“The Meaning of Humanity” – Doctor Who

The recent season of Doctor Who, the third since the relaunch of the the iconic series after a long absence, has included several episodes dealing with one of the most fundamental questions of all time: what it means to be human.

The human/Dalek hybrid
(Evolution of the Daleks. BBC, 2006)

One particular episode, The Evolution of the Daleks (first broadcast on BBC1, 28th April 2007), explores this theme through the creation of a hybrid Human/Dalek, in what the Daleks refer to as “the final experiment”. This transgenic organism, formed by the “splicing of human and Dalek genetic codes”, appears as the pinnacle of Dalek evolution, harnessing all the qualities of humanity that has made it undefeatable in the past…well, since the 1960s at least.

The classic episode The Evil of the Daleks (1967), was the first time the series attempted to describe something called the “Human Factor”. For years the Daleks had recognised this as some immaterial quality that humans possessed and they lacked; one that made the human race stronger, smarter and able to survive countless Dalek attacks. In 1967 the Daleks tried only to identify this mysterious quality, however in 2007 – with the benefit of a state of the art genetics laboratory – they finally incorporate the human factor into their own genetic makeup. It is through the interaction and comparison between the hybrid Dalek Sek and the Doctor, and Sek’s responses to subsequent events in the show, that the boundary between Dalek and Human, and the characteristics that make up the Human Factor are identified and explored.

The pig/human hybrids
(Evolution of the Daleks. BBC, 2006)

Essentially, The Evolution of the Daleks attempts to establish relations of similarity and difference between humans and Daleks, though also between humans, Daleks, and the pig/human hybrid army that had been created in the preceding show The Daleks in Manhattan. Humanity is depicted as thinking and feeling, where the Daleks are single-minded and emotionless. Humans have the ability to appreciate music and feel compassion for others; they possess courage, determination and ambition; though also experience pain and fear. It is the lack of these characteristics that makes the Daleks “less than their enemies”. The pig/human army, on the other hand are referred to as “simple beasts”.

The attached annotated Evolution of the Daleks Clip Guide provides relevant clips and quotes, and can be used in conjunction with copies of the episode obtained from the BUFVC (TRILT identifier: 006717D3).


One Response to “The Meaning of Humanity” – Doctor Who

  1. […] all kin? on the notion of species. This actually started life as a post here on Bioethicsbytes (see The Meaning of Humanity). I am delighted that the publishers have allowed us to include a pre-publication edition of our […]

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