A friend of mine once told me that the scariest thing about the Daleks is that you can never be certain when they will kill you. It might be the precise instant that you are deemed no longer useful. Or it might be the moment that you piss them off. Or it might be any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. They may will kill you for not being a Dalek. However, if you are a Dalek, they may will kill you for not being Dalek-y enough.
You can be absolutely assured that no matter what you do, you eventually will hear the following two sounds: the high-pitched shriek “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!” followed immediately by the electronic sizzle of a death ray.
The Daleks–introduced in 1963 during the second story arc of the first season of Doctor Who–were a phenomenon created almost entirely by accident. Terry Nation’s script was pushed forward in the production schedule when another planned story was delayed. Nation’s description of the creatures was sketchy, and it was BBC designer Raymond Cusick who gave them their familiar pepper pot shape, their eyestalk and–infamously–their toilet plunger arm.
They were an instant sensation in the U.K. What had been intended as a one-off opponent for the time-travelling Doctor became his nemesis, featuring in numerous sequels and even a couple of spin-off films starring Peter Cushing. There were toys aplenty, and why not? Any kid could imitate a Dalek: just stiffly stick out your arms, shuffle about and scream “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”
What Daleks Are:
- The mutated remains of the Kaleds, a humanoid race from the planet Skaro.
- Green, tentacled blobs permanently encased in tank-like “travel machines.”
- The creations of the brilliant and therefore mad scientist Davros, himself a mutant confined to a motorized wheelchair.
- Fanatical believers in racial purity.
What Daleks Aren’t:
- Robots. There’s a living creature in there, crippled and in constant pain.
- Emotionless. Even the TV show makes that mistake at times. It’s just that all they feel is anger, fear and hatred. And they hate themselves most of all.
- Afraid of stairs. Their presumed inability to navigate a set of steps was a joke frequently repeated by British cartoonists and comedians, long since debunked.
Perhaps in response to public perception of the Daleks as being a bit silly, the revitalized Doctor Who series beefed up their capabilities to insane levels. In the episode “Doomsday,” the Daleks get into a pissing match with fellow galactic conquerers the Cybermen. When the Cybermen taunt that there are millions of them, but only four Daleks, their enemies retort that it will only take one Dalek to wipe out the Cyber army. And the truly scary thing is that they’re probably right.
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I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back at some of my favorite movie and TV aliens. It was originally meant to be a series of brief posts that I could queue up in advance, but brevity and I are not close friends.