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article imageGolden Nemesis: Daleks celebrate 50 years of sci-fi adventures

By Mathew Wace Peck     Dec 21, 2013 in Entertainment
The Daleks, one of the most enduring sci-fi creations, celebrate their half-century this weekend, having first appeared on television screens exactly 50 years ago today.
On Saturday, December 21, 1963, viewers got their first glimpse of a Dalek, at the climax of the fifth episode of the BBC’s then-nascent tea-time science-fiction drama series, Doctor Who.
However, it was a full week later — on Saturday, December 28, 1963 — that the Daleks appeared in their full glory, the previous week’s episode having teased viewers with a shot of the Doctor’s companion, Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) being menaced with what appeared to be a sink plunger but what was, in fact, an arm of a deadly Dalek.
It’s safe to say that the Daleks — which were created by Terry Nation and designed by Raymond Cusick — have become one of the most iconic robots in modern pop-culture history. They are synonymous with Doctor Who, having returned to the series more times than any other alien creature during the show’s past five decades of adventures.
Much has been written during the past 12 months of Doctor Who ’s fiftieth anniversary but it mustn’t be forgotten that — at just four weeks younger than the parent show — the Daleks have been around for 50 years, too!
Bug-eyed monsters!
Their first — albeit partial — appearance happened in the fifth episode: Episode 1, “The Dead Planet,” of Nation’s six-part serial, The Daleks, even though the show’s creator, Sydney Newman, had been adamant that Doctor Who was not to feature any bug-eyed monsters. Newman was furious when he found out that his young producer, Verity Lambert, had gone against his wishes, but was first to concede that he was wrong when viewing figures for the ailing show shot up to over 10 million after the Daleks’ introduction.
Since their first appearance, the Daleks have returned to TV countless times. At the height of what became known as Dalekmania, in the 1960s, they featured in two big-budget cinema movies, with the well-known Hammer Horror film actor, Peter Cushing, taking on the role of the Doctor.
The Daleks are the only Doctor Who monsters to have confronted every TV incarnation of the Doctor — although for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor that is thanks to the ongoing audio adventures produced under BBC license by Big Finish. The only other Doctor Who monster that seriously rivals the Daleks — in terms of the number of times they have appeared in the series and their recognisability with the general population — are the Cybermen; but they didn’t make their Doctor Who debut till 1966, in William Hartnell’s swansong serial as the First Doctor, The Tenth Planet.
Return of the Daleks
To date, the Daleks have appeared in 24 full TV adventures of Doctor Who and have been referenced or made cameo appearances in many others. As well as the two 1960s movies, there had been plans for a third, based on the 1965 TV serial The Chase. Two stage plays have featured the Daleks: The Curse of the Daleks (1965) and The Ultimate Adventure (1989). Both are also available as audio dramas from Big Finish, as are dozens of original audio adventures to have featured them, including their own spin-off Doctor-less series, Dalek Empire.
Incidentally, in the final episode of The Chase, the Doctor and his companions come face to fire-gun with the Mechonoids, spherical robotic creatures not dissimilar to their Dalek enemies. The Mechonoids were once again created by Nation and Cusick, the intention being that they too would be returning monsters to the series. However, being much more unwieldy than the Daleks, the production team decided to shelve possible future plans involving them. However, the Mechonoids did spawn their own merchandise and reappear in the long-running TV Century 21 comic strip. To date, their only dramatic return has been in the 2005 Big Finish audio drama, The Juggernauts, by Scott Alan Woodard.
In the late sixties, Nation took his creations — which he co-owns with the BBC — to the United States, in an attempt to create a Dalek TV series but, ultimately, it came to nothing. There were also plans, this time by the BBC and, again, in the late 1960s, for a Doctor Who radio series, whereby Cushing would have reprised his version of the Doctor and, no doubt, the Daleks would have returned to confront him, too. Nation also intended at one point to have the Daleks appear in Blake’s 7, the TV sci-fi space opera he created, which ran from 1977 to 1981.
Away from the show itself, the Daleks have appeared in numerous parodies and on a wide range of merchandise, such as sweets, plastic toys, clothing and books, including a number of children’s annuals (incidentally, apart from the decades-old Doctor Who Annual and, in 1981, a one-off K9 Annual, the only other characters from the TV show to be represented in that way).
Silver Nemesis
In 1988, as part of the 25th-anniversary season of Doctor Who, the Daleks returned opposite Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, in the Ben Aaronovich-scripted Remembrance of the Daleks, which saw the creatures invade Coal Hill School in 1963, which had formed part of the narrative for the first-ever story, Anthony Coburn’s An Unearthly Child.
Speaking recently about Remembrance of the Daleks — which had been produced during John Nathan-Turner’s tenure in charge of the show — Doctor Who News reports Doctor Who ’s current showrunner, Steven Moffat (Sherlock), as saying:
Terrific script, terrific, pacy, very modern, very of-its-time script, very, very well directed and with one of the best spaceship landings we've had in Doctor Who. Back in the day when they had no CGI, when they barely had post-production, a spaceship landing in a school playground . . . they did it superbly. Genius! And a superlative story.
Later in the 25th season, the Cybermen also returned, in Silver Nemesis by Kevin Clarke. This year, bringing to a close Doctor Who ’s 50th-anniversay celebrations, the Daleks and the Cybermen will appear in the same story: this year’s Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor.
Christmastime of the Doctor
The Time of the Doctor — again from the prolific pen of Moffat and the ninth such special in a row — marks the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor and introduces Peter Capaldi as his successor.
On the approach to the 50th anniversary, Daleks from every era of the TV series appeared together for the first time in Moffat’s Asylum of the Daleks — which also introduced the Doctor’s current travelling companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman) — while the Cybermen showed up once again in Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver. The Daleks most recent outings were in last month’s 50th-anniversary specials, The Day of the Doctor, again by Moffat and starring Smith, Tennant and John Hurt as different incarnations of the Doctor, and the Peter Davison-scripted The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. The 75-minute feature, which was simulcast in a record-breaking 94 countries around the world, also saw the return of Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, but, mysteriously, this time credited to as “the Curator.”
The 60-minute special will be the first time that the Daleks have appeared in a regeneration story — notwithstanding the 2008 partial-regeneration story, The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, which was written by Moffat’s predecessor, Russell T Davies, and saw the creation of two Tenth Doctors, both as played by David Tennant. However, it won’t be the first time that the Cybermen have appeared in one; the first-ever regeneration story, the aforementioned The Tenth Planet — when William Hartnell’s First Doctor was seen to change into Patrick Troughton’s Second — being the one that had introduced them.
No doubt, the Daleks will continue for as long as Doctor Who continues, with suggestions having already been made that the film director Ben Wheatly — who is on board to helm two of Capaldi’s episodes next year — will be overseeing the next Dalek adventure.
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