Cybermen Vs. Daleks

I have a guest post up on the Popgun Chaos site. I argue that the Cybermen are better villains than the Daleks. Let the controversy resound!

And be sure to check out Big Finish today. In celebration of this year’s anniversary they are having a sale of The Sirens of Time, Jubilee, and The Harvest for $1.00 as a download or just over $5 for CDs. The Sirens of Time is a multi-Doctor story (5, 6, and 7), Jubilee is a 6th Doctor and Daleks story, and The Harvest is a 7th Doctor and Cybermen story. So in a way, this sale goes along with my post, although I’m sure it is just a coincidence.

Doctor Who – Remembrance of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 152 – Remembrance of the Daleks

Written by

Ben Aaronovitch

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Ace have returned to Coal Hill School in 1963 to find two Dalek factions fighting over something the Doctor left in England a long time ago.

Unlimited rice pudding

A sinister-looking school girlRememberance of the Daleks is famous for re-inventing the Seventh Doctor era. Season 23 is often dismissed as silly and partially formed while season 24 is where the Cartmel Master Plan era begins in earnest. And while I think the seeds of the new expression are definitely present in season 23, I am struck by the subtle and not-so-subtle act of deconstruction in this season premier. In this story we revisit Totter’s Lane and Coal Hill School. We are given a secondary reason why the Doctor was on Earth, not just running from his people, but hiding the Hand of Omega, a powerful weapon. We see the destruction of Skaro, the Daleks’ ancestral seat. Much has been made of the deleted scene in which the Doctor tells Davros that he is more than just a Time Lord. The Doctor lets slip the possibility that he was present at the creation of Time Lord civilization in its current form. And we are given a military unit which is not-quite-UNIT but functions much the same. All these elements present in the same story mark a redefinition of the show, a grand statement of a new approach, a statement that season 23 was a test run to find our grounding, a warm-up before we open the throttle and begin the journey.

Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 143 – Revelation of the Daleks

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Peri arrive on Necros to visit Professor Stengos, an old friend of the Doctor. Necros is also the home of the Great Healer, a savior who found a solution to a galaxy-wide food shortage. But what the Doctor doesn’t know is that the Great Healer is Davros, and this old enemy has been recreating Daleks in secret.

Consumer Resistance

The Doctor and Davros share a moment.By all accounts, I’m not sure “Revelation of the Daleks” should work. But after three or so seasons of watching Eric Saward attempt to capture that Robert Holmes magic, he has done it and put his own spin on it. And all he had to do was write a story in which the Doctor and Peri were largely irrelevant. Most of the story involves the leads wandering around, failing to do anything of importance while other people progress the plot and reveal the secrets. In a way, it is fascinating. And while the Doctor and Peri are hardly significant to the plot, the story is actually compelling and darkly entertaining.

It is the irrelevance that interests me about this story. It is somewhat subversive in that it sidelines the Doctor and Peri, but I almost think it reflects the attitude at the time, namely that Saward and JNT are not entirely sure what this show is about anymore. I read much of the Davison era as a conflict between Bidmead’s vision and Saward’s vision. In the end Saward won out. His vision looked at past successes of the show with particular emphasis on the Robert Holmes approach (specifically a Fourth Doctor approach). With “Revelation” he has nailed it with the dark humor (almost out doing Holmes in this area); the story is overflowing with double acts. Saward and Graeme Harper (who brilliantly directed this story) even play with meta-commentary via the DJ, who flips back and forth between the different plotlines, which are almost different genres in themselves. In this story, the TARDIS doesn’t take us anywhere in time and space, it is the DJ and his cameras that do this. In some ways the central conceit of Doctor Who is laid bare, the idea that Doctor Who is entirely about television. (A box that is bigger on the inside which takes you anywhere in time and space . . . if you substitute TARDIS for television, the metaphor becomes obvious.) We are watching the DJ watching the Doctor. The show has been increasingly self-referential in recent stories, but now it handles this brilliantly and does something interesting with this rather than just patting itself on the back.

