Davros, Daleks, and the Question
of Their Origins
John Rocco Roberto
When Terry Nation's
Daleks first appeared on British television back in December 1963, their
immediate success at capturing the imagination of the British public spawned
what the media titled “Dalekmania.” Ever since those early days
the questions of their origins has caused major debate within fan circles.
Terry Nation himself, penned four separate origin stories for his creations,
each different from the one preceding it, but the most controversial re-write,
had to be the invention of Davros in 1975. Davros was created to,
as Nation himself put it, "give the Daleks a spokesmen." Nation felt
that the Daleks, speaking in their grating-monotone voice, were boring when
they needed to give long speeches, and thus Davros would provide a more
entertaining villain, thus he was touted as "the creator of the Daleks.”
A mutated Kaled scientist (although it is never mentioned in the actual
episode how he was mutated), whose life support system looked very similar
to a Dalek base. In fact Davros himself, sporting a single arm and
an artificial eye mounted in the middle of his forehead, was very much like
his creations. But was Davros really the creator of the Daleks?
Or was he simply a single part of a larger creation story as yet to be told?
Their introduction at the beginning of episode two of “The Daleks” in 1963 had furnished the Daleks with only limited origins. It was suggested that they had descended from a race called the Dals, having mutated after the use of a Neutron Bomb. The Dals, who were teachers and scientists, had used the bomb to defend themselves from the warlike Thals. Upon detonation of the bomb the Dals retreated into the lower sections of their cities protected from the radiation by travel suits. Over time both the Dal and Thal races mutated, but where the Thals had mutated into perfect human beings, the Dals had mutated into hideous creatures dependent on radiation to survive. Sometime over the years, although it is never explained exactly when, the Dals began referring to themselves as Daleks.
It is never explained exactly how long the war had lasted, but it is established within the episode that it was the Thals who had started it, and that the Dals were the defenders. A "photo" of a Thal ancestor shows a warrior dressed in very Roman-like armor welding a sword. Although we are never shown the "photo" of the Dals' ancestor, we are told, by the Thals themselves, that the Dals were scientists, teachers and artists. This in fact, is the underlying point of the story; the Thals, the warrior race which started the war, were now pacific, and the Dals, peace loving artists and scientists, were now the xenophobic Daleks.
This became the accepted origin of the Daleks for two
years, but then, starting in 1965, creator Terry Nation and former program
story editor David Whitaker expanded on their creation in the Dalek comic
strip. Running in the magazine TV Century 21, the comic revealed
that the mutated creatures of the war resulted from the experiments of a
"Dalek," not Dal, scientist named Yarvelling. Briefly, the Daleks
were a race of blue skinned people living on Skaro. They were commanded
by a warlord called Zolfian, who had led his people to a war with the Thals.
Building a Neutron bomb to destroy the Thals, the bomb went off prematurely,
following a meteor storm. Zolfian survived, as did the scientist Yarvelling,
however the only other Dalek survivors were mutated. Using pre-war
machines (built as weapons of war by Yarvelling) as a travel device and sort
of mobile home, the survivors were able to escape the effects of the radiation.
Zolfian and Yarvelling then made more of the Dalek travel machines, which
became the race of Daleks as we know them now. In the process they
created the Gold Dalek Emperor, who served as the leader of the Daleks.
While an interesting re-telling of the creation story, there are several problems with this version however, the most obvious being that it contradicts the already established broadcast version. In addition it also plays down the morality play (in which the Daleks evolved from a peace loving race and the Thals from a war-like one), the original story presented. In the comic it is the warlord Zolfian that instigated the conflict not the Thals, and gone is the irony of the “peace lovers” becoming these horrible creatures of hate.
Later, in a 1973 edition of the Radio Times (celebrating Doctor Who's tenth anniversary), Terry Nation once again provided a totally different origin premise. In his short story “We Are The Daleks,” the scientist Halldon, who had captured and accelerated the evolution of early man, creates the Daleks on the planet Ameron. Not only did this version contradict the previous two origin stories, but this time the Daleks weren't even from Skaro!
