When I think back to watching Victory of the Daleks live, there is one major thing that springs to mind. And yes, it’s those Daleks. I remember the news that the Daleks were going to get to a brand new look, but I don’t think many of us could have imagined that they would have looked like that!
I also remember that it split fandom down the middle, with some really liking the fresh new look and some hating it. Perhaps it’s because those Daleks really feel like a missed opportunity. Apart from an explosive entrance in Victory, they made fleeting appearances throughout the Matt Smith era, despite having some real promise. Do I think that they might have been trying to replicate the success of the Cult of Skaro, with each Dalek having its own personality and abilities? Yes, but did these Daleks with titles such as Scientist, Strategist and Supreme, have a lot of missed potential? Absolutely. Certainly one of them, the Eternal Dalek, remained a mystery. Was it just because the Daleks were trying to keep aloof and give themselves meaningless titles, or was it because of something else? Let’s explore this strange Dalek.
The Dalek Paradigm was created from pure Dalek DNA – so how many ‘pure’ Daleks have we seen otherwise? There was certainly one in Dalek, but not in Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways: the Emperor Dalek revealed that the Daleks there were also half-human. To the Dalek Paradigm, these Daleks were little more than mongrels, no longer pure, hence their extermination. We don’t know when the Cult of Skaro was created, but we might gather they, and those contained in the Genesis Ark, were also pure, or came from the Time War.
In the production stage of Victory of the Daleks, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wanted to make the Daleks a lot more scary and massive, and based them off the Daleks Peter Cushing faced in his 1960s films. For me, there is nothing wrong with that; the bronze/gold Daleks had gotten a little boring by that time, though they were no less iconic. I’d love for the big, boldly-coloured Daleks to make a return in the series!
So why ‘Eternal’? Moffat simply explained that, for this Dalek, it sounded like a cool name but has never elaborated on what it’s supposed to do. Indeed, in Victory, it’s mainly the Supreme Dalek who does the exterminating, with the others standing/rolling around.
It’s lucky, then, that writers, across a number of different Who-related projects, have taken the Eternal Dalek’s ambiguity and tried to give it a reason for existing (beyond it sounding like a cool name).
The 2011 Doctor Who annual states that there can only ever be one Eternal and Supreme Dalek, obviously implying that they are much more important than the other members of the New Paradigm. This isn’t unusual, however, as a number of times we’ve seen certain Daleks held in higher regard than others. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, we had Supreme Daleks painted in black and white, or gold and black. Then there was Dalek Sec throughout the Tennant era, the first Dalek of the modern era to have a different paint job and a higher status than the standard Dalek-Drones. Russell T Davies also introduced us to a red Dalek Supreme in The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End. Even in the Whittaker era, it seems the Reconnaissance Daleks will be held in higher regards than the others.
In Doctor Who Live: The Monsters are Coming!, the Eternal Dalek’s purpose is described as calculating and locking time-parameters. This means it can see the different points in time when the Daleks are nearing success and make it a fixed point in time, allowing the Daleks to succeed, therefore making the race ‘eternal’: in every battle, the Daleks will win.
I’m not sure I like this idea, just because it seems a little too much of a fiddly thing for the Daleks to do, especially as the New Paradigm have enough fire power to blow any enemies away easily in battle.
With the nature of the new Dalek Paradigm’s birth, born out of pure Dalek DNA, perhaps the function of the Eternal is to make sure the Dalek DNA stays untampered and ensures that a new race of Daleks can be created. Let’s not forget that the end of Victory of the Daleks sees the new Daleks escaping through a time-corridor to establish a new race of pure Daleks.
This comes from Mark Gatiss in an interview in The Dalek Handbook where he says:
“It’s exact function is a mystery, but it’s probably something to do with the progenitor device and the continuation of their race.”
It’s a bit of a lame description but no doubt all the new Daleks would have been explained had they appeared more often throughout the Smith era. I think it’s a mixture of the two different explanations, given how we’ve got nothing else to go on, so here we go: the function of the Eternal Dalek, is two-fold. It has to ensure that the pure Dalek DNA from the progenitor device remains pure to ensure a new race of Daleks, while ensuring that new Dalek victories throughout the timeline become dead-certainties, thus enabling the Daleks to reign as the universe’s eternal masters.
Of course, we could just be exploring something that does in fact mean absolutely nothing, given how both Moffat and Gatiss had no idea what each of the Daleks were going to do (besides giving them cool sounding names and making them bigger and badder than before). It’s a shame, then, that the design never took off, but if the Paradigm Daleks taught the production teams anything, it’s that, if a design isn’t broke, don’t fix it.