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A Doctor Who Exegesis: The Daleks

By Richard Scheib

A study of the Doctor Who universe in many, many parts by Richard Scheib.

The Exegesis is based on the Target novels, and not the TV episodes.
For all those that want to know, and haven't looked in their dictionaries yet: exegesis, noun, explanation or critical interpretation of a text, esp. of the Bible. -exegetic, adj. -exegetics, n.


The Doctor is forced to kidnap lab assistant Ian Chesterton and tutor Barbara Wright, looking for her pupil Susan after a car crash on Barnes Common, when they both see into the TARDIS. To disprove Ian's sceptical challenge, the Doctor opens the doors out onto an alien landscape - the ashy, dead soil of a petrified forest. Beyond it they find a metal city. The Doctor sabotages a fluid link in the TARDIS so they can go and explore, but instead fall sick from the irradiated atmosphere and is captured by the Daleks. Susan is able to arrange a deal with the Thals, the Daleks hereditary enemies, who earlier left drugs outside the TARDIS to protect against the radiation, but the Daleks turn it into an ambush. Escaping, the Doctor and Ian try to convince the remaining Thals to fight back, despite their rigid pacifism, eventually succeeding, Ian leading an attack on the Dalek city through the mountains.

Why does this book, supposedly a first person account by Ian, invent a new origin story, ignoring the events of An Unearthly Child. It changes both Ian and Barbara's occupations and makes other anachronisms such as having Susan intimate with the life of Robespierre, despite their not meeting him, according to the series, until The Reign of Terror. We could consider the possibility of an alternate world, but I find the likelihood of Ian and Barbara's parents coming together at just the right moment, that particular one of each father's billion sperm cells being fertilized, they receiving the exact same socializing conditions and then just happening to meet up with the Doctor such an amazing coincidence as to be near possible (although this same thing does allow an alternate Brigadier, Liz and Benton, to similarly get together in Inferno.) More likely it is Ian re-writing the story, changing it to protect both his and Barbara's identities.

As with An Unearthly Child, The Daleks reiterates that Susan created the TARDIS acronym, but now states that it travels in the 4th and 5th dimensions. Doorway portal is said to glow brightly and buzz - this is never reported elsewhere. The central control room is described as 20 foot high and the width and breadth of a 50-table restaurant, which makes it much bigger than anywhere else. It is stacked with various items of antique furniture. Also mentioned is an interesting food-synthesizing machine that blends the basic flavours of various foods. (The Doctor here claims to have a predilection for Venusian night fish, but this is unlikely to be our Venus which has a surface temperature of around 500 degrees C, a day of one year and gravity enough to splatter anyone setting foot on its surface. In all likelihood there is more than one world called Venus in the universe). It also has mercury conductors, which considering mercury's performance in a vacuum would make quite an efficient superconductor.

The Character of the Doctor:
Claims to have invented a match that doesn't burn down. Again reiterates that he and Susan are cut off form their home world (Gallifrey) by 10 x 10000000000 years. Wears a pair of pince-nez spectacles. Carries no weapons aboard the TARDIS (which seems a little hypocritical in light of his lectures to the Thals on the survivalist necessity of violence). Also I find it hard to reconcile his equating physical revulsion with evil upon seeing the true Dalek form.

Skaro - Planetary Read-out
M-Class Earth-like world, yellow sun. Location - 'the next universe but one'. (I think here the Doctor, unfamiliar with the English language, may be meaning solar systems or galaxies, otherwise that'd be motoring in the TARDIS, 'universe' meaning the entire cosmos.) Gravity - probably slightly higher than Earth's, considering the sizeable physique of the Thals.

Life Forms: The Daleks
Description: Mutated humanoid cyber-symbiote. The Dalek is a mutated humanoid, living in a motive cybernetic life-support casing built a squat, rounded cone shape 4'6" in height containing three pivot-point flexible, non-jointed limbs - an eye stick, a sucker arm and a gun that projects an electrical charge. The Dalek is powered by a low intensity static charge that it picks up through the floor of its city. The real Dalek form is one-eyed, earless except for two slitted bumps at the temples (which the Doctor says are for hearing), has a flattened nose, slimy green skin, two arms about 2 ft. long, which are five fingered. They are approximately 4 ft. in height.

