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.

Nanogenes 

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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