Someone asked me the other day exactly why I love the Daleks so much, since they are, after all, pretty crap to be galactic conquerors. They don’t have opposable thumbs, they can’t bend down, they don’t have great depth perception and originally they couldn’t climb stairs. I hear this a lot.
My reply was that I love ’em because they’re cool. If you watch their early appearances, it becomes clear that the handicaps mentioned above don’t slow them down in the least. I think folks who diss the Daleks are rather missing the point. Instead of a brilliantly designed but often poorly executed BBC prop, imagine the Dalek as a small personalised tank. It’s heavily armoured and invulnerable to just about anything a person can throw at it. It can see in the dark and track you by your heat. It packs a weapon with a punch that equals a lightning bolt, and it’s physically strong enough to crush you to death with the manipulator arm. And the driver is a bubbling lump of alien hatred who loathes you so much that even seeing you will drive it into a psychotic frenzy.
Not so funny any more.
Then there are the handicaps themselves. Watching the Daleks appearances, it’s obvious these limitations don’t really exist. In the Daleks very first TV appearance, they’re seen handing each other sheets of paper and other small items, so those risible “sucker arms” seem to function quite well despite not having thumbs. Given their later ability to plug themselves directly into their machinery, it seems that even if they don’t have the fine manipulator skills to create high technology, their machines and automated factories do.
Addressing the problem of their limited eyesight; again, in their first appearance, this is revealed not to be a problem. Both the book and the original TV episodes reveal that those inside the Dalek machine can see just fine, and that their depth perception is normal. Later annuals go on to suggest that their spatial awareness may be better than ours due to the little domes that decorate the lower half of the machine – sensors that provide the mutant within with environmental data. Of course, the annuals say a lot of silly things about what the Daleks can and can’t do, so they shouldn’t be taken as gospel.
The stairs issue is the one that gets me. It’s daft. Even if we hadn’t seen a Dalek levitating up the stairs after Sylvester McCoy in Remembrance of the Daleks, it’s been obvious throughout their entire TV history that stairs aren’t a problem. In The Dalek Invasion of Earth, they’re seen patrolling central London, and we clearly see one on a small landing between two flights of steps near Trafalgar Square (and we’ll put aside the absurd assertion that they could manoeuvre through a bombed out city if they remained limited to even ground). Later, in The Chase, a Dalek appears on the upper level of a haunted house attraction despite its time-craft landing on the lower level and there being no elevator. Then of course, there’s Evil of the Daleks, in which the Daleks easily navigate a multi-storey Victorian mansion with no difficulty or complaint. Face it, they’ve always been able to climb stairs. We’ve just never seen them do it. The fact that they can now fly is just the icing on the cake.
The Daleks become far less funny when you consider them as a go-anywhere, kill-anything death machine.