Print Story Some musings on the Daleks
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 05:51:05 AM EST) (all tags)
Why are the Daleks still so cool and so scary after all these years?

By all rights they shouldn't be: an ancient relic of a low-budget TV show, with their most fearsome weapons a sink-plunger and an egg-whisk. But indisputably, they are.
Why is the old monster so terrifying?

In terms of genre ancestry, they're pretty clearly the descendents of H.G. Wells' Martians. These were weak, puny creatures; dependent on their fighting-machines (and more dextrous handling-machines) to survive. But Wells' kicker comes after the gruesome description of the Martians:

To me it is quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands (the latter giving rise to the two bunches of delicate tentacles at last) at the expense of the rest of the body.
The scary thing about the Martians is not that they are different to us, but that they are what we could become.

The same thing applies to the Daleks. The Daleks were the mutated survivors of a nuclear war, dependent on machines to survive a hostile world.

This resonated during the Cold War era of Dr Who's heyday; when we all half-suspected that we could end up the same way. It doesn't explain their appeal in the post cold-War era.
The Cold War Dalek

In part, the concept goes back to E.M. Forster's anti-Wellsian "The Machine Stops", where humans become not only dependent on their technology to survive, but also alienated from the natural world. But there is more to it than that.

One of the Rider-Waite tarot cards is the Two of Swords, showing a blindfolded woman with two crossed swords. Psychologically, this is taken to represent a kind of paranoid defensiveness: the character is holding the world at bay with her swords, blind to the fact that the calm waters and clear skies behind her indicate that she is not threatened.
The Dalek archetype

The similarity of the Dalek to this image is probably not deliberate, but it nevertheless taps the same archetypes. The Dalek's manipulator arm and weapon similarly keep the world at arms' length; while the eye-stalk keeps it symbolically blinkered.

The external form of the Dalek thus mirrors its psychology. The the alienated, hate-filled, xenophobic character of the Dalek is perfectly expressed by its appearance. The evil of the Dalek is thus more convincing: the desire to exterminate all other life and conquer the universe seems a plausible response to the abused and tormented nature of the creature within.

Furthermore, the identification of the human with the Dalek goes beyond the species similarity mentioned earlier. More than any other alien creature, children in a playground are eager to lurch around being Daleks, intoning the familiar crescendo of "exterminate, exterminate, EXTERMINATE!" There is something appealing about being a Dalek: to shelter within invulnerable armour, powerful weapons at your disposal. This is explicitly extended to a lack of emotional vulnerability: a Dalek has all its emotions but hatred removed. Knowing neither fear nor pity, a Dalek can only kill or be killed, never exposing itself.
The seductive power of the Dalek

At some point, we all have wished a kind of Dalek-like invulnerability for ourselves: Dalek-hood has a certain seductive appeal. Yet at the same time the Dalek warns us of the consequences of taking such a path: to remove all vulnerabilities is to become a monster.

Despite their inhuman appearance, the Dalek is therefore ultimately the most human of creatures: ourselves.

The Dalek triumphant

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Some musings on the Daleks | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)
I need to see more nude chixors by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 06:17:36 AM EST
seducing Daleks.

Unfortunately by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 06:37:07 AM EST
There doesn't seem to be much material around, especially not authentic. It's not like certain other franchises.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
WIPO by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 07:13:00 AM EST
Daleks == stuff thrown together out of whatever was sitting around the studio because it was cheap later given significance by geeks out of nostalgia for the thing they fell in love with when they were twelve.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
Nope by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 07:24:22 AM EST
Terry Nation's original description describes them quite closely, before the props department built anything.
They are hideous Machine-like Creatures moving on a round base, they have no human features. a lens on a flexible staff acts as an eye. Arms on mechanical grips for hands. The creatures hold strange weapons in these hands.

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Yes by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 07:56:40 AM EST
Writers generally know the budget. He wasn't exactly going to write a script calling for something unfilmable. One of the hardest parts of being a writer for a low-budget SF show is coming up with strange creatures and weird places that can be created for $100,000 an episode.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
I think you'll find by idiot boy (2.00 / 0) #8 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 10:29:56 AM EST
That Dr Who was produced for like ... a tenner per episope. The major expense was IPA and pork pies for the crew.

[ Parent ]
The Daleks? by Orion Blastar (3.00 / 5) #6 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 09:28:45 AM EST
Did you mean the Dialects? They were a popular alien enemy from the Doctor Who show on the BBC.

