While the list of foes faced by the Doctor could fill an entire book, none is more iconic than the Daleks, Terry Nation’s armored, emotionless mobile gun platforms. They went from silly-looking pepper pots to pop culture icon in the blink of an eye, and no matter what the Doctor does, no matter how many times he throws a spanner into their plans, the Daleks always show up again to cause more trouble. Naturally someone was going to make a computer game about them, which is what happened today in 1996’s retro gaming history when the browser-playable version of Daleks hit the ‘Net. (All screenshots from this article are pulled from MobyGames).
Daleks has quite the storied history, especially since it doesn’t actually start in 1996 but fourteen years earlier in 1984, when it arrived on the Apple Macintosh as one of, if not the, first freeware game for that computer. Even then, Daleks owes much of its existence to an earlier Unix title called Robots, and it’s difficult to deny its obvious connection to the 1980 arcade game Berzerk.
The plot of Daleks is simple: you’re the Doctor, the Daleks are invading, and you’ve got to destroy as many of them as you can before they overrun the world. It’s turn-based strategy (you move, then the Daleks, then you, then the Daleks, etc…) with a few extra goodies thrown in. But the Doctor doesn’t carry guns or even a Tissue Compression Eliminator, so how is he supposed to wipe out a bunch of marauding Daleks? By being smarter than they are, of course. You, um, you have watched Doctor Who at some point in your life, have you not?
Daleks who trundle into one another explode, turning into scrap heaps that in turn provide cover for the Doctor and obstacles for the other Daleks: any silver-skinned monstrosity who hits a scrap pile itself becomes a scrap pile. Once the level is littered with the deadly detritus of deactivated Daleks, it’s off to the next level which offers more extermination-obsessed enemies.
Much like in the television show, things don’t always go as planned for the Doctor. Should you find yourself in one of those predicaments, you have a couple of tricks up your sleeve. First, the Doctor has a quick-teleport ability which will allow him to dart into a temporal vortex and emerge somewhere else on the level. This process is random, and while it will never drop you right into the probing, plunger-ended arm of a Dalek, it may well deposit you right beside one, ensuring you use up one of your remaining regenerations (and lose the game).
Second, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver can be used a limited number of times per level as a sort of close-range smart bomb. Using it will knock out any Daleks in the Doctor’s immediate vicinity, reducing them to slag heaps and allowing you to live another few turns. Of course, just like Space Invaders or Robotron 2084, eventually you’re going to lose. There are no victory screens, there’s no stopping the advancing horde, and no way of banishing them to the Void (besides, that didn’t happen until Series 2 of New Who, and this game was strictly old-school Doctor Who thank you very much).
Daleks has been around for years, and was ported to a whole bunch of systems, everything from the web browser version we’re celebrating today to DOS, Windows, the Amiga, even Palm OS and Windows Mobile. It’s a low-resource, high-strategy game perfect for killing a few minutes when you need a break from the world, and we think you’ll love it just as much as our Doctor Who-obsessed editors do.
If you want to see what Daleks is all about, you’ll be happy to know the Internet Archive just released it (and over a thousand other games and applications) as a part of their new Windows 3.1 collection earlier this month. Surf on over and give it a few minutes of your time if you’re so inclined. Allons-y!