Private View: Dr Who drops the Daleks

The world is in uproar at the prospect of the Daleks being dropped from Dr Who. Arts Editor ANDREW CLARKE argues that is a good thing in order to keep the series fresh.

In our topsy-turvy world of sex scandals, super-injunctions, economic meltdowns and Fifa football crises, there’s only one force capable of blasting those on-going concerns to oblivion and raising a trans-Atlantic rumpus that re-sets the news agenda – the Daleks.

Oh yes, while the FA and Fifa get all puffed up about irregularities in the world of football and Europe examines the financial stability of its member states while also checking out the sexual history of its chiefs, the power of the Daleks – The Doctor’s deadliest foes – is strong enough to allow them to simply glide out of the shadows and command the headlines.

Doctor Who’s head script-writer Steven Moffat let slip in an interview with the Radio Times this week that the Doctor’s arch-enemy were being rested for a while. It was the equivalent of lighting the blue touch paper and retiring to a very safe distance.

The reaction was global – newspapers picked up the story plastering pictures of these menacing metal aliens on their prime news-pages, television news ran items making good use of clips from past stories and then whole saga began again, once the fan reaction from across Britain, Australia, America and Canada swept in, like a blast front from a nuclear explosion.

The fuss was so great that the poor besieged Steven Moffat had send out a calming Tweet mid-week to allay fears that Terry Nation’s greatest creations were being consigned to the galactic scrap-pile.

He has assured the world that the chillingly effective metal monsters would be back but just that they wouldn’t be making an appearance this year.

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It’s interesting and in some ways reassuring that well-made television, well-told stories still captures our collective imaginations and triggers an immediate, emotional response when we fear it is under threat.

Doctor Who, since its return in 2005, has proved that if you nurture and cherish a series, if you devote the time to telling good stories well, if you respect your audience, then there’s nothing you can’t do.

People have taken Doctor Who to their hearts in a way which very few other series have. Coronation Street is equally well-loved but EastEnders is not regarded with the same affection. You couldn’t say it was cherished. It doesn’t have that warmth.

Both Doctor Who and Coronation Street have a sense of history which also helps. You could say that they exist outside time. They are timeless.

But they are only timeless because a lot of time and attention is spent not only on their storylines but also on their casting.

In Doctor Who assistants are just as important as The Doctor. It’s all about chemistry. The classic eras of Who are defined by great assistants. The shorthand for Pertwee’s era is The Doctor and Jo, Tom Baker’s greatest years are summed up as The Doctor and Sarah Jane, then in the modern age there’s The Doctor and Rose and The Doctor and Donna.

Writer-fans like Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have learned the lessons of Doctor Who’s near death experience in the late 1980s. Time and budget constraints, lack of attention to stories and casting during that era led the series to its by-now famous cancellation crisis. No matter how good Peter Davison’s Doctor was, his Tardis was so over-crowded with demographic-pleasing side-kicks that the series couldn’t have The Doctor-Tegan pairing that the series format demanded.

What then followed was some spectacularly bad casting choices and a monumentally bad relationship with light comedy that had Richard Briers, Ken Dodd and Bonnie Langford turning up and playing large roles.

The end was inevitable. But, thankfully the series was resurrected and both it and the BBC had learnt from past mistakes.

This process of resting and renewal is good for a series and this is what Steven Moffat is doing with the Daleks.

You don’t want their appearances to become predictable or formulaic. You need them to keep their edge. They have to keep their ‘Most Deadly Foe’ title. They have to keep their mystique and you do that by rationing their stories. So when they do appear it’s a treat. It gives the series a lift and you make sure you put them in a really good story which shows them off at their most diabolical best.

If you look at what Steven Moffat said in his interview, it’s clear that he fears that the Dalek-factor were becoming devalued – a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

He said: “The Daleks. Actually, they aren’t going to make an appearance for a while. We thought it was about time to give them a rest. There’s a problem with the Daleks.

I thought they were invincible. They are the most famous of the Doctor’s adversaries and the most frequent, which means they are the most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe.”

As Steven Moffat has made clear he is not retiring the Daleks, he is only resting them, so they can come back deadlier than ever.

Also, it’s not the first time that the Daleks have been rested. The Daleks were originally rested between 1967 and 1972. They made, what was believed to be their final appearance in Evil of the Daleks, the last story of Patrick Troughton’s first season. It took until Jon Pertwee’s third season in 1972 for them to return, invading the Earth from the future.

No doubt the Daleks will be back but, when they do we should be excited. Steven Moffatt is wisely making sure we don’t shrug our shoulders and go: “Oh, it’s them again.”

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