Doctor Who: revisiting each Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks

How each Doctor responds to the Daleks for the first time reveals something about them...

Pearl Mackie was announced as the new companion for Doctor Who Series 10 back in April, with a specially filmed clip broadcast during Match Of The Day‘s FA Cup semi-final. Aside from befuddling Gary Lineker, the purpose of a trailer like this, as opposed to a press release or a lavish announcement programme, is to show a character in action, and there was really no better way to define the character of Bill Potts than to show how she acted in the face of the Daleks.

The Daleks are almost as old as the show itself and different Doctors respond to them in different ways. In some eras, Dalek stories have been an early fixture of a new Doctor’s run, making the first encounter with his arch-nemeses, and latterly with their creator Davros, into a formative event in the new man’s life.

As current showrunner Steven Moffat has often cheekily observed, there are plenty of villains with a better score card than the Daleks, purely by the number of defeats in relation to their scarcity of appearances, but you can’t keep an iconic monster down. No incarnation of the Doctor could ever be described as a fan of the Daleks, so the differences are subtle but sometimes pivotal. What one Doctor does in the name of saving the day might not be the same course of action that any of his other incarnations would take.

Just as we know Bill will be inquisitive and a little bit irreverent just from a short clip of her in a room with Daleks, we can come to know each new Doctor by their initial battles with them. There’s a first time for everything, so here’s a look back at how each Doctor’s first encounter with his oldest enemies informs their characters.

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The First Doctor: The Daleks (1963)

“But why do you have to destroy? Can’t you use your brains for right?”

While it was surely never intended as such, given their unexpected popularity after their 1963 debut, the Daleks have a huge influence on the character of the Doctor from almost the very beginning. The first serial, An Unearthly Child, gives us a selfish and somewhat misanthropic Doctor who is even prepared to kill to get his own way, before the TARDIS spins off into futuristic space and arrives on the planet Skaro.

We learn more about the Doctor from his initial disregard of the danger presented by the Daleks than we do from his direct confrontations with them. Endangering his companions in the name of exploring the irradiated city, he winds up entangled in the war between the Daleks and the humanoid Thals all the same. The Doctor’s very first meeting with the Daleks is at the original end of their history on Skaro – they’re the original River Song, in a way.

Subsequent First Doctor stories featuring the Daleks were set before the ending portrayed here, but Dalek history became more complex as it was rewritten over the time, usually in reaction to their brushes with the Time Lord. The significance of the characters in the early years of the series was in direct correlation with their surprising popularity with the viewing public. But this Doctor’s first encounter with them affects huge change on both sides and this will come back around repeatedly later on.

The Second Doctor: The Power Of The Daleks (1966)

“I know the misery they cause – the destruction. But there’s something else more terrible – something I can only half remember.”

Most new Doctors have some element of familiarity in their first story, whether it’s an inherited companion or a returning monster (Matt Smith’s The Eleventh Hour being the notable exception that doesn’t carry over anything from previous stories except for the TARDIS.) It’s fitting then, that the very first post-regeneration story pits the Second Doctor against his most common foes up to that point, adding a little familiarity for the audience in the wake of the lead role being recast.

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Companions Ben and Polly, who have never met the Daleks before, get no such reassurance, and as Patrick Troughton’s brand new Doctor tries to convince a human colony on the planet Vulcan that the Daleks are not as benevolent as they claim, they’re left wondering if he is who he says he is too. Even if they’re not fully convinced he knows what he’s doing, they’re introduced to the Second Doctor by his action against the Daleks.

This Doctor met his nemeses once more in 1967’s Evil Of The Daleks, at the end of his first season. At that time, Nation was attempting to launch his metal meanies in a new sci-fi series Stateside, which kept them out of Doctor Who for the following five years. So early in its run, this forced absence may well have been the making of the show, leading to greater development of the Cybermen and, later, the Master as recurring baddies. Still, in retrospect, the conclusion of Evil looks a little optimistic on the Doctor’s part – “the final end”, indeed.

The Third Doctor: Day Of The Daleks (1972)

“You went back to change history, but you didn’t change anything. You became a part of it.”

After plans for an American series stalled, the Daleks came back to Who in 1972 at the start of Jon Pertwee’s third season, inserted into an already commissioned story by writer Louis Marks. This is the first time that the Daleks have met one of the Doctors at a point where his character is already established. Accordingly, they wind up fitting into a very Pertwee-era story about humanity being their own worst enemies, in which freedom fighters from the future cause a paradox, creating their own timeline by travelling back to the 20th century assassinate a world leader.

