bronze ones en-masse.

I honestly don't understand why people are having such a problem with this.

The Dalek is inside a "travel machine". The purity of a Dalek race isn't based on it driving the 1.4 or the GTi models, it's based on the driver inside it.

Daleks are the mutated race of Kaleds. A “pure Dalek” comes from that original mutated Gene pool.

In series 1 the Dalek in ‘Dalek’ was pure Kaled Dalek. In ‘Parting of the Waves’ the majority were made from the cells of dead humans (apart from
the Emperor who was pure Kaled and most likely the command crew of his ship). Rose wipes all of these out.

The Cult of Skaro and the Daleks in the prison were pure Dalek, but most of them went into the Void and the rest died in New York except Cann.

Cann brings back Davros (no idea if he saves the crew of his ship) who makes Daleks from his own cells ,not Canns. Yes Davros is a Kaled, but he has never been seen a pure by his own creations, so they’re not part of the “pure Dalek’ race wither. These are seen to be whipped out in the Medusa cascade, bit is every ship accounted for????

It’s more than possible that the Daleks in 'Victory' are from these ‘Davros Daleks’ because:

1. Rose destroyed the first lot.
2. The Void Daleks didn’t have a ship.
3. It’s possible a ship was sent from or escaped the destruction within the medusa cascade – it was damaged after all.

So if that is the case, the new paradigm Daleks made from ‘Pure Dalek’ DNA would look upon the Victory Daleks as impure and destroy them (as happened in Revelation of the Daleks) then they go off and either:

1. create new foot soldiers. Albeit they used the old style casings. Hell if they found Skaro they could have found a load of unused casing there.
2. the new paradigm could have found Skaro and discovered pure Dalek survivors there and allied with them.

So do I. I think having them in the background especially gives them a sense of menace. Like in The Simpsons when the mob are fighting the Yakuza and Homer says "But, Marge, that little guy hasn't done anything yet. Look at him. He's going to do something, and you know it's going to be good".

The new companion's full name is Clara Oswin and she isn't from Victorian times. Of course, all that information could be Moffat playing games to see what the internet can come up with in terms of how the Doctor will meet his latest companion and lo and behold... As for the Daleks: it will be interesting how they change their attitude to the Doctor having no memeory of him. However, that will only be temporary as once they've "met" him again he will begin to make an impression on them. It does reduce the potential menace he could otherwise possess in their eyes/eye...

True. All the hype about "every Dalek" was ultimately going to watered down by what they could technically produce. The bronze Daleks are undoubtedly in the majority because they had the biggest outlay in recent years. The continuity mistake of mentioning previous battles on Kembel et al then having "modern" Daleks represent the marque in question underlines the fact that older Daleks are like older cars - rare! I'm reminded of a recent interview with a Director trying to recreate a British street scene circa 1974. The street is easy... getting mainly British cars is tricky as they've all rusted away! Imagine having to recreate hundreds or even tens of Daleks from say 1967? Possible but frankly money better spent elsewhere. Pleased to see the Special Weapons Dalek - admittedly an obvious stand-out character but one which would undoubtedly be missed by the fans had they neglected it.

regarding the question over the 'Eternal Dalek' sounds to me like a Dalek priest of some kind. Perhaps responsible for their cultivation of an aesthetic such as the worship of hatred.

Maybe they decided their best revenge on the Doctor wasn't to kill him but to revere him like Mohammed or Jesus after all the death he's brought to the universe.

I think the NuDaleks are either going to be in opposition to the Dalek Parliament or are the puppet masters behind the scenes.

At least hopefully they'll string out the new status quo or at least make the Daleks more of a challenge to take down so that the Daleks can have some confidence that the Doctor does have weaknesses that can be exploited.

I don't want the next Dalek story to be some big victory over them again. To make them a credible foe there has to be wins and losses for both sides.

I can't imagine Steven Moffat repeating his River Song storyline so soon; it's unlikely that the Doctor will simply meet Oswin at some point in her past and then wait for her to get into a spaceship and crash into the Dalek asylum. (also, remember Oswin says the crash occurred on her "first trip out").
If I had to second-guess Mr. Moffat (something I wouldn't dare do in public) my theory would be this: Oswin wasn't actually the Entertainment Officer, she was the entertainment system: she was a walking iPod, programmed to play Carmen, or serve souffles, to the crew of the Alaska. The ship crashed and the Daleks incorporated her program into their asylum - or so they thought.
Taking this idea a step further (a step too far?) perhaps Steven Moffat is going to continue his tradition of Christmas episodes based on beloved and well-known classic Christmas tales. The Nutcracker, after all, is the story of an automaton that comes to life and goes on a series of adventures.
If Clara/Oswin is actually a walking, talking entertainment center, it wouldn't be hard to imagine a story where the Doctor, finds her, liberates her, and takes her on a magical and perilous journey.
Just an idea....

