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The Daleks are a fictional race of mutants who are collectively the greatest enemy of The Doctor in the British television series Doctor Who. They are the mutated remains of the Kaled people of the planet Skaro, and travel around in robotic bodies. Their catchphrase is "EXTERMINATE!", screeched in a frantic mechanical voice. The Daleks were created by writer Terry Nation and BBC special effects engineer Raymond Cusick.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

Table of contents
1 Physical characteristics
2 Costume details
3 Conceptual history
4 Other appearances
5 History within the show
6 Culture
7 Merchandising

Physical characteristics

Externally, Daleks resemble overgrown pepper shakers, with a single mechanical eye stalk, a gun stalk containing a directed energy weapon (or "death ray"), and a telescoping robot arm. Usually, the arm is fitted with a device for manipulation that, to the amusement of generations of viewers, resembles a plunger, but various episodes have shown Daleks whose arms end in a tray, a mechanical claw, or other specialised equipment.

The creatures inside their "travel machines" are depicted as soft and repulsive in appearance, but still vicious even without their mechanical armor. In Resurrection of the Daleks a Dalek creature attacks and kills a soldier. The Doctor has described them as "little green blobs in bonded polycarbide armor," referring to the mutated creature inside the Dalek casing. However, as the creature inside is rarely seen on screen, the misconception that Daleks are wholly mechanical robots exists, a mistake the series itself has made on occasion.

Due to their gliding motion Daleks were notoriously unable to tackle stairs, which made them easily overcome under the right circumstances. An often-copied cartoon shows a flight of stairs with a sign saying "To Earth" at the top; at the foot of the stairs a Dalek says "Well, that mucks up the invasion plans." In Remembrance of the Daleks they can climb stairs using a sort of limited antigravity (first used in Planet of the Daleks), but their awkward forms still limit their mobility in tight quarters. In a classic scene from Destiny of the Daleks, the Doctor and companions escape from Dalek pursuers by climbing into a ceiling duct. The Doctor (Tom Baker) calls down "if you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing after us? Bye bye!" The Daleks generally make up for their lack of mobility with overwhelming firepower.

Costume details

The Daleks were actually operated from inside by short actors who had to manipulate their eyestalks and arms, as well as flashing the lights on their heads in sync with the actors supplying their voices. Unfortunately, as well as being hot and cramped the Dalek casings also muffled external sounds, making it difficult for the operators to hear the director's commands or studio dialogue.

The Dalek cases were built in two pieces; once an operator stepped into the lower section the top would be lowered onto him. This had advantages and disadvantages. Operators were often able to eavesdrop on private conversations between people who thought the casings were empty, but the top sections were too heavy to move from inside, which meant that the operators could be trapped in them if the stagehands forgot to let them out.

Early versions of the Daleks were either rolled around on castors or propelled by wheels connected to hand cranks by bicycle chains. Later versions had more efficient wheels and were simply propelled by the operators' feet. Even so, they were so heavy that when going up ramps they often had to be pushed by stagehands out of camera shot.

The Dalek voice, a staccato monotone, was initially developed by voice actors Peter Hawkins (who had also provided the voice for the popular children's animated series Captain Pugwash) and David Graham, who would vary the pitch and speed of the lines according to the emotion needed. The voices were then electronically modulated by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop using a sine wave of 30 cycles (turning it on and off thirty times a second), creating a distinctive, grating sound. This became the pattern for all Dalek voices in years to come.

In scenes where many Daleks had to appear, some of them would be represented by wooden replicas or even (in early black and white episodes) by life-size photographic enlargements. In scenes involving armies of Daleks, the BBC effects team even turned to using commercially-available toy Daleks, manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.

Conceptual history

Terry Nation claimed that he was inspired by watching ballet dancers in long dresses glide as if on wheels. Indeed, for many of the shows, the Daleks were "played" by retired ballet dancers sitting inside the Dalek wearing black socks. Raymond Cusick claims that after Nation wrote the script, he was given only an hour to come up with the design for the Daleks, and was inspired by a pepperpot on the table in front of him to do the initial sketches.

Nation also claimed that the name came from a volume of a dictionary or encyclopedia, the spine of which spine read "Dal - Lek". He later admitted that he had made this up as a reply to a question by a journalist and that anyone who checked out his story would have found him out. The name had in reality simply rolled off his typewriter.

Later, Nation was pleasantly surprised to discover that in Serbo-Croatian the word "Dalek" means "far and distant thing".