“Revelation of the Daleks” is, for me, the story where Saward finally got it all right. He finally wove his voice and ideas into a compelling story. It would have been the perfect story to go out on. But somewhat troubling about this story, and it has been growing throughout this era, is the realization that the best moments of Doctor Who have become less and less about the Doctor. The Doctor and Peri are the least interesting things to watch in this and many other stories of the era. And so the question must be asked, especially given what the next season holds, just how important is Doctor Who to television if the most compelling story we have had in a while sidelines him? And given that this story takes place on a planet of the dead, a planet of corpses, a place where the Doctor has a monument representing his death, I can’t help but wonder if the death of Doctor Who was an unconscious theme of this season.

My Rating

4.5/5

Doctor Who – Resurrection of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 133 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

An army from another time is gunned down by police on an abandoned industrial block in London. When the TARDIS crew arrives, they discover the British military has set up a camp in one of the buildings—a building where Daleks occasionally appear via time portal.

You Are Soft

The Doctor aims a gun at DavrosTo me, the most important development in “Resurrection of the Daleks” is not the establishment of Davros vs. Daleks factions but the toll this story takes on Tegan and, thus, on the Doctor. This story is a turning point in the Fifth Doctor’s development, one that sees him shifting to a darker personality. I’m stealing a bit from Ben Herman here, but I really like his theory, which (as I adopt it) goes like this:

During this past season, the Doctor has increasingly been exposed to a bleak and cruel universe. “Warriors of the Deep ended in a massacre. “Resurrection” sees the Doctor trying to decide if he should assassinate Davros. The moral choices he faces are becoming more difficult, and the Fifth Doctor, who started energetic and more domestic (he took part in an Edwardian costume party after all, something other Doctors would have found uninteresting) cannot handle these situations. He is the wrong Doctor for these stories, the wrong Doctor for a Saward universe. That’s not to say Davison is a bad Doctor or that the stories are all bad. But the Doctor increasingly realizes that he is taking emotional blow after emotional blow. He lacks the elitism or sense of superiority of earlier Doctors. He has been around humans for a long time and is become one of them in temperament. The Sixth Doctor, who is only two stories away now, is a darker, more brutally realist Doctor. He is the hard heartedness that the Fifth Doctor needs but can’t manifest. “Resurrection of the Daleks,” to my reading, is Fifth’s first realization that he cannot handle this universe. Tegan, the last remnant of a simpler time, has abandons him for a normal, quiet life. As she said, “It’s not fun anymore.” (Something Saward didn’t observe about his own conception of Doctor Who.) This comes as a blow to the Doctor, and this dynamic will play out over the next two stories as he tries to adopt a harsher attitude, fails, and is forced to regenerate into a Doctor who can handle the Saward universe. (This is quite similar, I think, to the recently released mini-episode Night of the Doctor.) So, essentially, thank you, Mr. Herman, for your fascinating perspective.

It is hard for me to not read the new series Time War into this story. There is a Doctor Who confidential episode in which Russell T. Davies marks “Genesis of the Daleks” as the origin of the Time War. To review, a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency (according to one fan retcon, a generic Time Lord otherwise) forces the Doctor to go to Skaro during the Davros’s creation of the Daleks. The Doctor is supposed to stop the Daleks from ever being created. He fails, but he does (depending on your perspective) alter Dalek history (maybe). But the key piece of information here is that the Time Lords chose to interfere in history by preventing a race from existing. Said race would, understandably, hold a grudge. (Not that the Daleks needed the excuse.) Along the way, the Daleks got involved in many other wars (specifically the Movellan War), but by the time of “Resurrection,” their focus was on the Time Lords. They had suffered great losses during the Movellan War, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to take on the Time Lords by creating a duplicate of the Doctor who could assassinate the Time Lord high council. By this point, formal declarations of war are only a matter of time.

