The Harmonization of The Dead Planet & Genesis of the Daleks

For a while now there have been several discussions on how to reconcile the two major Dalek origin stories as presented in “The Dead Planet” and “Genesis of the Daleks.”  It occurs to me however, that the simplest and most likely explanation isn’t addressed. I study ancient history, so I know how stories (even history tales) evolve, and I would therefore propose the following:

The Thals (and Daleks) in “The Dead Planet” are wrong about their own history. After all, the origin story from that episode is told as a story. How much do most people “remember” about the First Crusade, which occurred a thousand years ago? The average storyteller telling a historical tale about a period centuries past will have to simplify the story – and most likely won’t know most of the details, anyway. A to of the chronology will simply be wrong.

The name change from Dal to Kaled is also easily explained as a product of language shift. Again, after centuries, the language the inhabitants of Skaro use may not resemble the language used during the war. The name of the race could be different in the same way that a French person will call himself “Francais” while an English speaker will call him “French.” (The difference is even greater when identifying a German person – Deutsch, German, allemande, etc.) The Doctor and his companions don’t notice language shifts because everything is translated for them by the TARDIS – but this probably wouldn’t include proper names, which would be passed through the “translator” unfiltered. Hence the Doctor heard “Dal” the first time he was on Skaro and heard “Kaled” when he went back in “Genesis.” “Badly remembered history” is the most likely explanation given how the origin story from “The Dead Planet” is structured. For one thing, as it has been pointed out, it is a morality tale. That’s the biggest clue that it’s been shaped over the centuries to fit a particular purpose.

Second, the origin story is extremely truncated and deals only with the apparent direct cause of the mutations: a neutron bomb. The war is described as being very short, probably because no one remembers how or why it was waged in the first place. In “Genesis” the idea that the war has waged for centuries is almost just a rhetorical device on the part of the combatants. The “Hundred Years War” on Earth was actually just a sequence of shorter wars that were somewhat connected “thematically.” (The decaying level of technology in “Genesis” is mentioned in the first episode, but after that it’s mostly ignored. The two sides claim that it’s because the war has raged for so long, but that’s rather a silly answer historically speaking. More likely it’s that small pockets of combatants ran out of modern weapons and ammunition and had to resort to “museum” pieces – temporarily. After all, Davros and the scientists are still producing technology; why in the world would the fighters have to suffer with popguns and muskets, unless it was just a “temporary” supply shortage?)

The Thals would have some knowledge of the destruction of the Thal dome (from Genesis), but it could easily have changed and refocused (given the need to make a morality tale) until it became the salient feature of the war. Hence, a short war with a neutron bomb solution – bang, the Thal dome is destroyed. The destruction of the Kaled/Dal city by explosives would be forgotten; the storytellers would assume that it had been destroyed in the same neutron explosion.

As it turns out, the easiest discrepancy to explain is the period of mutation that turned the Dals into Daleks and the Thals into the “perfect human beings.” The story is a morality tale: the Thals “remember” that they used to be warlike and the Dals used to be peaceful. They know that after the war they slowly changed into a peaceful culture. They believe that they mutated physically as well – but as “Genesis” shows, they did not mutate at all. (They were blonde-haired and blue-eyed back then, too.) They would undoubtedly make the same error with respect to the Dals/Kaleds: they knew they had been peaceful, but eventually became warlike. None of them ever saw a mutated Kaled (in “Genesis” only briefly, if at all). They would naturally assume that the Dals/Kaleds didn’t start mutating until after the Thals’ genocidal ancestors had pushed the Dals into a corner. The neutron bomb was not an act of evil, but an act of desperation; it wasn’t until much later that the Dals mutated physically and morally.

Another argument with the discrepancies between the two stories has to do with the fact that if a little more effort was put into the production to make the machines look like their original counterparts (or even earlier versions based on Ray Cusick’s drawings), and mention was given to the use of static electricity as a power source, then it would be possible to reconcile the two stories fitting together better.

I tend to agree here. I was always impressed with how well thought-out the original Dalek technologies were, even if they were “primitive” as far as science fiction goes, especially since it enabled the show to teach children about electromagnetism and the power of logical deduction. The scene where the Doctor and Ian figure out how to open the locked door (From “Dalek Invasion of Earth”, is a fantastic teaching moment.  On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with the shoulder slats/static electricity conundrum.