In this future, the Daleks have conquered Earth after a global nuclear war left few survivors to resist them. Due to their late addition to Marks’ scripts, they complement the story rather than dominating it. In this list, that makes this story a unique instance of how the Daleks react to the new Doctor in this encounter, having won by capitalising on human foibles without fully understanding them. Having spent much more time on Earth due to his exile by the Time Lords, the Third Doctor defeats them with his greater affinity for us.

Nation wrote the next two Pertwee Dalek stories, Planet Of The Daleks and Death To The Daleks, but this is an enjoyable outlier that had an interesting influence on later portrayals, especially in the new series.

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The Fourth Doctor: Genesis Of The Daleks (1974)

“Have I the right?”

This one is frequently hailed as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever, taking the Fourth Doctor away from his TARDIS on a revisionist mission from the Time Lords, back to the beginning of the nuclear war on Skaro. Genesis Of The Daleks introduced Davros for the first time and gave the Doctor the chance to eradicate them in the cradle. Honestly, didn’t we just cover how well this sort of thing usually goes in Day Of The Daleks?

More words have been written about this story than we have room for here, so to keep focused on how this early encounter with the Daleks shapes the Fourth Doctor. Taking the Daleks back to their inspiration as well as their secret origin, the story repeatedly alludes to the Nazis’ rise to power and casts the Doctor as an interloper in history, giving us Tom Baker’s answer to the question we now commonly phrase as “Would you kill baby Hitler?” This dilemma, and his decision, has been echoed and referenced for decades since Genesis aired, most recently in last year’s The Magician’s Apprentice, but more significantly when Sarah Jane Smith has changed her mind on the issue by the time of 2008’s Journey’s End.

Russell T. Davies has since stated that the Time Lords’ move against the Daleks here was the first shot of the Time War that took down both empires. The key difference between the two sides is that Davros is positively gleeful at the prospect of ending all life in a moment, while the Fourth Doctor feels he doesn’t have the right, a decision that has come back to haunt him later on. In this one, as in all Dalek stories, the ethical arm wrestle between the Fourth Doctor and Davros takes precedence over the literal one that ensues over the latter’s life support system.

The Fifth Doctor: Resurrection Of The Daleks (1981)

“I’m not here as your prisoner, Davros, but your executioner.”

From this point to the end of the original series’ run, each Doctor would only have one confrontation with the Daleks. Nation moved to the USA in 1980, leaving script editor Eric Saward to write the next couple of stories in which they featured, starting an arcing storyline about a Dalek civil war. Perhaps as a product of the charged political climate, Saward’s scripts are overall more violent and cynical than previous Dalek stories, casting British bobbies as robotic henchmen in disguise and introducing human agents such as Lytton and Stien.

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Resurrection Of The Daleks may come too late in the Fifth Doctor’s run to influence his development, but his response to them is no less pivotal to his character. For instance, his plan to kill Davros is a kind of last resort that sends him barrelling towards his darkest hour, two stories later, in The Caves Of Androzani, and finally, his stalwart companion Tegan finally says enough is enough and leaves the TARDIS on bad terms as a result of traumatic events. It’s not a big laugher and the Doctor departs much worse off than when he arrived.

The Sixth Doctor: Revelation Of The Daleks (1984)

“No ‘arm in trying.”

Colin Baker’s characterisation of the Sixth Doctor has been reassessed thanks to his latter work Big Finish Productions’ range of audio plays, rather than his televised adventures, in which he more often than not came off as brusque and arrogant. As a writer, Saward was particularly culpable for this kind of thing, having the Doctor deliver flippant quips after tipping henchmen to their deaths in Attack Of The Cybermen, like James Bond in a really shit coat.

The Sixth Doctor’s encounter with the Daleks in Saward’s Revelation Of The Daleks is the most muddled of all, taking place on the planet Necros, where Davros has commandeered a funeral home as a base, from which he converts humans into food for the planet’s inhabitants and new Daleks for his secret army. In the style of all the worst Bond movies, the Doctor only comes face to face with Davros and the Daleks for a chin wag at the end of the two parter before everything blows up. It’s nobody’s finest hour and aside from introducing an instantly iconic glass model, it’s a cynical and contrived runaround that does nothing to embellish either the Daleks or the Doctor.

