The Terry Nation penned seven part serial, The Daleks, is undoubtedly a product of its times. Produced less than two decades after the cessation of the Second World War, and just prior to the emergence of the 1960’s peace movement, The Daleks not so subtly examines the politics of appeasement, pacifism and the effects of nuclear war.
The Daleks are a by product of a neutronic war between the then humanoid Daleks and their fellow inhabitants of the planet Skaro, the Thals. At the cessation of the war 500 years earlier the Dalek forefathers, mutated as a consequence of radiation, retreated into the Dalek underground city and protected themselves inside the machines we now know as the iconic Daleks. The Thals remained outside the city and also mutated, abandoning their warrior ideology and becoming pacifists.
Whereas the Dalek mutation was horrific, the Thal mutation resulted in a fine looking race of blonde humanoids. Susan considered them magnificent looking people. The Thals protected themselves from further mutation with an anti-radiation drug and became farmers. They cultivated their land, relying on a great rain every two or three years to maintain their crops. At the time of the Doctor and his companions arrival on Skaro the Thals much needed rain was two years overdue. As a consequence they had left their plateau 12 months previously in search of better pastures and food.
Unlike the Thals, the Daleks maintained, fostered and celebrated their warrior heritage. They knew that some Thals survived the neutronic war but assumed that they must be terribly mutated . As Ian quickly learned, the Daleks don’t act and feel like humans. They have “a dislike for the unlike”. They are arrogant and will make no concessions. As one Dalek stated “we don’t have to adapt to the environment. The environment will adapt to us”. That the writer, Terry Nation, chose to have these words coming from the story’s aggressors exhibits his obvious interest in the environment decades prior to society’s concern about Global Warming.
After obtaining some of the Thal’s anti-radiation drugs, the Daleks on which the drugs were administered become ill. It quickly became evident that the Daleks relied on radiation for their continued existence and they determined to release a massive dose of radiation the following day. In doing so it was hoped that the Thals would be destroyed and the Daleks would become Masters of Skaro. The Daleks considered it logical that both the Thals and the Tardis Crew would attack them.
The once warrior race of Thals, however, were now farmers and pacifists. Their society is a democracy where decisions can’t be made without the full approval of the people. They subscribe to the philosophy that “fear breeds hatred and war” and would return to the plateau from which they came if they were attacked by the Daleks. As one of the Thals stated “there can never be any question of the Thals fighting the Daleks”.
Ian and Barbara are intrigued by the Thal’s pacifism. Barbara wonders if it’s possible for pacifism to become a human instinct, whilst Ian posits that pacifism only works if everyone thinks the same way. Barbara ponders if pacifism is a belief that has become a reality because they’ve never had to test it. The Tardis Crew, however, seek the Thal’s fighting assistance to get into the Dalek city and retrieve the fluid link that the Daleks had previously confiscated from them. Ian is initially reticent to have the Thals sacrifice themselves for the sake of assisting the Doctor and his companions. The Doctor, however, considers this no time for morals and engages in a verbal dispute with Ian. Ian asks if the Thals are cowards or against fighting on principal.
Attempting to goad the Thals into action and determine if there’s anything they will fight for, Ian grabs a Thal woman by the arm and threatens to take her to the Dalek city with him. A Thal male retaliates by punching Ian in the face. Reclining on the ground and rubbing his face, Ian’s mission has been accomplished as he has proved that the Thals will indeed fight for what is theirs. It doesn’t take long for the Thals to then agree to assist the Tardis Crew in their actions against the Daleks.
Hasten to add, the Doctor, his companions and the Thals eventually defeat the Daleks in their own city. The moral of the story, therefore, is that pacifism is no answer to unadulterated aggression. Born in 1930, Terry Nation grew up during the Second World War at a time when in his own words “men were trying to kill me”. Nation was clearly contemptuous of the British policy of appeasement against German and Italian aggression in the 1930s, considering it cowardice. The pacifist Thals were therefore analogous to the pre World War II British and the Daleks to the German Nazis. The Doctor represents those who were skeptical of appeasement. Once the Thals rejected pacifism and fought they, like Britain, were successful in defeating the (Dalek) enemy.
The first Doctor Who monsters and the Doctor’s oldest foes, the Daleks, were introduced to the public between 21 December 1963 and 1 February 1964. A British icon was born.
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.