The Daleks are a design classic, like the Mini Cooper, the iconic “S” emblazoned across Superman’s chest, and, perhaps most relevant to this website, the TARDIS (or rather, the original police telephone box whose shape it took). The thing is, you only mess with design classics when you have a very good reason, which begs the question: did Steven Moffat and co. have a good enough reason to redesign the Daleks for the conclusion of Victory of the Daleks, which was broadcast as part of Matt Smith’s inaugural season as the Doctor in 2010? Well, maybe they did; maybe they didn’t.
It’s certainly true that the show had a revamp for its fifth full series since returning in 2005 (and the first with Moffat as showrunner). It had a new Doctor, new logo, new theme, new companions, and a new TARDIS console room. It was thematically refreshed too: with a fairy tale quality, designed to appeal to both adults and children. Somewhat appropriately, this incarnation of the Doctor had a particularly otherworldly quality; he was not a dandy and inventor who, when he took time off from saving the world, liked to hang around in gentleman clubs name-dropping about the ‘great’ men from history whose personal acquaintance he had made; or a fresh-faced cricketeer whose TARDIS with its bickering companions sometimes felt more like a flat share than a machine for roaming through time and space. No, this Doctor was as mercurial as Patrick Troughton and eccentric as Tom Baker. He was an impish, skittish figure (a fairy or sprite rather than an alien from space?) whose first appearance saw him crash a magic box full of stories into a little girl’s back garden. Change was clearly in the air for the Doctor but, in terms of his oldest enemies, did this change go a little too far?
Steven Moffatt certainly thinks so. In 2015, he told Radio Times that the new paradigm Daleks were a ‘mistake’. He said, “it’s all my fault, no one else’s fault.”
I’m not sure that I entirely agree. Here then are five reasons* why the new paradigm Daleks (dubbed the ‘Teletubbies Daleks’ by some, due to their vibrant colour scheme) were not a disaster and arguably were, in fact, a missed opportunity:
*Why five reasons? Well, there were five different versions of new paradigm Daleks introduced in Victory of the Daleks, so that number seemed to fit…
- The Dalek’s new, vibrant colour scheme. Prior to the new paradigm Daleks’ first appearance, Daleks had been blue, grey, black, red and… Oh, well, I’ll stop there (without even mentioning the funky stylings of the gold Emperor Dalek from the seminal Sixties comic strip). Even if other elements of the new Dalek design did have to be ditched (their tank-like appearance, their chunky backs), I’ll never know why the vibrant colour scheme of the new paradigm Daleks had to go and couldn’t have been taken further. Doctor Who is, among other things, a pop culture phenomenon so why not go a bit pop art at times too? I don’t know about you, but there’s enough grey in the world for me as it is. So, when I switch on the TV, I rather like it when I’m dazzled by all the colours of the rainbow. In fact, Rainbow Daleks! There’s an idea. (I better move swiftly on or I’ll lose this argument before it’s even started…)
- Change. Change is good. The Doctor changes. The companions change. The programme changes. The TARDIS… Okay, the TARDIS shouldn’t change (at least not on the outside). Why should the Daleks resist change? If the new paradigm Daleks were deemed a failure (as, indeed, they seem to have been), then maybe, instead of going backwards, there should have been an attempt to experiment with other new designs for the Daleks. That’s the ethos of Doctor Who, after all, or should be – constant forward movement, reinvention and change.
- Distinction and characterisation. The Daleks are an incredible creation. Fantastically suited to the medium of television in both visual and aural terms. However, they often exhibit a monomaniacal focus that limits story options. They are the Doctor’s opposite, technocratic, soulless monsters that exist purely to conquer and destroy. The new paradigm Daleks hinted at more diverse roles for the Daleks and counted among their number the likes of a Strategist Dalek and Scientist Dalek. Had the new paradigm Daleks stuck around, would these new classifications of Daleks have opened up new storytelling possibilities by sparking the imagination of the writers? What about an episode, for example, where the Doctor encounters a team of Scientist Daleks whose only concern is conducting experiments on a collapsing star? How does the Doctor react to and interact with the most evil species in the universe when they are conducting seemingly benign scientific field work? And just what was the Eternal?!
- The children. Apparently, and perhaps someone can confirm or refute this in the comments, when the new Daleks went out on the road for publicity purposes, children loved them. And, for me, when it comes to Doctor Who, it’s their opinion that matters most, not the opinion of old farts like you or me (no offense).
- Time. They weren’t given the time to bed in. Change can be difficult and it can take time to get used to something new. They needed at least one more appearance before they were deemed a failure. Instead, though, they were almost immediately pushed into the background, as an ‘officer class’ that sometimes appeared in support of the other Daleks but never again took centre stage (notably in Asylum of the Daleks).
The real question though is what do you, dear reader, think of the paradigm Daleks? Were they a misfire or a potentially new beginning for the Doctor’s greatest foe(s)? Please tell us in the comments below…