It has been argued that the idea that the Daleks losing the shoulder slats over time “makes no sense,” but I think I have a reasonable explanation of how this could come about. I reconcile the difference in technology levels by guessing that the Dalek’s deliberately regressed their technologies after the scientists were killed and the Thals’ explosives entombed them. “Genesis” seems to suggest that there weren’t that many Dalek-ready mutated Kaleds when the war ended. (We only saw half a dozen Daleks and a couple growth tanks. Budgetary constraints served the story in this case!) If that were the case, the Daleks would have had to expend much of their power supply increasing their numbers.  Unlike in the case of the last two episodes of the 2005 season, where we learn that the Daleks had adapted human biomaterial, the Daleks didn’t have a ready supply of living creatures to adapt – the Thals had already gone into hiding by the time the Daleks got out of their tomb. (The Daleks are shocked to discover that something survived when the TARDIS arrives, not earlier. So they must have thought they were the only survivors of the ancient war.) Therefore, considerable resources had to be focused on reproduction and genetic development, if the species was to survive.

The next issue was the power supply itself. In all likelihood the power grid was badly damaged, if not completely destroyed, when the Thals detonated their explosives to entomb the Daleks. The surviving Daleks would have had to scramble for some kind of renewable power source before their own supplies (to power the surviving encased Daleks) were exhausted.

While the Daleks aren’t exactly a hive-like culture, it’s clear that they are not independent individuals. They are highly bureaucratic and are dependent on a hierarchical political system (so much so that the Imperials in “Remembrance” have no clear reason for their hatred of the rebel faction other than the fact that they are rebels). With the development of a centralized (political) power structure, distribution of (electrical) power would have been controlled by the central authority. The Daleks in “The Dead Planet” are still very much an expansionistic culture, suggesting a continuity of political goals, but the “Genesis” Daleks have been entombed; for a time, at least, they cannot escape. Therefore any power grid they developed would not need to be scalable: once they had powered the underground levels sufficiently, they could stop.

So there were two factors: first, they had to focus their efforts on perpetuating the species and rebuilding a power grid; second, their need for electrical power was finite and easily calculable. Once they had solved these two problems they could direct their attention to breaching the walls of their tomb.

Radio wave power (as in “Dalek Invasion of Earth”), which is most efficient when there are signal towers and repeaters that can distribute over a wide area, would have been the least efficient method, given their real estate limitations. The building materials of the underground levels are conductive – they have to be in order to transmit staatic electricity. Such pervasive conductivity would interfere significantly with any radio wave power system. At the very least, it would warp the electromagnetic fields around almost everything, causing problems for the equipment the Daleks needed to grow their species in vitro.

In addition they do not seem to have any drilling equipment to start with (or else they would have gotten out easily), so they can’t tap natural gas, fossil fuels or thermal energy. No wind power (no wind), no hydroelectric (no water). All they have available to them when they start building a power grid is the conductivity of the walls and floors and access to electromagnetic discharges in the atmosphere (which they can tap into because of the city’s conductivity), from storms and such. The natural solution, then, is to harness the static electricity in their environment. As a stopgap measure, they retrofit themselves to be able to take advantage of that energy source, and then pragmatically turn their attention to species perpetuation.

This is a conundrum however, in the fact that the Dalek main power source is, of course, nuclear energy, which in fact, indicates a logical error in the story itself: either the nuclear reactor transmits power to the Daleks (in which case the floors are electrified and deadly) or it doesn’t (in which case the Daleks draw from the static charge). But if it doesn’t, then destroying the nuclear reactor should have no effect on their mobility. It’s termed “static electricity” in the story to avoid the problem of the “third rail” – the Doctor and his companions should be electrocuted the moment they step into the city, but for some reason the electricity in the floor isn’t dangerous to them, just like static electricity.

Taking this into account however, the rest of my solution more or less holds up, I think, even if the Daleks are powered like bumper cars. The nuclear reactor is a centralized power source and the grid still doesn’t have to be scalable when the Daleks are focused on solving the radiation problem, so they would have no need to develop radio wave power or a battery system. They must have been under “bumper car” power in “Genesis” as well, since my hypothesis about how they could have regressed depended on the “Dead Planet” Daleks getting their power from atmospheric electricity rather than a nuclear reactor, and that is clearly not the case.
By the time the TARDIS arrives, the Daleks have breached their tomb.  Conceivably, they could use new sources of energy, but they don’t. They still don’t have any need for it: they believe they are the sole survivors and their primary concern is inoculating themselves against the radiation.

