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Dalek Collector's Set #1

Doctor Who
by Artemis

Besides the notion of travelling in time and (relative dimensions in) space, the Daleks define Doctor Who - not just their surprise popularity, but the effect it had on future stories. The show was created with the intent to have a strong focus on history, with its stories alternating between those set on Earth in various eras - touted as educational back then - with stories set in space and on other worlds, to keep the sci-fi fandom, then coming into its heyday with the success of sci-fi B-movies, tuning in every week. The pattern continued for much of the first Doctor's tenure, but from the moment the Daleks made their debut in the second serial, there began a gradual move towards sci-fi, and away from pure history. Before long the sci-fi stories outnumbered the historicals - aside from 1982's "Black Orchid," the final serial not to feature any sci-fi was "The Highlanders", just three years after the Daleks turned up. All because of the shouty little pepper-pots.

This "Dalek Collector's Set" - the first of two so far - features three Daleks spanning 12 years of Doctor Who's history (how much of Dalek history they represent is up to rabid fans to debate, and frankly impossible to know, especially with the early serials playing pretty fast and loose with any era after "the present"). Although the Daleks have a reputation for being more or less the same - compared to their rival Who villains the Cybermen, who took until the '80s to stop redesigning themselves every chance they got - the Dalek props, though re-used for budgetary reasons, tended to get modified quite a bit along the way. Indeed, as action figures, the only parts common to all three Daleks in the set are the "skirt", the rear ⅔ of the mid-section, the sucker "arm", and the head dome, not including the eye stalk and "ears" (and it's worth noting that none of those parts are re-used from the earlier new-model Dalek figures). You just know Mattel would've made one Dalek and then repainted it endlessly, so let's be thankful Character Options take their duty to the Doctor more seriously.

The 1st Doctor lands the TARDIS on a barren dead planet, laid waste by a long nuclear war. On the edge of a petrified forest he finds a vast metal city occupied by evil machine creatures called the Daleks. The Daleks are powered by static electricity and are still at war with their humanoid enemies the Thals. When the Daleks attempt to wipe out the Thals for good the Doctor destroys the City's power supply and the Daleks seem to be dead.

Dalek number one comes to us from 1963's "The Dead Planet," the first episode of the serial that nowadays is known as "The Daleks" - or at least, his arm does, since that's all that got seen (waving menacingly at Barbara) at the cliffhanger ending of that episode. With no idea how popular the titular monsters would become, the story included a few details that would later have to be worked around - primarily that it killed them all at the end (par for the course - if it were Star Wars we'd have had clone Daleks, no doubt), and also that the "static electricity" powering them was transmitted through the metal floors of their city, rendering them unable to leave it. Still, they had what really counted: they were different than most sci-fi monsters of the day, being neither people in costumes, nor the traditional boxy humanoid robots, and within weeks every school playground in Britain echoed to tinny-voiced renditions of "Ex-ter-mi-nate!"

Compared to what has become the image of the "normal" Dalek from the classic Doctor Who series, their ancestor is distinguished by the smooth silver panels around its middle - no metal mesh - and the blue bumps on its skirt, which ironically remained blue for the next five serials, only to be repainted black just as Doctor Who started being broadcast in colour; consequently, casual fans often find them strange-looking (though they're nothing compared to the all-colours-of-the-rainbow Daleks in the non-canon AARU films, starring Peter Cushing as "Doctor Who"). The unadorned middle tends to make the "neck" look longer than usual, while the flat base makes this the shortest of the three Daleks in the set.

Landing on the Planet Spiridon the 3rd Doctor is startled to discover his old enemies the Daleks have enslaved the Spiridon inhabitants and are experimenting with "light wave" technology to make themselves invisible. To make things worse the Daleks have set up a bio weapons lab and a vast Dalek army lies frozen beneath a giant Ice Volcano. Just as the Supreme Dalek arrives from Skaro to oversee their moment of triumph the Doctor destroys the lab and buries the Daleks in molten ice.

"Planet of the Daleks," in 1973 - during Jon Pertwee's run as the third Doctor - is somewhat notorious for its "vast Dalek army", which were actually Dalek toys lined up on a miniature set (though honestly it doesn't look that bad - you have to forgive a lot with old sci-fi, and the toy Daleks were at least fairly good replicas). The serial was actually the second of a pair of linked stories, beginning in "Frontier in Space", a political thriller involving a brewing war between the Earth Federation and the Draconian Empire, being deliberately provoked by incidents along the border staged by the Master. In the end it turned out he was doing so at the behest of the Daleks - though being the Master he'd have inevitably backstabbed them if the Doctor hadn't happened along first and front-stabbed them. Technically this led to the adventure on Spiridon, but the interconnectedness of the two stories is pretty weak - the events of "Frontier" are barely mentioned after the first episode (in which the Doctor recovers from being apparently mortally wounded at the end of the earlier story), and the Daleks' antics don't seem to be connected to the Master's would-be war in any way.