In 1974 Nation
attempted to submit a Dalek story for Season Twelve, but it was rejected
by outgoing producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks because
they felt the story submitted was too similar to earlier Pertwee Dalek stories.
As an alternative Letts suggested that Nation depict the creation of the
Daleks, a suggestion that the writer was more than happy to produce.
Instead of reusing ideas from either of his two previous Dalek origins, Nation
decided to once again pen a different version, while trying not to contradict
the original “Dead Planet” version. The first draft of the script, titled
“Daleks: Genesis Of Terror” was commissioned on April 1st, 1974, however
production did not proceed with out its problems. Neither new producer
Philip Hinchcliffe or new script editor Robert Holmes were particularly
keen on the Daleks, and Holmes had been convinced to retain the story only
by Letts' enthusiasm for the project.
“Genesis Of The Daleks” went into production on January 6th, 1975, providing the biggest contribution to Doctor Who mythology since the Daleks introduction of 1963; Davros, the scientist who brings the Daleks into existence. As it had been already stated, Nation has said that he devised Davros with the intention of giving the Daleks a spokesperson, someone who was more interesting to watch than the monotone Daleks. In his story, the TimeLords send the Doctor back to Skaro to prevent the Dalek creation. On Skaro he encounters a race called the Kaleds, who are at the breaking point of a 1000-year war with the Thals. Radiation and chemical weapons used in the first years of the war began producing mutations, and Davros, who was originally assigned the tasks of finding new weapons to end the wa and quickly realized that this was futile, turned the direction of his work to the survival of the Kaled race. Experimenting on Kaled embryos, he created what he called "the ultimate creature," the Dalek mutant. Now realizing what his race would eventually mutate into, he then designed a travel machine, and thus the Daleks were born.
The problem with “Genesis of the Daleks” is that it contradicts too many of the original origin aspects established in “The Dead Planet.” Gone is the Neutron Bomb, the Dalek survival chambers and even the original race name of Dal. In addition, the Daleks, who at first could only travel on the surfaces of their cites (due to drawing power from the floors) can travel anywhere across the planet, suggesting that the Daleks had somehow lost this ability by the time of the events in “The Dead Planet.” Nation answered criticism of this conflict by explaining that history was a constant stream of discovers, each one shedding more light on a subject as time went by. It was not that the origin story in “The Dead Planet” was wrong, but simply a case of not having complete information. “Genesis,” according to Nation, provided that information. With the production of "Genesis," fans were now faced with two very different broadcast creation stories. Each as contradictory to each other as had the TV21 story been to "The Daleks." But do both versions of Dalek origins have to contradict each other? Is it possible that the origin stories from "The Dead Planet" and "Genesis of the Daleks" are both correct? And can even aspects of the TV21 version fit in too?
There have been
many attempts to blend these two versions together. The most recent
being in John Peel's "The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book," coauthored
by Terry Nation. In Peel's Dalek History, the Dals, who had
been subjugated for centuries, break away from their Thal masters changing
their name to Kaled so as to forget their past (Peel suggests that the names
Dal and Thal were too similar for the Dals, who looked upon their new found
freedom as a new beginning). Unfortunately the hate between these two
groups does not subside and eventually a land dispute leads to the thousand
year war mentioned in "Genesis.". It is near the end of this war that
Davros and Nyder wander into the waste lands and first create the city-bound
Dalek Mark I machines , the "powered-from-the-floor" versions, in
the abandoned ruins of the old Kaled capitol. Satisfied with their
work, they then return to the Bunker to work on the mutation process as well
as new and better Mark II and Mark III travel machines.
The mutated creatures created by Davros in the city are left to die. After
the war is over and The Bunker containing Davros' Mark III Daleks
is sealed, the Mutos, wandering across the surface os Skaro, stumble into
the old Kaled capital, find the Mark I machines and, believing that
these machines were left by their ancestors, crawl into them. Thus
the surviving Mutos on the surface, as well as the ones now encased in the
Mark I Dalek machines, begin the slow mutative process which will
eventually bring the Thals full circle.
