Classic Doctor Who on BritBox: The many resolutions of the Daleks
Mark Harrison | On 21, Dec 2020
Offering 626 Doctor Who episodes broadcast between 1963 and 1996, BritBox is bigger on the inside. If you’ve watched all of the new series already, then why not join us as we turn on the TARDIS randomiser for a monthly primer on the adventures of the first eight Doctors…
Happy Dalek Day! There have been Daleks for almost as long as there has been Doctor Who because they were introduced in the second serial. Series creator Sydney Newman initially insisted that the show would be educational rather than purely fantastical, and all science fiction would need to be backed by factual knowledge, with no “bug-eyed monsters”. Of course, when the Daleks became a huge hit, Newman later conceded: “Some of the best things I have ever done are the things I never wanted to do.”
Introduced as a race of atrophied mutants whose heavy-duty casings are powered by static electricity, the repeat appearances of the Daleks have long since left behind the conception of them in their first story, right up to the considerably more powerful incarnations we’ve seen recurring throughout the revival since 2005. Like all the best monsters in horror and science fiction, they always survive to wage another battle against the Doctor and his companions.
In the gap between TV seasons, the characters are still going strong with Daleks!, a YouTube streaming animated spin-off from the Time Lord Victorious multimedia event. 2021 promises much more of them too, starting with Jodie Whittaker’s New Year’s rematch with them in Revolution Of The Daleks. There have been many revolutions of the Daleks in each story to date, which is why we’ve put together this guide to Dalek stories on BritBox.
If you’re eagerly awaiting the new special, and you’ve yet to dive into the classic series, we’ll pick out the essential Dalek showdown from each of the first seven Doctors’ eras and look at how they revolutionised the characters in one way or another…
“The Daleks offer you life! Rebel against us and the Daleks shall destroy London completely.”
Remember that static electricity thing? The epic sequel, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth completely throws that out of the window for a London-set occupation thriller. This one has them rising out of the Thames and gliding across Trafalgar Square and Westminster Bridge as the First Doctor lands during the 22nd-century Dalek occupation of Earth. As well as revolutionising the Daleks for future appearances, this story marks Doctor Who’s first-ever location shoots, bringing a cinematic sweep to proceedings (the serial was later adapted for Peter Cushing’s Dr Who, as we’ve covered in a previous column and the first companion exit.
What to watch: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (Season 2, 1964)
“We are better… different than human beings.”
By 1966, the Daleks were being used as the more familiar element to introduce a far bigger revolution in the show’s storytelling – replacing William Hartnell with Patrick Troughton via the Doctor’s first-ever regeneration. Available in animated form, The Power Of The Daleks the Doctor’s old enemies feigning loyalty to human colonists on the planet Vulcan while plotting against them in secret. The colonists don’t know the Daleks, and neither do companions Ben and Polly, but the new Doctor does. This kind of sneaky Dalek adds a new dimension to their character, and judging by the trailer, you can expect to see echoes of this story in the upcoming special …
What to watch: The Power Of The Daleks (Season 4, 1966)
Becoming the masters of Earth (again)
“Whoever is operating the time machine is the enemy of the Daleks!”
After a long break while Dalek creator Terry Nation sought a US TV deal for his monsters, Day Of The Daleks is inevitably a different type of Dalek story. That’s partly because Louis Marks’ scripts, about a time-travelling guerrilla force trying to prevent the domination of Earth, originally focused on a different race of future rulers called the Ogrons. Dropping the Daleks into this Third Doctor story as their comeback redefines the types of stories the show could tell with them, which greatly benefits later outings. Plus, for our money, this one is an underrated classic…
What to watch: Day Of The Daleks (Season 9, 1972)
Alarming the Time Lords
“Today the Kaled race is ended, consumed in a fire of war. But from its ashes will rise a new race…!”
Nation later gave us one of the most acclaimed serials of the classic series when he was encouraged to write something a bit different than his previous scripts. The result was Genesis Of The Daleks, a story that opens with the Time Lords enlisting the Doctor to travel back to Skaro at the Daleks’ inception and kill them in the cradle. The story also introduces Davros, the scarred, half-humanoid creator. Russell T Davies has retroactively pointed to this as the first act of the Time War with Gallifrey that he created in 2005, and this story is directly referenced in his Series 4 finale, Journey’s End, which also features Sarah Jane Smith.
