Daleks are the iconic Doctor Who foe. Designed to be something other than the garden-variety humanoid villain, the salt and pepper shakers have endured over fifty years on the world’s greatest sci-fi. Here’s a list of every time they’ve got toe to toe with the Doctor in the modern era.
11. DALEKS IN MANHATTAN / EVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS
After the series did a soft reboot with the Time War bits and pieces of classic Who lore starting to leak through, beginning with the Daleks, but after a comprehensive victory at the end of the first season there was little more story to mine. As a byproduct of Doomsday four higher-class Daleks escape into the wild and provide a throughline for the remaining Dalek episodes of Russel T Davies’ era. This two-parter is the middle piece of that trilogy.
The Daleks want to create a human hybrid, and the effect is less than universally loved by the audience. Four seasons later Steven Moffat will execute the idea quicker, scarier and cooler with a nanocloud converter. That idea owes a bit to this two-parter.
Future Spiderman Andrew Garfield costars wonderfully if minimally in an episode set in New York City but filmed in Britain. Hammy performances weight it down futher despite a decent story somewhere behind all the set dressing. It features pig-men slaves, clones, showgirls, Hooverville refugees and an evil corporation – half of all of this would have lead to a slicker and more palatable episode. Later on the showrunners will realise the Daleks don’t always necessitate a big showy two-parter and the series will be better for it.
While we’re on the topic, there’s a few moments that deserve a spotlight even though the episode isn’t an all-out Dalek extravaganza. The appearance of the enemy is a shorthand for longtime fans and push a very good episode (The Wedding of River Song) to be a great episode. The speech to the Dalek set the tone for the bonkers finale and began the story with something familiar to the fans.
More recently the Twelfth Doctor and Bill were facing sentient space oil (??) that parasited into a university student. Testing the limits of the creature they travelled through space, then time, and then to a Dalek spaceship in the middle of a warzone. The appearance of the old foe was a cool appendix on a good episode.
And finally in the Time of the Doctor and The Pandorica Opens when every enemy of the Doctor appears. The Daleks have to be there for that. Sometimes the monster doesn’t have to take the whole forty-two minutes. Sometimes its just nice to see that blue eye stalk on your television screen.
#10. VICTORY OF THE DALEKS
World War II is one of the most popular time periods in science fiction. Maybe it has something to with the whole ‘Would you kill Hitler?’ question, which Doctor Who later tackled with aplomb. And being a very British series, the TARDIS has landed in this dark period of time more than once.
Victory of the Daleks was the first Doctor Who episode not to take the villain so seriously. Sure, they’re his archnemesis. Got it. But this episode used them in a villain of the week formula to speed up the audience’s warmth to both the newly minted Eleventh Doctor and Amy. It also introduced the highly-mocked colour variations from the BBC’s marketing team, so points off that, and the ending was a bit of a fizzer. Winston Churchill was widely impressive to the point he was asked back a further two times while Churchill’s companion was satisfactory but not magnificent.
Victory of the Daleks is a fair episode of Doctor Who. There’s just so many better examples than it in the catalogue.
#9 BAD WOLF / PARTING OF THE WAYS
Dalek bad. Dalek kill. Bad Dalek kill. The earliest episodes just bashed audiences over the head with Doctor Who‘s core principles.
Russel T Davies’ first season has some really beautiful moments scattered throughout – End of the World, Boom Town – but the episodes that bookend it aren’t revolutionary. Well, this finale did put regeneration back on the table and culminate the most surprising season arc ever in Bad Wolf, as well as launch the trope of the Doctor sending his companions to safety in spite of their own wishes. Those reasons elevate it above sleuthing Daleks in the Cabinet War Rooms.
But the Daleks themselves could have been replaced with any other villain. In fact if the Doctor was emotionally invested enough (and by rights he should have been) the episode would have worked beautifully as a Cybermen episode. The prelude of reality television shows is ridiculous is a bad way, although the Anne Droid is so-bad-it’s-good level funny. John Barrowman’s charisma saves a lot of it, and his happenchance resurrection is another small detail that makes this episode pop. Rose Tyler’s homage to the classic series companion Susan is another. The episode is a love letter but the Daleks need to do more to live up to the hype and make the stakes real.
8. ARMY OF GHOSTS/ DOOMSDAY
In retrospect its easy to look back at the Russel T Davies era as a perfect beginniner’s guide to Doctor Who. Season 1: Daleks. Season 2: Cybermen. Season 3: Master. Season 4: Davros and the Sontarans. It’s a little more complicated than that, with Autons and Weeping Angels and more sprinkled throughout, but that’s what everyone remembers.