The Dalek Mutation
This is said to be as a result of the irradiated atmosphere. But the likelihood of two such variant mutations as the Daleks and the Thals coming from the same basic humanoid genetic stock is not really possible. But we tend to forget that Davros had done a little genetic tinkering first, so the Dalek is probably the radiation-mutated end product of that. The problem is that mutation is passed on genetically - parent to child - so the question arises, do the Daleks have sexes and reproduction? What is more likely is that new Daleks are cloned from the old and genetically manipulated toward the ideal form. But the question then arises as to why such a feeble form, so disadvantaged as to have only one eye, would be seen as desirable. Perhaps this is only a necessary intermediary stage on a very bizarre evolutionary path. There is some confusion as to whether the Dalek casing is meant to be a radiation suit, or a simple physical life support/prosthesis for the mutation. The Daleks want the Thal drugs in order to be able to leave the suits but later plan to increase radiation levels in the atmosphere for their advantage which both seem contradictory. Perhaps the drug experiment showed them that there was no turning back from the mutation and it could only be furthered by increasing the radiation towards the end of the cycle.

The Dalek Casing
This has to be one of the most inefficient cybernetic prosthesis ever designed. It has no bi-optic vision, a field of vision of only about a 100 degree cone in any one position, not to mention a stalk that gives a 30cm blind spot, which would make effective targeting with the gun useless. (Although Ian reports all-round vision inside the casing, and the single eye probably necessitates the lack of 3-D vision.) The gun is really only a crude electric arc terminal so that accuracy of targeting wouldn't really be vital. The sucker stick is a useless manipulative digit, unable to pick up anything that doesn't have a rigid, flat surface. How do they carry a jug of water to the prisoners for instance? Later in the city replacement arms of various functions are found. One wonders how they manage to change them? The sucker stick is the most readily used arm though. It is probably not a sucker but in fact a small tractor field. The Dalek speaks with a flat mechanical voice. This is probably a vocoder, amplifying the sounds of the Dalek's probably atrophied voice box. What I would like to know though is why lights have to flash as the Dalek speaks? The Dalek runs on static electricity, picked up through the metal floor. This would have to be a fairly low charge, as the Doctor and co. never manages to get any shocks. Perhaps they are all wearing rubber soles?! It also leaves the question of how the Daleks get power when they go up off the ground level. But being an all metal city, the floors and walls are probably wired. The electricity it seems is also in some way vital to their life systems, they dying when it is turned off, evidently needing it to power their hearts. The interior of the casing seems rather crudely mechanical for quite a seemingly electronically advanced race - functions being activated by switches, the cardiac lead not seeming much more than a bulldog wire clipped to its leg (although this is probably much more advanced. It could be an entire nutrient intake system. Just how do Daleks eat and excrete? Do they in fact use food at all? Probably not, although one of the rooms in the city is a small hydroponic garden and they do give food and water to the Thals. Talking of the latter, why give them water? Probably because all irradiated water would need to be purified due to the land area in the region being fairly arid, semi- desert). Later on the Daleks manage to do away with the static electricity for obvious mobility reasons and seem to design some biofeedback system for using power. Probably even something psychokinetically augmented as in Death to the Daleks the only function of theirs that is altered by the Exxilon power drain is the gun arm which would probably run on a battery charge, needing such a powerful output. The sucker arm is probably hydraulically augmented as we see in the final battle one Dalek trying to use it as a clubbing weapon, where using it normally would be about as effective as trying to club someone with your fist using your elbow as a pivot point. Why do Daleks explode when thrown at each other? It's probably the gun arm battery detonating. The electrical charge through the floor seems a little too low to provide a high charge arc, whereas the gun does, so a certain amount is probably picked up and kept stored in a battery for such a purpose, this detonating when the Dalek is damaged.

The Daleks - Technology and Engineering
The City: Described as looking like a cluster of metal gadgets, polished metal domes, tall squared buildings with many pylon-like masts and dishes dotted around. The Doctor notes that it has an exact and beautiful symmetry in its layout. The interiors are all metal, the doorways trapezoidal arches activated by circuit-breaker bulbs. Some walls and corridors are said to head nowhere, which seems rather inefficient architectural design but could be so for later expansion. The city has at least 29 levels, 20 of these above ground, the rest below, the heart and control centre of the city where the head Dalek who lives in a glass casing resides. The city would seem to be nuclear powered - the water pumped in from the lake is taken in pipes that are too small to carry the amounts required for a hydroelectric dam. It is more likely that they are carrying coolant for a reactor, although it is probably the water for other purposes too (e.g. drinking, the hydroponics) as no reactor would need that much coolant.

