Doctor Who Dalek

Back when all the news about the new series was trickling in, there was a big hoo-hah about whether they’d be getting the Daleks back. Basically, a spot of tricky legal manouvring by the writer of the original Dalek story in 1963 has meant that the rights to these most iconic of Doctor Who villains have stayed firmly under the control of Mr Terry Nation’s estate for all this time. Of course, once Who reaches it’s 50th anniversary, we’ll be fine, but until then… If you’d asked me at the time: “Do you care if the Daleks never come back?” I’d have said no. While they’re quite iconic, they’re also kinda silly looking, and they’ve been portrayed pretty badly in the past. Let’s have a new villain.

However, as this new series has progressed, it’s become perfectly obvious where the Daleks should fit in, and why they’d be so perfect. With the Doctor’s home destroyed, how perfect to make the Daleks responsible? Suddenly, these lame-looking dustbins become a credible threat simply by having won on at least one occasion.1 Add this vital ingredient to the general public’s association between the Daleks and the Doctor, and you’ve got yourself a good mix. And it’s one that’s exploited perfectly in ‘Dalek’.

You would make a good Dalek — the Dalek

This Ninth Doctor has proven himself a particularly fallible one. More of a galactic backpacker than a superhero,2 he regularly screws things up, having to be bailed out by Rose, historical figures, or lame missile-related plot devices. While I’ve enjoyed all the episodes this year, it’s probably not a coincidence that my favourite is ‘The End of the World’, which featured a very proactive Doctor, who did at least manage to save a whole bunch of people. In ‘Dalek’, he’s still a bit useless, but at least the story’s about it this time. Specifically, concerning just how damaged he is by the “Time War” that’s gone on somewhere between the TV Movie and ‘Rose’.3 It seems, quite a bit, which is a decent excuse, but he’d still better have an awesome hero moment at some point.

Naturally, they bring this out by placing him face to face with the only representative of the other side in that war — a Dalek. Eccleston’s performance in this first scene is amazing. Some British actors have a knack for going over the top, yet still maintaining the reality of the scene — Eccleston has it in spades. His delivery of “Exterminate” was probably the creepiest mix of joy and hate I’ve ever witnessed; spine-tinglingly good. The rest of the episode is damn fine, but things never quite hit the heights of that first scene.

Part of the (minor, very minor) problem is the Dalek. This episode was under a bit of pressure to make them scary again, and debunk all the popular myths. Easily killable? Nope. Stupid plunger arm? Nup. Stupid? No sir. Unfortunately, when you start debunking myths, you can accidentally hurt yourself. It’s like those McDonalds ads which assured us all that it really was 100 percent Australian Beef. It can make you seem defensive. When it comes time to (again) debunk the belief that Daleks can’t get up stairs, the episode falls into that trap. If Daleks don’t have a problem with stairs, why the hell do they have to wait in front of them for five minutes before starting to slowly glide up them? Why don’t they just damn well shoot the people that they can see on the higher landing? Why don’t they bloody fly up the middle of the stairwell?

And you’ll notice I said “slowly” earlier. This Dalek may be nigh-on invulnerable, but it’s still a slow bugger. If a Dalek moved too fast, then yeah, it’d look silly. But it’s barely moving faster than a brisk walking pace in this story, and that’s a problem for me. I can walk quite briskly.

But when the story isn’t becoming bogged down in ticking off things that Daleks are supposed to be crap at, it’s fantastic. “Why don’t you just DIE?” and the Dalek’s retort are amazing. The inversion of the Doctor/Dalek relationship is pretty cleverly handled. The Doctor should really have a chat to Yoda; we all know that fear leads to anger, leads to hate, leads to suffering.4 Rose gets a bit of the plot for once and does well with it, making her own decisions, and going from being initially foolish to arguing down the Doctor at the end. The Doctor and Rose really are a good partnership; perhaps they’ll both get cool at the same time.

The series’ clichés are begining to show, too, so allow me to present some nostalgia for the Andy era of Buffy reviews with my very own checklist:

Overall, ‘Dalek’ is probably one of the strongest episodes so far — certainly the most moving. The Doctor and his backstory are getting more intriguing all the time. Rose is gaining confidence, and the show itself seems to be developing some style. Now if we could just pack a bit more into the forty-five minutes next time.

  1. Well, alright, a draw most likely, given the Doctor’s description this week.
  2. Coulthurst, Andrew. Coversations with a Rabid Who Fan, 2005.
  3. Or between ‘The Gallifrey Chronicles’ and ‘Rose’ if you’re like me.
  4. Gosh, I’ve just realised that The Phantom Menace has a quotable line of dialogue. That’s one more than the Matrix sequels managed between them. They should really be ashamed.
4 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 17/05/05