It was a full season since the Doctor and Rose faced the Daleks in Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. The mystery of the ghosts and a ‘Void Ship’ lead to two genuinely terrifying cliffhangers – that the Cybermen and the Daleks were at Torchwood’s Canary Wharf office. What followed was one of the most ridiculous (in a good way) character dialogue of all time. Listening to the salty banter of a Cybermen argue with a Dalek is sublime nerd fanservice.
The episode has a strong supporting cast in Yvonne Hartman, Jackie Tyler and Pete Tyler, and Mickey is also there. Jackie gets her happy ending – a really understated Doctor Who arc – and Rose tragically does not. There’s the scene on the beach and more, but this episode would not have been half as interesting without the Daleks to foil the Cybermen.
7. INTO THE DALEK
This is a bit gimmicky but it’s done very well. Into the Dalek accomplishes for Peter Capaldi what Victory of the Daleks did for Matt Smith, in that the episode is shouting, ‘Look, this new Doctor is fighting the Doctor so he’s the Doctor so don’t yell at us for our regeneration casting!’
A team of redshirts (one is a tad memorable with a novel introduction) and the Doctor and Clara are miniaturised to go into a Dalek. Hazards occur. Is it a bottle episode? Not particularly. The main objective is to wax poetic about the eons old relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks. It accomplishes this goal, as well as some wider arc work with Danny and Clara. It’s also right at the start of Jenna Coleman’s upward tick as Clara, so it collects a variety of points for that.
6. THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE / THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR
This is a direct sequel to the excellent Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, which reintroduced the Dalek’s evil scientist creator Davros to the 21st century. The episode does a great job of making the threat of Davros and the Daleks incredibly real. It feels like the Doctor is in danger all the time. He visits Davros’ deathbed and the character almost redeems himself, only to reveal it was an incredibly convincing ploy to steal regeneration energy. It also taps some of the same beats as pivotal classic episode Genesis of the Daleks, which is another look at that Hitler metaphor.
The episode also brings the Dalek’s home planet of Skaro back into the fold, which is more difficult than it sounds after it may or may not have been blown up by maybe an alien race with silver dreadlocks or maybe the Doctor. The ambiguity helps the episode’s half-point cliffhanger really pop, elevating the stakes even further.
There’s the callback to Asylum of the Daleks with Clara in a Dalek, thanks to the splendid plotting of Michelle Gomez’ Missy. Without her zaniness the episode would have dragged on, but she was the extra kick to make it work. The teleportation escape explanation, her exchange with Clara in the courtyard, the fleeting moments of UNIT and the plot-that-wasn’t-a-plot of planes not moving in the sky make this episode the better Capaldi Dalek episode.
5. ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS
Steven Moffat introduced a new Doctor, new TARDIS, new screwdriver and new companions in The Eleventh Hour, and when they reached their organic goodbye in The God Complex he wasn’t ready to let go. The redux in Wedding of River Song was clearly planned from the outset but even that didn’t give a satisfying goodbye to some epic characters, so a five-piece swansong was arranged.
Asylum of the Daleks is the best of these. It’s character motivated and it’s as close to Skaro as the writers could get without it actually being Skaro. It’s a prison of the most insane Daleks in the world and the Parliament of the Daleks (a new idea) has captured the Doctor and his companions to destroy it. The story would never have worked as a two-parter. It’s too fast and fun for that. There’s no big arc to worry about, meaning everyone can get down to business.
Character moments punctuate throughout, especially between the broken marriage of Amy and Rory, but it never gets bogged down in the sadness of it all. The human/Dalek hybrid idea seeded in Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is pulled out here with a nanocloud leading to some cool zombie moments. And future companion Jenna Coleman a) appeared in the episode at all, in a surprise far ahead of the announced date and b) ended up having her consciousness heartbreakingly trapped inside a Dalek. The way the second plot point pays off down the line could have been better, but on it’s own Asylum of the Daleks is one of the better Doctor Who episodes ever.
Dalek is to the Daleks as Blink is to the Weeping Angels.
A lone monster scavanging for survival, never so desperate to win against the Doctor as on this day. The Dalek is trapped in a collector’s basement after falling out of the Time War, expecting anybody else but his greatest enemy to walk through the door. The smartest thing Russel T Davies did was hit a soft reset with the Time War. The pilot explained the Doctor and the TARDIS and the lot, but it didn’t have enough space for his greatest foe. This gets under the skin of what makes a Dalek tick and their relationship with the Doctor, but also does a lot of probing into who the Doctor is at that point in his life.
