A mysterious blue box capable of infinite travel. All of time and space. Everything that’s ever happened or ever will. The universe at his — now her — fingertips. And yet, how many times can the Doctor crash into science fiction’s meanest upturned dustbins? Yes, the Daleks may have been a series staple since 1963, but at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, new showrunner Chris Chibnall confirmed that the Daleks will not be appearing during Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the famous Time Lord in Season 11 of Doctor Who.
Your initial reaction might be one of disappointment. After all, the Daleks are one of the Doctor’s most recognisable — and, indeed, integrated — villains. The Doctor’s backstory is littered with encounters with this death-dealing alien race. But it makes sense when you consider how the upcoming season is being framed.
More so than usual, regeneration is the name of the game. The Doctor is new, the sonic screwdriver has had an overhaul, and, of course, there’s a fresh crop of wide-eyed companions we can’t wait to get acquainted with. The ability of Doctor Who to change — to renew — is what makes it exciting. And this controversial shake-up is just the latest in a long line of revamps.
Chibnall hasn’t been coy about his intention to have his first season as showrunner be “cinematic, accessible, and inclusive”, but that’s not to say the hate-spewing space tins won’t appear eventually. Until they do, however, here’s why we’re glad they’ll be absent from Season 11.
Allows the New Doctor to Find Her Place and Identity
As fans of the show will know, the Daleks aren’t just run-of-the-mill villains. Much more than your average alien race intent on achieving world domination, they mean something more. They have intimate ties to the Doctor and the Time Lords. Even before the 2005 reboot season saw the stakes raised with the introduction of the Last Great Time War, which culminated in the near-total annihilation of both races, the Daleks’ lack of emotion, personality, and appreciation for any race that isn’t their own has always irked TV’s greatest time traveller.
That’s a lot of baggage for any human, let alone Time Lord to carry. And to take all this on board is a lot to ask of any actor assuming the role for the first time. While most might not be able to imagine an incarnation of the Doctor not going toe-to-toe with the Daleks, the last couple of times the two crossed paths for the first time in a season didn’t go so well. For this reason, it makes sense to give the thirteenth Doctor the room she needs to grow in a universe filled with unlimited potential.
Where most versions of the legendary Time Lord are tasked with riding the line between serious and charming, everything we’ve seen so far from the thirteenth Doctor indicates one, like Matt Smith’s version, that’s excited again. The absence of the Daleks means the audience will get to share in this excitement — without getting mired in the Doctor’s heavy, downbeat history with a baggage-laden archenemy. Doctor Who, for many, is about instilling a sense of wonder and through this, we’ll be able to get a better feel for who this new Doctor is before her nemeses show up yet again.
Time Away Will Help the Daleks Feel Scary Again
The Daleks have been revealed as the minds behind many a dastardly plan over the years. From creating their own subspecies of pig mutants in Daleks in Manhattan, and storming present-day London’s Tower Bridge in Resurrection of the Daleks, to scribbling the words ‘Bad Wolf’ throughout the galaxy in The Parting of the Ways, there comes a point where any recurring villain loses its lustre. The original season showed a lot of restraint in this regard (most classic Doctors rarely saw them more than twice), but they’ve remained a constant source of malice since the series’ revival – not always to great effect.
In Victory of the Daleks, Matt Smith’s third onscreen adventure as the eleventh Doctor, the metal-encased mutants are used for little more than comic relief. “How about that cuppa now then?” he questions mere moments before holding up a Jammie Dodger claiming it’s the Tardis self-destruct button. Not only does this not say a lot for the Daleks’ intelligence, but it also demonstrates that even the Doctor has stopped taking them seriously.
A similar thing happens the first time Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor stumbles upon a lone rebel ship surrounded by a Dalek fleet. The only solution? To miniaturise himself and a few others, journeying into the most dangerous place in all the universe: a Dalek itself. Oh, please! Into the Dalek could have been a tension-filled first meeting, akin to Christopher Eccleston’s ninth Doctor’s first encounter. But, instead, it’s squandered for an unabashedly schlocky conceit played for novelty.
All this is to say that time away for the Daleks could do a lot to make the iconic menace feel scary again, for both viewers and the Doctor herself. Imagine the moment, after the Daleks have become a distant memory, that Chibnall reintroduces them in some inventive and chilling way… and your blood runs cold.
Focus on Stories Separate From the Doctor’s Personal Struggle
Bringing in the Daleks as part of any storyline automatically raises the personal stakes for the Doctor. By leaving them out of the upcoming season, the show can instead focus on more exploratory and sting-free narratives that keep the thirteenth Doctor free of the weight that comes when facing the iconic foe. Standalone adventures offer more variety, which will help Season 11 considerably, particularly considering the shorter episode run.
Recent years have seen the Daleks appear as part of core stories like 2013’s 50th anniversary special and Matt Smith’s memorable regeneration episode, as well as many more, so it makes sense to centre on new aliens, worlds, and conflicts for Jodie Whitaker’s incarnation to face. That way, Doctor Who can achieve Chibnall’s hopes of making the show more inclusive than ever before, providing it leaves enough breadcrumbs to keep series veterans engaged with the core values we’ve come to expect: boundlessness, adventure, and excitement.