Dalek ★★★★

A robust reintroduction of the Doctor’s greatest foe gives us a classic head-to-head

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Story 161 

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Series 1 – Episode 6

“If the Dalek gets out, it will murder every living creature… Human beings are different, and anything different is wrong. It’s the ultimate in racial cleansing and you, Van Statten, you’ve let it loose” – the Doctor

Storyline
Utah, 2012: the Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground museum of alien artefacts owned by billionaire Henry Van Statten. One of his technicians, Adam Mitchell, gives Rose a tour of the facility. Among the exhibits is a Dalek, which is re-energised by Rose’s DNA and exterminates anyone who gets in its way. The creature heads for the surface to continue its killing spree but, confused by the humanity that Rose has infected it with, the Dalek self-destructs. Van Statten is deposed by an aide and Adam joins the time travellers in the Tardis.

First UK transmission
Saturday 30 April 2005

Production
Location: October 2004 at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. October-November 2004 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Studio: November 2004 in Unit Q2, Cardiff.

Cast
Doctor Who – Christopher Eccleston
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Polkowski – Steven Beckingham
Henry Van Statten – Corey Johnson
Goddard – Anna-Louise Plowman
Adam Mitchell – Bruno Langley
Dalek – Barnaby Edwards
Dalek voice – Nicholas Briggs
Simmons – Nigel Whitmey
Bywater – John Schwab
De Maggio – Jana Carpenter
Commander – Joe Montana

Crew
Writer – Robert Shearman
Director – Joe Ahearne
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young

RT review by Mark Braxton
The idea of rejuvenating Doctor Who and not bringing back the Daleks was unthinkable. But how to reintroduce Skaro’s finest to a new generation – one reared on CGI and Jurassic Park? Writer Robert Shearman had his work cut out for him. Even his wife told him: “They rant too much. They’ve got sink plungers and can’t get up stairs.”

Shearman’s twist – having the Doctor face a single, solitary Dalek – is a brave one. But, backed by an arsenal of new tricks and 21st-century effects technology, he pulls it off.

The mechanised monster has been majestically refurbished, with its beefed-up carapace, multipurpose plunger (suckers someone to death, absorbs the internet) and shimmering forcefield that melts bullets. The showy-off brilliance of the Dalek’s mid-section revolving independently to laser-bolt soldiers on either side is heart-stoppingly good. And hovering up stairs isn’t a problem although, as with Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, it is a bit on the slow side!

But it’s not just the computer-assisted artillery that gives Dalek an edge, it’s the way in which the story subverts expectation…

Singularity

It’s certainly a lean pitch: one Dalek, one Time Lord. And what begins as a slanging match (“You piece of junk!”) ends as a war of wits, culminating in the unforgettable line “You would make a good Dalek”.

The great and fabled Time War, which will be mentioned in many subsequent stories, has resulted in the Doctor and Dalek being the last of their kind. So the question is: where do we go from here?

Doctor Death

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor comes across as surprisingly unheroic – even, dare one say it, a cold-blooded killer? Not only is he determined to destroy the Daleks once and for all (no dithering over wires here!), but he’s also quite happy to send dozens of soldiers to their death (does anyone really buy his suggestion “If you concentrate your fire, you might get through”?). It might be a little confusing for kids, perhaps, but they’ll have to deal with it: this is new-style, chewy Who.

Joel Thompson, a writer on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, once nailed what made that show’s scripts such a triumph: “The black-and-white questions can be easier to negotiate… it’s the shades-of-grey questions that get our creative juices going.”

Isn’t that precisely what makes the new Who so powerful: never going for the safe option? It would have been so easy, for example, for Rose to side with her new best mate against the Metaltron, or for irreversible villain Van Statten to die at the hands of the creature he tortured.

Human Touch
Rose will be the voice of the ninth Doctor’s conscience throughout his lifetime, and no more so than here. Somehow it’s appropriate that her humanity should both reactivate the Dalek and condemn it to extinction. Her beauty-and-the-beast moments with Dalek recall those of Sarah Jane Smith with Robot. But in terms of emotional pull, the two approaches are poles apart. Who’d have thought Billie Piper would make us feel sorry for a pepperpot?

Fan-pleasing
Shearman works in some smile-inducing details and references for the long-term investor. Some are obvious, others are probably just me! In Van Statten’s museum, as well as the Slitheen claw to remind you of the preceding story, there’s the Cyberman head in a glass case. Not the partially see-through mask of 80s incarnations but what I call the classic look, popularised by The Invasion (1968) and Revenge of the Cybermen (1975).

Then there’s the scene in which a bare-chested Doctor is tortured by Van Statten’s flunkies. Very Vengeance on Varos (where Jason Connery was the sweating captive). And is the moment where the exposed Dalek raises an unfortunate tentacle a sniggersome homage to Erato in The Creature from the Pit? I’m afraid I found it similarly mood-puncturing.

My favourite scene, however, comes from Eccleston who, after the Doctor believes he has entombed Rose, sells the relief of knowing she is alive absolutely brilliantly.

Of the guest artists, Anna-Louise Ploughman makes most impact as strident career girl Diana Goddard, but this is very much the Eccleston/Piper Show.

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Frankly, you can keep the rock-drumming that accompanies some of the action, and maybe the story is a tad on the talky side. But overall it’s a muscular addition to series one, and a distinguished entry in the Dalek canon.