Nation grew up during World War II, and remembered the fear caused by German bombings. He consciously based the Daleks on the Nazis, conceiving of the monsters as faceless, authoritative figures dedicated to conquest, domination and complete conformity. The analogy is most obvious in the Dalek stories penned by Nation, in particular The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Genesis of the Daleks.

The Daleks were first introduced in December 1963 in the second Doctor Who serial, called variously, "The Survivors" (the pre-production title), The Mutants (its official title at the time of production and broadcast, later taken by a second, unrelated Doctor Who story), Beyond the Sun, The Dead Planet, or simply The Daleks. The reason for this confusion is that in the show's early years each individual episode had a different name and overall story titles were used only by the production office. Subsequently, several different overall story titles were circulated by fandom without access to the correct records. The Daleks were an immediate hit, and featured in many subsequent serials.

The word "Dalek" has entered the English dictionary, and is sometimes used in Britain to describe people, usually figures in authority, who act like robots unable to break their programming. John Birt, the much maligned ex-Director General of the BBC, was once compared to a Dalek.

Other appearances

Two movies starring Peter Cushing spun off from Doctor Who featured them as the main villains: Dr. Who and the Daleks, and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD, both based on serials from the television series. However, the movies made several changes to the original concept; for instance, Cushing's Doctor is not an alien, merely an inventor. The movies used brand new Dalek props, based closely on the original design but with a wider range of colours. Originally, the movie Daleks were supposed to shoot jets of flame, but this was thought to be too graphic for children, so their weapons emitted jets of deadly vapour instead.

In addition to the movies, their popularity extended to books and stage shows and a one-page regular feature in the children's comic TV Action, many of the strips written by Doctor Who television writer and script editor David Whitaker.

The Daleks have also appeared in the "Dalek Empire" series of audio plays by Big Finish Productions, of which three mini-series of 4 CDs each have so far been produced.

Daleks have been the subject of many parodies, including Spike Milligan's "Pakistani Dalek" sketch, and Victor Lewis-Smith's Gay Daleks. To an extent Doctor Who has itself parodied the Daleks from time to time. In 2002, BBC Worldwide published The Dalek Survival Guide, a parody of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbooks.

Due to the popularity the Daleks brought to the show, many fans hoped they would reappear in the upcoming Doctor Who series set for 2005. Unfortunately, the rights to the Daleks are jointly owned by the Terry Nation estate, and negotiations broke down between it and the BBC for the use of the Daleks in series one of the new show. According to media reports, this was due to the Nation estate demanding levels of creative control over the Daleks' appearances and scripts that were unacceptable to the BBC. However, producer Russell T. Davies was hopeful that these differences would be resolved in time for series two.

History within the show

As is common in long-running series whose backstories are not mapped out and which are also the product of many different writers over the course of years, Dalek history has seen many retroactive changes and these have caused some continuity problems. When the Doctor first encounters the Daleks in the eponymous 1963 serial, they are the product of a nuclear war between the Dal and Thal races, and were more or less confined to their city, their motive power being static electricity conducted from metal walkways. At the end of this serial, the Daleks are seemingly wiped out, a fitting conclusion because it was not intended that they should be a recurring adversary for the Doctor. However, the popularity of the Daleks ensured their return.

They did so in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964), which showed the Daleks conquering the Earth in the year 2164. The sight of the monsters amid the familiar landmarks of London made their presence doubly effective by bringing the threat to home ground. The Doctor explains the presence of the Daleks by saying that this must take place "a million years" before the events of The Daleks, and that what they are witnessing is the "middle period" of Dalek history. However, these Daleks are able to move without the need for metal paths, presumably drawing power through the use of what appear to be radio dishes on their backs. The question of why in the future the Daleks would be less advanced than these Daleks is never explained.

Over the course of their next few appearances, the Daleks developed, variously, time travel (The Chase, 1965), an interstellar empire (The Daleks' Master Plan, 1965) and factory ships for conquest (The Power of the Daleks, 1966), growing more powerful and further removed from the (by comparison) almost pathetic monsters of the first serial. The radio dishes also vanished, and Daleks were able to move under their own power.

A second attempt to end the Dalek saga was next made in The Evil of the Daleks (1967), which also introduced a Dalek Emperor. In that story, the conflagration caused by a Dalek civil war is declared by the Second Doctor to be "the final end." This was because Terry Nation was in negotiations to sell the Dalek concept to American television. The sale did not succeed, but the Daleks did not appear again for five years.