While the explanation Peel presents is plausible, there are a few major flaws with this theory. First, it presents the Dal people not as scientists and artists but as long time oppressed slaves, so disgusted with their own short comings that they decide to change their nation's very name. Second, it still presents the notion of Davros as the single creator of the Daleks, or at least one group of Daleks, as the "Daleks" in the Mark I machines evolved naturally over time. However if one accepts this second point as a fact of daleks history then we get to the third, and in my opinion the major flaw in his theory. If the Daleks city-bound in the old Kaled capitol mutated naturally while the Daleks trapped within The Bunker mutated as a results of davros' genetic tampering, then the original Daleks seen in "The Daleks," and "Dalek Invasion of Earth" were of a completely different race from the ones trapped in The Bunker and seen throughout the rest of the series. Therefore even John Peel's explanation, although well though out, does not satisfactorily tie the two broadcast origin stories together, and maybe they can never be. Or could they?
The biggest problem
with tying the two different versions of Dalek origins together is with
the character of Davros himself, and his touts of being the sole creator
of the Daleks. We know from the first story that the Dals mutated
over time, so how could they have a single creator? But is it possible
that Davros was only one of several scientists working on the Dalek project
that we do not get to see in "Genesis of the Daleks?" Surely the Kaled
government would have had several projects in different locations going
on at the same time. Is it possible that the Dals and kaleds were two different
nations allied against the Thals? Could Davros, a Kaled, have been
working with other Dal scientists, possibly Yarvelling, in creating
the Daleks, but since only Davros survived, he gets to claim sole ownership?
And how and why did Davros survive? And why, after thousands
of years, does he play such an important role in Dalek events?
Of course the actual reasons for Davros' inclusion in every story after "Destiny of the Daleks" was because of the insistence of Terry Nation, Davros' inclusion being the only way he'd release the rights to use his creations. This of course only perpetuated the notion of him being their sole creator (as the story line in "Destiny" only reinforces the Daleks need to find their creator) and thus drives a further wedge between the two creation stories. Yet could it be however, that the intervention of the TimeLords caused a divergence of Dalek history, and that we are in fact looking at not one convoluted history of the Daleks, but two separate ones?
We can theorize that when the TimeLords sent the 4th Doctor back to Skaro to avert the Dalek's creation they changed the way in which the Daleks creation came about. This notion is supported by events in the series itself. Throughout the series the notion of Parallel Time Lines had been used time and again. We know from “Pyramids of Mars” that Parallel Time Lines are possible, as Sarah Jane remarks that Sutekh could not have destroyed the world because she knows that it is intact in her own time. The Doctor explains that there are endless possibilities, then takes her forward in time to show her what the world now looks like in her time, a barren wasteland. She cannot return to her original timeline unless they stop Sutekh. Therefore it is entirely possible that we do indeed have more than one Dalek timeline.
We know that the origin story from "The Dead Planet" differs from the Davros version in several basic ways. In "The Dead Planet" the Daleks evolved from the mutated forms of the Dal people after a Neutron Bomb is used. The mutation evolves slowly over time. In "Genesis of the Daleks," the Kaled people are already mutating, so Davros, their Chief Scientist, accelerates this process thus creating the Daleks. However is it not possible that the Doctor's intervention became the catalyst of temporal interference, which allowed the Davros timeline to come about? Surely Davros originally had no notion of future Dalek events until the Doctor showed up. Is it not possible that after his first encounter with the Doctor, Davros decided to take steps to insure his survival? We are shown that Davros has made changes to his life-support system in several episodes (the mind control drug in “Resurrection,” the hover ability in “Revelation”), is it not possible that he did the same in “Genesis” by adding a Cryogenic system?