“Resurrection of the Daleks,” then, fits into to broader narratives: one developing the Doctor into a darker personality and one which sees the escalation of Time Lord/Dalek conflict. This escalation can be seen in many early Big Finish audios. (Which, interestingly, were made prior to the new series, leading me to wonder if the Time Lord/ Dalek war was floating in the collective consciousness of Doctor Who fans, or was a strong theory at the time that Davies wove into the new series. I was not a part of fandom in those late 90s/early 00s years [arguably, I’m in my own corner of fandom right now, but not a part of larger fandom movements], so I’m not sure what ideas were floating in the ether. Also, I live in America, which is a slight insulator from larger DW movements.)

All this said, “Resurrection of the Daleks” is an interesting approach to the Daleks. It is a pivotal piece of Doctor Who’s on-going mythology. Despite all this, however, I am somewhat indifferent toward it.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 104 – Destiny of the Daleks

Written By

Terry Nation

What’s It About

Romana, bored with her current form, regenerates. Afterward, she and The Doctor get caught between The Daleks and the Movellans, who are at a stalemate in their long war.

Seek, Locate, Do Not Deviate
Romana 2
Another positive for this story is the clever costume for Romana, which is a play on The Doctor’s costume. (Source: BBC Doctor Who web site. Copyright 2013 by BBC.)

Fan opinion, with a few exceptions, considers “Destiny of the Daleks” to be a poor story. And while I am always happy to go against fan opinion, in this case I would have to agree. “Destiny” has a lot of problems. While it has a few things that I enjoyed, they are not enough to redeem the story for me. Strikes against this story, the regeneration scene (which was a necessary plot point since Mary Tamm had left, but it was played for humor—to mixed results), the recasting of Daleks as logic-based robots rather than anger-based mutants, an overly-simplistic attempt to convey a Cold War stalemate, and a production that was at times extremely half-hearted. The last two items on this list are mixed for me. I like what Terry Nation was trying to do. The Daleks and the Movellans were at an impasse, neither able to gain an advantage against the other since both sides used logic in their strategies. Granted, this would have worked better with the Cybermen, not the Daleks, but overlooking this, it creates an interesting twist on the Cold War: neither side can attack due to nuclear armaments, the only way to gain an advantage is to embrace self-destruction. It is an idea that has been explored in different stories (in film: War Games, Star Trek VI, and in the horrendous Superman IV). It is natural that Doctor Who would give it a shot. In fact, they had just one story earlier in “The Armageddon Factor.” And while I didn’t enjoy that story, it did explore the metaphor better.

As for the half-hearted production, there were a number of things at work here. The sets were a mixed bag, many of the background performers obviously didn’t take the story seriously, Tom Baker varied wildly in his performance, and the money just didn’t seem to stretch as far. But what impressed me is the direction. It wasn’t perfect, but Ken Grieve made great use of the steadicam. This resulted in some great panning shots and Grieve made good use of frame-in-frame. He seems to have done the best he could with what he had to work with. Grieve’s efforts help this story, but not enough to make it a success, as far as I am concerned.

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 078 – Genesis of the Daleks

Davros demonstrates his new creation: A Dalek.
Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1976 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: The transmat beam that was supposed to take The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry back to Nerva is intercepted by the Time Lords. They want The Doctor to undertake a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks.

Few stories in the classic era inspire as much adoration as Genesis of the Daleks. And, after watching this show in context, it is hard to disagree. This is a story that is quite unlike anything that came before. It is dark and moody; it has a tight plot; the performances are spectacular, with Michael Wisher and Peter Miles dominating the story; and the story brings up an interesting theme about the good that can be derived from hardship. The moral core of this story is summed up when The Doctor is confronted with the reality of destroying The Daleks at such an early state. If you know the future, is it ethical to commit murder (or genocide) to prevent future bloodshed? Or, in preventing this reality, do you create another, as yet unknown reality? Maybe a galaxy without The Daleks would be a better place. Or maybe it would be worse. The Doctor raises a very good point: that the civilizations that found unity in a common goal (survival against The Daleks) would now lack that unifying force. Maybe war would still exist, only now with different sides.

