...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Day 4361: Mysteries of Doctor Who #24: Who Died and Made the Dalek Emperor God?


Everything about the seminal Dalek story "Dalek" tells us that THAT Dalek has to die at the end. It cannot live with itself. It has started to have FEELINGS. It has started to CHANGE. And if you CHANGE from being the supreme life-form, then you're turning into something that must be exterminated.

But, on the OTHER fluffy foot, it don't half explain away a lot of COINCIDENCES if the Emperor who fell through time to escape the Time War and the one solitary Dalek who fell through time to escape the Time War are one and the same Dalek.

For ONE Dalek to "fall through time" and escape the Time War is a mythic and poignant reflection of the Doctor's own plight: one Dalek, one Time Lord. For one MORE Dalek to fall through time seems like CARELESSNESS, as Lady Bracknell might put it. AND for one of those Daleks to be the Emperor... it's a coincidence too far.

The TRUTH of the end of "Dalek" depends on the Dalek killing itself. Given the opportunity to say “I told you you would make a good Dalek”, the Emperor does not do so, nor does he address Rose directly at any time, and you would expect the Dalek from “Dalek” to do that.

But the first ever (cough cough Russell says so) Doctor Who season finale (cough cough Barry Letts and the Dæmons doesn't count. Or Barry Letts and all the other ones. Or The Final End of the Daleks. Or The Chucking Away The Key To Time. Or The Universe Being Eaten By Entropy. Or…) "THE PARTING OF THE WAYS" just makes so much more SENSE if the last Dalek and the Emperor Dalek are the SAME Dalek that maybe that's what we should be allowed to assume.

Not least because a Dalek Emperor obsessed with early Twenty-First Century reality games would make SO much more sense if he was also the Dalek who absorbed all of the Internet while busting out of Mr van Statten's Metaltron cage.

But the idea of RELIGION ought to be as ALIEN to the Daleks as Anne Robinson, and yet the "BAD DOGGIE" Daleks have gotten that ol' time worship in a BAD way.

It seems surprising, with titles like "Genesis", "Resurrection" and "Revelation", that we haven't encountered Dalek Religion before.

It's not like Doctor Who doesn't DO "god".

You may note that the first "lost" Doctor Who story (i.e. written but NOT used) was "The Masters of Luxor" – which is all about religion. And religious confrontations were central to several of the early "historicals": "The Aztecs", "The Crusades" and "The Massacre" all look at the impact of religion on political conflicts, though thankfully Dr Who never makes any crushingly banal remarks about one or other religion being RIGHT or – worse – TRUE. (Let us just gloss over any implications from the already-dreadful "Planet of the Dead", shall we?)

The series benefits very strongly from the Buddhist input of Mr Barry Letts during his time as producer, cleverly camouflaged by Uncle Terry's rather more secular desire to tell a decent adventure story. The camouflage is actually IMPORTANT, because it stops the message becoming too preachy (something the then lead's soliloquies rarely avoid!). Interestingly, this period is "book-ended" with a couple of "When Buddhists Go BAD"-type stories: the first of the two Yeti stories with Mr Dr Mighty Trout features zen-powered robot baddies and festering corruption in the heart of a Buddhist temple, while the swansong for Mr Dr Twerpee sees Buddhist demons coming to life in a "meditation centre". And we'll come back to those spiders in a minute.

Meanwhile, religion is also very central to Mr Philip "von" Hinchcliffe's conception of the series. Along with lashings of Hammer Horror. But this is BAD religion as the series moves to place itself more overtly on the side of SCIENCE and SCEPTICISM and against SUPERSTITION.

This is where we see the start of a strong Doctor Who trope: the cult of stupid humans – The Brotherhood of Demnos, the Tribe of Tesh, or the Tong of the Black Scorpion, say, not to mention the Trogs of the Underworld or those nitwits in "The Stones of Blood" – who are fooled into believing an ALIEN or MAD COMPUTER or TIME TRAVELLER is a deity.

And the Doctor will take down "gods" from Sutekh to the Ragnarok 'n' roll band with the solid implication that (a) they are FAKES and (b) people who've fallen under their thrall are at best DUPES and at worst, actually EVIL too.
Plus there's the possibility that Mr the White Guardian, assuming we ever actually meet him, is god. Or possibly a mental derangement. (see "Mystery #12: Who sends the Doctor after the Key to Time.")

Alien-wise, though, we just don't get a lot of religious practise.

