Reimagining Doctor Who

The Daleks

Episode notes

This telling of the story is based more so on the scale of the novelisation, with an added focus on formulating the Doctor’s character as against the Daleks (which isn’t developed in the original series until “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, at which point the Daleks finally become the Nazis, even though there is a strong fan tendency to suggest that is what happens here – so much so that it is referred to by the Doctor himself in “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar” – as it really ought to and should have been). 

What are the differences between the original televised and novelised versions of this story? (And what are the differences between these versions, and how the Daleks are portrayed and represented in the later mythos?). These are two key opportunities that I believe could be adopted in rewriting this story. 

Leaving aside the origin story regarding Ian and Barbara in the novelisation, the most striking aspect of the David Whitaker book is its visual quality through the sheer sense of scale upon which it operates, particularly in the second half of the story as compared to what we see in the original televised version. In addition to its adventure genre stylings, it is also, importantly, an allegory for the existential threat of mutually assured destruction as set amongst post-nuclear devastation (in the process removing the need to tell the exact same allegory in the rather more plodding “The Tribe of Gum” storyline). It explores what life and its social structures could look like in terms of the evolution of the Daleks regarding their adaptation to radiation, and the emerging culture that – in light of such trauma – reverts to a very rigid form of social order; in this case, a totalitarian one that denies the primacy of the individual, which is a libertarian ideal, in favour of the preservation of the collective and its identity, which is a non-negotiable in a dictatorial model of government. The point of Daleks as fascists needs to be made explicit in their first appearance; something which isn’t necessarily the case in the original.

Furthermore, at this early point, what becomes critical in re-imagining Doctor Who for a modern sensibility are the x and y axes when plotting narrative; tension and pace. Any rewriting exercise requires a zero tolerance approach to padding in its plotting or else it will fail; conversely, moments of tension that don’t extend far enough up that scale when they ought to need to be rethought and remapped. Each scene with the Daleks has to be incredibly suspenseful and punctuated by moments of sheer terror and horror. Each scene with the Daleks has to be (either) terrifying and(/or) spectacular.

Another obvious advantage in reimaging the original series’ stories is the ability for unparalleled spectacle. Scale is therefore fundamental in this retelling (as it is throughout this series of reimagining), so that the sense of what is at stake also inflates: Imagine a city crammed full of Daleks, a city that rises like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis into the poisonous clouds of the Skarovian atmosphere, itself ringed by gargantuan mountains from which fall torrents of poisonous water into a lake as large and deep as a sea filled with monsters the size of twisted giants. At the centre of it all stands the Dalek Citadel, in the dead centre of which the Emperor Dalek sits, encased in glass in some perverse form of a panopticon, orchestrating the machinations of an evil state of supremely technologically-advanced extremists. It is a picture of ultimate force, which is defeated only by the humanity of the story’s heroes. 

It is not necessarily a case that, in the most horrible and equally wonderful of ironies – even tragedies – the Daleks would never have left Skaro if it wasn’t for the Doctor arriving; but it is possible that, in so doing, the Doctor has ‘activated’ the Daleks as a universal threat (something that would have happened in time, though perhaps not to the same extent, with the Emperor Dalek learning from the Doctor that he travels through time and space).  It sets up a perfect dichotomy between the Doctor and the Daleks, as well as a reliance on one another both intra- and meta-textually (and is one that we will return to in the final series of this reimagining)…

Cold Open/Reprise

Reprise of the events of the pilot up to and including the previous cliffhanger of the TARDIS dematerialising and then materialising on an alien planet before an ominous shadow is cast over it.


Act One


There’s a lot that can go from the first episode. After the initial character establishing post the previous episode, we need to get from the landing and the business about the fluid link (and an added bit about the chameleon circuit), through the exploration of the alien environment – which requires a lot more colour, suspense, spectacle and sound – and into the city a lot quicker. The exploration through the utterly alien and inhuman city needs to be more suspenseful and foreboding, with greater use of shadows and sounds, as well as scale, to make it seem like an utterly alien city (rather than just wondering down corridors). This all needs to be fast.

First turning point

The Doctor and Susan split from Ian and from Barbara, nicely introducing one of the go-to story-telling techniques that Doctor Who will use repeatedly going forward. Barbara being menaced by the Dalek arm sucker is television perfection!


