Monday, April 3, 2006

Daleks and the Nazis


THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH mirrors the Nazi Britain of Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's IT HAPPENED HERE.

THE arrival of the Daleks has often been cited, with some justification, as the development that sealed DOCTOR WHO’s popular success. Malicious mutants encased in armoured machinery, Daleks are perfect little Hitler’s, ordering, exterminating and ranting in unison. Strictly cyborgs, the Daleks blend opposite extremes of science fiction menace: a regimented, hard outer shell, with a seething, tentacled inner creature. The most fundamental feature of Dalek culture and psychology is an unquestioned belief in their superiority; other species are either to be killed immediately, or enslaved and then destroyed later once they are no longer necessary.

In their debut story THE MUTANTS (1963), the Daleks were portrayed as a paranoid yet complex race. In THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH, The Doctor (William Hartnell) must now face a full-blown galactic menace, the Daleks establishing a huge mine in Bedfordshire, in order to remove the Earth’s core and replace it with a drive system to pilot the planet around the galaxy. More a ‘Dalek Invasion of the Home Counties’, the story is still one of the most nihilistic and iconic of the Time Lord’s tales. This six-parter also signalled the start of Dalekmania, but arguably may well have been the point where DOCTOR WHO turned from a limited-run children’s tea-time series with educational intent, into a national institution. The images of a shattered London and its environs are stark, and the collapse of civilisation is portrayed like the result of a World War II air raid. To further the WWII slant, the story can be seen as a "what if…" depiction of Nazi occupation, an appropriate re-emphasis for a race of xenophobes like the Daleks. With the resistance group clearly modelled on the bands of patriots who resisted the Wehrmacht in occupied Europe, Terry Nation’s scripts essentially equate the story with this notion. The black Dalek of the mining camp is referred to as the ‘commandant’, and the extermination of all humans is their ‘final solution’. As if to ensure that nobody misses the point, the scene were the Daleks raise their sucker arms in a Nazi salute has passed into WHO folklore.

Davros and his creations. GENESIS OF THE DALEKS showed that the series was developing an appreciation of moral issues, reflecting Baker’s Doctor being more liberal and indecisive. Yet the intensity of the violence and high body count prompted angry letters to the Radio Times, and attracted the attention of clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

In GENESIS OF THE DALEKS, Nation revisits early Dalek history, elaborating (and contradicting) back-story established in THE MUTANTS. Dramatic, gritty and uncompromising, it pushed the show to its creative boundaries in every sphere of production, as well as introducing Davros (Michael Wisher), the deranged and disfigured chief scientist whose genetic experiments gave rise to the Daleks. A megalomaniac who demonstrates a cruel eloquence and cunning lacking from the belligerent creatures he spawned, rarely has a DOCTOR WHO villain been given such depth, and been played with such bravado. Obsessed with the racial supremacy of his creations, Davros takes the Darwinian idea that evolution favours the strongest, modifying embryos to eliminate the weaknesses of conscience and pity. The Doctor (Tom Baker)’s dilemma is whether destroying the Daleks – an act of genocide – makes him as immoral as the Daleks themselves.