The Doctor: What’s the nearest town?
Henry Van Statten: Salt Lake City.
The Doctor: Population?
Henry Van Statten: One million.
The Doctor: All dead. If the Dalek gets out it’ll murder every living creature. That’s all it needs.
Henry Van Statten: But why would it do that?
The Doctor: Because it honestly believes they should die. 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!
First and foremost, I’d like to introduce you to this blog. Yep, that’s right, someone else has joined Red Whine and I on our adventure through space and time and has started reviewing episodes, so if you’d like yet another take on the series, check their blog out. And, of course, head over to Red Whine for his take on this episode.
But, more to the point, let’s take a look at this week’s seminal episode, Dalek. Now, the Daleks have sort of been the bane of my existence since New Who started, and not in the way the show intends them to be. It seems that every time a writer can’t come up with something better or more interesting or maybe even fucking original, they chuck the Daleks at the story, dust off their hands, and walk away. I understand that the Daleks are the most iconic villains in the Whoniverse, and they’re a kind of hazing process that all new Doctors have to go through. But you can’t deny that they’ve been painfully, painfully overused, to the point that I hear those famous tinny voices of doom and roll my eyes, wondering what laboured new “twist” Moffat is going to put on them this time. How many times can the last of the Daleks be destroyed, only for them to return? HOW MANY TIMES, MOFFAT?!
Ahem. But then- then there was this episode. Honestly, it was almost tragic for the show that they seemed to understand instantly that they would never top this episode. It’s probably the best standalone episode of this season, and I can still remember vividly the hype that surrounded it’s broadcast. I remember them on the cover of the Radio Times, I remember my parents insisting that they had to watch it with me “just to see”. This was proper event television, so it was a brave choice to subvert pretty much everything we knew about them over the course of these exquisite forty minutes.
Obviously, the first and most important change is the fact that they can fly, rendering my Dad’s jaw uncharacteristically stiff as it dawned on him that he couldn’t just go up a flight of stairs and render them harmless.
But, past that, this episode was the first to really delve into what happened in the Time War, as the Doctor ends up face-to-face with a lone Dalek housed in the collection of an American millionaire. It’s here that we find out the Doctor was the only one of his race to survive, and that the Daleks and the Time Lords were wiped out together. As the Dalek points out (with it’s terrifying whisk of death) in their first encounter, the two cowards survived. But for once, the Doctor doesn’t have empathy for this lone survivor, but instead demands that it be killed, and now, no matter what the consequences.
It’s a brave twist to make your leading man the murderous villain (no matter how reasonable his thought process), but Christopher Eccleston- in what is his best performance of the season to date- works in perfect contrast to the Dalek who’s been driven mad by years of torture at the hands of it’s captors. The episode, as well as making the Doctor a bad guy, makes the Dalek a sympathetic character, which is a pretty amazing feat for a tin cylinder with a plunger and whisk sticky-taped to it. There’s a scene towards the start of the episode where the staff who experiment on the collection are trying to get it to talk, but are only able to make it scream. That’s audacious fucking stuff for a teatime TV show, but this episode goes all-out on exploring the cost of war and the impact of survivor’s guilt. As well as, phew, the urge to domesticate the out-of-the-ordinary, the definition of “evil” and how motivation affects that, and how you should NEVER ask a Dalek “what are you going to do, sucker me to death?”, because that’s just asking for trouble.
So, after Rose (in another fabulous supporting performance where she basically wanders round the collector’s underground bunker flirting with an exceptionally dull supporting Ken doll) accidentally sets the Dalek free, the Doctor is forced to chase it down and stop it killing every last one of the crew. There’s lots of fun action sequences to be had as the Dalek rampages through the bunker, killing everyone in it’s path as Henry Van Statten (the mad collector behind it’s acquisition) insists that it be left intact. The claustrophobic setting is great as the Doctor is forced to watch Rose attempt to flee as the Dalek bears down on her. Eventually, the Doctor and the Dalek have their face-off, and it’s the Doctor- storming into the scene in a maelstrom of fury and frightening presence- who’s the really scary one as the Dalek tries to comprehend something, anything, beyond it’s urge to kill. The ending is genuinely moving, and so good I won’t ruin it here, as it’s proof that Doctor Who can tug at the heartstrings without dipping over into the realm of cheese.
It’s hard to say much about this episode when I can’t reach through the screen, grab your shoulders, and shake you repeatedly while bellowing “WWWWWAAAATTTTCCCCHHH IIIITTTT” into your face over and over again. I doubt there are many people reading these review who haven’t already seen Doctor Who, but on the off-chance there are: this is your way in. This is where you start. If you want to find an episode that’s packed to brimming with ideas, brilliant performances, and a sharp vein of humour, this is it. There’s no better place to begin than with the most iconic Who villain of all time, and those villains have never been served better than in this episode.
Join us next week as we head off to a space station with Simon Pegg and something questionable in the ceiling.