Dear lord man! You put a lot of thought into that! Bravo.

First of all I love the idea of a Dalek GTi! Boy racer Daleks racing through a saucer arguing over whether the Type R is faster...

Second I can think of a really simple reason for building the foot soldiers in the bronze casings - they're smaller and a simpler design. Dalek tech may be incredibly advanced but if they're trying to build up a bloody big army (or even just expand the race) then being able to use a few percent less materials will really add up over time. As it happens I suspect that's also the behind-the-scenes reason too - the little 'uns are easier to make and easier to move around the stage, important when you have new operators.

Except that Moffat himself said you'd be seeing the bronze cases (note, cases, not Daleks) again because they had 'em in the warehouse and it would let them make bigger scenes than the budget would otherwise allow!

Oh and while I'm about it, no, not every dislikes the new Daleks. Again it's a case of the Internet Echo Chamber effect in action. There's a really easy way to prove that btw, go to the Doctor Who Experience and keep an eye on the kids when they see the new Daleks. When properly presented (I still think the set in VOTD was the main reason for the negative reaction, terrible location) kids are absolutely terrified of 'em!

You should hear my theory on how Skaro exists! lol

My guess is they created the yellow 'Eternal' as a kind of indestructible "back-up" Dalek, whose only purpose is to save them having to rely on that Progenator/testimony malarky ever again

It bothers me enormously that in The Empty Child, the Doctor could reprogram Nanogenes /by hand/, and in this episode he does nothing about them.

Do tell! :)

Absolutely love the idea of "Daleks in opposition" ! :)

More New Paradigm. Next time they better use the weapon on the back of the casings, I'm very anxious to see how it works.

Oswin is 100% not clara. In the Official childrens Dr Who magazine it says that Jenna played Oswin Oswald in this weeks episode and we cant wait to see her play the Doctors next companion. Or something along those lines, anyway the magazine stated that Oswin and Clara are not the same person

I'm resigned to the fact that the Daleks are about as edgey, threatening, and scary as One Direction. They've turned into New Labour.

But there are different types of nanogenes

if it "bothers you enormously" you need to get out more.

Linking to the simile about Daleks being cars, it's totally possible that the Daleks inside are the same ones as the Doctor fought before (how did they survive the Time War?) but simply driving new cars...

Dont forget the significance of Oswin breaking the fourth wall at the end saying "Remember me". that wasnt for the Doctor's benefit, it was for ours.

For goodness sake just because JLC played oswin in asylum doesn't mean that oswin is, or is in anyway related to the new companion, simply that Jlc is playing idfferent character. We know mr moffat is in charge but just because he is it doesn't mean that new companons have strange and complicated ways of meeting the Doctor

ASYLUM ended with two big questions. If you haven't seen it, stop now.

1. The Daleks have forgotten the Doctor. Did Oswin erase the memory
of the Doctor from every Dalek everywhere and every when, or just the
"present ones". If the Doctor runs into a Dalek from a time prior to his
visit to the Asylum will they know him. They should, right? What about
the Daleks that are time-locked or in the Void?

2. Can't wait to see how Oswin Oswald connects to Clara Oswin.
Dinosaurs starts in 10 hours and 48 minutes.
Please take a moment to read my DW Fan-Fic "The Aresian Saga".

I can't help think that since the Doctor never got to see "Oswin" and since she will be called "Clara" at Christmas, maybe the Doctor won't recognize Clara when they met. and since Moffat has a reverence for the Daleks, maybe we wont see them as background characters. I think the one thing we know is that we are dealing with Stephen Moffat, which means we know that we know nothing. Other than its going to be a great ride. meantime I think tonight will show me a good time and "A town called Mercy" is something I am looking forward to more than the return of River Song and the departure of the Ponds. (Which I think we can agree is going to be BIG)

Although there's plenty of ground for speculation above, there are a couple of other unanswered questions about the Daleks in Moffat's era, which we'd expect to be addressed in future episodes. While we can easily ascertain the purposes of most of the new Dalek paradigm from Victory - the red Drone, the white Supreme, the orange Scientist and the blue Strategist - there's a question mark hanging over the mysteriously monikered yellow model - the Eternal Dalek." I think we have seen the last of these, Moffat, and Smith both have said things like "We tried once and missed but this time we said Lets make them scary again"

I'm prepared to go with that. As we all know, Moffat is a wily buggar, and it would be just like him to make a character who is a human, a Dalek, and a walking entertainment system all in one go.

The main character in The Nutcracker was called Clara as well. Gotcha, Steven!

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