Merely to pick on the Doctor Who aliens who actually HAVE cultures: the Sontarans, Ice Warriors, and Silurians (yes, I KNOW they're not strictly ALIENS) all appear to have godless cultures. Or at least ones where their gods do not crop up in day to day use. The Draconians don't either until they get one, retrospectively, in "The Satan Pit". Nor do the Axons, Zygons, Kraals, Krynoids, Kraags, or Kinda (though they, at least, have good reason to be wary…). Neither do the Terileptils, who take the time to build gaudy androids but not a belief system. While if the Tractators worship anything, it's the Gravis. And the idea of the logical Cybermen doing anything so emotional as "faith" ought to be ridiculous (although "ridiculous" seems to be standard operating procedure for the Cybermen half the time).

On the other fluffy foot, the Eight-Legs of Metebelis III (I said we'd come back to them) DO seem to have a genuine religious devotion to their "Great One" (who at least TRIES to make herself omnipotent!) while, going right back to the Mr Dr Billy era again, the Menoptera of "The Web Planet" have their temples of light while the Zarbi have some kind of relationship with the pretty-nearly-all-powerful Animus. Maybe it's something to do with SPIDERS.

And interestingly the OGRONS – of all people! – have a "god" in the form of the rarely-seen "Giant Ogron Bollock Monster" [see "Mystery #21: Frontier in Space… What Happened Next?"]. "Interestingly" because of course this is IN a Dalek story!

(There's also something IRONIC about the ARCH-CAPITALIST Sil being a RARE theist with his appeals to the Great God Morgo.)

As for the Time Lords... the evidence is MIXED. On screen, we never get a HINT of religion, unless the Dark Tower of Rassilon counts (in the sense that they have SOME sort of ritual for burial [as do the Morestrans]). But the books have presented us with both the idea of Time Lord gods – Death, Time, etc – AND that the Time Lords may BE gods, or at least are seen as gods or godlike – see "Faction Paradox: The Book of the War" and everything connected with it.

In a way, the DOCTOR WHO FANS turned the Time Lords into gods before the series ever thought of doing it, and hence the OUTRAGE at "The Deadly Assassin" lifting the curtain on them, as it were.

Of course the idea that Dr Who himself IS god, or "a" god, is one that has only had a noticeable push in the post-2005 stories. Aside from a brief flirtation with casting the Doctor as the DEVIL in "The Face of Evil", the idea that Dr Who actually "was god" was first seeded in the Andrew Cartmel years but, of course, producer John Nathan-Turner vetoed coming out and SAYING any such thing. That didn't stop the notion worming its way through a number of "New Adventures" – there's one particularly lovely scene where one character, who believes the Doctor to be a wizard, mocks Ace for accepting him as "an alien" with "technology" as if that EXPLAINS him. All of which leads to all that "lonely god" shtick from the year five billion and then with crushing inevitability to the Mister Moffster and the anti-Doctor "religion" of the Silence (and taking for granted that he can pull random powers out of his fluffy bottom).

So we seem to have a bit of a DIVIDE between HUMANS – who DO do religion, but religion is BAD, except maybe Buddhism except when that goes bad too, but we only take a pop at made-up cults and certainly never the "big two" – and ALIENS who don't do religion at all unless it's to dupe some poor saps who are usually human.

So why would the DALEKS suddenly go all "worship him, worship him"?

To be fair, it's not IMPOSSIBLE that Dalek religion has been there all along. The CULTURAL aspects of Dalek society usually get LOST in among all the running away and getting exterminated. We have, for example, only glimpsed Dalek POETRY and Dalek OPERA in a couple of "New Adventures" books. Truly too broad and too deep for the small screen. But they DO have a sense of AESTHETICS (whatever they may say to the Cybermen in "Doomsday"), even if their spaceship design tends to be pretty straight out of the Nineteen Fifties (by way of the Big Book of Pie Dishes. Mmm, pie), and their cities are largely EXPRESSIONIST structures in METAL, rather like their casings (Tellytubby-era New Dalek Paradigm not included, obviously). There’s even a statue in their very first story. It’s by the lift. Then down it.

The nearest to a Dalek religious experience, though, comes in Big Fish spin-off series "I Davros". This is a bit of a train wreck, in spite of the always-excellent Terry Molloy's best efforts, because doing "I Claudius of the Daleks" with a cast of four was never, ever going to work even if the scripts didn't end up exterminated under the weight of clichés. And the "twist" ending is SO BAD, so CACK-HANDEDLY MISCONCEIVED that you will want a go with the Brigadier's Brain Rubbers.

