New Series Review #6 – Dalek

Writing for Kasterborous is an interesting process. Like an offline magazine, we have articles ready several weeks in advance yet due to the nature of the Internet and the concept of richness in quality of content, it is necessary to frantically type out reviews on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings when the subject for review is an episode of Doctor Who. With that in mind, and that its halfway through Sunday already, let’s look at last nights episode, which for the sake of balance and truth I have watched two times (something I’ve not done with any story yet this series).

Rose was a frantically paced reintroduction to Doctor Who. The End of the World enforced the notion of being able to travel anywhere in time and space. The Unquiet Dead reintroduced the Hinchcliffe-era Gothic atmosphere to Doctor Who and Aliens of London/World War Three was a typical alien invasion by deception story. Bearing in mind how much I liked each of these, please tell me. Exactly what was Dalek about?

Now I know the basics – lone Dalek somehow fell to Earth, ends up being displayed in a private collection under the Utah desert. Doctor and Rose drop in, Dalek frees itself, the Doctor defeats it. Obviously things didn’t go quite as planned, and the Doctor has to improvise. My problem is, I don’t think I liked it.

Of course there are massive plus points – a new Dalek for one, the passion of Christopher Eccleston’s performance in his scene with “Metaltron”, and of course Nick Brigg’s voicing of the Dalek. The revelation that the Doctor destroyed the Daleks and possibly by accident the Time Lords and Gallifrey is well played, again confirming Eccleston’s quality as an actor and talent for gravitas; enjoyable too was the Doctor’s torture by Henry van Statten (Agent Clay in the “Hellboy”). There isn’t a single thing wrong with any of the performances, and visually the episode was striking, not least the superb design update of the Dalek and the assorted alien paraphernalia. At times the incidental music was slightly overwhelming, but that has been a problem throughout the series. The special fx too were seamless, particularly the new use of the Dalek’s sink plunger (more fearsome than the death ray?), its regeneration and of course the iconic moment that everyone will remember when the Dalek flies. You can guarantee the flying Dalek of 2005 won’t be forgotten like the flying Dalek of 1988…

The dialogue is realistic, the sense of claustrophobia is well played, so what the hell s wrong with me? What was wrong with Dalek that I was left wanting, expecting more, demanding an ending with meaning, an ending that reintroduced hordes of Daleks hidden somewhere or the escape of the last Dalek through time to instigate the creation of a new Dalek race?

Regeneration in Doctor Who is nothing new, and the moment that the Dalek reached a power supply and downloaded the entire Internet and enough energy to self-repair was very exciting. But how exactly did the Dalek absorb Rose’s DNA?

“Extrapolating the biomass of a time-traveller regenerated me”

I’m not a big fan of Star Trek, so you’ll understand me when I say that I don’t believe this sort of technobabble works in Doctor Who. Oh I understand it, but how many 8 year olds know what “biomass” is? Has the national curriculum advanced so much in the 13 years since I left school?!

Restoring the iconic classic Doctor Who monster was a fantastic move for the new series, putting the Dalek in a quality script and making it truly fearsome was something no one had done before (except of course writer Robert Shearman himself in a Big Finish Audio adventure). The Dalek’s quick destruction of Henry van Statten’s entire security team was astonishing, and I love the Dalek point-of-view (POV) camera shots. In fact the list is endless, I liked so much! Rose and Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley of Coronation Street fame) were put together for much of the episode and worked well together. His addition to the TARDIS crew should be interesting, but that’s for next week. The fact is there is so much to like about Dalek and a major key to the story was the relationship between Rose and the Dalek. The slow change to the Dalek as a result of it becoming “contaminated” by Rose’s DNA was excellent, it’s questioning of its true purpose and its desire for freedom equally so.

Dalek is a fantastic story and a worthy addition to the new series. Dalek tugged at my heartstrings in a way a Dalek story shouldn’t. Dalek will be considered a classic; I appreciate that, and see its inherent beauty, but like many films or albums or books that are considered “classic” I cannot bring myself to like it.

Illustration by Anthony Dry with special thanks to Steve Redfearn.


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