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It's almost time for the next episode, so I suppose I should do this while it's still a bit relevant.

(SPOILER WARNING: Yes, this does end with spoilers for Asylum Of The Daleks, so don't read on if you've not seen it.)

The Daleks were created by Terry Nation, inspired in large part by World War II; the authoritarian conformity of the Nazis and the fear of a faceless enemy exemplified by the blitz. The parallel was made explicit in Genesis Of The Daleks with the introduction of the Dalek's creator, Davros, a scientist whose obsession with racial purity as the key to miliary superiority drove him to create what he considered a perfect creature contained within an equally perfect weapon, the familiar armoured shell. The theme of racial purity would recur throughout appearances of the Daleks, notably in Remembrance Of The Daleks which featured two different warring Dalek factions. Imperial Daleks had continued to augment and improve the creatures within the shells with bionic enhancements, whereas Renegade Daleks viewed this as a corruption.

Next to the Daleks, the series' other great recurring alien manace were the Cybermen, created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. As with the Daleks, they had originated as organic life before becoming the robotic forms seen in the show. But where the Daleks had a single creator, the Cybermen were the product of an evolution of technology. Pedler had been inspired by the development of medical prosthetics, and wondered at what point could you no longer tell whether the resultant being was man or machine. The Cybermen had progressed from prosthetic replacements to enhancements and augmentations - some of which had become necessary for environmental survival, while others were military-driven, such as surpression of emotions which would obstruct a soldier's judgement - until the point where they had replaced so much of their natural bodies that they could no longer comprehend what they had lost.

One of the things they had lost was the ability to reproduce biologically. Inside their metal shells the Daleks were still complete - albeit horribly mutated - organisms, and could therefore reproduce (or at least be reproduced, whether grown, farmed or cloned), but a new cyberman could only be created by harvesting other beings and placing him into the metal suit. Which they could only do by first conquering and capturing other beings. Essentially Cybermen became trapped in a cycle of making war in order to assimilate new Cybermen to replace those lost in war. Cyberman invasions therefore often begin by stealth in order to accumulate soldiers and gain strategic advantage without losses, as opposed to full military campaigns which the Daleks might prefer.

Another point worth noting is that while the Daleks were driven by racial purity the Cybermen were driven by improvement, and the appearance of the Cybermen has changed radically over the years compared to the Daleks. (It may be suggested that this owes more to improvements in costuming technology than to actual continuity, but obviously no true fan would make such a ridiculous suggestion.)

So: two alien races, both of them a terrifying, relentless and largely faceless enemy, but behind the armour two very different ethos. Both have been explored to varying extents, and they make for a potentially fascinating contrast.

Which is why it was rather disappointing when the 2006 two-part story Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel presented an alternate universe reboot of the Cybermen in which they were created by terminally ill billionaire John Lumic. The Cybermen didn't need a Davros, and to give them one was to miss the point. And while he may have been driven by the need for his own survival, the need to project that onto the whole human race came across as pure megalomania. And, worse still, pure plot device. At least Davros' need for racial survival was the twisted consequence of an ongoing war.

And now we see the reverse happening; the writers have lifted an idea from the Cybermen and given it to the Daleks. The idea that the Daleks would perform a "full conversion" of Oswin and make her a Dalek goes against their fundamental nature. They destroy anything not Dalek; that's what they do. They might capture specific strategic targets and make use of them, but they wouldn't promote them to Dalek. And even then they'd have to know in advance they were of worth. A passenger on a crashed ship? They wouldn't know if she was particularly intelligent and they wouldn't wait to find out. Shoot first, questions exterminated.

The Daleks and the Cybermen are the two most iconic enemies of Doctor Who. It's all too easy to see them both simply as relentless killing machines (not least because you or I would be mere cannon fodder if we met them), but they have their own reasons for existing with their own different consequences to explore. And I wish the writers would do more with that. Because if the show does present them as nothing more than a kill-or-be-killed menace why does it need them both? And that's why I don't like it when they conflate the ideas of either one into the other; it really doesn't help.

Which isn't to say I didn't love Asylum Of The Daleks, didn't laugh at Amy and Rory's one-liners, didn't choke up at their reunion, didn't shiver when Oswin's true fate was finally revealed, didn't grin like a loon as the Daleks were left asking the question hidden in plain sight: "Doctor Who?" Because I did. All of it.

But Moffat has shown us just how smart the show can be when it tries. Good. So don't go getting lazy with your most iconic properties, that way they'll continue to serve you well for years to come.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 8th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
On an aside, I live near Gerry Davis' daughter. Her children go to the same school as mine.
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