{Dialects are the Doctor’s most despised adversary. The mutated survivors of the Great War, they are only capable of living within their colourful exo-skeletons. They are the only one of the Doctors enemies to come close to killing him. On no fewer than 15 separate occasions, the Dialects have actually come to within a sonic screwdriver of obliterating the Doctor, but something always seems to stop them. From a broken lift to leaving the oven on, some plot device always appears out of the blue, just in time to save the Doctor's skin. The Dialects are currently in tough negotiations about appearing in the 10th series, and only agreed to appear in the 9th series because they “had nothing better to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We’d only end up watching formula 1 anyway.” The Doctor has also done battle with their creator, Dyson.}

Actors that played The Doctor are, in order:

The First Doctor: William Shatner
The Second Doctor: Patrick Stewart
The Third Doctor: John Inman
The Fourth Doctor: Tom Jones
The Fifth Doctor: Dolly Parton
The Sixth Doctor: The Undertaker
The Seventh Doctor: Sylvester the Cat
The Eighth Doctor: Craig McLachlan
The Ninth Doctor: Christopher Reeve
The Tenth Doctor: David Duchovny (filming in progress)

Unknown to most UKians, Doctor Who (Well the re-runs anyway, not the most recent last two or three Doctors) was the most popular show on PBS. PBS decided to drop Doctor Who and other popular shows created in the UK and went back to Plenty Boring Scripts for their shows, and as a result the US government cut $100M out of their funding, because George W. Bush is a Doctor Who fan and was upset that Doctor Who has been canceled for the past 5 years or so. Other popular shows that PBS dropped: "Blake's Seven", "The Prisoner", "Star Cops", "Red Dwarf", and "Monty Python's Flying Circus", all of which made the top 6 shows ever on PBS, and all canceled and replaced with boring, liberal biased, uninteresting, and crap shows.

"I drank what?" - Socrates after drinking the Conium
Daleks by idiot boy (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 10:24:54 AM EST
Are just pants.

All that power and they haven't invented a cure for the common cold.

Un-human by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #9 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 10:35:42 AM EST

The Daleks are one of the few non-humanoid aliens, and one of even fewer that aren't compromised by dodgy special effects. They aren't obviously someone dressed up in a silly costume with extra rubber bits stuck on, and they are there with the other characters and not animated in later.

There's just nothing else like them, the Horta rock creature from the original Star Trek is close, the alien from Alien works for much of the film, but just about everything else is human in either layout or attitude. The Dalek is neither.

invulnerability by martingale (4.00 / 1) #10 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 04:22:58 PM EST
At some point, we all have wished a kind of Dalek-like invulnerability for ourselves: Dalek-hood has a certain seductive appeal. Yet at the same time the Dalek warns us of the consequences of taking such a path: to remove all vulnerabilities is to become a monster.
This is something I've found somewhat puzzling in the arts/literature mindset. Why should invulnerability have a downside? It's true that there is drama in Achilles heels, but it doesn't follow by far that being invulnerable implies monstrosity.

In fact, when we leave the artsy literature crowd who typically like to reject science as cold and emotionless, it becomes more difficult to believe that assertion.

For example, let's take the - definitely non-literary - world of religion. The biggest monotheistic religions in the world all worship an invulnerable being without monstrosity. Furthermore, it is actively encouraged to model ones life choices on such a non-monstrous entity.

If we turn back to SF, which is often derided by the more character and drama oriented literature, there also seems to be a correlation between belief in scientific progress and dismissal of the supposed monstrosity. Transhumanism is a perfect example where invulnerability is a positive goal where your kind of Dalek monstrosity makes no sense, while the classic Frankenstein story actively rejects the place of science in the world.

To sum up, I can't help but wonder if the monstrous rejection of invulnerability is perhaps more an indightment of a certain literary mindset which is uncomfortable with scientific progress or religion, and therefore lives in some twilight zone chased by its own demons of inadequacy and irrelevance, disguised as dramatic convention.
$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

Hubris [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #16 Sun Jun 19, 2005 at 10:00:59 AM EST

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
All I know is, by vorheesleatherface (2.00 / 0) #11 Sat Jun 18, 2005 at 04:42:27 PM EST
they could kick the Borgs collective ass.

Quiet! by Herring (4.00 / 1) #12 Sun Jun 19, 2005 at 12:57:08 AM EST
Someone in Hollywood may be listening. At let's face it, that's one crossover film that nobody wants to see made.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
Funniest bit in this weeks edisode. by hulver (4.00 / 1) #13 Sun Jun 19, 2005 at 04:25:14 AM EST
When the women is trapped in the room, and some daleks float up to the window, you can see the lights say "Exterminate" just before they blow the window out.

Well, I thought it was funny.
Cheese is not a hat. - clock

Pretty good though by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Sun Jun 19, 2005 at 04:36:09 AM EST
Explains the purpose of the lights pretty well too
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Double take by Vulch (2.00 / 0) #15 Sun Jun 19, 2005 at 05:33:10 AM EST

I didn't spot that until the BBC3 repeat later in the evening, but definitely well kewl.

[ Parent ]
I dunno why they're scary by priestess (2.00 / 0) #17 Mon Jun 20, 2005 at 02:03:50 AM EST
But they are. I've dreamed about a dalek war two days in a row now. Though the second day was all muddled up with new Battlestar, and some humans were really daleks but they didn't know it. Or something.

I blame the heat.

Chat to the virtual me...

Interesting by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #18 Mon Jun 20, 2005 at 02:07:08 AM EST
That both the Cylons and the Daleks have got religion. I think they have had episodes where humans have been given the mentality of Daleks and vice verse though.

[ Parent ]
Some musings on the Daleks | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)