Genocide of the Daleks
By Alan Stevens
Originally Published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 540
"Listen, if someone who knew the future..."
Scripted by Paul Cornell, with artwork by Lee Sullivan and a plot devised by Cornell and John Freeman, the comic strip "Emperor of the Daleks!" appeared in Doctor Who Magazine Issues 197 through 202 between 18 February and 8 July 1993.
It re-united the Seventh Doctor with DWM's own Dalek killer Abslom Daak in a six-part narrative that pulled together continuity threads from past Dalek comic strips and television encounters. The resulting tale explains how Davros became Emperor of the Daleks, following his capture and return to Skaro for trial at the close of the 1985 Sixth Doctor adventure "Revelation of the Daleks".
The exercise seems to have embarrassed some fans, who consider it a self-indulgent attempt to fill in a lot of plot holes and inaccessible to anyone not possessing a vast knowledge of Doctor Who history. This criticism is unfair. "Emperor of the Daleks!" functions as a decent story in its own right which doesn't require any in-depth understanding of the show's past to make sense of what is, on the surface at least, an action-packed romp.
That said, if you do happen to know the lore, then a whole new vista opens up.
"Emperor of the Daleks!" has three intertwining elements: the Seventh Doctor's stage setting for the destruction of Skaro; Davros' battle with the Dalek Emperor and his ascension to power over the Dalek race; and, finally, the resurrection of Abslom Daak and his crew following their wholesale massacre in the 1989 DWM comic strip "Nemesis of the Daleks".
This last element is the least successful. Cornell was no admirer of Daak, viewing him simply as a muscle-bound, right-wing, fantasy caricature with a deeply suspect attitude to women. One notion he raised as to how Daak could be 'improved', was to make him over into a comedic figure, clumsy and none too bright, but this was overruled by DWM editor John Freeman.
Freeman eventually went with a more straightforward take on the character: a Conan the Barbarian wannabe who uses his tremendous strength to chop up Daleks with a chainsword whilst growling out pithy one-liners. As a curious by-product, this refashions Daak, the epitome of ego-driven, ruthless self-interest, into the iron defender of, what is in every practical sense, a left-wing social engineering experiment.
The Seventh Doctor's actions are an attempt to deal with the ten thousand Daleks left frozen into hibernation on the planet Spiridon following the Third Doctor's 1973 adventure "Planet of the Daleks". As "Emperor" takes place after the 1988 "Remembrance of the Daleks", his use of a powerful Time Lord artefact, The Hand of Omega, to re-engineer Skaro's sun so it will vaporise the Dalek home world, is already established history. He is willing to destroy Skaro because the planet's other intelligent, indigenous species, the Thals, have been "relocated", whereas Spiridon is still inhabited. But while the Daleks' icy time capsule remains, there will always be the potential for their return.
To circumvent this, the Seventh Doctor persuades the Sixth Doctor to rescue Davros from his trial by the Daleks and take him to Spiridon. Once there Davros can reprogram and reactivate the hidden Dalek army, use it to conquer Skaro, proclaim himself the new emperor and basically set himself up, together with the last Daleks in the universe, as a target for the Seventh Doctor's super-weapon of mass destruction.
Quite how Davros was able to free the Spiridon Daleks from their frigid entombment under millions of gallons of liquid ice is never explained -- although there are certainly enough clues given within "Planet" and "Emperor" for a coherent theory to be worked out, as I'll now demonstrate.
On their approach to Spiridon in the latter text, the Black Dalek states "A tactical advance was reversed in this area some years ago. Large numbers of Dalek units were lost, along with all records. The cause is unknown. We cannot remain here long", with the Doctor also noting Spiridon is now considered part of "Thal territory."
In addition, at the conclusion of the former, the Dalek Supreme declares, "Preparations will begin at once to free our army from the ice. We have been delayed, not defeated."