The Doctor, Susan, and Ian are taken prisoner while Barbara remains off screen, her fate unknown. The fluid link sabotage is revealed while they are being held captive, before Ian’s legs are temporarily disabled by the Daleks. This is all good stuff, both character- and narrative-wise.

The Doctor and the Daleks face down for the first time, and we get the neutronic war exposition from their seeming leader, the Red Dalek. Something is missing here, perhaps with the benefit of knowing everything that comes after this first meeting. There’s that moment in “The War Machines” where the Doctor has an autonomic response to evil that he senses emanating from the Post Office Tower – there needs to be something similarly visceral here, as though the Doctor’s keener instinct and intuition senses the danger of the Daleks, perhaps revealed through specific cues and clues. There should also be a slightly more nuanced connection with the events of Kaled-to-Dalek evolution history in the backstory (not Dals!), as we know them from “Genesis of the Daleks”. The imagery of the Doctor protectively holding Susan tight is a powerful one – having her sent back to the TARDIS to collect the anti-radiation drugs raises the stakes, before meeting the immediately sympathetic Alydon (who is revealed to have been the figure who cast the shadow upon the TARDIS at the end of An Unearthly Child and in the Cold Open/Reprise).

Having the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara become very ill is quite realistic and very much plays to those post-nuclear Armageddon fears that people lived with on a daily basis after 1954. It’s a nice touch to have it become clear to the audience that the Daleks want to intercept the drugs that Susan is going to bring back and leave our three leads to die, amplifying their callous, inhuman qualities while finally revealing their villainy.

It always bothered me that Susan is allowed by the Daleks to return to the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara in time with the anti-radiation drugs after the first true reveal of their evil, so this should be pitched so that Susan demonstrates some defiance and intelligence by placing four phials on her person before re-entering the Dalek city and handing over the box before smuggling in the drugs for the rest to begin to recuperate. Using Susan to write a letter to the Thals is also odd in that how do the viewers know that the Thals can read it? We should probably establish the TARDIS has telepathic translation abilities in the TARDIS scene at the beginning of the story, providing the explanation that we much later have in The Masque of Mandragora, and that allow for the Doctor and Susan to be able to communicate telepathically through its gift. The visual gimmick to denote this is that the Doctor’s ring glows. Alternatively, let it be a little sci-fi holographic recording of Susan that is left for the Thals at the Dalek gates. This is less telling and more showing, after all.

Cut to the Thals discussing the message from Susan. The tragedy in this scene should be that their complete trust of Susan leads them to so gullibly accept what she says, even though it’s clear that she is a hostage of the Daleks and these are false words.

As the Daleks prepare to kill the Thals after luring them into the city on the premise of a proposed peace, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara discover that they are reliant on static electricity provided through the Dalek city floors, echoing the battle between Heracles against Antaeus, who lost his power when unable to touch the ground, before capturing a Dalek to escape. This bit can be particularly good – the actual Dalek inhabitant extracted from its casing, the struggle with the pure blob of hate resulting in Ian saving the day by gruesomely smashing its unprotected form in a battle of life and death, and the subterfuge and ensuing escape from the city in a race against time to warn the Thals to prevent a massacre is all good stuff. But given how small the Dalek casing is, and maybe even also what we see in The Witch’s Familiar, perhaps it would work better to have Susan in there – not just because she’s smaller, but also because we can make reference to and use of her telepathic abilities in controlling the Dalek, and maybe how frightening and even corrupting it is when her mind interfaces with the casing. Above all, there’s a terrible dread to the Daleks that isn’t always apparent in the Classic stories, and which will need to be amplified in these kinds of scenes.

Second turning point

As the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara escape, they emerge from the Daleks Citadel just too late to warn the Thals and avert the killing of Temmosus and the massacre of the Thals. (This is an excellent cliffhanger! I believe that this story would require two episodes and this is where you can place the break.)


