Doctor Who: Are We Giving Daleks Self-Esteem Issues?

If there was one major takeaway from this year’s BBC Doctor Who New Year’s Special ‘Resolution,’ it’s that there’s definitely a new Dalek in town. It’s broke and has no casing, broken off by a bunch of warriors hundreds of years ago. So what’s a poor Dalek in “The Big City” to do when it finally wakes up, naked and broke? Why, do the thrift shop thing and make its own wardrobe, of course!

Our fashion-conscious Dalek takes over a local woman’s mind and body, uses her to murder some coppers, steals their car, drives to a local foundry, kills the owner, takes over the place and hand-builds its own casing from scrap so it can finally get about on its own and kill people.

That’s serious commitment, kids. It’s DIY–a time-honoured British tradition! It’s Punk!

And does it get any credit for all that hard work? No. It just gets The Doctor mocking it for going “retro-chic”.

What’s interesting about the one-off Dalek in ‘Resolution’ is that it’s the first Dalek model to be completely remote controlled by the special effects team. All previous Daleks were large and fat enough to have a human operator sitting inside them peddling and swinging away to make them expressive.

Daleks are television’s most popular evil space Nazis. They were inspired by the real Nazis from World War II, with their unswerving and harsh voices an exaggerated version of how Nazi villains shout. They were designed to look like pepper-shakers so that they didn’t look remotely human or capable of emotion to be just inhuman and scary enough for kids without being too traumatizing. These are angry pepper-shakers that want to kill you. Created in the Sixties when Britain was still recovering from World War II, Daleks are the “gateway drug” to teaching kids about the evils of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia, and fascism.

They also sell a lot of toys. That’s one reason the basic design and look of the Daleks have stayed the same since 1964. The silhouette of a Dalek is unmistakable: a pepper-shaker with a plunger for an arm, a ray gun, two lights on its head, and bumps on its lower half.

Over the decades, Daleks have had minor variations in their design – when the show was finally filmed in colour, they had different colours often denoting different ranks. The Peter Cushing movies had them in different colours as well.

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They were silver in the early 1970’s…

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In the 1980s, they were gunmetal grey.

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In ‘Remembrance of the Daleks,’ the gold and white Daleks were a breakaway faction called Imperial Daleks, along with a stubby Special Weapons Dalek. The other faction was the gunmetal Daleks along with a black Dalek as their leader.

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Their basic design always stayed the same–even when the Daleks returned in 2005, there were minor tweaks but the look stayed the same other than being bronze (a look that fans of the current show have latched onto).

Of course, there were still new variations like the Emperor Dalek, a variation of the basic design – and another toy to sell in the shops…

Then came this…

Midway through Steven Moffat’s run as showrunner, there was an attempt to revamp the Daleks with a new redesign. These new Daleks were supposed to be an elite, more genetically pure version with higher tank bodies–designed apparently to be as tall as Karen Gillan so they can be more intimidating now. They had fatter bodies and came in different colours…and fans hated them.

They demanded the show stick to the bronze Daleks introduced during Russell T. Davies’ run, and called these new models the “Teletubbies Daleks”. I call them the “IKEA Daleks” because their colours and smooth, slightly streamlined design made me think of the Swiss DIY furniture you buy from IKEA. The outcry was nearly as loud as the objections over the next Doctor being a woman.

So with that, the show quietly mothballed the new IKEA Daleks. The bronze ones became the standard again for the show. The IKEA Daleks and some of the other special Daleks showed up in the background on episodes like ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’ Here we have the usual bronze Daleks but also a red Supreme Dalek and the IKEA Daleks and a black Dalek as extras. That was probably the last time that many Dalek variants were seen together on the show.

What’s interesting is the creators of the DIY Punk Dalek from ‘Resolution’ stressed in the making-of video that this was a one-off Dalek and not the new look for all the Daleks from now on. It feels like they needed to go out of their way to reassure fans that they won’t be changing the look of the bronze Daleks that the fans have fixed upon.

Honestly, what’s a Dalek to do if it wants to go out on the town with a new look for a change? Looks like the fans just won’t let that happen…