Doctor Who: Why The Daleks is still an amazing story

The first-ever Dalek story isn’t just one of the most important stories in Doctor Who history. It’s still a fantastic serial in its own right.

This weekend, while waiting for my copy of Season 14 on Blu-ray to arrive, I decided to re-watch The Daleks on BritBox. Not only had it been a while since I last watched it, but it’s also an absolutely essential Doctor Who story to watch. The first time ever that the Doctor meets the Daleks. It’s a huge part of the show’s long history. Is it a serial that still holds up, over five and a half decades later?

Definitely. Honestly, The Daleks is still a serial that blows me away. While it’s a considerably long serial at seven episodes, it’s honestly also worth it. It’s just one of those stories that works so well for so many reasons. More than that – it’s one of several stories that’s crucial to Doctor Who‘s longevity, and there are several strong reasons for that.

First, it looks fantastic. While the Classic Series has often been mocked for its “wobbly sets” and “bug-eyed monsters”, The Daleks honestly doesn’t have those problems. The city, the jungle, the swamp, the underground caverns – all of Skaro is brought incredibly to life. It really is extremely impressive to watch, especially knowing how intensive the production schedule was back then.

Doctor Who

The Daleks inspired a huge wave of “Dalekmania” across the UK, helping to ensure Doctor Who’s popularity and longevity in a big way.
(Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

A classic adventure story

However, it’s not just in terms of visuals and design that makes The Daleks so fantastic to watch. It’s also a really solid adventure story, one with more than a little depth, at times. It features a considerable amount of character exploration, particularly with the two Thal brothers Ganatus and Antodus.

There were also interesting themes discussed. Particularly the uncomfortable idea of when pacifism simply doesn’t work. There’s a great scene when Ian knows he needs the strongly pacifistic Thals to fight the Daleks, but at the same time, he wants them to fight for the right reasons. The idea of fighting for the right reasons is an interesting one, particularly when you have an enemy as evil and ruthless as the Daleks.

Early days of evil

Ah, yes. The Daleks. Perhaps the biggest reason this serial was so popular at the time. Raymond Cusick’s design is completely iconic. Decades later, and that core design has changed relatively little, especially when compared to other monsters such as the Cybermen or even the Silurians. It’s simple, but also a classic, and it’s great to see how well it works, even at this point in the show’s history.

What’s interesting about watching this early story is that – while the production itself is ambitious – the Daleks themselves are not, at least not at this point. They’re not out to invade or conquer the universe. In fact, they’re not even able to leave their own city, as they are entirely dependent on static electricity. They’re considerably vulnerable too, relying on radiation to survive. They’re almost more sympathetic due to how vulnerable they are…if they didn’t have an irrational, murderous hatred of the Thals. They may not be quite as dangerous as they’ll later become, but that doesn’t stop them from being evil and ruthless.

Overall, The Daleks is just a classic, solid adventure story. It has everything you could ask for: high stakes, great locations, interesting themes, and excellent villains. Decades later, and it still stands out as one of the stronger Dalek stories, and indeed, one of the stronger serials from the Sixties.

What are your thoughts on The Daleks? Do you think it’s a story that still holds up? What’s your favorite Dalek story? Let us know in the comments below.