Act Two

Rising action

The next bit needs a bit of compacting, as it isn’t as exciting or essential in the worldbuilding or in terms of dramatic storytelling. The scene immediately following the escape of the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara and the fleeing of the surviving Thals rightly should be that of Ian trying to convince the Thals to fight back against the Daleks – but also, crucially, it should also be that of the Doctor coming to terms with the truth of Ian’s words and, in short, the beginning of him becoming the Doctor as the hero who fights monsters and who makes the universe better. This can be achieved through having the Doctor watch on from the sidelines, as he does in the original, but only before he then also steps in and becomes an advocate for the just fight against any great evil that threatens peaceful people everywhere. Alternatively, we could even lift the set piece from “The Tribe of Gum” in which the Doctor raises a rock to smash in a cavemen’s head so that they can escape before Ian and Barbara admonish him for doing so. Proving that they can escape but choose not to because they are on the Thals’ side would allow the travellers to credibly regain the trust of the Thals after the ambush that they were led into by Susan’s message. Either way, this is the beginning of the turning point for the titular character; when the Doctor becomes the Doctor we know, and moves away from being the scared fugitive, on the run from his people with his granddaughter whom he simply wishes to protect. The plan, then, to leave in the TARDIS after Ian exhorts the pacifist Thals to fight back needs a bit of rework. In the original, they stay because they have no choice; because the fluid link Ian has carried is discovered missing and is back in the Dalek city. Instead of Ian then managing to convince the Thals that there are some things worth fighting for – but only as a way to do good – this should be done before they discover the fluid link is missing, and the Doctor et al should all realise for themselves that helping the Thals to destroy the Daleks is the right thing to do. It is therefore academic that the fluid link is missing; rather, it should only add to their determination to return to the Dalek city.

So where does that leave us with this plot point in The Daleks? Perhaps a better version of the telling would be that we now begin to see more of the Daleks’ hierarchy, at first catching only a glimpse of the Emperor to whom the Red Dalek (leader of the Dalek ‘drones’) reports, and being introduced to the Cult of Skaro, led by the Black Dalek, Sec (above and beyond the Emperor, and who were designed by the Emperor to think as the enemy thinks). It is the Cult of Skaro, with the approval of the Emperor, who will experiment on their own kind, in order that they may accelerate their evolution to create Daleks who, like the Thals, can leave the city to mercilessly stalk and kill every last Thal on Skaro. (This allows us to have the Dalek who will be the subject for these experiments placed in a glass casing.)

With the Daleks having experimented with the anti-radiation drugs but realising that the drugs don’t work, they learn that they have adapted to thrive on the radiation. The really cool part here is the implicit reaction by the Daleks to the fact that they will never be able to escape their casings, never be like the Kaleds their ancestors once were. But – and this is important – this absolutely runs counter to an incredibly important symbiosis that runs through the rest of the series; that the Doctor, as a force for change, stands in contrast to the Daleks, who are a static lifeform and for whom change (whether as evolution on a species level, or on a cultural or individual level) is antithetical. They are and always will stand as opposite and opposed to life as is natural to the rest of the universe (and so are opposite and opposed to life’s fundamental evolutionary basis in that evolution is something they hold back and have turned away from on both a biological and an ideological level). The Daleks as a species view themselves as the superior beings in the cosmos as they are, so they reason why would they want to evolve out of their casings given that they have already attained their ‘perfected’, teleological, apotheotic form? It will also rather beautifully later set up a striking similarity between the Daleks and the Time Lords as unbelievably powerful races who have essentially opted out of the natural order of the universe, and for whom both change and evolution is impossible. Particularly satisfying is the fact that the Doctor has rejected this about his own people, and departs to undertake the Hero’s Journey – which will change him (and how! and so many times!) – and so is the only Time Lord capable of ever ontologically as well as narratively defeating Daleks.

As per the original, the Doctor devises a plan to attack the Dalek city in a pincer movement: Ian, Barbara, and the Thals will venture around the mountains to attack from the unguarded rear before switching off the static electricity source; while the Doctor and Susan – again piloting the previously captured Dalek shell – will then enter at the Dalek Citadel’s entrance, disarming their communications and defence systems.

Back in the Dalek Citadel, the results of Cult of Skaro’s failed experiments have led to the Emperor Dalek developing the next step in their plans. With the Emperor concluding that their species is incapable of responding to the anti-radiation drugs as positively as the Thals did to evolve back into humanoid form over millions of years, the Emperor commands that they will explode another neutron bomb. The Daleks now plan to overcome evolution by doing so, sustaining the radiation that the Dalek race have come to rely upon and at the same time destroying all other life on Skaro.

The rest of the Doctor’s plan continues as it does, if not on as seen on screen in the original, then as can be imagined from the novelisation, particularly in terms of scale; Ian, Barbara and the Thals set off on their long journey. At the Lake of Mutations, Elyon is taken by a tentacled monster. We also see our first Varga plant, which claims another of the party, Antodus sacrificing his life to the Slyther by cutting the rope and allowing only himself to fall down the great mountain crevice in which the great monster lives.

