This past weekend we covered an interview with Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker published in The Times. In that article it was discussed that this upcoming series of Doctor Who will be without the unholy trinity. No Daleks. No Cybermen. No return of The Master. This has caused quite a stir. But surely there have been other periods of the show where those top three adversaries have not been involved?
Doctor Who is a programme that is as much about the villains as it is about the hero. The Daleks and the Cybermen are inextricably linked with the show. Similarly, The Master, most recently going by the name Missy, has been the Moriarty to The Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes. Since the show returned in 2005, series blocks have had at least one if not more of the triumvirate featured. For instance, the Daleks had a bit of a rest in 2011’s Series 6, but a Cybermen story was told instead. Recently, Series 10 had a Dalek cameo at the outset before concluding with a Cybermen and Master/Missy finale. It’s therefore no surprise that some are unsure of a run of episodes without at least one of the trio. After all, it is what modern viewers have become accustomed to.
But what of the classic era? Only five out of the 26 seasons lacked Daleks, Cybermen or The Master. That is less than 20%. Did they thrive or fall without those headline grabbers?
New Series. New Doctor. The Time Lord falling to Earth. New friends. Sound familiar? The first six Seasons of Doctor Who featured Daleks or, after their debut early in Season 4, the Cybermen. But Jon Pertwee’s debut Season was a new era. The Doctor’s arch-nemesis The Master wouldn’t be created until the following year. It had been decided to ground the show on Earth. Although this seemingly limited stories to ‘alien invasion’ or ‘mad scientist’, it bred creativity. The Autons and the Silurians were created for this era, aliens that still resonate today. Add in some curious alien ambassadors plus a parallel Earth scenario and it made for a gripping Season. On this occasion the freedom afforded by having no Dalek or Cybermen stories to negotiate aided the creative. It also launched a new era with a colourful start.
Tom Baker’s debut season saw returns for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, kicking the Fourth Doctor’s tenure off with a bang. The following year however saw all new creatures combat The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes were able to instil their vision for Doctor Who that year. This gothic horror era, as it became known, was darker in tone and influenced by some classic movie tales. Opening Season 13 was ‘Terror of the Zygons’, the epitome of a new creature creation. Further new additions included Sutekh, Morbius and Krynoids. Once again the freedom afforded the writers and production team of not needing to cater for any returning monster proved a benefit. Creativity thrived and new legends were born.
With The Master having returned to haunt The Doctor and Gallifrey the previous year, things had changed behind the camera. Whilst Season 13 was Producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s signature year, Season 15 sees new Producer Graham Williams’ opportunity to plant his mark on the show. Williams chose to structure his opening season free of the trappings and expectations of the Daleks, Cybermen or The Master. Although the Sontarans and Gallifrey did return to close the season, there was scope for new creatures and stories. It would also see the introduction of a new companion unlike any seen before, namely K9. With a robotic canine there was no need to complicate matters by including Daleks or Cybermen. Resting those two metal meanies allowed K9 to fully develop and avoided viewers making comparisons.
Following Leela’s departure the Fourth Doctor was tasked with obtaining the mythical Key to Time. Once again the Daleks, Cybermen and The Master were deemed surplus to requirements. Instead, the quest for the Key to Time took precedent. An overarching story thread with six loosely linked adventures. Such was the strength of the central concept that it did not require further accentuation with Daleks, Cybermen or The Master. If a story is bold enough to capture the attention of the audience then those villains are potentially surplus to requirements.
Sylvester McCoy’s opening Season as the Seventh Doctor was the only year during the whole of the 1980’s that saw Doctor Who without the Daleks, Cybermen or The Master. The latter had been crucial in the regeneration from Doctor Four into Five and even showed up during the Trial of the Time Lord. The return of the Cybermen in ‘Earthshock’ proved popular so they returned in a further two stories, plus ‘The Five Doctors’. The Daleks likewise made frequent returns to cross swords with the new incarnation of The Doctor before he regenerated. Although Season 24 did feature The Rani, a female variant of The Master, the Daleks and Cybermen were kept away until the following year. The final story of Season 26 saw The Master return one final time.
Sadly the episodes of Season 24 are not highly regarded. Some are particularly poor in fact. Perhaps they could’ve done with an injection of Cyberman or Dalek. But once again those four stories delivered a new era. Following Colin Baker’s unceremonious departure from the show it was simply more important to get 16 episodes broadcast. It is a transition. The 25th Anniversary year saw Doctor Who hit it’s stride once again. Perhaps hitting those highs was only possible given the space afforded by Season 24?
The Daleks, Cybermen and The Master come with increased expectations. Viewers are perhaps more critical if a story features one of these three. There are also the trappings of history associated with these powerful icons. As history has shown, escaping from these characters has allowed for the creation of the Silurians, the Zygons and so many more. It has also been an opportunity to tell grander tales. Daleks and Cybermen have often been used to open a new season or series. Not doing so also shows a confidence in the strength of the stories to be told.
Whilst an argument can be made that each incarnation needs to face the Daleks before they can be considered to have fully taken on the role, it is not a contractual obligation. If the stories are bold and imaginative then the audience’s attention doesn’t need to be grabbed by Daleks, Cybermen or The Master. However, anything can happen in Doctor Who. Who’s to say Chris Chibnall does not have some surprises up his sleeve?