Is it not possible that in the original version of Dalek history, a "Kaled" scientist named Davros worked on the Dalek project with other scientist during a thousand year war? His contributions are a major force behind the Dalek project, but not the only ones. After he and his fellow scientists are killed in The Bunker the remaining "Dals," possibly lead by Zolfian and Yarvelling, set off the Neutron Bomb thus ending the war and beginning the chain of events which will lead up to “The Dead Planet,” and follow through to "Death to the Daleks." Davros, like Yarvelling, is forgotten, and the Daleks trapped in The Bunker may never have survived. Now however, the TimeLords send the Doctor along. His intervention does little to change actual Dalek history (if he had delayed them a 1000 years then his first incarnation could not have encounter the Daleks in “The Dead Planet”), but it does provide a catalyst for Davros to survive.
In support of this it is important to remember two facts established in the episode. First, Davros, and the rest of the Kaled race for that matter, does not believe that there is any life in the universe beyond Skaro, therefore there would be no need for Davros' creations to be "the most powerful beings in the universe." All they had to do was to defeat the Thals and survive on Skaro. The Doctor's presence proves them wrong. Secondly, now knowing that life does exist on other planets, and learning from the Doctor that his Daleks will suffer defeat at the hands of many of these races, Davros decides that he must stay around to guide the Daleks. We know he is a megalomaniac, so he now takes steps to insure his survival, and possibly the survival of "his" creatures in The Bunker. It is also not unreasonable to believe that upon his revival thousands of years later, and with no one left alive to contradict him, Davros claims sole responsibility for the Dalek's creation.
By this theory it is possible that Dalek history now follows two separate time tracks. In the first track, “The Dead Planet" track, Dalek history follows the events of the series up to “Death to the Daleks.” The Neutron Bomb is used, the surviving Dals retreat into their city protected by their travel suits, they fight the Thals and seem to be defeated, they invade Earth, try to killed the First Doctor, infect mankind with the Dalek factor, fight a civil war, try to re-invade earth, and so on. Then, because in this track the Doctor did not interfere with the Dalek's past, Dalek history follows an un-broadcast timeline (possibly the stories as presented by Big Finish Productions: Mutant Phase, Apocalypse Element, Genocide Machine, Time of the Daleks), in which Davros, having been killed with the other scientists working on the Dalek project, plays no part. However the intervention of the Doctor now creates a "Genesis" time track. In the “Genesis” track, Davros, learning from the Doctor that other races live in the universe, wires into his life support unit a means to survive. He is apparently killed by his creations, which are trapped in The Bunker. The history now follows the broadcast order of the series possibly with the difference being that the original Daleks from "The Dead Planet" are actually killed and the subsequent Daleks, from "Dalek Invasion of Earth" through "Death to the Daleks," are the survivors from The Bunker (this however does not account for the changes in the Dalek machine's appearance, and for a more plausible explanation see "The History of the Daleks."). Now the stories after “Death to the Daleks” follow exactly as they did in the broadcast program ("Destiny," "Resurrection," "Revelation," “Remembrance"), possibility ending with the events as depicted in John Peel’s “War of the Daleks.” All of this is major conjecture of course, but it is something consider.
It may be that there will never be one single theory that ties all of Dalek history together. Creating a simple chronological order to the Dalek adventures is difficult enough, and blending two stories separated by 12 years may prove impossible. It is important however, to remember that as it is with any long running sci-fi series, it is what the fan brings, and takes away from the series that is really important, and it may be that exactly how the Daleks came about is not as important as the fact that they did come about. After all, do we really think about their origins every time we heard those words: “Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!”
Haining, Peter; Doctor Who: A Celebration; 1983
Peel, John & Nation, Terry; The Official Doctor Who and The Daleks Book; 1988
Lofficier, Jean-Marc; Doctor Who: The Programme Guide; 1989
Pixley, Andrew; The Daleks: A History from BBC Video; 1993
Howe, David J. & Walker, Stephen James; Doctor Who: The Television Companion
Special thanks to Stephen O'Connell for the TV21 Dalek Origins.
Essay © 2002/2005 John Rocco Roberto.