The Daleks returned in the Third Doctor serial, Day of the Daleks (1972), where once again they used time travel technology. The Daleks' were re-established as a species bent on universal conquest, as seen in 1973's Frontier in Space (which led directly into Planet of the Daleks) and later on in Death to the Daleks (1974).

It could still have been plausible that all this was taking place prior to the events of The Daleks, and that the creatures seen there were the remnants of a once great empire. However, Planet of the Daleks had Thals who had become a spacefaring race and also remembered legends of the Doctor's first encounter with the Daleks. Since the Daleks were a going concern at this point, this marked a significant change to the "end" of the race shown in 1963 and contradicted the Doctor's reasoning in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

In 1975, Terry Nation revised the Daleks' origins in the revisionist story Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor was sent to the moment of the Daleks' creation by the Time Lords to stop the Dalek race before it could begin. In that story, the Dals were now called Kaleds (an anagram of Dalek), and the Dalek design was attributed to one man, the Kaled chief scientist and evil genius Davros. The exact details of the Daleks' revised origin can be found in the article on their home planet Skaro.

There has been much fan speculation as to how to reconcile pre-Genesis and post-Genesis Dalek history, but a detailing of the various theories is beyond the scope of this article. Many of the theories revolve around time travel, the fact that the Doctor actually changed history when he was sent back to the birth of the Daleks, and that the Daleks themselves have tampered with time. In any case, it is accurate to say that Genesis of the Daleks marked a new era for the monsters, and most of their previous history was swept aside to be either forgotten or not referred to again. Future stories would also focus more on Davros, much to the consternation of some fans who felt that the Daleks should take center stage. However, these post-Genesis appearances were stronger stories in general, forming a continuing story arc when strung together.

Davros appeared to have been killed by his own creations at the end of Genesis of the Daleks. Destiny of the Daleks (1979) revealed, though, that he had survived their attack and lived on, buried in the bunker in suspended animation. During the time Davros was sleeping, the Daleks had abandoned the ruins of Skaro and established a vast interstellar empire, eventually encountering a hostile race of androids called the Movellans. The Dalek and Movellan warfleets were very evenly matched, and neither side's purely logical battle computers could find a successful strategy for an attack against the other. As a result, the two fleets remained locked in a standoff for centuries, constantly maneuvering and probing for an opportunity to break the stalemate but without either side actually firing a single shot.

The Daleks sent an expedition to the ruins of Skaro to recover Davros and seek his help to enhance their design, hoping to find a way through the impasse, and the Movellans sent an expedition to stop them. The Daleks succeeded in reviving Davros, who theorized that the extreme intelligence and rationality of the battle computers were to blame and that the first side to take a seemingly reckless gamble would tip the balance in their favour. However, the Doctor intervened and prevented either the Dalek or Movellan expeditions from returning with this insight. Davros fell into the hands of a Human space empire and was put back in suspended animation for indefinite imprisonment.

This impasse continued for several more centuries until the Movellans finally developed a weapon capable of breaking it; a highly virulent biological disease that targeted Daleks. In Resurrection of the Daleks (1984), having lost the war, the Daleks rescued Davros from the Human prison station where he was frozen and instructed him to develop a defence against the disease. This time it was Davros who double-crossed the Daleks, deciding to take personal command of the Dalek race rather than merely serving it. Davros's continuing influence eventually led to a schism among the Daleks, with one faction following Davros's leadership and another faction rejecting their creator to instead follow the Supreme Dalek.

By the time of Revelation of the Daleks (1985), Davros was in hiding at the Tranquil Repose funeral facility on the planet Necros, experimenting with physically transforming humans into Daleks. He was also placing those Daleks loyal to him into white and gold casings to distinguish them from the usual black and grey Daleks. Davros's plans were undone when a worker at the facility contacted the original Daleks. These Daleks arrived on Necros and exterminated the white and gold Daleks. Davros was captured at the end of the story and returned to Skaro to face trial.

Davros made his last televised appearance in the serial Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), in the guise of the Dalek Emperor, leading his gold and white Imperial Daleks. Davros had at this point modified Imperial Daleks somewhat from the original design with cybernetic enhancements for the organic components. Other apparently new features included the ability for Imperial Daleks to levitate up stairways (although in the comics they had flown around on flying platforms called "solar disks"), and a "special weapons Dalek" with an enormously powerful cannon and armor capable of deflecting regular Dalek weaponry.