The Seventh Doctor: Remembrance Of The Daleks (1988)

“I am far more than ‘just another Time Lord’”

On the other hand, Remembrance Of The Daleks is an action-packed story that offers a few momentous firsts for the Daleks, including the first Dalek to go upstairs, the first appearance of the Special Weapons Dalek, and the first Daleks to get battered with a baseball bat by Ace. But there’s also a scheming Seventh Doctor, who calculates and plots against two factions of Daleks – the Imperials, who serve Davros, and the Renegades, who collude with a National Front-like group of fascists called the Association – in a way that we haven’t seen before.

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The Doctor occasionally underestimates how far the Daleks are willing to go for it, but they often underestimate him too. He manoeuvres around them tactically with the help of jamming devices and, as mentioned, a seldom more badass Ace, but more importantly, he booby-traps the Hand and goads Davros into using it. This creates a supernova that destroys both Skaro and his own mothership. There’s a chin wag and everything blows up, for sure, but it’s led by character. The Doctor’s sneakiness here leads to what Davies stated was the second major act leading up to the Time War, further entangling the Doctor in the eventual fate of Gallifrey.

The Eighth Doctor: The Time Of The Daleks (2002)

“Well, look on the bright side. I’m not a Dalek.”

Here’s a tricky one – the Daleks feature very briefly in the first of the Eighth Doctor’s two televised adventures to date, the 1996 TV movie, but this Doctor never meets them and they appear to have been brought to life by someone who doesn’t know what a Dalek is. His second, 2013’s minisode The Night Of The Doctor, fills in a gap in the regeneration cycle, but only references the Daleks as a part of the then-ongoing Time War.

Like the Sixth Doctor, Big Finish has fleshed out Paul McGann’s Doctor through their audio plays from 2001 onwards and he’s characterised as more of an idealist than his previous incarnations. The Time Of The Daleks finds more supposedly benevolent Daleks helping a British general with the completion of a time machine and quoting Shakespeare a lot, in the conclusion to a Dalek Empire arc that started in other plays. It’s not one of the better audios, but McGann would later have more dramatic showdowns with the Daleks in the Eighth Doctor Adventures series, starring Sheridan Smith, and Dark Eyes.

The Ninth Doctor: Dalek (2005)

“I know what you deserve… exterminate!”

Russell T. Davies’ revival of the series might never have featured the Daleks had the BBC not resolved a copyright dispute with Terry Nation’s estate, but it’s impossible to imagine the new series any other way. Coming right after McGann, no Doctor is more obviously defined by his brushes with the Daleks than the Ninth Doctor, who arrives burdened with survivors’ guilt from the Time War, which he ended by destroying the Time Lords and the Daleks alike.

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The first scene between this Doctor and a Dalek that American industrialist Henry Van Statten has captured and tortured is an all-time classic, in which Christopher Eccleston runs the emotional gauntlet from fear to relief, from sadistic glee to sadness and rage. In this story and the subsequent finale, The Parting Of The Ways, this Doctor is merciless in the face of the Daleks, even when it contradicts every value he holds dear. Van Statten’s Dalek sets about destroying everything from the moment it gets loose and issues a chilling verdict on the Doctor’s character after he rants and raves at it – “You would make a good Dalek.”

The Tenth Doctor: Doomsday (2006) and Journey’s End (2008)

“They always survive while I lose everything.”

The above quote actually comes from the Tenth Doctor’s second Dalek encounter in 2007’s Daleks In Manhattan, but then David Tennant is the only Doctor who has had two of these first encounters. At the end of his first series, the last four Daleks in the universe smuggle themselves out of the void, making way for the Cybermen to invade Earth from Pete’s world. This Doctor’s first face-to-face encounter with the Cult of Skaro is cockier and more aloof than his predecessor.

It’s as if fighting them to the death last time around and regenerating was somewhat cathartic, except that by the end of the story, he’s lost it all, saving the world but also trapping Rose Tyler in a parallel universe. It’s a tipping point in this version of the character that makes him more serious, so that when he regenerates again in Journey’s End, the ensuing meta-crisis creates three versions of himself- a pre-owned tenth form (actually his eleventh, as we learn in The Time Of The Doctor), a human version of himself with all of his memories intact, and a hybrid Doctor-Donna Noble.

