David J Richardson, Site MapBack to Main IndexBack To Area Index

Article — What is it about these Daleks anyway?

First Published:
Year 12 English essay

Publish Date:

This was the "informative piece" for my year 12 communications project in English, which I gave a Dalek theme. The prospective audience was described as ‘General but having seen Doctor Who at some stage’. I have removed the ‘ten minute delay of the first episode’ comment that was in the original piece, for accuracy’s sake.

When your average person off the street hears of Doctor Who, almost always the first thing to come to mind are the Daleks chanting the battle-cry ‘Exterminate!’. Why is this? What is it about these metallic creatures that makes them stand out so much? The Daleks have starred in only four Doctor Who stories over the last fifteen years. Why then should a child born in that time think so highly of them? The answers are to be found way back in historyover a quarter of a century ago, to be precise. What the Daleks achieved them was powerful enough that today’s parents have transferred their memories to their children.

Doctor Who was first shown in Australia on January 12th, 1965, some fourteen months after it had begun in Britain. At that time Doctor Who was a massive success in Britainwhich no doubt influenced the ABC in their choice to purchase the showand that success could be largely boiled down to one aspect: the Daleks. So let us now switch to Britain and go back those fourteen months.

Doctor Who had a modest beginning on Saturday, November 23rd, 1963, the day after the American President Kennedy had been shot (resulting in the first episode, because of the news overload, being delayed slightly). The first four half-hour episodes, screened weekly, attracted modest ratings, being about the 80th most popular show of the time. Then a story, simply titled The Daleks, began it’s seven week run…

While the Daleks’ design and nature are quite powerful ones, there was no warning of what was to occur. 1963 was a relatively simple time, when fads like, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were of an incredibly smaller scale. By the end of The Daleks, Doctor Who had broken into the top twenty-five shows, and the Dalek craze was beginning.

In that first story, the Daleks were apparently destroyed forever by the Doctor and his allies. But public pressure can be a mighty thing, and the next season ended up featuring two six-episode Dalek stories. Consequently the ratings for Doctor Who entered the top ten shows a total of seven times that yearnot a bad achievement for a "children’s show".

During this time there had been an incredible variety of toys, models, and other promotions based on Doctor Who. Virtually all concerned Daleks. You could wake in your Dalek pyjamas, slip into your Dalek slippers, eat your Dalek-promoted Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks, and afterwards clean yourself with Dalek-shaped soap (though after a few uses the already vague shape was lost forever!). Then you could listen to ‘All I want for Christmas is a Dalek’ on the radio, read ‘The Dalek Outer Space Book’ or the comic strip in the magazine ‘TV 21’, play with your Dalek glove puppet, and then get some exercise with your Dalek kite, or even slip into your life-size model of a Dalek and terrorize (?) the neighbours. Meanwhile you could rot your teeth on Dalek-advocated lollypops, sweet cigarettes or jelly babies.

In many ways, this was a preview of the merchandising and promotions boom we face today. For 1963, however, it was of an unprecedented scale. There were, of course, the blatant rip-offs; witness the ‘Anti-Dalek Fluid Neutralizer’under any other circumstances it would be known as a water pistol.

The biggest promotions were, however, the two Dalek films that arrived in 1965 and 1996. Basically remakes of the first two Dalek stories from Doctor Who (but with vastly larger budgets and aimed more at children) they may have met with mixed critical reaction but nonetheless collected the audience. As Doctor Who they are pretty pathetic, but as Dalek promotion vehicles they are magnificent. Peter Cushing was officially the star as the Doctor but it was the Daleks the audience came for.

In the last few months of 1965 came the television story The Dalek Masterplan, which was to last an incredible 13 weeks. The confidence that the Daleks could hold a single story up for three months very clearly shows the following they had. At the same time, the play ‘Curse of the Daleks’ was packed over the Christmas season.

The Daleks’ incredible burst of popularity was to last over three years, and set Doctor Who into a position that would help it survive for another quarter of a century (so far). It also made their creator, Terry Nation, a multi-millionaire when, jointly with his agent Roger Hancock, he engineered a 15% slice of the action, despite his original script description of them only running to 31 words! Raymond Cusick, who designed and supervised the making of them, received no credit. That’s show business for you.

When the Daleks returned after lengthy breaks in the 1972 and 1973 seasons they topped the Doctor Who ratings for those years. I somehow doubt the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will celebrate their nine or ten year anniversarys that way.

When Doctor Who got to Australia, the Australians simply followed the British lead.

If one needs more proof that the Daleks have now become an inseparable part of the British, and to a lesser extent Australian, culture, just look in the Oxford Dictionary. Or remember last year’s Fast Forward satire, or the single ‘Doctorin’ the TARDIS’ which went all the way to number two in the Australian charts a few years back. On the very day I write this, in the first week of August 1991, the mayor of Perth has refered to an aspect of his police force as Daleks.

The Dalek legacy lives on.


Travers, Paul and Pixley, Andrew. "Those Radio Times". Doctor Who Magazine 28th November, 1990: pp 17

Peel, John and Nation, Terry. The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book: The Complete Story of the Time Lord’s Greatest Foes. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988

Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: The Key to Time. Great Britain: W.H.Allen & Co., 1984

Bentham, Jeremy. Doctor Who: The Early Years. London: W.H.Allen & Co., 1986

Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: 25 Glorious Years. London: W.H.Allen & Co., 1988

End of Article

Here’s the list of the Doctor Who articles available here
A Bit of Adric in All of Us
Ace Timeline
Cursed References
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game FAQ
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game Tips
Doctor Who in America
History of the Daleks
History of Doctor Who
History of the fanzine Sonic Screwdriver
How I Killed a Fanzine (or, What’s an EFG?)
Survival the (Con)vention
The Doctor and I (First Memories)
The Doctor and I (1985 — Move to the USA)
The Doctor and I (Organised Fandom? Huh?)
The Doctor and I (Doctorin’ Ithaca)
The Doctor and I (Back to Melbourne)
The Doctor and I (Whovention)
The Doctor and I (David, Meet the DWCV)
The Doctor and I (Enlightenment)
The Doctor and I (The Blankety Blank Era)
The Doctor and I (Q Who)
The Doctor and I (DWCV Committee, Meet David)
The Doctor and I (Whovention II (Control))
The Doctor and I (Sonic Screwdriver, Meet David (and Marco and Matthew))
The Relative Confusion of The Curse of Fenric
What Makes a Warrior?
What’s in a Name?
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index

David J Richardson, Site MapBack to Main IndexBack To Area Index

This page last updated by David J Richardson on Sun, 27 Apr 2003.