The regular Daleks in the serial were identical to those in the previous Dalek-centric story "Day of the Daleks" - where the Daleks were doing Skynet's bit 20 years before Terminator, mucking around in the present from a post-World-War-Three future where they ruled the Earth - but the set gives us something different, the "Dalek Supreme". Introduced in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" - an earlier invasion to the "Day" one (Earth really cops it in Doctor Who) - as an all-black standard Dalek (with a subordinate zebra-style Dalek with alternating black and silver armour), "Day of the Daleks" recoloured the Dalek Supreme gold, only to be one-upped by "Planet" with a heavily-modified Dalek prop - actually a re-use of one of the Daleks built for the AARU films. Riding high on a tall base, and with a redesigned "neck" with a solid body and wider fins, the Dalek Supreme is taller and heavier-looking than its long-suffering subordinates, at whom it glares through an internally-lit eyepiece (admittedly the "eye" is round, but you just know from his disposition that the Dalek Supreme is always glaring).

Compared to the "Dead Planet" Dalek figure, the Dalek Supreme is by necessity heavily modified - the base and neck are all new, as are the eye stalk and ears, though the dome itself is unchanged. The arm module in the middle section now sports an oval panel in its centre, and its death ray is a newer design than the original, with no perpendicular reinforcing along the length of the barrel's piping. The sides and back of the mid-section are the same as before, but the whole lot is now covered by the familiar wire mesh and vertical panels, informally referred to as solar panels - a fan-devised explanation for how the Daleks became able to power (or at least periodically recharge) themselves without the powered floors of their city, or the power-receiver dishes attached to their backs in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". At 5¼" tall the Dalek Supreme is aptly the tallest figure in the set, and is the same height as the Doctor Who range's average humanoid.

One slight manufacturing error, though, is that my Dalek Supreme has one row of bumps on his skirt slightly over-painted, resulting in a little gold rim on the black armour around those four bumps. It's easy to ignore though, and not really worth criticising anyone over.

Sent back to Skaro at the end of a long war to halt the genesis of the Daleks the 4th Doctor meets Davros, a brilliant but megalomaniacal Kaled scientist. Davros has experimented on his own people to create a creature of utter hate devoid of any emotions encased in a mobile life support machine. This machine is called a Dalek, and when Davros's plans are threatened he destroys his own people. The Daleks then turn on their creator and exterminate him, but not before the Doctor entombs them in their bunker.

1975's "Genesis of the Daleks" was quite a landmark episode - the origin at last of the Doctor's greatest enemy (maybe excluding the Master, although Master and Dalek fans will argue forever about that one), the introduction of their creator Davros (who, like the Borg Queen, was a useful dramatic device at the time, but later went on to derail the Daleks into mere mooks, again like the Borg Queen), and the Doctor's struggle to decide whether he has the right to commit genocide, even against a race like the Daleks, or given that they are the Daleks, whether he has a right not to - a dark and compelling piece of drama that showcased Tom Baker's abilities as a serious actor, and Doctor Who's potential to be more than just monsters-of-the-week. (Interestingly, the Time Lords' somewhat atypical decision to interfere in another race's affairs - it was they who sent the Doctor on this little errand - was later retconned into being one of the opening strikes of the Time War between the two species.)

The Daleks here - technically the first in their own chronology - are pretty much what fans think of when they hear the word "Dalek" (unless they're new, in which case it's the recent copper-coloured ones). Back in dark colours (more grey and less blue than the camera makes it look), after the previous "Death to the Daleks" had briefly repainted the props silver, as they'd been in the pre-colour serials, the "Genesis" Dalek is a mean-looking critter, and definitely fits the role - widely supposed but only confirmed in this serial - of a purpose-built war machine, rather than just a life-support module with a gun. In broad strokes he's very similar to the original "Dead Planet" Dalek, but after more than a decade of modifying, refurbishing, and rebuilding Dalek props, the details are subtly different: the base is slightly taller, the ears are flatter, the eye stalk has its discs placed further back, not right up against the eye bulb, and (good attention to detail here) the sucker has a silver disc in the middle of it, rather than being pure black. Like all Daleks since 1965's "The Chase" he's got the solar panels - an add-on part to the basic Dalek figure, as with the Dalek Supreme - and he also shared the Dalek Supreme's newer-model death ray.

By way of their common body parts, all three Dalek figures have the same articulation and mobility: they trundle about on three wheels, two fixed at the rear and one swivelling front wheel, and sport swivelling heads, raising and lowering eye stalks, and balljoint mounts for their death rays and sucker arms. Before the introduction of the rotating middle in the new series episode "Dalek," that was almost all the articulation real Daleks had, so you can't complain there.

Any Doctor Who collector must have a Dalek, that's a given - but for the casual collector, one or two ought to be sufficient. This set, though, isn't just for completists and Doctor Who fanatics like myself (on both counts, with this range) - the three different varieties of Dalek, especially the bulky Dalek Supreme, make this an attractive set to add even to a small collection, to give it some real monster-cred. For the real fans this is a great treat - each Dalek is given exacting attention to detail, sure to satisfy even if you're holding them up against a paused DVD image from the original serial. The Imperial Dalek - already reviewed in the "Remembrance of the Daleks" set - is one of many other classic Daleks that Character Options have already released, based on this same basic figure, and with luck we can look forward to one day having figures representing every model of Dalek ever made.

-- 06/24/10


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