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"Doctor Who" Villains: What Makes Daleks Monsters?

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

Son and Daleks at a Doctor Who Convention

Son and Daleks at a Doctor Who Convention

The Daleks: Inhuman Foes

Daleks are two of the biggest foes on Doctor Who. These inhuman creatures are typically bred from lab cultures, though at least a few episodes show humans mutating into these creatures, minus their body. The Daleks can be described as brains in tanks. What is interesting is all the ways they’re engineered, physically and socially, to keep them going as merciless killers of all other life.

The Physical Controls Over the Dalek’s Mind

In one Doctor Who episode, a Dalek is saved and studied because it values life. It witnessed the birth of a star and felt awe and wonder at the sight. The Doctor realizes that there is a piece of equipment connected to the Dalek that is malfunctioning. The purpose of this device is to suppress any thoughts that distract the Dalek from its purpose. The Dalek’s surprising compassion was the result of the device’s malfunction. There is a literal mind control device in every Dalek to prevent unacceptable (for a Dalek) thoughts.

The Purity Protocols

A defective Dalek is killed by its own kind unless it is simply so mindlessly berserk they put it on an asylum planet. I imagine the asylum planet is where they put the brain-damaged killers that cannot control themselves to follow orders in the vain hope they could be repaired and returned to service.

Daleks that are less than pure are seen as defective. They’re killed by other Daleks. The Dalek that repairs itself using Rose’s DNA but becomes emotionally attached to her dies because of built-in genetic controls. Mutation is unacceptable. It may lead to changes in the Dalek species they don’t want. (Along those lines, random procreation is forbidden, too.)

Hybridization is discouraged, too When the Dalek Sec combines itself with a human, the other cult members restrain it and adjust the process to create pure Daleks. The hybrid version of Dalek Sec dies protecting the Doctor, proving their fear of hybrids being corrupt is correct.

In another Doctor Who episode, defective Dalek specimens harnessed Doctor Who’s testimony to activate a Progenitor device to make pure versions of their kind. After they had his testimony that they were Daleks, activating the device on their command to create more Daleks, they killed themselves. Their purity protocol therefore includes suicide. Their species would consider it akin to cancer cells committing suicide.

If they didn’t kill themselves, the “healthy” specimens would act as an immune system and kill them. We know this because they concocted a complex plan to get the Doctor to admit they were Daleks to create better Daleks, knowing full well it would lead to their destruction. In that regard, they were very much in line with Dalek thinking.

The Social Controls

There are some interesting social controls that seem intended to keep the Daleks on track. Doctor Who was surprised that Dalek masterminds, the Cult of Skaro, had given themselves names. This means the rest of the Daleks do not have individual names, though they may have a unique identification number. You’re not an individual but simply a member of the collective.

Another form of social control is their limited vocabulary. They know the word mercy but not compassion nor many other terms for positive emotion. If you don’t comprehend these terms, you can’t react to them when someone else uses them. It renders their pleas for life and peace into nothing but background noise, easily ignored while you kill them. I can’t say if this is also a form of alien Sapir-Whorf theory, the idea that if you don’t have a word for it, you can’t think or feel it. Daleks do feel hate, rage, disdain and triumph. This isn’t a failing, since these emotions are fitting for a violent, warring race.

In fact, the emotion is apparently required to fuel their weapons. This may be intentional. If the Dalek is not in the right mindset for a murderous alien in a tank, it can't fight back if its peers realize its failing and kill it.

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We can see that there are a number of controls in place to keep the Daleks on task with wiping out every other form of life in the universe. This is why they are such successful and consistent villains in the Doctor Who universe.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Tamara Wilhite


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on March 30, 2019:

Thanks, Tamara. That's cool to know. Love both universes. Again, superb job. May your weekend be peaceful.

Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on March 29, 2019:

Tim Truzy I think the Cybermen of Doctor Who were the inspiration for Star Trek's Borg.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on March 29, 2019:

Tamara, this is wonderful. I've always been a Dr. Who fan, and the Daleks are some of my favorite "bad guys." It's interesting how they have a hive mentality, and I wonder how much they influenced the creation of the Borg. (Yes, the Daleks want to destroy, but the Borg famously "assimulate." That in itself is a not so subtle way of destroying.

As I read this, too, Tamara, I pondered how much the thinking that went into the Daleks came from how the Nazis thought or even Communism.

In any case, I loved it. Thanks for giving me more insights into these incredible returning adversaries of the good Dr. Who, our favorite Time Lord.

Much respect and admiration,


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