Eventually, surely, it all falls apart and the Dalek escapes. There’s cute callbacks to it’s difficulty with stairs (Daleks can fly) and ultimately it’s Rose that brings an ounce of good from the desperate Dalek. It’s the first time the not-so-infallible Time Lock fails and the first clues for the future of the series. Dalek is a well-crafted hour of television that had so much resting on it. Without the Daleks the series would have likely imploded from fan outrage, especially with Christopher Eccleston’s departure in only six weeks later.
3. THE BIG BANG
The Pandorica Opens ended with a coalition of the Doctor’s greatest enemies – spearheaded by the Daleks – locking him in an endless prison to prevent the universe exploding (long story). The follow-up follows Team TARDIS in the eye of the storm as the universe explodes the Doctor, Amy and Rory find a way to reverse everything that went wrong.
On the prowl the whole episode is an injured lone Dalek, similarly to Dalek. There’s some added spark that comes after fifty extra episodes on air and a familiarity with everything that speeds up the process. Dalek was constantly explaining what was going on, but The Big Bang had bigger, bolder and more obscure things on its mind. The Dalek was vital though, and a perfect example of how they are best used. It meant the episode could never slow, constantly adding momentum to an epic finale.
Other awesome tidbits include Professor River Song, the introduction of the fez and the wedding of Mr and Mrs Pond. The Dalek was sewn into the script without a hiccup and killed extraordinarily memorably. A Dalek screaming for mercy is a rare sight, and The Big Bang made it happen.
2. DAY OF THE DOCTOR
The fiftieth anniversary is everything anybody could ever want and more: it’s the Time War. Time Lords V Daleks. The Daleks in this are foot soldiers and foddder but also the most effective ever on screen. They do not hesitate and they do not waver in their objective. There is no convoluted plot to reverse everything that has or will occur. It is happening and it continues to happen and there’s nothing anybody, including the Doctor, can do to stop his oldest and most hated enemy from conquering his homeworld.
Until there is, and he does. But the Daleks that live up to their name get second place on this list, as they are more effective than all of the Daleks beforehand combined. Everything else the episode presents – such as the Moment and the War Doctor and the unification of all the incarnations – only serves to underline how vicious an opponent he is up against.
The Daleks are never as frightening as they are in the Day of the Doctor.
1. STOLEN EARTH / JOURNEY’S END
If the through-line for the Russel T Davies era of Doctor Who is the Daleks then Stolen Earth/Journey’s End is it’s mighty finale. Everything after seems like an extended epilogue, especially with the retconning in of the Tenth Doctor’s second incarnation. Everything that is brilliant about that era of Doctor Who dovetails into a beautiful character motivated piece that brought Davros back from the grave to “DETONATE THE REALITY BOMB!”
There’s rarely a moment the episode doesn’t shine. The incorporation of UNIT and Torchwood is seamless but not overbearing, especially as it contrasts to Sarah Jane’s quiet corner of the Whoniverse. The mini-crossovers leading up to this pay off perfectly – Rose, Mickey and Captain Jack in Boom Town, Rose and Sarah Jane in School Reunion, Martha and Jack in Utopia and Donna and Martha in The Sontaran Strategem. In a similar but more subtle fashion to A Good Man Goes to War, the series notes how big the mythos of the Doctor is getting and puts a cap on it.
All these characters uniting and still not being able to conquer Davros gives him some serious credibility, in addition to creating the Daleks. And the Daleks have never been scarier. The reason this is the #1 Dalek episode ever is that the evil little trashcans accomplished something no other legion has – actually killing the Doctor! They triggered a regeneration, which is the closest they have come or will ever come to winning over their nemesis.
Stolen Earth also marked an important moment for the whole series. It couldn’t go much bigger than destroying all of reality. Steven Moffat’s finale was only more interesting because in addition to blowing up the universe he put it back together. And although the next regeneration episode would feature Gallifrey hurtling towards Earth, it still doesn’t top 24 planets stolen without consent. As such the series has to go deeper to character driven drama and it becomes a better show because of it.
There’s so much more to say about this fantastic episode of Doctor Who, but this is a list about Daleks. And the Daleks kill the Doctor here in the midst of a fantastic episode, proving their merit and making this the best Dalek episode ever.
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