I’ve always been a bit disappointed with Daleks.
Probably not true.
They appeared in 1963 on Dr Who as enemies of the Thals, who I misunderstood for years as Thralls, a slave class from the Scandinavian Viking era, although at home they weren’t Vikings- I’m going to go with the short version or I could end up writing a very long piece and a very poor encyclopedia.
In 1963 they were scary. Not disappointing.
After the good Doctor defeated them with the help of his trusty earth companions and his granddaughter Susan (whatever happened to her? and her mother and father? one of whom must have been the Doctor’s child?) I was intrigued with what was inside the metal casing. I mean, the egg box on wheels was cool and mean but what made it tick? What did it want? What was its motivation?
No, at eight or nine I wasn’t interested in what they wanted (although I did know the social place of a Thrall in Scandinavian early mediaeval society – go figure.). What I wanted to know was: were they an elctromechanical life form or a biomechanical union? Maybe not in those terms, but you know what I mean. Was there a squidgy live thing providing the thinking part of the equation, or was their intelligence a computer like thing?
You may be thinking that my memory is deceiving me and an eight year old in 1963/4 would not know about computers but there was a lot of talk about them at the time. They were the size of small houses generally, although Manchester University, just up the road from where I grew up, had just built the first transistorised computer which began the size shift completed (so far) with microprocessors. The space race had started and computers were helping to calculate thrust vectors and orbital speeds and paths and may even one day be on board computers if miniaturisation continued so the pundits said.
So I badgered every adult I came across and not a few of my school friends about this, until someone pointed out there was something living inside Daleks and if I had been watching closely there had been a small reveal in the Thal series of programmes (I was probably covering my eyes, and or behind the sofa – I was that child).
That’s when disappointment kicked in.
Yes, carapaced claw wielding mutant life forms were jolly unpleasant as were the squidgier variety they appeared to mutate into when the props department got bored in later series, but think about the horror of a self replicating mechanical life form with an electrical intelligence completely alien from the bodily fears and woes of biology. With no point of emotional or physical contact with the rest of the known living world. A machine that could think and destroy and not emote at all.
Now that really was scary.
Presumably it struck quite a few other people the same way, as science fiction writers followed the path of computer development, indeed leaped ahead of it and perhaps even guided it, with stories of sentient and usually demonic machine artificial intelligences.
Terminator, Cyberdyne, Skynet for one.
Imagine a Daleks not as simple armoured wheelchair for deformed aliens but something that may have developed a hybrid awareness of its own, incorporating the parts of the Kaleds brain it wanted and rejecting the weak, soft body that limited its perfection. Designing and building its own production lines and generating its own code for, not artificial intelligence, but cyber intelligence, logical, rational and implacable.
Move over Mr Spock, too human by half. (yes it is a joke).
Think how scary that would have been in 1963.