‘You…will…..be….exterminated!’ – Meet the Daleks
Tags: 'An Unearthly Child', 'Mk III Travel Machines', 'The Dead Planet', 'The Mutants', 'Whovian', 'You will be exterminated', 1929 pattern British Police Call Box, 50thb Anniversary Show, BBC America, BBC TV, cable networks in North America, classic 'foes' of the Doctor, Davros, Dr Who, first 'companion', Fleet Air Arm Museum, Gallifrey, Great Britain, Matt Smith, museum, Museums, proto-Dalek, regeneration, sci-fi, sci-fi series, science fiction, science fiction franchise, science fiction series, sentient race, Skaro, TARDIS, the 11th Doctor, the 1st Doctor, the Kaled, Time Lord, TV series, William Hartnell, Yeovilton
Category: Great Britain
These four words – uttered in a flat, metallic, rasping tone – can be issued by only one sentient race in the whole sci-fi universe. Yes, the Daleks! These utterly evil, merciless, genetically engineered cyborgs, each encased in a rolling exoskeleton, have been fighting all other races (apart from some temporary alliances) since the first series of the BBC’s smash hit science fiction tale, ‘Doctor Who’, hit the screens in 1963.
I think it best to confess that I am a closet ‘Whovian’ (yes, that is the term). Right from the very first episode, ‘An Uneartly Child’, which opened in a dreary inner city schoolroom in 1963, I have been hooked. Admittedly, the BBC didn’t quite know what to DO with the series; it was supposed to have a strong educational remit, and teach teenagers about history (for example, the first year saw stories about Neolithic peoples, Marco Polo and the French Revolution). However, what the writers and producers did NOT realize was that they were laying the groundwork for a massive science fiction ‘franchise’ involving television, films, radio, books, computer games, websites – and a growing, fanatical fan base!
To run through 50 years of Dr Who history in one small diary is far too large a task, however, here are some basics, before we tackle a brief overview of one aspect.
1. The Doctor is a renegade Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey. He has stolen a TARDIS (‘Time And Relative Dimensions In Space’), the time-shift craft which allows Time Lords to move through all the universes and ‘land’ at any point in space and time. A big feature of the TARDIS is that it is BIGGER on the inside than it is on the outside – much bigger! It should also be protected by a ‘chameleon circuit’, which cloaks it whenever it lands, by imitating local features (a large boulder, Doric column, etc). However, the Doctor’s TARDIS has a faulty circuit, so it is stuck – as a 1929 pattern British Police Call Box! This blue box has now become a icon, recognised almost everywhere, and heavily marketed by the BBC!
2. He is always accompanied on his travels; his first ‘companion’ is Susan, his grandaughter, but the very first episode we see him take – against their will, initially – two more companions, who are two of Susan’s teachers.
3. The first Doctor was William Hartnell, a British journeyman actor, who had had some success playing military types. He showed the Doctor to be a gruff, grandfatherly sort, with a tendency to ponificate, at times.
4. One of the keys to the longevity of ‘Doctor Who’ as a programme, is the fact that the main character is allowed to ‘regrenerate’ rather than die. This is extremely useful, for it means that a new actor can be introduced to the series from time to time, with a new personality, yet with access to the accumulated memories of those who have preceeded him. This plot device was suggest by William Hartnell himself, who also suggested the actor who followed him in the role, Patrick Throughton, in 1966.
5. As the program evolved, it has begun to cater for an older audience. Also, some classic ‘foes’ of the Doctor were introduced, such as the Cybermen, Sea Devils and yes, you guessed it, the first and worst of all – the Daleks.
They first appear in a seven-part serial (the second such serial in the first season) which has through the years, been called ‘The Mutants’ (commissioned under that title), ‘The Dead Planet’ (title of the first episode in the series) and ‘The Daleks’. Despite the fact that there were many changes over the years – and their back-story altered- they remain a heavily mutated/genetically engineered survivor race from a hideous nuclear war, whose home planet, Skaro, is semi-destroyed. In later series, it is revealled that there is a proto-Dalek (the word is an anagram of the original name of the race, the Kaled) called Davros, their chief scientist, who has accelerated the mutations and placed the resulting creatures in ‘Mk III Travel Machines’ – the machine you can see above. The creature and its machine became known as a ‘Dalek’.
Here is where the LOW production values of the original ‘Dr Who’ came into play. There is a tube, intended to be a ‘blast’ weapon, on the Dalek’s left side, and a ‘multi-purpose sucker/manipulator’ on the right. If it looks like a sink plunger to you – well, you could be right! Those two amber lights on the sides of the ‘head’, which pulsed when the creature talked – they are simple indicator lights, obtainable at any motorist’s store in the 1960s! Fortunately, the series has survived – despite a LONG hiatus from 1989 to 2005, broken only by an indifferent ‘made for TV’ film in 1996, starring Paul McGann.
The program has been broadcast on many stations/cable networks in North America, over the years, leading to fervent (if somewhat limited in size) fan support. However, the establishment of BBC America, and the revival of the series in the U.K., has meant a huge upsurge in interest. Matt Smith, who plays the bow-tie wearing 11th iteration of the Doctor has benefitted from bigger budgets, better writing, more location shooting and excellent special effects.
There will be a very special 50th Anniversary show on 23 November, 2013, which will include David Tennant (as the Tenth Doctor) and Matt Smith (as the current, Eleventh). I think it is now safe to say that Matt Smith’s last appearance as the Doctor will be in the Christmas Special, this year. A very special ‘regeneration’ will reveal the identity of the latest holder of one of the most beloved roles in science fiction!
Oh, and in case you are wondering where I found the Dalek…..it is in the Restoration Section of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeoviliton. When I asked, I was told that some shooting for an episode in the series had taken place there, and it was decided to leave this now ‘out-of-date’ model behind!