In a well-guarded underground complex in Utah, billionaire Henry Van Statten collects every type of alien artifact he can get his hands on, and money is no object: the head of a Cyberman from the 1968 invasion of London, the arm of a Slitheen, pieces of the alien ship crashed in Roswell, and more. Unknown to Van Statten, though, there’s a new alien arrival in his hidden museum: the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor’s curiosity gets the best of him, setting off the security alarms. He and Rose are quickly rounded up and taken to Van Statten. Furious about the intrusion, Van Statten is at least impressed with the Doctor’s knowledge of alien artifacts, and decides to show the Doctor his most prized exhibit. As Rose gets to know Adam, Van Statten’s acquisition expert, the Doctor is locked into a dark room with the only living specimen of Van Statten’s menagerie: a live Dalek, possibly the last one in the universe. When the Doctor discovers that the Dalek’s weapon no longer works, he taunts his old enemy, reminding the Dalek that the Doctor destroyed the rest of its race even as the Daleks were laying waste to Gallifrey in the Time War. But the conversation quickly reveals that the Doctor is an alien as well, and Van Statten has the last Time Lord hauled off for examination. Rose visits the helpless Dalek, but when she touches its casing, it seems to draw strength from that contact, reactivating its weapon – and its murderous urges to exterminate every non-Dalek in sight. But even when the Doctor takes measures to stop the Dalek by any means necessary, Rose won’t let him.
written by Robert Shearman
directed by Joe Ahearne
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Steven Beckingham (Polkowski), Corey Johnson (Henry Van Statten), Anna-Louise Plowman (Goddard), Bruno Langley (Adam), Nigel Whitmey (Simmons), John Schwab (Bywater), Jana Carpenter (DeMaggio), Joe Montana (Commander), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek operator), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voice)
Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green
Philip’s Review: Dalek opens with a pretty spooky introduction to an underground “museum” of alien artifacts. The atmosphere is hurt a bit by a couple of obvious matte shots intended to give the place a sense of scale, but for the most part the director wisely sticks to very tight shots, enhancing the creepiness of the place.
The museum is populated by all sorts of things, including some with ties to the Doctor, like an Invasion-era Cyberman’s head, as well as the arm from one of last week’s aliens. (How’s that for quick turnaround on a cameo?)
As the opening titles end, an old enemy rears it’s ugly head: “Dalek”. Not the alien, itself, of course, but the fact that (just like the old series) any possibility of being surprised at what’s going to turn up later is ruined by the fact that this episode is entitled “Dalek”. Did they need to do this? Couldn’t they have called it something else, so there is at least a pretense of surprise?
A “Bad Wolf” reference pops up again. As usual, there’s no context, it’s just there. When it’s finally explained, it better be good.
This is the first time that the good Doctor has visited the U.S. since the 1996 TV Movie and the fact that this one wasn’t produced anywhere near the States is apparent from the first moment we see Americans (and hear their fake accents). I am immediately struck at how insulting this view of America is. The notion, put forth with ease and few lines, that one person runs this country and can have anyone from a personal assistant to the President replaced at a whim is ludicrous. Then again, given the unflattering view of the British government from the last two episodes, maybe I shouldn’t take it so personally.
When the Dalek is finally revealed, I must admit I was impressed with Eccleston’s impassioned verbal assault. But it didn’t take long before it degenerated into another maudlin scene about the Doctor’s recent past and the “Time War”. Even the Dalek gets into the act, emoting in a way no Dalek has ever emoted. It’s almost comical. And the Dalek’s attempts at bonding with the Doctor seem well out of place for creatures who rarely exhibited any kind of individual thinking.
And, with the portrayal of Van Statten and Co., this new series continues the prevailing negative attitude towards human beings. (The whole “The Dalek is honest. He’s better than you.” thing.) It would be one thing if van Statten was being portrayed as some sort of megalomaniac with henchmen and the whole shebang. But he’s portrayed as the backbone of the entire world (he stole broadband technology from aliens and is withholding the cure for the common cold so he can sell medicines – more anti-capitalist propoganda).
Rose shows again how ignorant she is of the world by immediately bonding with someone (apparently because he’s conveniently British) and assuming that just because the alien is being mistreated, it can automatically be trusted. She really isn’t proving herself to be any kind of improvement over the companions of the past.
The Dalek’s ease with manipulating Rose at least shows some of the devious nature they previously exhibited. (It’s vaguely reminiscent of The Power of the Daleks.) The new functionality of the Dalek’s sucker is clever, but I fail to see how the Dalek’s ability to calculate billions of codes a second also allows it to enter them on a data pad faster than I think reasonably possible.
Again, nameless soldier-types are shown to have little intelligence as they fire their guns uselessly at the Dalek over and over, despite the fact that everyone knows that they’ve hit it with everything they could and not made a dent. Van Statten’s ludicrous desire to keep it alive again echoes Power, but with less impact, since he’s so unrealistically portrayed.
