What Are The Daleks? The Doctor Who Villains Explained

By Jason Collins | Published

doctor who daleks

Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary special episodes approach—as they’re scheduled to air in November—making this a good time to revisit some of the series’ most prominent elements. In our recent Doctor Who article, we discussed the origins of Cybermen, a race of cybernetically augmented aliens hellbent on assimilating everything in their path. However, while this sentient race of copier machines exists to convert all biological life into Cybermen, there’s another alien race in Whoniverse, looking to enslave or destroy all others—the Daleks.

Dalek’s Are The Doctor’s Greatest Enemy

The Daleks are known as deathless killing machines that know only of hatred and extermination of everything that’s non-Dalek. In fact, they’re quite possibly the deadliest menace in the Doctor Who series, and each time the Doctor has defeated the Daleks, the tenacious alien race would re-appear once again, each time deadlier than the last.

Not only that, but the Daleks openly acknowledge a single Time Lord, the Doctor, as their greatest enemy, and on more than one occasion. But what exactly are Daleks, and where do they come from?

The Daleks Come From The Planet Skaro

Doctor Who has been on air since 1963, and during that time, the showrunners have retconned several different things within the canon to make the show relevant to the times or simply to reuse a resting villain.

The Dalek’s first appearance in 1963

Just like with Cybermen, the origin story of the Daleks has been retconned several times over. The original origin story was introduced in the classic Doctor Who series as the mutated descendants of the Dals, who fought a nuclear war on their plant and have been horribly mutated due to radiation exposure.

By the end of the season, aptly named The Daleks, the alien race was exterminated when their power source was destroyed. However, their popularity among the audience ensured their return in subsequent Doctor Who narratives, some of which actually dealt with the origin of the Dalek race in different manners.

The most recent origin story states, just like the original, that Daleks were native to the planet Skaro. In the 1975 serial Genesis of the Daleks, it was revealed that Daleks were actually a result of genetic manipulation of the Kaleds, a humanoid species on Skaro.

Davros Created The Daleks


This story also introduced the character of Davros to the Doctor Who universe, a scientist credited with the creation of the Daleks. Davros sped up the Daleks’ natural evolution but also introduced various alterations of his own to ensure the survival and superiority of his race.

Thus, the humanoids were replaced with robotic entities. But the truth is that behind the neural network and enhanced weapons system, every Dalek’s outer shell has a mutated, one-eyed, and hate-filled octo-occupant that fits snugly inside like the world’s worst nougat-filled center.

But the Genesis of the Daleks also introduced a moral dilemma of whether the Doctor should prevent their creation in the first place. The Doctor was actually presented with the opportunity to prevent the creation of the Daleks and thus rid the universe of the threat they posed.

However, this implied committing genocide, and the Doctor decided against such actions. There were other stories from the classic Doctor Who era that hinted at different aspects of Dalek history and their origin, but the most commonly accepted origin story is described in Genesis of the Dalek.

The Doctor, Daleks, And The Time War

Then came the New Who, the 2005 revival of the Doctor Who series, which also introduced a Time War into the series’ mythology, which revolved around a conflict between the Time Lords and the Daleks. The introduction of the Time War had a significant impact on the Dalek race, and while it didn’t necessarily retcon their origin story, it added a layer of complexity to their history and explored the consequences of their actions.

The introduction of Time War also revealed that the Doctor played a crucial role in ending the war against the Daleks, with the guilt and the trauma associated with the Time War becoming a defining characteristic of the Doctor’s persona in the first season of Doctor Who revival. It’s still important to remember that the series is known for its “timey-wimey” nature and willingness to revisit and reinterpret its own history.

This flexibility means that the concept of a singular, fixed origin of the Daleks is, just like with Cybermen, kept fluid by design, allowing for more creative storytelling.