Doctor Who: Ranking the Dalek Stories – Which is the Best?

Their redesign is a microcosm of why ‘Dalek’ works so well: it doesn’t change much, rather it takes what already works and improves upon it. I can’t imagine the return of the Daleks being handled better, while stealthily setting up the stakes of the previously unimaginable series finale.

Over this article I’ve talked about different aspects of the Daleks’ appeal. Children love them and fear them. They tap into adult fears of death, fascism and the uncanny (exemplified by the cacophonic chanting of ‘Exterminate’). That they can appear comical can be weaponised, as can the fact their hatred is not unique to them. Their reach extends into the mundane.

The reasons these episodes work so well is partly because they tap into these strengths, but also that they tell more than anything tell the story of the Ninth Doctor. He’s already committed a double-genocide, as far as he’s concerned, and is barely keeping it together without the prospect of having to commit another one. This is contrasted with the fact of one Dalek being demonstrably dangerous, and now there are hundreds of them. We know what they can, what they will do, and the only way to stop it is for the Doctor to kill Daleks and humans alike. It’s a much more effectively constructed and persuasive dilemma than the one the Doctor proposes in ‘Genesis’.

This story also puts in work with the supporting characters, and rather than being soldiers the staff of the satellite are office workers put into a desperate situation, or people who just wanted to be on telly. While ‘Bad Wolf’isn’t as Dalek-heavy, its satire is subtly devastating. If you look back at clips of The Weakest Link now you can see casual and sadistic cruelty meted out, so connecting this to the Daleks is a stroke of genius (especially with celebrity voices unwittingly joining in their own condemnation), bringing their evil to the everyday.

The Doctor’s closest friends here are merely the people who die last; he knows they’re going to die, and he hears it happen. It becomes increasingly personal, while also satiating that morbid fannish desire to see the Daleks kill someone. Here they seem sadistic, devious, and unstoppable. The need to stop them is obvious, as is the cost.

So rather than an unearned moment of moralising here we have a situation where the Doctor’s decision makes sense, is not abstract to him. This also, in the first series back, makes an important statement: Doctor Who can be dark, and nice people can die horribly, but it is not a series where the grimness becomes overwhelming. Here the Doctor’s decision not to kill is one he knows will also cost him his life, and then his ideals inspire his salvation: it is Rose, not Davros or the Doctor, who is set up among the gods, and her instinct is not – to paraphrase another franchise – to destroy what she hates.

The reason I love this one is because it delivers on so many fronts: these stories define this Doctor. The story is epic but steeped in the everyday. The Daleks are terrified and terrifying, silent and shrieking, devious and brutal. They feel unstoppable here in a way they simply haven’t since. For a story to do this many things is impressive, but to do them all well is astonishing.


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