Hello, fellow Whovians! After last week gave us Series 9’s storming opening episode ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ (find our review here) and all the masses of continuity and references that came with it, one of our intrepid editors suggested the notion of a brief exploration of the lesser-known throwbacks and terms that appear in each story, largely to benefit newer fans of Who who may not be aware of more obscure parts of the story (though seasoned fans will hopefully enjoy the trip down memory lane).
With that, welcome to the first of what will likely be an occasional column, wherein we shall delve into the murky depths of Doctor Who and explain why certain characters or planets are such a big deal, why one-off lines hold far greater significance than they seem to, and suggest a few episodes or stories worth watching to get a bigger picture on the ever-expanding Doctor Who setting.
So in both a follow-up to its dramatic reappearance in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and to Saturday’s ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, we dive into what is surely, behind Earth and Gallifrey, the most important planet in the history of the Whoniverse.
Welcome back, Whovians, to Skaro!
Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks, is a world that has had immense repercussions for the universe of Doctor Who as a whole. Fittingly, then, it was first witnessed at the end of the very first serial of Doctor Who, 1963’s ‘An Unearthly Child’. Though still unnamed at this point, this mysterious jungle planet would soon become infamous beyond reckoning for the Doctor and all associated with him. The following serial, ‘The Daleks’, introduced Skaro properly, as well as its most well-known inhabitants, the Daleks (still in their infancy at this point and, as far as the show was concerned, largely undeveloped).
At this point, Skaro is mostly a dead world, being dominated by its own wildlife, its inhabitants either scavengers trying to get by or (in the case of the Daleks) confined to a great city. Nonetheless, with hindsight this first appearance was an incredibly key moment, as it was the Doctor’s first encounter with the race that would come to be his undisputed greatest foes. Escaping Skaro at the end of the tale, the Doctor would (as mentioned in last year’s ‘Into the Dalek’) begin to grow into the champion of the universe that we all know and love… and, in the real world, the BBC would realise that this alien world and these battle-armoured lifeforms were a hit beyond imaginings.
Skaro would subsequently appear in several Dalek episodes of the Classic era, often as an unexpected surprise addition to a serial (much like Gallifrey itself). It has made numerous appearances in the audio plays by Big Finish Productions, quite a lot more in the novels and comics, and was even the subject of a video game (see below). Surprisingly for such a storied planet, Skaro did not appear in the modern era until a brief cameo in Series 7’s opening episode ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, where we see the Eleventh Doctor visit it and fall into a trap there. This Skaro, however, was almost entirely destroyed; a world of ruins and ash. Now, however, the Daleks have rebuilt, it seems, as a fully-restored Skaro returns in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, rebuilt to its former grim glory. Where will this lead us? Well, we’ll just have to wait to find out, won’t we?
In a rather sentimental tidbit, ‘Skaro’, in the language of the Kaleds, translates as ‘home’. Isn’t that lovely?
Here’s a little bit of fun trivia: the title structure “[Blank] of (the) [Blank]” has been used no less than 125 times in the televised series of Doctor Who alone, never mind the expanded universe. Statistically, if one looks at each permutation that’s been used, the most likely title for an episode of Doctor Who, appropriately enough for this article, is ‘Planet of the Daleks’, which was a 1970s serial with the Third Doctor (and recently name-dropped by the Master in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’). Despite the name, the serial doesn’t feature Skaro at all! The most likely title in all of Who history and the subject it should refer to wasn’t even in it!
As is only appropriate for Doctor Who, the chronology of Skaro is quite literally all over the place. The first two appearances of the planet (in 1963’s ‘The Daleks’ and 1967’s ‘The Evil of the Daleks’) are generally accepted to take place somewhere in-between 1975’s ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and 1979’s ‘Destiny of the Daleks’. Thankfully, after that, things seem to even out a bit and begin to make (some) sense!
In ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, while we expect the Doctor to disdain the idea of returning to the planet of the Daleks (to say the least), the scared reaction of the Master perhaps comes across as somewhat puzzling, given the current incarnation’s general unflappable nature. While it’s easy to imagine just what the villainous Time Lord may have experienced there during the events of the Last Great Time War, it’s also very true that Skaro holds a rather dark place in the Master’s story. The events of 1996’s ‘Doctor Who: The Movie’ featured the Master being brought to the Dalek homeworld and executed rather unceremoniously there by its inhabitants. Funny how these things all tie together in the end, isn’t it?
Due to shifting continuity and development over time, the race that the Daleks descended from were once identified as the ‘Dals’, rather than the later-canonised Kaleds. This was sorted out rather nicely by Big Finish, where the Dals were shown to be a former race on Skaro wiped out (one might say ‘exterminated’) by the Kaleds. The link to the Daleks holds true, however, as we see a young Davros having read an ancient book of Dal prophecies, wherein he finds the word ‘god’ in their extinct language is written as ‘Dal-ek’. That says more about the Daleks than anything else, really, doesn’t it?
Key Appearances (Ones To Watch):
‘The Daleks’: As covered above, this First Doctor serial is the earliest full appearance of Skaro itself, and will no doubt seem very familiar to recent viewers of ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, which takes many a design note from this story (in particular, the Dalek city of Kaalaan, which appears in both)!
‘Genesis of the Daleks’: Arguably a pinnacle of the Classic era of Doctor Who itself, and certainly one of the greatest stories to have come from the show, this Fourth Doctor serial features Davros in his debut, as well as the first appearance of the Thousand-Year War on Skaro (yes, the same one seen during the opening sequence of ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’!) and, chronologically speaking, it was the first appearance of the Daleks themselves, and their first encounter with the Doctor. This serial featured several plot elements that have become key once more in Series 9’s opening two-parter, so go give it a look if you haven’t already!
‘Remembrance of the Daleks’: While Skaro only gets a very brief appearance in this story, it’s rather important! It’s another romp featuring the Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation, battling Davros once more. What makes it so very interesting is that, come the end of the story, Skaro is in fact destroyed by the Doctor utilising the Hand of Omega, an ancient Gallifreyan superweapon. How does this match up with everything else, you ask? That depends on the source you look at, really. Novels and other prose have indicated that the Daleks had a habit of terraforming other worlds they conquered to resemble Skaro exactly, and that due to manipulation the Doctor destroyed one of those instead. As for me, I prefer Mark Gatiss’ offhand observation that the Doctor simply “aimed for Skaro and accidentally destroyed the space Tesco next door!”
‘I, Davros’: This audio production by Big Finish (and I’ll be talking about them a lot in these columns, no doubt) is probably one of the most engaging and interesting of their entire catalogue. Essentially an origin story for Davros and a look into his past, this tale gives us a real look at the society of the Kaleds and the Thals, Skaro’s (surviving) indigenous species. For any fans who want to see a more fleshed-out view of the Thousand-Year War and the factors that truly brought about the rise of the Daleks, this series of four stories is a must-have, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Well, that takes us to the end of this particular column, a brief (well, not so brief) look through the history of what is surely the least-popular planet in all the Whoniverse! Hopefully you took something away from this, even if it was just a minor fact you didn’t know before. If there’s any subject you’d like to see covered in one of these pieces, leave a comment below!