19 April 2011

Why Daleks are feared

(photo from BBC)

Cambridge University researcher Dr Robin Bunce has examined why Daleks scare people. From Cambridge University Research News published on 19 April 2011
It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Ever since Doctor Who first aired in 1963, the series has been internationally recognisable thanks to one of the most ridiculous space-creatures ever conceived; a master race of intergalactic pepperpots, armed with a sink plunger and an egg whisk, who (according to popular mythology), are hell-bent on conquering anywhere, provided it doesn’t involve stairs.

But don’t let that fool you. For more than 45 years, the Doctor’s arch-enemies, the Daleks, have been striking fear into young viewers with their chilling war-cry of “Exterminate!”. Like the Doctor himself, they have become an icon of British culture. For many, hiding behind the sofa when they appear is virtually a rite of passage.

Now, with the new season of Doctor Who nearly upon us, a Cambridge University academic has turned his mind to what makes the Daleks so terrifying. Writing in a new paper, Dr Robin Bunce – normally a researcher in intellectual history – explores why these unlikeliest of sci-fi foes bettered the rest, and became the most menacing alien ever to invade the small screen.

His answer has nothing to do with their often-cited, non-human appearance, nor their weird, electronic voices. In fact, Dr Bunce believes that the Daleks succeed because they offer us a moral lesson in what it means to be human in the first place. They terrify us because the evil they represent is a more precise definition than that of philosophers stretching from Socrates to Kant. They are chilling, he argues, because they are a vision of what we ourselves might become.

“The reason the Daleks are evil is because we recognise that they were once better,” Dr Bunce explained. “They are the nightmare future we dread.”

“According to their back-story, once they were capable of genuine emotion and real moral good. Now they are sexless, heartless brains, shut up in machines incapable of intimacy, who have forgotten what it means to laugh and no longer think of themselves as individuals. We recognise the Daleks as evil because they have lost all that we hold most dear.”
Read more.

Actually, Daleks are scary because they want to ex-ter-min-ate humans. Should a 'fictitious' Dalek approach you, it has only one purpose in mind. Surely no potential fatal victim of a Dalek is going to be thinking about what Daleks once were but instead flee for their lives. Now that is scary.

Dr Robin Bunce's paper is actually a chapter in the book, Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside, which has been out for sometime (this year) in the United States.

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