I've made no secret in the past for my love of Jonathan L Howard's two novels (Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and Johannes Cabal the Detective - the third novel The Fear Institute is out now!) so I was utterly thrilled when he said that he would write a guest post for my vacation. I'm just as delighted that he has turned his attention to the Daleks of Dr Who fame, since, ordinarily, this site is rather Dr Who-free thanks to my not watching it (yes, we all have our faults...).
I give you Jonathan L Howard - the Lord of the Daleks...
Steven Moffat is doing a decent enough job as the Doctor Who showrunner, I suppose. I’m certainly enjoying the plotting better than I did under his predecessor, a man who wrote himself into corners with regularity, trusting to any number of flabby deus ex machinae to get him out of trouble. I approved of his casting of Matt Smith before he’d even made it, based on Smith’s appearances in the two Sally Lockhart films he did for the BBC, wherein he stole every scene in which he appeared.
A good showing for our man Moffat then, in most respects. In one, however, he has made a silly, silly schoolboy error.
He has not hired me as a consultant on a very important aspect of the programme. He has not made me the Tsar of Skaro.
He has not made me the Lord of the Daleks.
As must be obvious to anyone who has ever met me and wished to leave the room alive or, at least, ungnawed, I understand the Daleks better than anyone alive or, indeed, dead. Terry Nation didn’t understand them. Why all that stuff and nonsense in Destiny of the Daleks about them lacking the freewill and originality to be unpredictable foes for the Movellans, a race of robots? That’s suggesting that the
Daleks are no more than robots themselves. Heresy!
Ben Aaronovitch did better with The Remembrance of the Daleks, once again making them the cunning, duplicitous creatures they are at their best. Still, they were still incapable of unpredictable strategies and so were dependant on a human mind to act as their battle computer. Feh.
Do you want to know what the true secret of satisfying Dalek stories is? Come closer, then. Closer. Closer, that I may whisper it into your ignorant ear.
The Daleks are individuals.
It’s true. Turning them into a great horde of faceless killers is very effective when they are in a great horde, but single faceless killers are boring. If you hearken back to the days of Dalekmania in the ‘sixties, the old Dalek comic scripted by David Whittaker and illustrated by Ron Turner, each and every Dalek has its own name. Admittedly, they were all called things like “Insli” and “Zeg,” but it was the ‘sixties. Everybody was called “Insli” and “Zeg.”
Anyway, think of the Dalek city in their very first television story; the Doctor and his companions look for something heavy to drop down a lift shaft onto the pursuing Daleks. What do they use?
A piece of sculpture.
In the Dalek city, populated only by Daleks, there are artworks, created by Daleks, for Daleks. Think on it.
As an aside, I would also point out that among their other advanced technologies, the Daleks make use of lava lamps (Doctor Who and the Daleks AARU Productions, 1965) and plasma globes (Remembrance of the Daleks), because genocide is stressful and sometimes you just need to chill out a bit, yeah?
Are the Daleks as individualistic as humans? No, but that’s largely due to conditioning. They are terrifyingly loyal to the Emperor – if they have one that week – and to the concept of their own innate superiority. Death is meaningless to them except in as far as it prevents them continuing to prosecute their great Kulturkampf against the rest of the universe.
So, they have no fear of death. I remember reading an “Abslom Daak – Dalek Killer” comic a good few years ago and being appalled – appalled, damn it – at a scene where Daak intimidates a Dalek into betraying its race.
Daak’s smug, he doesn’t shave very often, and he has a pony tail, but it would take a sight more than that to terrify a Dalek, I assure you.
Oh, and apparently he calls women “broads,” because it’s the future, you see.
I had assumed that this Dalek timidity was just a bit of silliness until along came the Doctor Who episode “The Big Bang” in which, confronted by River Song armed with her trusty fez-blaster, a Dalek begs for mercy.
This is an absolute outrage. Don’t these people understand anything? First they homogenise the Daleks, then they render them a bit thick, and now they castrate them. Well, at least they have now achieved their nadir.
Now everything has to be an improvement.
Pardon me a moment. I’m not sure what’s going on. I appear to be laughing and crying simultaneously.
Okay. Okay, I’m good.
It’s interesting that there are actually very few views of the “New Paradigm” Daleks sideways on; I’ve had to fall back on a picture of a toy to get anything close to their most unflattering side. A lot has been said on just how wrong these Daleks are, and I shall be adding to that opprobrium but with what I believe to be a new observation.
Firstly, I do not mind the colours. Indeed, I applaud the colours. I am a child of the ‘sixties and, between the Dalek comic and the two films with Peter Cushing, I have always been very disappointed that the television series has lacked more colour variations. Why wouldn’t they have them, after all? It’s a fast, easy differentiation between unit types and what does it matter if they show up easily on the battlefield? They’re well shielded and armoured and they are not afraid of death. I even did a colour guide for the “Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space” RPG forum back in February of 2010 in which I included olive green and sunflower yellow Daleks a couple of months before they turned up on TV (admittedly, my yellow Daleks handled logistics within the Empire, and weren’t “Eternals,” whatever the drokking frell that means). That’s how much I approve of interestingly coloured Daleks…
The poor thing, it looks so sad.
No, the “New Paradigm” problem is with the styling. Not all of it, I hasten to add; I do like the “maintenance panel” at the back of the skirt.
It took me a while to realise what it was that I didn’t like primarily. It wasn’t the overly cluttered eyestalk, although it is loathsome. It wasn’t the silly removal of the neck columns, although it does make the neck seem insubstantial, as if the head is going to wilt over at any moment. It wasn’t the ridiculously massive shoulders, though it makes the Dalek look as if it’s wearing a lifesaver. It isn’t even the ludicrous hump at the back, though it makes the Dalek look hunched over and uncomfortable.
Some people have called these new Daleks “iDaleks,” and I think that’s where the problem truly lies. If you see a piece of military equipment, something big and complex like a tank, you will note that it is covered with all sorts of clutter. Odd handles and covers, flaps, louvres, and all manner of curious gadgets whose function is not immediately apparent to the layperson. All these things shriek “Function!” however.
They say, “This is a war machine, not a sports car.”
This was the triumph of the original Raymond Cusick Dalek designs. Everything on them, from the skirt bumps to the shoulder slats (a slightly later feature) to the “spark-arrestor” discs on the eyestalk, suggested function. You might not know what these features were for exactly, but a Dalek looked like a machine put together for war. The “New Paradigm” Daleks, in contrast, look like an exercise in designing a consumer durable. They do not look like engines of destruction. They look like something designed to make the folk in marketing excited.
Indeed, the persistent rumour is that this is exactly what they were designed for; new meat for the toy range. Even that isn’t such a bad thing; the iconic classic Star Trek phaser 1, 2, and 3 units were designed with the possibility of toys in mind.
Simplifying a design that works best with a little clutter, however… dear me. Dearie, dearie me.
Why didn’t they ask me? Why? It beggars belief. They need a Lord of the Daleks, they do. Although I’m warming to Dalek Tsar now. Maybe Dalek Tzar. That looks a bit more “Zeg.” Anyway, I’m waiting for the call, Moffat. Waiting.
That was brilliant, Jonathan, thank you!