Thursday, 15 September 2011

Guest Article: Jonathan L Howard "The Lord of the Daleks"

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.

The fool.

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…

…within reason.

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.

Still waiting.

That was brilliant, Jonathan, thank you!


  1. Okay, I'm going to face-off against the might of the Dalek tzar. This will be your final end!

    Hmmm. Actually lots of good points here- I particularly like the call for Daleks as individuals, and do want to know more about that Dalek sculpture...

    That said, the Dalek begging River for mercy did make sense- it was de-powered and possibly the last Dalek in all creation at the time. It would do anything to survive, and might even try begging for mercy if there was a chance it might work.

    My big disagreement however, is over the idea of "cluttered" Daleks. I liked the old RTD era Daleks that were just that- little one-octopus tanks. However, the other thing about the Daleks is that they are insanely advanced- able to take on the Time Lords at their peak. If you'll allow me to use a rather ugly comparison- They're not Enterprise, they're The Next Generation. Or maybe even just the big upturned VHS tape they find on the moon in 2001. Their idea of functional is so refined that to us it does just look merely decorative- which leads to the iDalek comparisons.

    Now I've completely torn apart your argument, I expect to receive news of my new post as Dalek Tzar in the mail.

  2. @Chrisfarnell Interesting thoughts, but wrong, obviously, as they differ from mine. I did consider the "last of the Daleks, so it would even beg to survive" argument, but by that logic, why would it even be chasing them? It would have scurried off somewhere to preserve its precious DNA and started building an assembly line.

    Again, with the "advanced technologies look simple" argument, why would it fall between two stools like this? Why don't the New Paradigm Daleks look like very elegant flying spheres? How is it that they're even bigger and more cumbersome than the originals?

    No, my arguments have proved as resilient as if constructed from polycarbide and dalekanium alloy laminate armour. I'm still Dalek Tzar. So there.

    I should add that I also really like the new weapon design, a stylistic return to the original substantial build and away from the cheaper "egg whisks of doom" Daleks have been stuck with for years.

    Also, I wouldn't be so unhappy about the New Paradigm units if they were section leaders, surrounded by "normal" Daleks. I understand, however, that *all* Daleks will look like this from now on, a decision that elicits a disappointed sigh from me, thus: *Sigh*

  3. An Addendum: Hold the presses. The other day I was in a branch of the Entertainer toy shops and they were selling off copies of "Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2011" for a quid apiece. On leafing through it, I saw there was a story in it by Brian Aldiss and so I promptly bought it. I mean, come on, a Brian Aldiss DW story. How could I not?

    I've read the rest of the annual in dribs and drabs and been very impressed by it; it's actually really well put together and I'd recommend it to any DW fan. Anyway, there's an interview with Steve Moffat wherein he's specifically asked about the New Paradigm Daleks, and he says, "The fact is, we're not going to lose the old Daleks. We're keeping them. They're coming back. We'll just use them all at once, and have different ranks. All I've done is give the Daleks an officer rank."

    Moffat is clearly a scholar and gentleman, and I won't hear a word against him. He still needs a Dalek Tzar, though; my hand's starting to get numb now I've had it up so long. Over here! Me! Me! Me!

  4. I will keep this short, as any second now the poison in your wine is bound to take effect.

    A: The Dalek didn't think it was in danger until it realised it was chasing after River Song.

    B: Because flying spheres would just look silly (See the Toclophane) and as you've already pointed out, the Daleks are not without a sense of aesthetics.

    C: You are right about Stephen Moffat, and after he appoints me Dalek Tzar I'm totally going to go round his house and we'll play with *all* the Dalek toys. I'm even going to stick some little satellite dishes on some of them to make Invasion of Earth style Daleks.

    Now before your lungs and heart explode, you probably have just enough to time to weep openly about how very, very wrong you are.

  5. This is what passes for rational debate in that benighted hinterland you call a mind, is it? If you buffet about in that undignified way for very much longer, you'll regenerate into Sylvester McCoy.

    A: Right. So the Dalek's fine going after the Doctor, but has a problem with River Song? I am sneering now. Sneering at you. Sneering. If you had any pride you'd go out and fall on your sword. Or shoot yourself. Or fall on your gun. Or something.

    B: I used the example of a sphere as part of a reductio ad absurdam to illustrate your specious and fallacious argument. It is the natural final stage of what you suggest -- it is silly, ergo, so is your argument. I see you never troubled your school's debating society in any great way.

    C: I am right about Steven Moffat, this wine is delicious, your toxicological skills are as embarrassing as your logical ones, and I'm still Dalek Tzar.

    Now I invoke the ancient rite of Yar! Boo! Sucks! And no returns. I win. Run along.

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  7. No returns?! But... wha.. you can't... DAMN YOU JONATHAN L HOWARD! You win this round.

    But though I may be defeated, from my ashes will rise a new race. The supreme creature. The ultimate conqueror of the universe!

    I'm not playing anymore.