Doctor Who: 10 best Dalek stories

Andrew counts down Doctor Who's top 10 Dalek stories, from Invasion Earth to The Power of the Daleks...

A cosmos without the Daleks scarcely bears thinking about.

Without the mutated remnants of the seemingly indestructible planet Skaro, we don’t know if Doctor Who would have survived. If Terry Nation had dreamt up the Voord to menace Barbara in the series fifth episode, Den of Geek may well be paying tribute to Doctor Who as an obscure cult concern, cherished by a few but forgotten by many. Instead, we do things like this.

This list is not limited to the television series, because Doctor Who isn’t limited to the television series. And hey, why not use our Comments Section to add your own list or express disbelief that I’ve not included Evil of the Daleks in mine?

10. Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.

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There’s something eternally Sunday lunchtime about the Amicus Dalek films, a pleasant afternoon’s stroll through post-apocalyptic London up the woodland roads to Bedfordshire. And it’s hard to maintain the grimness of the TV original while a jazz score flourishes (even Dortmun’s death scene features incongruous parping), what with vans smashing through Dalek barricades, and Bernard Cribbins dressed in figure-hugging PVC trying to stop the Dalek ship dispensing Smarties.

Plus, instead of the Slyther, there’s Philip Madoc. This is a vast improvement. There’s even bonus Eileen Way. Old Mother lives!

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The score. It might be Jeffless jazz but it’s jauntier than the rakish application of a wide-brimmed hat.


9. The Dalek Master Plan

Yes reader, it is a big one. Not satisfied with alien forests, invasions of Earth, and chases through time and space, Terry Nation’s next idea was to try all three at once, with a Christmas Special thrown in. And if we’re going to have the first companion death, what the hell, let’s throw in the second one as well while we’re at it. And aliens. Lots of aliens. And an episode set in ancient Egypt. And the first of Kevin Stoney’s two great villain roles. And the return of the Meddling Monk. And unparalleled destruction. And that incredibly bleak ending. What larks!

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Twelve episodes of fun, adventure, death, and mayhem. Thirteen if you count Mission to the Unknown – when the production team decide to run a full episode building up to the story, featuring none of the regular cast, you know they think they’re onto something.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: Personally, I could watch Mavic Chen monologue for a whole episode.


8. To the Death

Nick Briggs isn’t best known for his writing, but he’s obviously paid attention while hanging around on set during season finales. When tasked with coming up with a finale to the four years long Eighth Doctor/Lucie Miller arc, logically he does it with a huge emotional punch and as a sequel to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Typically, Doctor Who is a fun, action adventure. Noticeably, many of its classics diverge from this by being fundamentally grim. As the title suggests, this is one of those stories. The Daleks in it aren’t especially cunning, or scheming, or clever, but they’re just nasty and efficient. Almost as horrible as the actual invasion is the first episode where Daleks soften up humanity with a bombardment of plague.

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Then, when they do turn up, there’s no temporary paralysis, or tenuous reasons for them not to fire. They shoot basically everybody when they see them. The only reason they lose is because people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and there’s no space-dust or timey-wimey solution to it.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Eighth Doctor properly loses it. And it’s scary.


7. Revelation of the Daleks

It’s a relief, given his brief tenure, that Colin Baker’s Dalek story is a good one, a deliciously warped version of Evelyn Waugh’s superb The Loved One – only this time with body snatching, Alexei Sayle, and explosions. Technically, though, it’s more of a Davros story than a Dalek one, but what it does have is Graeme Harper directing (thrusting eye stalks into close-ups and generally having fun making their mere presence sinister) and a new take on an old concept: what if you took the idea of Cyber-conversion and applied it to Daleks instead. Thus we have a gruesome scene in which someone discovers their father midway through conversion into a Dalek mutant, oscillating between begging for death and ranting about racial purity. 

Plus, Davros is brilliant in this. It’s impossible to watch him in the position of a businessman without imagining The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den.

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Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Serve me well and I shall allow you to become a Dalek.”


6. Children of the Revolution

As sequels to Evil of the Daleks go, this one really nails the concept of human Daleks in a way that Daleks in Manhattan sadly failed to (also, at no point does it conjure up an image of the Cult of Skaro chasing a pig). Fortunately the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip managed it in 2002, and what’s more it did it with a big Lovecraftian monster, multi-colour Daleks and an underwater city.

Without any impetus to portray humanity in a positive light, Children of the Revolution explores prejudice and tolerance in a way that doesn’t make us look like the good guys.