And then we get to the “stairs” scene. Far too much is made of this. These are people who’ve never seen a Dalek before. The “can’t climb stairs” clichÃƒÂ© doesn’t exist for them, so why would they automatically assume it couldn’t hover and why would they stop to taunt the Dalek about it? Especially since it could still shoot them where they are standing, even if it couldn’t follow them.
It begins to amaze me how little they actually get into some of these 45-minute episodes. Since they feel the need for emotional exchanges and grand statements of purpose (not to mention long, mournful close-ups of the Doctor) they seem to feel it’s okay to skimp on plot and proper characterization. In this episode, we even get an emotional exchange in the “rain”, sappy musical underscore and all. (In fact, the Dalek is under sprinklers. But the effect doesn’t work as well here as it did on Twin Peaks.)
When the Dalek undergoes his “change of heart”, if you can call it that, it really doesn’t seem to make any sense. Even ignoring the odd need for the DNA of a time traveler to revive, surely if the Daleks had included this power, any time traveler’s DNA would have produced such an effect. They would have realized this and compensated for it.
And are we actually supposed to feel sorry for the Dalek? Are we supposed to feel some kind of sympathy for this creature? The problem is, it’s just all too much cheap manipulation. Lingering looks at the Dalek’s single eye, practically crying. The Doctor with his voice catching the way it does when we’re supposed to get choked up. But it has all the true emotional weight of a daytime soap. At least we actually see the Doctor confronted for his tendency towards violence. I think this is the first story where he doesn’t personally kill anyone.
Doctor Who at this point seems to have become more about the Doctor himself than it ever was before. It’s not about the people he’s helping. It’s not about the things he does. The show’s all about him. He’s all about him. Dalek, more than any previous episode, shows the lingering effect of the in-between years: the years where Doctor Who existed as a series of novels, comic strips and audios that played to the fan base and not to the traditional Doctor Who audience. Although it doesn’t go quite as far as they have (I haven’t noticed any real swear words), It’s still far too far removed from the classic series it tries to emulate. And like the Dalek of this episode, it may have mutated too much to ever go back.
Earl’s Review: I have extremely mixed feelings about Dalek. Perhaps the strongest of those feelings is that this is a story that’s been told before. In some ways it was very reminiscent of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode I, Borg, which itself hearkens back to Frederic Brown’s 1944 short story “Arena”, which has been referenced by nearly every science fiction series that’s gone in front of a camera since the dawn of television. But never before has the story been told with the Doctor as one of the combatants who needs to let go of the conflict. Perhaps even worse, the story morphed into this form after Russell T. Davies heard Rob Shearman’s Big Finish audio drama Jubilee and asked Shearman to write, more or less, the same story for television, except in less time. Jubilee was far more effective, thought-provoking and original than Dalek by far. Dalek, by comparison, boasts some of the new series’ most striking action sequences, but then dives off the deep end at its conclusion.
Despite my misgivings about the origins and originality of the material they have to work with, Eccleston and especially Billie Piper are nothing short of magnificent in this one, and really the entire cast works well. Unless I’m woefully misinformed, many of the Americans in Dalek – basically, everyone except the Doctor, Rose and Adam – were supposedly portrayed by American actors working in the U.K., but even so my Dodgy Accent Alert (TM, pat. pending) went off a couple of times. Perhaps the actors in question have assimilated their surroundings a little too well. Bruno Langley as Adam is the latest object of the Doctor’s disdain, and while it seems a bit too much like the same attitude the Doctor takes toward Mickey, time would seem to bear out the Doctor’s apparent refusal to accept Adam as a new crew member. But that’s a whole other episode.
This story’s lone Dalek gets a lot of attention, and does a lot of things we’ve never seen a Dalek do before. Russell T. Davies stated quite openly that he wanted this episode to drive the little ones behind the sofa, just like the Daleks did in the 1960s, and even if it doesn’t quite have that effect, this episode does restore the lone Dalek as a terrifying force to be reckoned with, even if in doing so it raises the question of why we’ve never seen a Dalek do any of these things before. Nicholas Briggs, having provided all of the Dalek voices in Big Finish Productions’ audio dramas (including his own Dalek Empire spinoff series), was recruited to provide the Dalek’s voice here, though it’s fair to say that this was an unusually emotional Dalek. Those looking for resolution to the issues of Davros, the Daleks’ always-off-screen war with the Movellans, and the civil war that raged through the Daleks’ own ranks during their appearances in the 1980s, won’t find them even so much as mentioned here. One also doesn’t find much from the show’s past to support a Dalek committing suicide either, though there was that one Dalek in Death To The Daleks…
Dalek is a well-executed entry in the new series, but it pales next to its source material – whether one is talking about a Doctor Who audio story from two years ago, or a short story from over six decades ago.