It is reasonable, therefore, to assume these orders were acted upon and Dalek engineers set about venting the liquid ice from their underground city, though as their "Arsenal" was located hundreds of levels down, it was no easy task. Davros was able to free the army on his own in less than a year (while also increasing its size to four million!) suggesting work had reached a point of near completion just prior to the Daleks being forced to abandon the operation by the Thals.
Such a retreat would imply the Daleks were in a weakened military state, and yet, according to the DWM Abslom Daak comic strip Star Tigers (1980), set some time after "Planet of the Daleks", the Earth empire is engaged in a large-scale war with rapidly advancing Dalek forces. Conversely, by the appearance of DWM's "Nemesis of the Daleks" (1989), the Daleks are indulging in micro-militarism, an attribute of many fading empires, where they throw their dwindling resources into bold military strikes or 'wonder weapons' in the hope of regaining the initiative: their construction of the ludicrous Death Wheel being a classic example of this.
To explain this wax and wane of Dalek fortunes, we need to look no further than the huge military stand-off taking place between the Daleks and the Movellans, described by Davros in "Destiny of the Daleks" (1979) as "Two gigantic computerised battle fleets locked together in deep space, hundreds of galactic battle cruisers vying with each other for centuries, and not a shot fired".
With the bulk of the Dalek fleet tied up in a logical impasse, it's no wonder Skaro relied so heavily on subterfuge and cunning as a means to stem the ever-expanding empires of Earth and Draconia, whether by using time travel to knock Earth's history off course in "Day of the Daleks" (1972), trying to stoke a war between the two rival powers as in "Frontier in Space" (1973) or through employing opportunism, blackmail, and germ warfare as in "Death to the Daleks" (1974).
Evidently, the sudden increase in military strength, leading to the new battlefront against Earth, must have come about following the resolution of their stalemate with the Movellans. But why then the sudden turnabout with Dalek forces being pushed all the way back to Skaro?
The answer is provided in "Resurrection of the Daleks" (1984) where we are told the Movellans broke the deadlock by developing "a virus which exclusively attacks the Daleks. The fleet was destroyed. Those who survived went to separate parts of the universe to escape the risk of further infection and work on a cure." This would suggest a sizeable remnant of the Dalek fleet returned to Skaro and was subsequently redeployed against the Earth in the hope of achieving a quick victory.
As for the Movellans, they disappear from the scene completely, so perhaps, although able to break the stalemate and cause serious damage to the Dalek fleet, they, themselves, were annihilated.
So far, we can see how the Doctor's plan to use Davros to exterminate the Daleks meshed with recent series continuity. In "Genesis of the Daleks" (1975) however, he shows concern about wiping the race out, as "then I become like them." It's exactly this change of behaviour we need to explore further.
The Doctor is sent by the Time Lords on a mission to Skaro "at a point in time before the Daleks evolved" with three options: "affect their genetic development so that they evolve into less aggressive creatures"; learn enough about their beginnings to "discover some inherent weakness"; or "avert their creation". By the conclusion of the story it appears the Doctor has failed in all three tasks, but during the follow-up adventure, "Destiny of the Daleks" , it soon transpires this is not the case. The Daleks now seem diminished, less cunning, and Machiavellian than they once were. It's a detail made even more explicit in Terry Nation's story outline for "Destiny" which states "As a result of the stand-off space war, the Daleks have concluded that some element in their original design was not perfect. Only in Davros' life support chair with its built-in computer memory, is the information on the missing circuitry. The Daleks believe that with the new circuitry they will be able to win the space war".
This idea of a missing component, vital to Dalek cognitive reasoning, originates from a scene in "Genesis" where Gharman, the head of the Kaled Military Elite Scientific Corps, tells a fellow scientist he is "having a problem with the dimensional thought circuit." A short time later Gharman is arrested for his part in a conspiracy against Davros, which causes him to be pulled off the "Dalek project".
