Thursday, 3 December 2020

Daleks!



Ahead of the Doctor Who holiday special, Revolution of the Daleks, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, has been checking out the latest spin-off series streaming on YouTube.

Daleks! Tell on...

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s not easy being mean. Just ask the Daleks, who sucker-punched their way into pop culture almost six decades ago, thrilling and chilling readers and audiences ever since.

My first encounter with the Skaro squad came with Genesis of the Daleks back in the mid-seventies. But it was their search for Davros in 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks that really captured my imagination. I didn’t care that they were a bit tatty, or that Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor made fun of them. I found them fearsome, fascinating and most important of all, easy to imitate in the school playground. The bullies of the small screen took my mind off the real-life bullies I couldn’t exterminate [you had me at exterminate - Ed].

A few years later I got hooked on a periodical called Doctor Who Monthly (DWM). One of the strips I loved to read was a reprint of Dalek adventures first published in TV Century 21 magazine from the sixties. Ron Turner’s art was packed with eye-catching design and colour, the supporting characters were memorable, and the Daleks’ devious plans were a big draw too.

Since then, I have been drawn to any little reference to those comic strips, whether in the Dalekmania documentary or in the hovering Dalek hordes of Bad Wolf. Imagine my delight when BBC’s new five-part animated series Daleks! delivered a golden emperor, hoverbouts, galactic machinations and conniving robots, all Terry Nation and David Whitaker-spawned staples retooled for 2020. Furthermore, this was new Who material, the first official on-screen spin-off since 2016’s Class [I didn't get beyond the pilot with Twelve - Ed].

Storywise, my expectations were low. This was a show for kids, surely; at just over ten minutes, the episodes didn’t have room for deep themes or grand character arcs. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Daleks in this show are fallible, backstabbing, on the run from a powerful space entity but still as devious as ever. The brass-bumped emperor is pompous and the scarred old strategist is loyal. Along with the entity, they face stubborn librarians, reprogramed rivals and (finally, after 55 years) the Mechanoids. I‘ve always had a soft spot for these big bots from the First Doctor story The Chase, with their beautiful architecture and their high-pitched voices, speaking a mix of code and broken English. It’s a delight to see them back in action.

Although the episodes are brief, there’s enough meat in them to tell a solid story, develop the main Dalek characters and squeeze in a twist or two. These Daleks aren’t as menacing as they appear in Doctor Who but their threat is in their numbers – we see their armada in full force – and in their Machiavellian antics.

The animation is uneven; while most of the spacecraft and alien cities are highly detailed, the explosions and robots are highly simplified and unrealistic [should've used the Unreal Engine - Ed]. Nevertheless, the faceless Daleks, obviously easier to animate than humans, are imbued with life and momentum, as are the slick ‘camera’ moves.

Daleks! provides a great opportunity for a new audience to familiarize themselves with Doctor Who’s main menace, and for die-hard fans to get a fix before the New Year’s Revolution. I dearly hope that this show leads to more seasons and more spin-offs. Anyone for Saturday Morning Cybermen? [an excellent suggestion - Ed]

Watch Daleks! for free on YouTube and let us know what you think in the comments below!

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