Who's Afraid Of The Daleks?

Illustration for article titled Who's Afraid Of The Daleks?

The Daleks have been terrifying the Doctor for at least 12 life cycles, but are they still capable of inspiring fear in his audience?


Top image: "Dalek" — Season 1, nu-Who.

In response to the Doctor Who news that (Spoilers!) the Doctor would once again be encountering his old foes, a discussion began about whether the Daleks were actually frightening — and just what kinds of conditions might make us fear them again.

Commenter LadyMags described the Daleks as "the perfect example of diminishing returns," explaining that the once-frightening villains had an overexposure problem:

The Dalek in "Dalek" is great, if only because the Doctor is THAT freaked out by a single one. After that, the millions upon millions of them endlessly showing up was dull.

While commenter KLR_Steve suggests that scary is perhaps the wrong descriptor for the unsettlingly single-minded villains:

I think creepy would also be an accurate term to describe the Daleks, more so than scary. And maybe not the Daleks themselves, so much as the stories involving them. I found Genesis of the Daleks particularly unsettling, for example, but I can't properly articulate why. The scene of the Cult of Skaro emerging at the end of Doomsday is absolutely chilling. Despite being an otherwise terrible episode, everyone's reaction to Davros' reveal (especially Sarah Jane's) in The Stolen Earth had that same effect.


Commenter w00master suggested that there was a way to make the Daleks truly frightening again — but it would take some serious shifts in the storyline:

I just think ultimately - for the public and not an insane fan like myself - the writers of Who (dare I say) have written them wrong. IMHO, the right way to handle the Daleks is to craft stories where both the Daleks *and* the Doctor both win and lose. The problem (like the Borg in Trek) is that these types of enemies are *always* shown to be defeated by the hero of the story. Sure, the first couple of times... this notion works, but after 50+ years... the near constant "winning" of the Doctor hurts Daleks as a "character(s)."

So, back to my point... write Dalek stories where no one truly wins or loses. This is how you can bring the fear back to the Daleks.


So what do you think? Are you frightened of the Daleks? Were you ever frightened of them? Why or why not? Tell us about it – along with any episodes or moments that changed your mind – in the comments now.



Based solely on my experience in New Who, the Daleks are definitely affected by the law of Conservation of Ninjitsu. One of them is terrifying in "Dalek". A handful of them with an army of slave soldiers is a little unsettling in "The Daleks of Manhattan". An army of Daleks like the ones in "Bad Wolf"* or "Victory of the Daleks"* are Imperial Stormtroopers: No matter how much you say that they're badass, you'll inevitably show them being one-shotted by the dozen when a big battle scene breaks out.

I'm not saying it's the only way to make the Daleks feel threatening again, but the easiest way certainly seems to be to not have so many of them that they can be used as cannon fodder.

*Okay, okay, neither are "true Daleks" to use their own parlance, but to the average fan, does the racial purity of your alien cyborg tank Nazis really matter? Or is that just the gnawing sense that someone needs to excuse these armies of Daleks for not being the unstoppable conquerors they've been made out to be?