Dalek Technology
Chemistry - average, electronics - about Earth contemporary: radio and TV, radiation monitoring. (Some points here - how do Daleks, who are later said to be some of the best technologists in the universe, manage micro-miniaturisation? How also is the Doctor able to read the Dalek radiation monitoring machines that are said to have no markings or lettering anywhere on them? How also do the Daleks build their own city when they require its static charge in order to run? Batteries, dummy!!!).

Life-Form Read-Out: The Thals
Life form Description: Human. These are seemingly the only survivors of the Thal/Dalek wars, around 100 in number. They survived the radiation by developing a drug to combat it, which after 200 years has managed to eradicate all mutations from the gene stock as well as create prime physical characteristics. The predominating blonde hair among them is probably a side effect of the mutation. (The question here is exactly what sort of radiation would create such mutations. Radiation doesn't really mutate, it just tends to kill of living tissue. It must have been quite a peculiar type of bomb - producing intense mutative radiation, one that petrifies and crystallises plant life and yet does not produce a heatwave blast, which would surely have swept the whole forest away into powder if it did. Some type of variation on the neutron bomb may be able to do this).

Thal Social Structure
Nomadic (they must be, how could they build a village in the forest), democratic patriarchal leadership which has a nominally elected monarch-of-sorts, extreme pacifists. It seems likely that these Thals are the descendants of some group of Thal pacifists who set up some type of commune in a remote valley, rigidly vowing to avoid violence at all costs, their remoteness protecting them from the bomb. They could be some form of religious separatists as all males at least wear exactly the same costume, it not being one of practicality, having all the same decorative markings - a line of holes down the seam from the knee, but elsewhere bear none of the marks of such groups, especially in the way which they readily abandon their pacifism, it only being an ethical as opposed to legally prescriptive moral code.

Thal Technology
Chemistry - advanced (anti-radiation, water purifying drugs); glass and metals craftsmanship (the metal box and phials, plus they are all clean-shaven). All of this being evidence of reasonably advanced technology, although their somewhat simplistic, nomadic lifestyle suggest otherwise.

The Thal/Dalek Wars (dating from Genesis of the Daleks)
These took place 200 years ago. In the aftermath of the fall of the Kaled and Thal cities the Daleks managed to build a number of cities around the planet and then set off the bomb which proved considerably more powerful than imagined, wiping out all life except for the Dalek city here and the Thal pacifists in a valley some thousands of miles away, they both being protected by high mountain ranges (and considering the aridity of the region probably because they were considerably inland). There must have been Dalek survivors elsewhere in order for all their galaxy-spanning future adventures to continue - possibly a moonbase?

Other Lifeforms:
The Metal Creature in the Forest

It is about the size of a small pig, squat-legged, scaled, has a razorback spine running down its tail and two eyes on short stalks. The Doctor suggests that it is held together magnetically and has the ability to draw its victims to it, which probably means that it was killed off by the electro-magnetic pulse from the bomb blast. Being only able to draw metal to itself it must have to create quite a strong magnetic field in order to do so, meaning it would probably power itself by breaking the metal devoured down with strong acids. The same acids would probably act as joint lubrication. The stalks are probably not eyes as this would require quite a sophisticated arrangement for a non-organic lifeform and are probably more likely feelers or antennae. It is unlikely that this is a naturally evolved creature as most metals naturally occur in oxide forms than as metals and would have to smelted down and alloyed first. It is more likely some sort of Dalek experiment, it being found so near the city. Why they would want to create such a creature is a good question, they being such a functional race. But then back in the city we learn that they have abstract art forms, so why not pets?

The Monsters in the Lake
It is a scaled, aquaphibian, carnivore, has 6 webbed feet per side, two small useless arms high on its neck and is 'about the size of a house'. The lake contains some 20-30 of these, they are mutations. For these to exist on a viable eco-system this would mean that the lake would have to be around the size of a small inland sea. A whale, which would be about the same equivalent size, consumes around three tons of food a day. A lake required to support some 20-30 of these would have to be around the size of the Caspian Sea. We could postulate that the radiation has created huge growths of high-protein foliage both above and under-water that the creature may partially subsist on, and that it spends a great amount of time in hibernative states.

This item appeared in TSV 8 (August 1988).

Index nodes: Exegesis, The Daleks