The Daleks, meanwhile, continue to build their neutron bomb. It will be ready by dawn the following day; that is, when the Doctor and the Thals plan to spring their two-pronged attack the Dalek city. (Why on earth wasn’t it a bomb in the original? It’s far more dramatic, easily recognisable, speaks to the contemporaneous fears of nuclear warfare, and segues more closely with the countdown race-against-time than the cheap and invisible release of radiation otherwise attempts to do. It also highlights how lunatic the Daleks are, and also how impervious and indestructible they are, even against neutronic warfare.)

Overnight within the TARDIS, the Doctor and Susan prepare to re-enter the Dalek Citadel undetected. As part of their preparations, they build a jamming device – a sonic screwdriver.

Ian, Barbara, and the Thals have in the meanwhile continued their perilous journey deeper into the heart of the mountains behind the Dalek city. (Refer to the dramatic telling of these events in the novelisation, and add the complication of a simmering but unintended jealousy that Ian feels about Barbara and Ganatus’ obvious growing affection for one another, and the resentment that both feel about the Doctor having placed them in such a god-forsaken situation).

Crisis point

In the first light of pre-dawn, the Doctor and Susan, disguised in the Dalek shell and communicating with one another telepathically as the Doctor’ ring glows from within, arrive at the Dalek Citadel.They jam the communications and dismantle the defence systems in the frontal attack and make significant in-roads into the Daleks’ stronghold, but they are captured by the Daleks led by the Red Dalek, who has figured out their ruse.

Amongst the attack party from the mountains, Antodus falls down a crevasse, cutting his rope free and sacrificing himself so as to stop anyone else falling in after him.

The Daleks begin the countdown to the launch of their neutron bomb.

All seems lost.


Act Three


This is where we need a bit of rewriting, as it needs to feel like we are continuing to build the tension further up and up, as opposed to it leading up to a bit of a pretty bland raid on a small control room. The Daleks take the Doctor and Susan, now outside the Dalek shell, to their control room, where the Doctor and Susan meet the Black Dalek, Sec, see the experimented-upon Dalek creature in a glass case, and are surrounded by the rest of the Cult of Skaro, who then fall into a deferential state when the Doctor and Susan are brought into the presence of their leader, the Emperor Dalek (also known as the Dalek Prime; that is, the first Dalek brought into existence). The Emperor and the Doctor need a face-off, a defining moment where we can see the difference in the Doctor as he has become as a result of his first meeting with the Daleks earlier in the piece when he was scared and spoke only of wanting to leave the Daleks to their city as he and his fellow travellers depart. The Emperor tells the Doctor and Susan of their plans to wipe out all other life on Skaro so they can thrive in the neutronic fallout.


The remaining Thals have snuck through an unguarded rear door after the Doctor and Susan left their defence systems in an irreparable state, while Ian, Barbara, and the rest of the Thals gain entry from another point sabotaged by Susan when she blasts a hole in a ventilation pipe with the Dalek extermination ray. With their defence systems down, the Daleks are unable to prevent the Thals from cutting their power supply, meaning that they are increasingly unable to move or power themselves when their static energy source is cut.

The Doctor has kept the Daleks preoccupied up until this point, grandstanding against the evil of the Daleks and in favour of the sanctity of all peaceful life, before he rushes to deactivate the countdown, all while the Emperor Dalek sits impotently surrounded by all its other subservient Daleks. As the countdown is being halted, he reveals that plan. Everything is in darkness. The Daleks are now all immobile. Their Citadel has fallen.


They all return to the Thal camp, this time with the fluid link, and the Doctor and his party make their farewells – “You wanted advice, you said. I never give it. Never. But I might just say this to you. Always search for truth. My truth is in the stars and yours is here” – before returning to the TARDIS.


In the TARDIS, the Doctor apologies to Ian, Barbara and Susan for the terrifying experience, and resolves that – while he now understands what role he must play in the fight against the injustices replicated across the universe – his travelling companions cannot be expected to any such part and that he must take them all home. He sets the Fast Return Switch to take them back to London in the early evening of Friday, 22 November, London 1963. But at that point, there is an almighty explosion in the console room and they all fall to the floor amidst a deafened darkness.

Remember to share your thoughts in the comments section below, please.

(Available 23 March 2023)


(Previous episode: An Unearthly Child)

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