7. INTO THE DALEK
This is a bit gimmicky but it’s done very well. Into the Dalek accomplishes for Peter Capaldi what Victory of the Daleks did for Matt Smith, in that the episode is shouting, ‘Look, this new Doctor is fighting the Doctor so he’s the Doctor so don’t yell at us for our regeneration casting!’
A team of redshirts (one is a tad memorable with a novel introduction) and the Doctor and Clara are miniaturised to go into a Dalek. Hazards occur. Is it a bottle episode? Not particularly. The main objective is to wax poetic about the eons old relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks. It accomplishes this goal, as well as some wider arc work with Danny and Clara. It’s also right at the start of Jenna Coleman’s upward tick as Clara, so it collects a variety of points for that.
6. THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE / THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR
This is a direct sequel to the excellent Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, which reintroduced the Dalek’s evil scientist creator Davros to the 21st century. The episode does a great job of making the threat of Davros and the Daleks incredibly real. It feels like the Doctor is in danger all the time. He visits Davros’ deathbed and the character almost redeems himself, only to reveal it was an incredibly convincing ploy to steal regeneration energy. It also taps some of the same beats as pivotal classic episode Genesis of the Daleks, which is another look at that Hitler metaphor.
The episode also brings the Dalek’s home planet of Skaro back into the fold, which is more difficult than it sounds after it may or may not have been blown up by maybe an alien race with silver dreadlocks or maybe the Doctor. The ambiguity helps the episode’s half-point cliffhanger really pop, elevating the stakes even further.
There’s the callback to Asylum of the Daleks with Clara in a Dalek, thanks to the splendid plotting of Michelle Gomez’ Missy. Without her zaniness the episode would have dragged on, but she was the extra kick to make it work. The teleportation escape explanation, her exchange with Clara in the courtyard, the fleeting moments of UNIT and the plot-that-wasn’t-a-plot of planes not moving in the sky make this episode the better Capaldi Dalek episode.
5. ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS
Steven Moffat introduced a new Doctor, new TARDIS, new screwdriver and new companions in The Eleventh Hour, and when they reached their organic goodbye in The God Complex he wasn’t ready to let go. The redux in Wedding of River Song was clearly planned from the outset but even that didn’t give a satisfying goodbye to some epic characters, so a five-piece swansong was arranged.
Asylum of the Daleks is the best of these. It’s character motivated and it’s as close to Skaro as the writers could get without it actually being Skaro. It’s a prison of the most insane Daleks in the world and the Parliament of the Daleks (a new idea) has captured the Doctor and his companions to destroy it. The story would never have worked as a two-parter. It’s too fast and fun for that. There’s no big arc to worry about, meaning everyone can get down to business.
Character moments punctuate throughout, especially between the broken marriage of Amy and Rory, but it never gets bogged down in the sadness of it all. The human/Dalek hybrid idea seeded in Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is pulled out here with a nanocloud leading to some cool zombie moments. And future companion Jenna Coleman a) appeared in the episode at all, in a surprise far ahead of the announced date and b) ended up having her consciousness heartbreakingly trapped inside a Dalek. The way the second plot point pays off down the line could have been better, but on it’s own Asylum of the Daleks is one of the better Doctor Who episodes ever.
Dalek is to the Daleks as Blink is to the Weeping Angels.
A lone monster scavanging for survival, never so desperate to win against the Doctor as on this day. The Dalek is trapped in a collector’s basement after falling out of the Time War, expecting anybody else but his greatest enemy to walk through the door. The smartest thing Russel T Davies did was hit a soft reset with the Time War. The pilot explained the Doctor and the TARDIS and the lot, but it didn’t have enough space for his greatest foe. This gets under the skin of what makes a Dalek tick and their relationship with the Doctor, but also does a lot of probing into who the Doctor is at that point in his life.
Eventually, surely, it all falls apart and the Dalek escapes. There’s cute callbacks to it’s difficulty with stairs (Daleks can fly) and ultimately it’s Rose that brings an ounce of good from the desperate Dalek. It’s the first time the not-so-infallible Time Lock fails and the first clues for the future of the series. Dalek is a well-crafted hour of television that had so much resting on it. Without the Daleks the series would have likely imploded from fan outrage, especially with Christopher Eccleston’s departure in only six weeks later.
3. THE BIG BANG
The Pandorica Opens ended with a coalition of the Doctor’s greatest enemies – spearheaded by the Daleks – locking him in an endless prison to prevent the universe exploding (long story). The follow-up follows Team TARDIS in the eye of the storm as the universe explodes the Doctor, Amy and Rory find a way to reverse everything that went wrong.
On the prowl the whole episode is an injured lone Dalek, similarly to Dalek. There’s some added spark that comes after fifty extra episodes on air and a familiarity with everything that speeds up the process. Dalek was constantly explaining what was going on, but The Big Bang had bigger, bolder and more obscure things on its mind. The Dalek was vital though, and a perfect example of how they are best used. It meant the episode could never slow, constantly adding momentum to an epic finale.
Other awesome tidbits include Professor River Song, the introduction of the fez and the wedding of Mr and Mrs Pond. The Dalek was sewn into the script without a hiccup and killed extraordinarily memorably. A Dalek screaming for mercy is a rare sight, and The Big Bang made it happen.
2. DAY OF THE DOCTOR
The fiftieth anniversary is everything anybody could ever want and more: it’s the Time War. Time Lords V Daleks. The Daleks in this are foot soldiers and foddder but also the most effective ever on screen. They do not hesitate and they do not waver in their objective. There is no convoluted plot to reverse everything that has or will occur. It is happening and it continues to happen and there’s nothing anybody, including the Doctor, can do to stop his oldest and most hated enemy from conquering his homeworld.
Until there is, and he does. But the Daleks that live up to their name get second place on this list, as they are more effective than all of the Daleks beforehand combined. Everything else the episode presents – such as the Moment and the War Doctor and the unification of all the incarnations – only serves to underline how vicious an opponent he is up against.
The Daleks are never as frightening as they are in the Day of the Doctor.
1. STOLEN EARTH / JOURNEY’S END