What to watch: Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12, 1974)
Fighting the Movellan virus
“Nothing must interfere with the true destiny of the Daleks!”
The Fifth Doctor’s first brush with the Daleks comes surprisingly late in his era and picks up after the Fourth Doctor’s other TV encounter, Destiny Of The Daleks, (Season 17, 1979) which sees Skaro in a stalemate with purely logical androids called the Movellans. Here, they’ve lost that war due to a virus they’re still struggling to kick, and they enlist the help of Davros by breaking him out a cryoprison on a space station. They’re also using duplicates again here and they have an ambitious retaliation on the Time Lords in mind, too…
What to watch: Resurrection Of The Daleks (Season 21, 1984) – also the first serial to be presented in two 45-minute parts, due to clashes with the BBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, a format which was also adopted for Colin Baker’s first season the following year.
Civil war with Davros
“You are to be taken back to Skaro to stand trial for crimes against the Daleks!”
The Daleks feel less kindly towards Davros the next time around, as they’ve descended into factional squabbles between their creator and the Supreme Dalek. In Revelation Of The Daleks, their old creator is posing as a Great Healer while building a secret army on the funeral planet Necros. He goads the Sixth Doctor into stopping by, but he’s also bothered by a legendary assassin, a squadron of the Supreme Daleks’ pepperpots, and – most inexplicably – a DJ played by Alexei Sayle.
What to watch: Revelation Of The Daleks (Season 22, 1985)
Going up in the world
“You are the Doctor! You are the enemy of the Daleks! You will be exterminated! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!”
It’s Revelation that introduces the Dalek civil war and even shows the first hovering Dalek, but it’s the cliffhanger to Episode 1 of the brilliant Remembrance Of The Daleks that often gets the credit for the first Dalek flying. Beyond chasing the Seventh Doctor upstairs, these Daleks turn 1960s Shoreditch into a battleground for an ancient Time Lord artefact, even bringing along a Special Weapons Dalek. Acting as a de facto finale for the Daleks in the classic series, note how their last scene with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor mirrors their first with Christopher Eccleston in the 2005. It’s as if the more these lads change, the more they stay the same.
What to watch: Remembrance Of The Daleks (Season 25, 1988) – this one’s back to the 4 x 25 minute format.
Other Dalek Landmarks
– We haven’t counted Season 3’s 12-part epic The Daleks’ Master Plan, which is entirely lost, or Season 4’s second Dalek showdown The Evil Of The Daleks (Season 4, 1967) which is getting an animated release on DVD in 2021 – both may eventually turn up on BritBox if animated.
– Outside of BritBox, another lost episode is available to watch for free in a reconstructed form – Mission To The Unknown (Season 3, 1965) is what you might call the first Doctor-lite episode, serving as the Rogue One to Master Plan’s Star Wars, as a desperate pair of astronauts fight off the Daleks and their mind-altering plant Varga. The University of Central Lancashire’s faithful recreation of the episode is available on the official BBC YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW8yk-m5Ig8
– Earlier in Peter Davison’s era, The Five Doctors (Season 20, 1983) sees the First Doctor (Richard Hurndall, stepping in for the late Hartnell) and Susan encounter a Dalek in the Death Zone on Gallifrey. They make pretty short work of it by shoving it into a mirrored passageway, where it promptly exterminates itself – it’s less than you’d expect from the iconic baddies in a 20th anniversary celebration, but also about as good as they got in Steven Moffat’s 50th anniversary episode too.
– The less said about the Munchkin-voiced Daleks that are briefly heard in the opening sequence of the 1996 TV Movie, the better. Presumably for licensing reasons, they don’t actually appear to shout their catchphrase as they execute the Master. Add Daleks to chocolate and preconceptions about British teeth on the list of things Americans just can’t quite get right…
Classic Doctor Who is available on BritBox as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.