It’s the brand spanking new human version that acts more violently against the Daleks, committing genocide against the fleet after they’ve been more whimsically defeated by the other two Doctors. The prime Doctor is so disgusted that he fobs this copy of himself onto Pete’s world, where he expects that Rose will calm him down a bit. The Tenth Doctor’s arc goes on a little bit before he meets the Daleks and a little while after their final showdown, but they’re more present at different big moments in his development than some might remember.

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The Eleventh Doctor: Victory Of The Daleks (2010)

“How about that cuppa, now?”

A notable feature of Moffat’s era is that the historical pieces (with the notable exception of Vincent And The Doctor) become more caricatured and carnivalesque. Ian McNiece’s recurring role as Winston Churchill, an old mate of the Doctor’s who occasionally tries to press-gang the TARDIS for the war effort, is a key example of this, but Mark Gatiss’ episode Victory Of The Daleks also confuses the Evil Human archetype by having the Daleks disguise their more fascistic urges to help out the Allies with shooting down the Luftwaffe and making tea.

Again, there are echoes of The Power Of The Daleks here, but the Eleventh Doctor quickly loses his rag with Churchill’s equivocations (“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favourable reference to the devil”) and Amy Pond’s mysterious unfamiliarity with the Daleks, and sets about trying to provoke the three camo Daleks into revealing themselves. It turns out that these Daleks, made impure by previous bastardisatons, need the Doctor to ID them to create a superior and more colourful paradigm of Daleks, which would seldom be seen again after this episode.

In terms of how the story informs the Eleventh Doctor’s era, Amy’s defusing of the Professor Bracewell bomb with the power of love is the first of the kind of touchy-feely ending that would not be uncommon to this era, de-escalating crises with pure emotion rather than calculations. In this instance, the Daleks are able to exploit the Doctor’s compassion to win their titular victory, which here means that they don’t mostly get blown up at the end, for the first time since Revelation Of The Daleks.

The Twelfth Doctor: Into The Dalek (2014)

“The Doctor is not the Daleks.”

Matt Smith might not be your granddad’s Doctor Who, but Peter Capaldi is probably not your teenage daughter’s Doctor Who. Initially characterised as more irascible than either Smith or Tennant, the Twelfth Doctor faces the Daleks earlier than any incarnation since Troughton, in an episode that reimagines Fantastic Voyage (and Who‘s own The Invisible Enemy) as an introspective dip into a Dalek that malfunctions by developing a conscience.

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This one is more overtly about the Doctor’s relationship to the squawking metal bastards than any other, as he brings in Clara Oswald with him as an independent adjudicator on whether or not he is still as good as he used to be. In a climactic monologue, he calls back to the events of The Daleks, contextualised as the encounter that made him realise that he as the Doctor would not be selfish or misanthropic – he would be everything that they were not.

Happily, the script by Phil Ford allows for some more nuance next to that, rather than speechifying to resolve his moral anxiety. ‘Rusty’ the malfunctioning Dalek takes courage from the Doctor’s blinding hatred of his kind to go and destroy his own fleet himself. It’s not exactly what this Doctor was hoping for, and the issue continues to trouble him throughout his first series, especially when this episode is capped by a follow-up on the Ninth Doctor’s showdown from Dalek – “You are a good Dalek.”

Other Doctors

“Ah yes. How are things?”

Outside of the TV continuity, Amicus Productions made two films to capitalise on Dalekmania in the 1960s, starring Peter Cushing as an inventor called Dr. Who. The first of these, Dr. Who And The Daleks, hews pretty close to the original serial in all regards but the origins of Cushing’s doctor, and will continue to cause arguments about the wording of pub quiz questions about Doctor Who actors until the end of time.

In the series proper, the actual first appearance of the Daleks in Peter Davison’s era comes in the Death Zone on Gallifrey in The Five Doctors, but they’re only seen by the First Doctor, here played by Richard Hurndall, which makes this the first encounter for this particular version of the Doctor. While we don’t see John Hurt’s War Doctor meet the Daleks for the first time, there’s a flashback sequence in The Day Of The Doctor in which he bashes a bunch of them with the TARDIS at the fall of Arcadia, before deciding to bring the Time War to an end.

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And finally, Doctors played by Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley all met the Daleks during the same regeneration-intensive adventure in Moffat’s Comic Relief special The Curse Of Fatal Death. The main takeaway for those Doctors, and hopefully for you too, was this – Daleks don’t have noses.