'THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES' COLLECTORS' EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1770) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
Beneath the Salt Plains of Utah, the billionaire collector Henry Van Statten holds the last relic of an alien race. When the Doctor and Rose investigate, they discover that the Doctor’s oldest and most deadly enemy is about to break free.
30TH APRIL 2005
Having now watched what SFX have dubbed “the best episode of Doctor Who
ever” twice, I am sure that Robert Shearman’s action-packed psychological masterpiece
will remain one of my favourite episodes for many years to come. On the first viewing I actually cried three times. It was chilling, it was moving, and in all its 16:9 / 5.1 surround sound glory it was as spectacular as anything you could hope to see at the cinema. More than that though, at heart I found Dalek to be an incredibly sad and moving story.
Right from the opening scene which sees the Doctor mournfully look
at the head of a Cyberman – “The stuff of nightmares, reduced to an
exhibit...” – I found myself reflecting on just how lucky we are to have
the Doctor back on television. For over a decade now, our only hope of seeing a Cyberman’s head was in a museum or at a convention
somewhere, yet now we have something far better than a Cyberman,
an Auton, a Slitheen, or the Gelth. A Dalek - no, scrap that. Not just a
Dalek – a Dalek characterised by Rob Shearman. And so with the
sounds of his extraordinary Big Finish audio drama Jubilee still
ringing in my ears, I held my breath as that distinctive Murray Gold
reworking of the world’s most famous theme began to play.
“Look at you. That takes me back...”
It didn’t take long for the action to begin, and for forty-five minutes (an ideal length for a story such as this one) it did not cease. We had only a few minutes to enjoy what we have become used to as the ninth Doctor as he playfully demonstrated to megalomaniac ET collector Van Statten how to use an alien musical instrument. Of course, as soon as he learned that a live alien life form was being held in Van Statten’s underground bunker he wanted to help it – just as he did with the Gelth, and the pig in the space suit – and so, ever the optimist, he entered the Metaltron’ cage.
You could cut the tension with a knife. The scene was fully loaded.
“EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”
The Doctor that we know was gone in the blink of an eye. Past Doctors have been terrified by the Daleks – I will never forget the look of terror on the seventh Doctor’s face as he was backed against the door by a Dalek at the end of the first episode of Remembrance of the Daleks – but the ninth Doctor seemed even more terrified. This scene was scripted, acted and directed beautifully. As those lights on top of the dome lit up I had goosebumps. When I heard “EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” I felt the tears well up. The Doctor made to run for his life, but then he realised. The Dalek gun was powerless. In an instant the Doctor changed from a Time Lord scared for his life to a bitter, hateful and vindictive creature. I loved the way he got right in the Dalek’s face - “Whatcha gonna do to me?” he yelled. The performances
of both Christopher Eccleston and Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs were absolutely outstanding here, and indeed throughout.
“You would make a good Dalek.”
The following exchange of dialogue was some of the best that has ever graced an episode of Doctor Who. We learnt that the Doctor finally destroyed his mortal enemies – and the enemies of the Time Lords – having left them burning in space. He bragged about this to
the Dalek. “And what of the Time Lords?” asked the Dalek. “The coward survived…” And then it happened. The Doctor tried to murder the Dalek. This is the same man who had the chance to destroy every Dalek forever just by touching two wires together, but he couldn’t do it. He felt he did not have the right.
But now his home world has gone. He is getting old. All his people are dead and he could have prevented it all. How he must regret that decision he made hundreds of years before,
in another life. Twisted, bitter and full of hate, the Doctor wanted that last Dalek dead.
“It was the prize of my collection.”
After hearing the exchange between the two sole survivors of their respective races, Van Statten decided that he wanted them both in his collection. The Doctor was strung up and
his biology examined and patented. Two hearts. Another revelation for the new viewers, expertly delivered.
When Rose met the Dalek she was free from prejudice, never having met one of them before. Briggs’ voice talent was particularly impressive
in this scene - there are moments, no doubt done deliberately, where the Dalek sounded practically human. “I am in pain…” The modulation on the voice was cut right down and it sounded like no more than a weak and pathetic life form. Like Evelyn before her in Jubilee, it was Rose who could sympathise with the Dalek, who could take on the role that
the Doctor would if we were dealing with any other life form that was being tortured.
It was also Rose’s sympathy that leads directly to the death of hundreds of people.
The torture scenes earlier on where nowhere near as graphic or brutal as those depicted in Jubilee, though their effect (and purpose) is precisely the same. I even found myself feeling pity for this malevolent creature. Where Dalek primarily differs from Jubilee though is the
pace – instead of a long, drawn-out relationship evolving between Evelyn and the Dalek in the Tower, Rose’s pity towards the Dalek is initially only brief as once she touches it, all hell breaks loose. Wonderfully directed, the Dalek shattered its chains and screeched “genetic material extrapolated…”
“Whaddya gonna do? Sucker me to de-”
Then we get what we have been waiting for – a bad ass, unstoppable Dalek. Its sucker can crush your skull in the most horrific way. It can suck all the power out of a city in seconds. It can download the entire internet in the same amount of time. It can elevate. It is cunning –
the scene where it set off the sprinkler and exterminated all the soldiers with just one gun-shot was chilling in its economy, and absolutely breathtaking. Its trunk, base, and dome can now all rotate separately so you cannot hide from it merely by standing behind it. It is a tank. It is a killing machine. It is “the ultimate in racial cleansing”. You can call it a Nazi, a fascist, a racist or whatever - it is worse than the sum of all those ideologies combined. It is a Dalek.