But ultimately, David Whitaker’s version of time travel wins. The Daleks, despite a last-minute attempt to destroy them, continue to survive. The revision of history cannot exist. But now it may be altered. Fan convention states that history was changed so that the early Dalek stories either didn’t happen, or happened differently. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to retcon all the early Dalek stories, but it is an interesting idea. I am especially intrigued by the new series retcon which suggests that Genesis of the Daleks is part of the Time War (perhaps the first shot fired in the Time War). This creates an interesting bit of symmetry as The Doctor was supposed to be the first weapon used in that war. He failed, but ultimately, he did end the war, thus becoming the final weapon.

But all this revisionism is incidental to the story itself. The Daleks are scary again, something they haven’t really been since the Troughton era. But center stage in this story is Davros, the creator of The Daleks. Casting Michael Wisher as Davros was a stroke of genius. Prior to this story, Wisher had been a Dalek voice actor, and he brings that background to this performance. We hear the fanaticism and anger in The Daleks, and we now know it comes from Davros. But even more chilling is the mind that rests in his scarred, devastated body. Davros is cold and calculating. He is hungry for power, but his main expression of power is his scientific supremacy. Davros is not so interested in ruling people; he is interested in proving his scientific theories, even if those theories lead to total destruction. As villains go, this is a completely impractical goal, but it is the strength of Wisher’s performance that, for the duration of the story, you believe it.

Peter Miles also shines as Nyder, Davros’s second-in-command. Why Nyder shows such unwavering devotion to Davros is never stated, but again, the performance never wavers. You never question Nyder’s devotion.

I suppose the question left to ask is: Did we really need an origin story for The Daleks? In truth, not really. I would say that the quality of the story justifies its own existence, but if Genesis had failed, we would lament the very attempt at an origin story. Since it succeeded (spectacularly), it has opened the door to all sorts of other origin stories: Spare Parts, The First Sontarans, countless stories that speculate on the origin of The Master and The Doctor, and the occasional new series episode that fans theorize being the “Genesis of the X” (I remember Waters of Mars being theorized as Genesis of the Ice Warriors; Some thought The Almost People could be the creation of the Autons; and I’ll throw my own hat in the ring with The Snowmen having an almost Genesis of the Great Intelligence vibe). But more than an origin story, we needed a Dalek story that really re-emphasized why we like the little pepper pots. We needed a story to make them scary again, even if we had to visit their creator to do it.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Doctor Who – Planet of the Daleks

The frozen Dalek army on Spiridon.
(Source: Screen Capture from the Dalek War DVD. Copyright 1973 by The BBC

Doctor Who Story 068 – Planet of the Daleks

Who Wrote It: Terry Nation

What’s It About: In the aftermath of the Earth/Draconia conflict, The Doctor and Jo arrive on Spiridon, where they find a Thal taskforce, invisible natives, and an army composed of thousands of Daleks.

It seems strange to say that I’ve missed Terry Nation, but I think I have. He never wrote my favorite episodes, but Planet of the Daleks works for me. Planet stands out from Frontier in Space because Frontier was slow in places. Jo and The Doctor were imprisoned, then escaped, then were imprisoned, then escaped again, and so on. In Planet, however, the story moves along. There is a lot of stuff going on. It’s almost as if Terry Nation discovered pacing at somewhere along the way. Even the Dalek story is interesting and not quite a rehash, although we do have recycled elements: Thals vs. Daleks, The Daleks plan to contaminate the planet. But the idea of a frozen Dalek army is just plain interesting, and knowing that the army is still buried is chilling.

My only real complaint about the story is its relation to Frontier in Space. The connection between the two seems tenuous. Daleks appeared at the end of Frontier as the masterminds behind the Earth/Draconia conflict, but Planet had almost no connection with the previous story. It seems the Daleks were only brought in to Frontier as a good cliffhanger, but not because of any active part in the conflict. The previous story was hardly even mentioned. I guess I had built up a strong connection in my mind since the stories were released together on DVD. Taken on its own, however, this was an enjoyable story. I thought it was fun.

My Rating: 3.5/5