But... there is ONE bit in there where Mr Davros reveals to his new BFF Nyder the "Book of Predictions", written in the extinct tongue of the Dals. The last line says "...and on that day, men (Dals) will become as gods (Dal-eks)".

I will give them some credit for that: that rather nicely explains Mr Davros' state of mind when he decides to call his Mark III travel machine a "Dalek" and where he got the name FROM – AND why he is so shocked to hear Mr Dr Tom call it a Dalek before anyone's been told.

And, of course, it DOES segue nicely into Mad Dave's MOST FAMOUSEST soliloquy:

"Yes, I WOULD do it! That power would set me up above the GODS!"

Which tells us that at least the IDEA of "gods" exists inside of Davros's microwaved noodle.

(And, incidentally, reminds me that, similarly, Chessene O' the Franzine Grig – aka Servalan au Bacofoil – also put herself up to be up among the gods so the Androgums or the Third Zone have 'em, too.)

Sure, it's a very SIDEYWAYS bit of the canon, but it does very much fit with everything we already know about the Daleks. They've ALWAYS had a bit of a GOD COMPLEX – they’re always shouting about being the SUPREME BEINGS – and of course they are actually IMMORTAL.

Seriously, there are several stories – several of them from the Big Fish audio people, it's true, but it is at least IMPLICIT in "The Power of the Daleks" and also Davros' survival in "Destiny of the Daleks", and then "Resurrection of the Daleks" before he as good as comes out and SAYS it in "Revelation of the Daleks" – that Daleks are actually IMMORTAL. That is, they can live forever, barring accidents. And by "accidents" we usually mean "Acts of Ka Faraq Gatri" or, as you can probably guess, "the one that is called the Doc-Tor".

(Of course, that means we have to cast a sideways glance at Reproduction of the Daleks. The idea of Dalek SNOGGAGE is almost literally UNTHINKABLE, but fortunately the clues seem to add up to them all being CLONED from an original genetic bank, specifically the first bunch of Daleks that Mr Davros unleashes in "Genesis...". But NOT the NEW and IMPROVED versions living in the incubation room (who get EXPLODED). "The Parting of the Ways" itself implies that Daleks are grown from single cells, as does "Journey's End", and the failed genetic experiments in "Daleks in Manhattan" show that the Cult of Skaro at least TRIED cloning themselves but something went wrong – so there are either limits to the process OR (and more likely) the Cult's SPECIAL BREEDING includes something to stop them making more of themselves. After all, more THINKING Daleks was what got the Emperor into trouble in "Evil...")

So there's a good chance that Mr Davros programmed his Daleks to think of themselves as a race of GODS. And actually, a whole SPECIES that thinks it's Sutekh would go a ways to explaining the "let's kill everything in the Universe" attitude.

But why would OTHER "gods" start worshipping one of their own, no matter HOW big his casing?

Of course, the OBVIOUS answer is that these are NOT really Daleks.

THESE "Daleks" are actually made from HUMANS (something Mr Davros first tried in "Revelation of the Daleks"). So in a way this is REALLY another "cult of gullible dumb humans who have been convinced by a MAD, ALIEN, TIME TRAVELLER that it is GOD."

Because they used to be US, and are now LITERALLY our afterlife! The Emperor even SAYS it will be his HEAVEN – and he's got his saucer all full of CHOIRS of the departed praising him. The NUTTER. Let's hope they don't SING!

And it's hardly news that the EMPEROR would think he is god.

He already thinks he comes from a RACE of gods and then on top of that to be the ONLY SURVIVOR (whether or not the Emperor is the Dalek who met Rose near Salt Lake City) of a War that annihilates every other possible candidate for godhood...

To get all META-TEXTUAL for a minute, the Daleks ALREADY exist as a representation of ONE idea, namely INTOLERANCE, or more blatantly RACISM. Bringing in RELIGION too would make them a literally MIXED METAPHOR.

Where Mr Russell gets away with this in the new series is because real-world events have MOVED ON. The ultimate icon of intolerance USED to be the fascist war machine represented by LITERAL fascist war machines. But in our post-September 11th World, the new intolerance is the religious fundamentalist. So the Daleks MOVE with the TIMES and get religion.

Add to this the twist that these Daleks are really Human, and we get the subtle satire that religion has mentally and physically deformed them into MONSTERS.

So where did the Daleks GET the idea of religion?

Well, YOU try finding yourself in Utah and plug "supreme beings of the universe" into Google and see what happens!

1 comment:

Lon Won said...

Some interesting reflections here, though I have to confess I far prefer it when ideas are mediated through Daddy Richard rather than through The Great Fluffy One.