All extraneous wartime elements of the “Genesis” Daleks were modified in order to reduce mass and reduce the draw on the power grid – hence the absence of shoulder plating on the “Dead Planet” Daleks. Even the Dalek guns ticks changed: whereas in “Genesis” they were some sort of coherent beam weapon (with the massive power requirements that most such focused energy devices have), by “The Dead Planet” they had been replaced by a technology better suited to their situation. They are a wide-effect weapon, without focused targeting, blanketing an area with what is probably a discharge of modified static electricity stored inside the Dalek unit or in the hemisphere nodes of the outer casing. They are considerably less deadly: victims can survive being attacked by them. (Indeed, many only suffer temporary paralysis, which is one of the possible side effects of a natural lightning strike – in other words, static electricity.)

If we assume that “The Dead Planet” was not the *end* of the Daleks (despite what Terry Nation apparently intended), we still have a bit of technological history to explain. The destruction of the “power source” at the end of “The Dead Planet” was only a temporary setback:  eventually, the lower city would recharge on its own because it was still highly conductive and the atmosphere still had an electrical charge. The Daleks were delayed, not defeated; despite the impressive lightshow that everyone outside observed when the city’s upper levels blew up.

After realizing their dependence on radiation in “The Dead Planet,” which meant that their travel vehicles were as leaky as cracked porcelain tubs, the Daleks stopped looking for an anti-radiation drug and set their sights once again on expansion. Now the power grid had to be replaced with a highly scalable and transportable system; now the weapons had to regain their original potency; now the extra bulk of the shoulder plates had to be accommodated for defense purposes. Thus the Daleks developed the radio wave power grid, which freed them from their main city and allowed for a much greater electrical load that could improve their weapons and make the mass of the shoulder plates a negligible issue. Given their sudden freedom, however, they naturally focused on mobility first. The invasion of Earth was their first test.

It is also possible that the shoulder plates in “Genesis” and the shoulder plates in other episodes serve different functions. In “Genesis” they were probably armor meshing, but in other episodes they may have been radiation collectors. By the mid-22nd century on Earth, it is likely that the ozone layer was so depleted that solar radiation easily penetrated the atmosphere, and the Daleks didn’t need to modify their outer casings in order to absorb it. (As we know, the Daleks can’t live without fairly regular exposure to radiation, maybe not even without constant exposure.) On other planets, though, this may not have been the case, and the Daleks had to develop collectors so that the Dalek casing interiors could be bathed in radiation. I’d argue that the original shoulder plates served the same function, except Davros and the scientists used chemicals to cause mutation, not radiation, so there’s no good reason to assume that at this early stage the Daleks had become radiation-dependent. (At the very least, this shift – from chemical origins to radiation dependency – helps explain the Dalek [and Thal] belieef that they mutated over time. They did mutate, just not in any visibly detectable way. Their mutation was to adapt to their toxic environment.)

As for the “primitive” label with the 4th Doctor gives the Daleks when he first sees them, this may have had more to do with how the Daleks were controlled than with how they looked. Davros initially has to use voice control to make the Daleks move (and his comments about the novelty of voice control implies that they were previously controlled by joystick or some other equally dependent means). The first time the Doctor sees a mobile Dalek in “Genesis,” it’s only slightly more threatening than a radio-controlled saltshaker. Only later does the voice control become more abstract, when Davros can give general orders rather than basic movement commands. At that point the Dalek’s self-control reaches the slightly more advanced stage of “salt shaker zombie.” Up until the point where Davros is betrayed, the Daleks never exhibit intelligence beyond that of a well-trained dog. They don’t even get a monologue until the betrayal, and everything they do say up to that point is meant to express an interpretation of Davros’ orders.

At the end of the day, the “Dead Planet” origin story is a morality tale that serves the needs of the Thal culture, and should not be treated as if it were historical, objective “truth.” It does not carry the same weight as the “Genesis” origin, which we see “as it happens” rather than in storytelling “flashback.” I would argue, therefore, that there is no need to reconcile the two stories at all, so long as one understands the function of the “Dead Planet” origin tale.

Article © 2006 Kevin A. Munoz/Visagraph Films International.
“The Dead Planet” and “Genesis” Dalek images taken from