Sunday, March 15, 2015

Banality of the Daleks

On the 9th of April, 1940 Denmark was invaded by Germany. With this occupation the Germans promised to treat Denmark as an independent and "neutral" territory, as long as the Danish Government cooporated.  An extraordinary governmental constellation consistenting of the 4 major parties* governed during the occupation. The prime minister at the time, Thorvald Stauning, a well-known, some would say infamous** figure in Danish politics, urged the Danes to cooperate with the invaders, in any way possible. Needless to say, the public did not take this well, as they feared that the Germans would do to Denmark, what they had done, (and still were doing) to Poland. Resistance movements began to form over the course of the war, and the Danish government passively resisted to the best of it's ability, it helped evacuate 99% of Country's Jewish population, including my grandfather, but couldn't officially back-up any of the resistance movements. Despite this, Denmark became known as "die Sahnefront" (lit. "the cream front") to the German troops, because it was relatively peaceful compared to the other theaters, even when the final days of the war, when the RAF was bombing targets in Danish cities. After the government had finally been dissolved in 1943, some of the remnants began actively working with the resistances. On the 5th of May 1945, the Germans surrendered and Denmark was liberated. The now-unified resistance took control of the country while the government reconstituted itself. There was much rejoicing, businesses closed "due to bliss", people burned their blackout curtains***, it was finally over.

Celebration in Copenhagen, May the 5th, 1945

Then, the arrests started happening. 40.000 people (about 1% of the population) where arrested for collaborating with the Germans. Most of these people were active collaborators, some of them were even Nazis, but most of them had one unsettling thing in common: Most of them were ordinary people. Almost none of the collaborating politicians or officials were arrested, almost none of the collaborating political parties (3 of the 4 mentioned earlier are still major players in Danish politics) or businesses suffered for collaborating. It was not the proudest moment in Danish history. Thankfully less than half of the arrested were convicted, and 73 were put to death, but the important thing to remember here is that the vast majority of Danes did collaborate, it's just that when the other side won, it was decided which collaborators where worse than others****.

The true horror of regimes like Nazi Germany is in how most of their evil is perpetrated by ordinary people, that for all of the sadists and madmen, most of them were just following orders, were just following the law, that most of collaborators didn't do so for ideological reasons, but because circumstances conspired against them.

The entirety of the Wehrmacht wasn't composed of inexplicably highborn mad scientists, like the good Baron here.
Art by John Romita, Sr.

Now what does this have to do with the Daleks, you may ask? The reason for that rather long diatribe was because I felt that I should explain why I have a hard time accepting popular culture's view of Nazis as dispossable bad guys.

The "Paradigm Daleks".
Taken from Librarian-Bot's Deviant Art page
The Daleks are popular culture's idea of Nazi Germany taken to it's logic extreme or indeed Nazism taken to it's logic extreme. Each fanatically devoted to the cause, obsessed with their own superiority and filled with nothing but hate and anger. The Daleks are terrifying; a uncaring alien menace with little to no humanity. So why is it they are so boring?

The problem with the Daleks isn't that they aren't human enough. That would be like saying the problem with a wheel is that it's too round. No, the problem is that the Daleks is that they are uninventive, and while I realize that too might be part of the point, that in their fanatic pursuit of racial and ideological purity as serverely limited their capabilities. My problem with that is, two fold:

1. It makes them even less like the people they were purportedly inspired by. The Nazis, while in many ways dogmatic and inflexible, were also frigheningly creative. These are after all the people who decided that shooting all the undesireables would be a bad idea, because it would be too wasteful and inefficient. The German warmachine was, at least initially, formidable and a lot of that formidability came from inginuity, not just raw power.

2. Much like the Joker, the Daleks are treated as the biggest, baddest most dangerous thing in the universe, largely because they are popular in the real world. They have, and routinely accomplish a lot of things within the show, such as being elevated to a cosmic superpower capable of fighting a "time war", even though their in-universe attributes shouldn't allow it.

I was, when I initially pitched this blogpost to our fearless leader, curious as to whether or not this was "New Who-thing", as have little experience with the Classic series, but he assured me that: "It had prëtty müch älwäys bëën lïkë zïß". The Daleks are boring, because they are just disposable bad guys, there is very little that functionally seperates them so many other of the Doctors foes.Their boringness is only accentuated by the over the top reaction they recieve, which most of the time is wholely unjustified. If the Dalek plan isn't to go out into the street and shoot everyone, it involves something ludicrious like ending all of existence.

The only reason this plan failed is because Doctor Who's time travel logic is farcical
Screenshot from Doctor Who, Episode 12, Series 4 "The Stolen Earth", 

Say what you will about "Daleks in Manhatten" or "Victory of the Daleks", at least they tried to do something different with the Daleks.

Now I can think of  a number of ways to make the Daleks seem more threatening: One idea could be to let them have a win every once in a while, which is problematic given their ridiculous heights they've been elavated to, after all you can only destroy the universe once. Another idea could be to rethink them, and not take the Daleks for granted. One of the biggest problems with long running properties like Doctor Who or any of the Big Two is that, because the writers grew up with the properties, they tend to, much like the Daleks to grow dogmatic. "The Joker is Batman's arch-enemy because that's what he is, and because he is his arch-enemy, he is the most dangerous villain" etc. They should approach the Daleks as if the auidence have no idea who they are. The evil of the Dalek can be demonstrated in so many other ways than homicidal rage, or that their homicidal rage could be put to better use. We rarely see the effect the Daleks have on anyone other than the Doctor, or the outside of how someone is affected by one of their death rays. I realize that part of the problem ties back to them having to be recurring, "timeless" antagonists, which doesn't quite work with a race of conquerors. My point is they are pretty tame considering they're supposed to Nazis. Perhaps having the Daleks be anything other than just an uncoming storm, a generic horde to be vanquished, is to much to ask for from a children's show. It saddens me because in my mind, Nazi Germany wasn't frighting because it was force of nature, but because it was made up of thinking men and women.

*The Social Democrats, Left, The Radical Left & The Conservatives
**Although not because of this.
***The Germans made blackout curtains mandatory in order to make it harder for allied planes to see cities and town at night.
****I would like to emphatically state that some of these people most definately deserved the punishements they recieved.


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