Pitted against the Imperial Daleks were the Renegade Daleks, led by a black Supreme Dalek. The name "renegade" suggests that the tables had turned and Davros's side had the upper hand. Both Dalek factions became aware that the Hand of Omega, a Gallifreyan stellar engineering device, was hidden on Earth in the year 1963. Using time travel, both sides sent expeditions and battled each other to retrieve it. The Imperial Daleks succeeded, not knowing that the Doctor had inserted a booby trap into the Hand's programming. When Davros activated it Skaro's sun went supernova, and both the Dalek homeworld and the Imperial Dalek fleet were destroyed. Davros apparently escaped his flagship's destruction in an escape pod.

It was later revealed in the novel The War of the Daleks that the planet the Imperial Daleks had referred to as Skaro was not in fact their original homeworld, which continued to exist elsewhere. A convoluted explanation included the revelation that the Dalek/Movellan war (and indeed most of Dalek history prior to the destruction of "Skaro") was actually faked for Davros's benefit. This novel, like the others based on the series, is generally not accepted as part of official continuity. Indeed, War was so badly received by fans that some even disavow it within the continuity of the novels.


The most fundamental feature of Dalek culture and psychology is an unquestioned belief in the superiority of the Daleks. Other species are either to be exterminated immediately, or enslaved and then exterminated later once they are no longer necessary. This belief is thought to be the reason why Daleks have never significantly modified their mechanical shell's designs to overcome its obvious physical limitations; any such modification would deviate from the Dalek ideal, and therefore must be inferior and deserving of extermination. The schism between the Renegade and Imperial Daleks is a prime example of this, with each faction considering the other to be a perversion despite the relatively minor differences between them.

An offshot of this superiority complex is their complete ruthlessness and lack of compassion. It is because of this that it is nearly impossible to try and negotiate or reason with a Dalek and it is this single-mindedness that makes them so dangerous and not to be underestimated.

Daleks sometimes compensate for their physical limitations through the use of humanoid slaves. A species of slow-witted humanoids called Ogrons have made several appearances in this role, as have Humans.

Although the Daleks are well known for their disregard of due process (to wit: "You are an enemy of the Daleks. You will be exterminated"), there have been two occasions on which they have taken enemies back to Skaro for a "trial" rather than killing them on the spot; the first was their creator Davros in Revelation of the Daleks, and the second was the renegade Time Lord known as the Master in the Fox telemovie. Neither trial occurred on-screen, so it is not clear what was actually involved; one thinks of the show trials of totalitarian regimes rather than the workings of the modern justice system (The Master's trial presumably took place before the destruction of Skaro, although the Doctor only learned of the trial later).

The spin-off novels contain several mentions of Dalek poetry (and an anecdote about an opera based thereupon, which was lost to posterity when the entire cast was exterminated on opening night) but no actual samples. In the Big Finish Productions audio adventure The Time of the Daleks, the Daleks show a fondness for the works of Shakespeare.

Due to their frequent defeats by the Doctor, he has become a sort of bogeyman in Dalek culture. They have standing orders to capture or exterminate the Doctor on sight, and are occasionally able to identify him despite his regenerations. This is probably not an innate ability, but rather because of good record keeping.

In the comics and novels the Daleks know the Doctor as the Ka Faraq Gatri, "The Bringer of Darkness" or "Destroyer of Worlds" (this was first established in the novelization of Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch). The Doctor, in turn, has grown to be almost single-minded in his conviction that the Daleks are completely evil and unworthy of trust or compassion.


Ironically, despite the Daleks' popularity, they were forever associated with Doctor Who. Nation, therefore, had the problem of owning a money-making concept that proved nearly impossible to sell to anyone else besides the BBC, and was dependent on the latter wanting to produce stories featuring the creatures. Indeed, attempts to market the Daleks outside of Doctor Who were unsuccessful. The sums of money required to pay Nation for the use of the Daleks also explain why, in later years, their appearances in the programme were rare.

The first Dalek model toys were made around the time The Chase aired in 1965. Toys of the Mechanoids, robotic foes of the Daleks introduced in the same serial were also made, with the intention that they would become as popular as Daleks, but were not as successful. Also unsuccessful were Dalek toys made of rubber. Later, model kits of other Dalek-related chracters like Davros, the Supreme Dalek and Gold Daleks were also released.

At the height of their popularity in the 1960s, apart from toy replicas, there were also Dalek construction kits, Dalek board games and activity sets, Dalek slide projectors for children and even Dalek playsuits made from PVC.

In the 1970s, Palitoy released a Talking Dalek which could utter standard Dalek phrases such as "You will obey," and "Exterminate!" In 2001 a new range of talking Daleks were produced, along with the new talking Cybermen and Davros.