The issue is further compounded when Davros is forced to put down the rebellion with twenty "erratic" and "unstable" prototype Daleks fitted with a "computer programme that will limit their actions." These are the Daleks which Davros loses control over and who become the progenitors of the new race. So the Daleks are changed, not by any deliberate action on the Doctor's part, but indirectly through ripples caused by his presence on Skaro.
Clearly, if events had followed their original pattern, then the Daleks would have been completed to Davros' satisfaction. They weren't and this means, in retrospect, two of the options given by the Time Lords were fulfilled. Their development was affected, and this led to an "inherent weakness" that caused them to be "caught in an impasse of logic" resulting in hundreds of years of relative peace. This was followed by a series of devastating military defeats in the twenty-sixth century, which drove them back to their home planet and allowed the Seventh Doctor to enact the Time Lords' remaining option, "genocide."
That's how real wars are lost and won.
If we choose to speculate what would have transpired had the Daleks' timeline not been tampered with, then we can simply rewind back to the 1965 TV adventure "Mission to the Unknown". Here we discover the Daleks "haven't been active in our galaxy for some time now, but that doesn't mean they've exactly been sitting around. In the last five hundred years, they've gained control of over seventy planets in Ninth Galactic System and forty more in the Constellation of Miros."
As the adventure takes place in the year 4000, we are talking about incidents which transpired between the thirty-sixth and fortieth centuries. Therefore, in the original timeline, the Daleks defeated the Movellans and went on to conquer territories elsewhere, before returning to our galaxy for "The Daleks' Master Plan" (1965/6). There is no reason why similar events to those in "Day of the Daleks", "Frontier in Space", "Planet of the Daleks", and "Death to the Daleks" could not still have taken place, although they would have occurred within a different context; instead of large military forces being unavailable because of a stand-off with the Movellans, they were instead occupied on other battlefronts fighting new enemies.
Undoubtedly the Doctor's plan to destroy the remaining Daleks on Spiridon resulted in the murder and enslavement of the planet's natives by Davros' new army of Daleks. Commentators have noted for decades that the Doctor is often tacitly colonialist, and the Seventh Doctor overtly so (the Dark Doctor thread being an anti-colonial critique of the series' earlier politics). Hence, allowing Davros free rein on Spiridon is perfectly in keeping with the colonial mindset, which views other races/species as tools to be used in the service of colonial endeavours, even if this means enslaving one population to defeat another.
Equally, any criticisms of the Doctor's actions have to be weighed against the countless lives saved through his forcing the Daleks into extinction many centuries before their time. So, even if part of his success was based on happenstance, this would still be seen by many as a major triumph for the Doctor, although any suggestion he could then go on to construct some universal utopia has to be considered beyond insane.
And of course, there is the moral dimension of this 'triumph' to consider.
DWM Issue 227 (released on 8 June 1995) contains a prequel story to "Emperor of the Daleks!" entitled "Up Above the Gods". Scripted by Richard Starkings (under the pseudonym of Richard Alan) with artwork once again by Lee Sullivan, it takes place in the Tardis' Cloister Room and relates the conversation between the Sixth Doctor and Davros, ending with the latter's unspoken promise he will reprogram the Daleks and make them into a force for good.
Davros says to the Doctor, "You recognise, don't you, that there is corruption in your heart? Just as there is corruption in the hearts of all living beings?" The Doctor concurs but then expresses his belief there is also "a light of hope. Davros, I am offering you a second chance! I saved you that you might save yourself."
But this is a lie. Indeed, as the Seventh Doctor openly admits, during "Emperor", what he is doing is "Something very dangerous... a subtle game dating back to my last incarnation and ending in my own past, in this form -- on Earth in 1963 to be exact. If I make a mistake the whole time stream could be in danger." As a consequence, for the Doctor's plan to work, Davros has to become Emperor of the Daleks and Skaro must burn. The Sixth Doctor can make no genuine offer of a second chance to Davros, as he is someone who knew the future...
Photo enhancement by Chrisi Pashley