“It wasn’t your fault”, Rose cried into her phone as she prepared to face her certain death.
I absolutely loved this sequence. It had all the power of “…I could save the world but lose
you” but this time there was no cop out; no Harriet Jones to make the call. The Doctor had
to make the call. I am not ashamed to say that as we heard “Exterminate!” and the gunshot went off, the tears made their second appearance of the night. It’s not that I thought Rose
had died – I don’t think anyone is that naïve – it was just the sheer power of the scene. The Doctor’s face; his reaction. For a minute I thought he was going to punch Van Statten.
It was a joy to see the Doctor’s face when the Dalek and Rose appeared on the monitor; he was simply overjoyed to see her alive. For a moment it was as if he had forgotten about the Dalek. For the first time in what felt like ages we saw a faint hit of that “fantastic” smile; of
the Doctor underneath.
“What use are emotions? If you will not save the woman you love?”
“What use are emotions? If you will not save the woman you love?” the Dalek challenged.
Not out of place, not overdone or overstated – the Dalek called it as he saw it. Platonic it may well be but the Doctor loves Rose and she loves the Doctor.
The Doctor and Van Statten’s resident boy genius, Adam (Bruno Langley of Corrie fame), took off to find the biggest bazooka imaginable, leaving Van Statten at the mercy of the Dalek as it burst in crying “EXTERMINATE!” However, ‘infected’ by Rose’s emotions in
the DNA that it absorbed to regenerate itself, it began to questions itself, its purpose; what
it wanted. Like the Dalek in Jubilee, this Dalek was a soldier; a soldier with no orders to follow. It wanted orders, but there were no other Daleks to give them.
And so this Dalek decided that it wanted ‘freedom’.
The shot of Rose following the Dalek through the corridor is an image that has particularly stuck in my mind, but nothing in the entire episode was as unnerving as the Dalek looking
up into the sunlight (through the hole it had blasted), its eye-stork looking up towards the
sun. That particular shot seemed almost religious in its significance – here is this twisted monstrosity of a creature. Born evil, bred evil. It had no choice other than to be evil. Yet we have it ‘infected’ by human emotions and ideas. To see it looking up into light, as if it has been redeemed, is an incredibly powerful image. Earlier in the episode it had said “you would make a good Dalek” to the Doctor - possibly the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to him - and when we look across from this creature basking in the light to the heavily armed Time Lord emerging from the shadows, something just is not right. Bazooka in hand, we have a Time Lord fallen from grace. No matter how much he may abhor violence, he had no other thought in his mind than the cold-blooded killing of the last of the race that wiped
out his people. The tears welled up again for one last time.
The Dalek’s casing gracefully slid open and we saw the most effective realisation of a
Dalek mutant to date. It looked ancient. There was also something about it that looked
sort of pathetic. This small, weak little creature encased in a metal death machine. There
is something incredibly unnerving about the amalgamation of weak flesh encased in an armour of terrors. No matter what evil deeds we see the machine committing, when it is revealed in the flesh there is a sense of pity you cannot help but feel towards the creature.
It is just so unnatural.
The dialogue in this old-fashioned showdown was superlative. All those fantastic ideas about the nature of good and evil; the difference between the hero and the villain; the interchangability of the two… Somehow they were all encapsulated in that final scene.
It has been forty-two years since that Doctor and the Daleks first graced our television screens. All that history from The Dead Planet to Remembrance of the Daleks and the destruction of Skaro. All the Time Lord history and larger-than-life characters; Rassilon, Omega… all gone forever. All we have is the Doctor and this one Dalek. Their showdown
had a solemn finality to it; it all felt so incredibly sad. When the Dalek realised it was muta-ting into something more human, it could not allow itself to live.
The Doctor could not see until it was too late that his hate has blinded him to the fact that, bazooka in hand, he was becoming as bad as the Dalek – and unlike the pepperpot from Skaro who could blame Davros for its evil nature, the Doctor had no-one to blame. And so, as in The Unquiet Dead, Rose helped the Doctor see something that he could never have seen without her, just as he shows her things that no-one else has ever seen. That’s their love.
There may never be another episode of Doctor Who that is able to capture the sheer emot-ion and raw power of Dalek. Whilst the newspapers - either ignorant of Remembrance of the Daleks, or wilfully ignoring it just to make a cheap point - will laud this remarkable story
to the hilt on the basis that Daleks can ‘now climb stairs’, I don’t think that I will be alone in appreciating it for what it is - an absolute bloody tour de force.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.