In Defense of Daleks: A Short Examination of a Science Fiction Icon

Hello everyone! Last week I made a vague promise that I would post some of my own writing, and I will… next week! For today, I’d like to address what I see as an injustice in the science fiction world, one which rivals the assumption that Star Trek is overrated or that Jean Luc Picard isn’t the best captain of the Enterprise (all arguments to the contrary will be dismissed out of hand). I’m talking about the undeserved hate, derision, and mockery of those lovable murderous trash receptacles, the Daleks of Dr. Who fame.
Dr. Who daleks 2012I admit it, at first I found them to be cheesy and annoying. Seriously, the writers had to make them fly because otherwise their little wheels would get stuck on uneven pavement (not to mention stairs). But then I saw the original Dalek episode, from the original Dr. Who series, and I started thinking. What did the writers of various Dr. Who series accomplish with the Daleks? They created an iconic villain, and in the continuing series, barely modified them. And why not? The dorky cyborgs struck a coord, and BBC was quite happy to leave it at that..

Designing Daleks: Anything but Human

When you take a look at the Daleks, what do you see? A salt-shaker body? An egg-beater dalek designgun? A toilet plunger hand? What don’t you see?

Anything human. This is the primary theme of the designer’s vision of the Daleks. Entirely inhuman, cold and invincible, mad and dangerous. You have to remember, most aliens of this era in tv and movies were just people wearing makeup and masks. While they still come off as corny looking back, there are numerous fans that say these contraptions scared the pants off them when they were little, and when you think it, that’s not surprising.

Ignoring the low-budget production values, even if you didn’t think the Daleks were scary, they were still intriguing as alien creatures. Who are we to say how a mad alien space nazi would design his cyborg creations, anyway? Why shouldn’t they fly, it’s not like they need to be aerodynamic with anti-gravity anyway. Stairs? Psh. As the saying goes, ‘A real Dalek doesn’t climb stairs, he levels the building.’ Even if the execution is a bit sophomoric, the Daleks are undoubtedly effectively designed aliens that made for fun tv.

And Then the Internet Happened

Fast forward twenty years or so, and we’re a lot less scared by non-human aliens. Daleks have ceased to scare anyone except the very young, and Dr. Who as a show has moved from trying to maintain any semblance of seriousness and instead embraces an attitude of endearing goofiness with some really neat ideas and a few genuinely creepy creatures thrown in.

dalek in bathtub Exfoliate!Yet the Daleks have a new place, one that didn’t exist in their debut: the internet meme. Along with the nostalgia factor, fans of Dr. Who love to laugh at (and with) the Daleks, creating images like these that almost made me spew my tea all over my brand new laptop while looking for images. Even if they don’t scare anyone anymore, people love these aliens to the degree that’s hard to replicate. I know I’d love nothing more than for people to endlessly photoshop and caption something created. While I am by no means a drooling Dr. Who fanboy, I’ve definitely stopped hating the Daleks and personally respect the stroke of brilliance (and good luck) that the designers employed to create one of the biggest cult icons in all of science fiction.

That’s it for this week! Next week I’ll introduce some of my personal writing process and show off some work of my own! Until then, what do you think of the Daleks? Let me know in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “In Defense of Daleks: A Short Examination of a Science Fiction Icon

  1. Daleks are always a lot more impressive in small doses. When you have any huge army of ruthless, virtually unstoppable creatures who are incapable of any emotion but hate and whose one goal is to destroy all other life forms, it’s not surprising that they’re effectively lethal. It’s inevitable that they’ll kill you all. But when you have a small troop of say four or five, then watching them track down and exterminate a whole ship’s worth of unsuspecting space colonists is much more impressive.

    P.S. Picard is the best captain, but his crew is more annoying than Kirk’s.

    1. I agree that the strength of their presence is the feeling of inevitability, these clunky alien death-tank trundling toward you shouting in staccato, bloodthirsty rage. The weakness is in the execution: if the studio simply had had a better budget, the Daleks would have aged better and not look so stupid now. As an idea and design, I would argue they’re brilliant. You’re right about the smaller groups, mostly because in confined spaces their weaknesses are downplayed and its easier to execute dramatic lighting, etc. to make them look more impressive.

      Also, no argument about Picard’s crew.

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