The Ordeal; or, who are the Daleks?

The reality of just how dangerous the Lake of Mutations is soon becomes tragically clear as Elyon the Thal approaches the lake’s edge to replenish the water supply. As he concentrates on his work, the water begins to ripple, bubble, and churn, before resolving itself into a vast, swirling maelstrom as the Thal looks on in sheer terror…

The Doctor and Susan are prisoners of the DaleksFrom an anthropological standpoint, the so-called “other” is anyone who is not us, however you choose to define “us.”  But The Daleks is clearly allegorical, whether Terry Nation intended it that way or not, and begs the question: who is who?  Which, of course, is to say, who represents us in this allegory?

The easy, obvious answer is that “we” are represented by the Thals, who are more or less no different from your average (white) television viewer in 1960s Britain.  After all, the Thals are peaceful (mostly), and they want nothing more than to be friends with the Daleks and work together to rebuild the planet.

The Daleks, on the other hand, are clearly nothing like your typical (white) British television viewers in 1964.  I mean come on!—the Daleks are little green blobs in bonded polycarbide armor strange little creatures inside bizarre machines.  They practice deception, they exterminate life that’s not like them, and they need radiation to survive, who wish to pollute the planet even further by releasing nuclear waste into the atmosphere.  At the very least, their sucker arms are always raised in such a way reminiscent of a Nazi salute, which the parents in the audience would not fail to notice immediately.

The Dalek CityTherefore, the Thals (us) are the good guys, which makes the Daleks (who aren’t remotely like us) the bad guys, and from a strictly superficial standpoint, that might be true.  But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that Western society—not only in 1964, but in 2011, too, in many respects—has far more in common with the Daleks than the Thals (though to be fair, I think that’s changing).  The Daleks are us; it’s the Thals who are the others.

The Nazis are, of course, long gone (they’re long gone), but despite some advancements here in the West, we’re still polluting our world; people who are different from us or whom we disagree with make us apprehensive and edgy; we often exterminate kill indiscriminately, whether it’s animals or other people; and, increasingly, we spend more and more time isolated and alone in our cities, a constant stream of data and information to keep us occupied…

There are certainly real world counterparts to the peaceful, agrarian Thals, but Western civilization, if we’re honest about it, isn’t one of them.  That’s pessimistic, but there’s certainly at least grain of truth.  There also a grain of hope there, too: if we recognize the Daleks as one possible outcome of our current activities, then we can take appropriate measures to change that.

Of course—to borrow from another Doctor—”from a nonlinear, nonsubjective viewpoint,” duality is an illusion; there are no Daleks, no Thals, no time travelers, no television views watching comfortably at home, and certainly no me or you. It really is “more like a big ball of wibbley wobbley, timey wimey…stuff,” but that’s a whole, uh, other discussion.

Antodus barely hanging onMeanwhile, back on Skaro… The Doctor and Susan have managed to do a little damage to the Dalek city, while Ian, Barbara, and the Thals are making their way to city through the caves that run through the mountains.  Unable to go back due to a rockfall, the party must cross a narrow, but deep chasm in the caves.  One by one, they jump across until only Antodus remains.  He’s nearly frozen with terror at the prospect of jumping the few feet across the chasm in order to join Ian on the other side. Ian senses this, and coaches him calmly, deliberately, firmly. Antodus jumps—he lands on the other ledge, but his footing is unsteady. The Thal tumbles backward into the crevasse, the rope around his waist still attached to Ian who falls, barely finding a handhold.  His fingers begin to slip…


Uh, should we take a moment?

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He’s been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he’s way behind.)

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