Daleks began as fairly straight-forward allegories for Nazis. It was a depiction shaped by Terry Nation’s youth during the second World War, and one which was understood by all watching – the dark days of the 1940s weren’t so distant a memory in 1963, after all.
Their famous catchphrase, “exterminate”, conjures up the image of SS troops preparing to enact the final solution – to say nothing of their belief they’re the “master race” – while The Dalek Invasion of Earth carries shades of the Nazi occupation of Paris. The allegory was pushed further by their renowned origin story, Genesis of the Daleks – Davros’ aide Nyder was consciously styled on Heinrich Himmler, while Davros seemed a cross between Josef Mengele and Hitler himself. Even since then, while we haven’t quite seen the allegory depicted quite so overtly, Doctor Who has maintained the same fascist and brutally nationalistic tendencies of the Daleks.
In fact, this allegory forms part of the central tension of the Daleks as not just monsters, but villains. The Daleks aren’t mere clunky sci-fi robots; they’re a representation of the worst of us. Of hate and prejudice and a very specific human evil. It’s this aspect to them that has made the Daleks last for so long, and why they resonated so well with audiences in the 1960s.
However, in recent years, this allegory hasn’t quite held the same meaning. And that’s understandable – the way we perceive Nazism has changed a lot since the 1960s. Popular culture has almost sanitised Nazis, reducing them to pastiche Indiana Jones villains, often little more than leering camp and thin sketches of cartoon villainy. Accordingly, the allegory that the Daleks form doesn’t hold quite the same impact anymore.
Which means that one must consider what Nazis represent now, and update the allegory accordingly.
The answer, then, is Neo-Nazism. It’s this idea that the Daleks should now represent; it’s this that forms the great capacity for evil that should be addressed. Give us a story on a backwater planet, years after a Dalek invasion, where a few desperate opportunists and vile demagogues begin to capitalise on “New Skarosian” ideals, turning the colony in on itself with hatred. Give us a story the Daleks don’t even feature in – only their shadow, their legacy, their corrupting influence. Give us a story that understands what the Daleks represent, and uses that understanding to tell a story quite unlike one we’ve ever had before. It’d be compelling and engaging in an entirely new way.
More than that, though, advancing the allegory to contend with the realities of the modern day is particularly important to move beyond the self-parodic view of Nazism that has developed in recent years. Indeed, it’s time for the allegory to engage with what has fast become a new reality in terms of how we understand such ideologies as a viewer; quite apart from the fact that it’d give the Daleks a level of potency they’ve lacked in recent years, there’s also a certain responsibility there. In trading on the imagery of Nazism, it could be argued that there’s a social contract of sorts to do so accurately; not to whitewash this representation, or simplify it to the point it loses its meaning.
The Daleks have always represented the worst of us. That’s how they were conceived, and that idea has shaped much of their depiction over the last half-century. But for that central tension to work – not just dramatically but socially – this portrayal of the worst of us must contend with what that means today.
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