Bubbling under from the comic strip, the recently released Nemesis of the Daleks and Fire and Brimstone – because spider-Daleks are easier to draw than to animate.

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Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is:

“Well, this is new.”


5. Remembrance of the Daleks

Ah, the McCoy era. And didn’t we have trouble with the prototype? 

Featuring one of Keff McCulloch’s better soundtracks, the pre-credits sequence seems like it’s come from nowhere. Short, compact, it sets the scene dramatically and features the first of several excellent model sequences. It’s as confident a statement of intent as the show has ever seen.

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It’s a testament to the BBC’s attitude towards the show at the time that they forbade director Andrew Morgan from working on the show again after the story went over budget, rather than take note of how good the series could look with a bit of money spent on it.

As well as looking the part, the script brought a swagger and confidence to the show that it hadn’t seen for many series. It’s almost as seismic a shift as The Ark in Space was back in 1975. We’re back to questioning the Doctor’s morality, his origins, and his methods. Meanwhile, Sylvester McCoy has nailed the role and Ace has calmed down a bit since Dragonfire. For the first time in a few years, things boded very well indeed.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Activate the Special Weapons Dalek.”


4. Dalek

Rob Shearman, purveyor of disturbing dwarf-death and rampaging floating baby, was given the task of bringing the Daleks back to television on the strength of his excellent work for Big Finish. His only previous TV credit was for an episode of Born and Bred. It’s hard to imagine this sort of opportunity for inexperienced writers arising again without the programme going on another long hiatus first.

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Happily, after many redrafts and the temporary non-availability of Daleks, this episode manages to bring the fear-factor back with some excellent storytelling and some cutting dialogue. While the Daleks’ power to frighten may have since diminished by necessity, this episode remains a testament to the innate brilliance of the idea of a Dalek, and what can be done with it.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: During The Parting of the Ways, when you realise based on Dalek how much danger everyone’s in.


3. Genesis of the Daleks

As I said before, Doctor Who is not, generally speaking, a very morose show. Even in its grimmer stories, there are plenty of moments of levity. In Genesis of the Daleks there is “No tea Harry” and that’s pretty much it. 

From its loaded Seventh Seal references to the slow motion machine gun death spasms, death is introduced in abundance. Being their origin, much of the killing is not performed by Daleks til later in the story. Humanoids do unspeakable things unto humanoid, and we meet the halfway point in Michael Wisher’s deathless performance as Davros. 

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The Doctor and his friends spend much of their time suffering and losing. Even after Tom Baker’s definitive “Do I have the right?” scene, the Doctor goes back on his decision and later attempts to destroy the Dalek incubation chambers. Stakes are high and desperate acts are committed. 

Even then, at the end of everything, it’s still not clear whether the Doctor’s actions did more harm than good.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “The entire Kaled people. You would go that far?”


2. The Parting of the Ways

In many ways the 2005 series is just one big Dalek story. Even before the show returned to our screens there had been the tiny matter of the Time War, the motherlode of temporal skirmishes. You could even argue that series one is a sequel to Genesis of the Daleks

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One thing viewers want from Dalek stories – because we’re all horrible people, you understand – is nastiness and carnage. Russell T Davies understood this perfectly, and delivered a seemingly invincible army zapping countless innocents and melting Australia. The Doctor is prepped to commit genocide to stop this, but ultimately would rather die than do so again. Thus, he is saved and reborn. 

Nice one Rusty.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Coward. Every time.”


1.The Power of the Daleks

How unbelievably brilliant is this for a gamble: you change your lead actor, having him play a different version of the same man, and then you make him a hard sell? Then, once the audience have become suspicious, you have his hero credentials partially restored by his deadliest enemies, only to have it strongly implied that he actually saved the day by accident? Insanity, surely? Well, yeah, kinda. Audiences at the time didn’t warm to Patrick Troughton, but we’ve had nearly fifty years of hindsight to see how our parents and grandparents were clearly mad with grief. 

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Power is thematically astute, a great combination of character and plot, and – from what images we have – it looked fantastic. Viewers recall the relentless march of the Dalek production line, and the sight of mutant clones being bathed in chemical baths. The soundtrack hints at a relentless onslaught in later episodes as an inevitable crescendo to the earlier slow build of dread. 

The Daleks have never been as insidious, or as lethal.

Scene Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Yes. You gave us life.”


And one to miss 

The TV Movie. We can only speculate as to why the Daleks sound like robotic frogs in this one. Fortunately they’re only in the first twenty seconds.

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Pre-order Doctor Who: The Monster Collection – Daleks, released on the 30th of September, at the BBC shop.

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