Doctor Who: Has a classic piece of Dalek design been lost forever?

Forget the new Daleks – we’re getting worried about a major change made to Who’s classic baddies. **CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Doctor Who

Amid all the Dalek chaos of Doctor Who’s New Year special, it’d be easy to miss the little details, the small changes that characterise the evolution of a long-running TV show.

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Of course, over the course of its 57 years on-screen Doctor Who has changed more than most dramas – but Revolution of the Daleks might take it a step too far, instituting a radical shift that could have shockwaves for years to come.

Spoilers, and hard truths, are coming.

Of course I’m referring to the fact that in this new episode, the Daleks don’t have sink plungers for arms. Yes, after nearly six decades of counting a plumbing certificate on their list of achievements alongside all the genocide, the Daleks appear to be plunger-free – and I’m not just talking about the shiny new models.

That, I could take. In 2019 the Recon Dalek that constructed itself from scrap metal had a claw instead of a plunger, but that seemed fair enough – maybe there wasn’t a Wilko open nearby and he had to make do. The new Daleks created for this new episode also lack what fans may officially call the “Dalek manipulator arm,” instead boasting a smoke-emitting tool that looks more like something you’d use to pound garlic (are these Daleks more middle-class? A debate for another time).

Doctor Who
A plunger-free Dalek in Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (BBC)

Fine, whatever – it’s a new look, and given that they’re explicitly based on the Recon Dalek it makes sense. But imagine my surprise (and horror) when the episode also brought back the standard, larger bronze Daleks, exactly as we’d seen them in stories before… but without the plunger.

Yes, it’s easy to miss but if you look closely at the hoards of bronze Daleks in this episode they too have eschewed the plunger/manipulator arm, replacing it with a small black utensil that probably wouldn’t unclog any drains at all. Terrible.

So is this the end of the Dalek plunger? Have the plumbing jokes of the sort I’ve peppered throughout this piece done them in? Well maybe, maybe not – because it could still be that we’re dealing with unusual Daleks in this episode…

What are the Death Squad Daleks?

John Barrowman Daleks
John Barrowman and Daleks (with no plungers) in Revolution of the Daleks (BBC)

You see, the bronze Daleks in this episode also aren’t your usual model – in fact, they’re “Death Squad Daleks”, a kind of elite force apparently designed to rigorously enforce the design copyright of the Daleks at all costs.

“Death Squad Daleks. Think of them like the SAS of Daleks…” Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor explained in the episode.

“Only way more brutal,” added John Barrowman’s Captain Jack.

Basically, despite looking almost identical these aren’t your average Daleks, and their lack of plunger could tie into that. Maybe no Death Squad Daleks have manipulator arms, but the general Dalek populace still does? Maybe to an SAS Dalek having a manipulator arm to “manipulate things” seems pretty lame and nerdy, when they’d rather be pounding brewskis and blowing up rival Daleks with their SAS Dalek buddies?

Peter Capaldi with a Dalek in Doctor Who (BBC)
A plunger-wielding bronze Dalek with Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who (BBC)

Altogether, we still have some hope that the Dalek plunger isn’t gone forever. Yes, it’s often the butt of a few jokes – as displayed here – but in the revived series Doctor Who has done a good job of sidestepping them, with the Daleks’ manipulator arm deployed as a deadly, life-sucking weapon on a number of occasions.

Personally, I’d be sad if it’s gone – it’s part of the Dalek’s iconic look, and if you’re keeping the egg whisk gun it feels like you’re playing favourites with the utensils – and hope to see it again soon if and when the Daleks make their next comeback.

And who knows? Maybe Doctor Who will really take the plunge and show us what other deadly tricks the manipulator arm can be used for in the future…

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