DALEK– 30th April
Written by Robert Shearman.
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
Milo came bouncing into the kitchen: “They can fly in this one,” he told me excitedly.
“Who can?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“The Daleks,” he explained. “So now people can’t run up the stairs to get away from them.”
“I know,” I said, smiling to myself. I had been unable to catch the full episode the night before and so I was watching the repeat on BBC3. This meant my children were around to witness the long awaited television rebirth of the Daleks.
I knew Daleks could fly of course, because I’d seen Sylvester McCoy being chased upstairs by a Dalek when they’d last been on our screens. That was over sixteen years ago now, at the time I hadn’t watched Doctor Who for years. However, Dalek episodes were always a little bit special and I remember watching ‘Remembrance’, probably on a black and white TV due to poverty. I felt distinctly cheated when it was revealed that Davros was the Dalek Emperor (not him again!) and chilled when the Doctor blew up Skaro with the Hand of Omega.
As one would imagine this episode would see the resumption of the grudge match between the Doctor and his oldest enemy. We already knew the Doctor had destroyed their home world, now we learnt that they had been responsible for destroying his during the last Time War. Both the Doctor and the last of the Daleks come face to face with each other in an underground museum in Utah. This is owned by Henry Van Staten (Corey Johnson) one of those nasty American types that we Brits love to cast as our villains in light drama. Just as Hollywood likes to cast smooth talking upper class Brits for their villains so the BBC scores cultural revenge by using equally stereotyped American billionaires for theirs.
Van Staten is a ruthless, egomaniacal capitalist who is so ridiculously wealthy that he is able to horde a collection of rare alien artefacts in a nuclear bomb proof shelter. When the TARDIS materialises in this museum, the Doctor is drawn to an exhibit of a Cyberman’s helmet (one for the fans here obviously). As soon as he touches it the alarms go off and he and Rose find themselves surrounded by Van Staten’s private army. They are dragged before Van Staten, whom the Doctor impresses with his knowledge of alien artefacts. The Billionaire explains to the Doctor that he had emerged in the part of the complex near his only live exhibit. Intrigued the Doctor asks to see this ‘specimen’, which Van Staten has dubbed the ‘metaltron.’ Meanwhile Rose is dispatched off with male eye-candy Adam (Coronation Street’s Bruno Langley), Van Staten’s buyer of bizarre alien exotica.
For those of us familiar with the plot of Shearman’s ‘Jubilee’, the next few scenes are no great surprise and having listened to the audio original I’d have to say that the TV version isn’t as atmospheric. Again we have a lone Dalek being held by a group of nasty humans who are torturing it to make it speak. However, whereas the humans in ‘Jubilee’ had experienced a Dalek invasion, these humans just seem to be torturing the benighted creature for the hell of it. As in ‘Jubilee’ there is the scene of the Doctor entering a darkened room to find his great enemy in chains. Unlike ‘Jubilee’ however, this Doctor sets about trying to kill the Dalek instead. Here Shearman makes an allusion to the famous scene at the end of ‘Genesis’ where Davros asks the Daleks to have pity. Here it is the Dalek asking the Doctor for pity, to which his retort is; “why should I? You never did!”
The Doctor certainly comes across a lot less sympathetically than the Dalek, indeed there is one scene where the creature taunts him by telling the Time Lord he’d make a ‘good Dalek.’ This is the kind of inversion found in ‘Jubilee’ and a number of other Big Finish audios, which are the closest to ‘Dalek’ in their portrayal of these iconic villains. In marked contrast to the Doctor’s unalloyed hatred is Rose’s pity and concern for this lonely creature. She doesn’t see the Doctor trying to kill the Dalek, but she does catch a video feed of one of Van Staten’s men torturing it afterwards. She immediately tries to find the Doctor to try and get him to stop what is happening.
The Doctor meanwhile is also being tortured; Van Staten has by this time realised the Time Lord is himself an alien and has the Doctor strapped to a bed frame while he plays a scanner over him.
“Did they have to take his shirt off?” Milo complains.
Here we have the reproduction of the effect, first seen in episode two of this series, of the Doctor’s two hearts beating in time with each other. Van Staten is delighted; he doesn’t just collect alien technology he uses it to bolster his already substantial fortune by patenting developments stolen from them. The Doctor pleads with Van Staten to have the Dalek destroyed, but the billionaire is dismissive of the danger, failing to see how the creature can break free of its specially constructed cage.
Meanwhile, Adam has managed to get Rose into see the Dalek and again, as in ‘Jubilee’ we have a connection forming between the Doctor’s assistant and his worst enemy. Here we have some of the most impressive Dalek acting seen on television, full marks to Nick Briggs for introducing much pathos into his performance. Nevertheless the Dalek quickly reverts to form after Rose touches it, something about her touch revitalises it and he breaks free of his chains. Van Staten’s torturer sneers at the Dalek: “What you gonna do, sucker me to death?” Unsurprisingly the Dalek proceeds to do precisely that before moving off to tap into the Internet.
“So that thing is basically its arm?” asks Milo.
“Yes, it is,” I begin, my explanation cut short by the action on the screen. Rose and Adam had managed to escape the ‘cage’ but the Doctor is convinced the Dalek will still break out.
“The Dalek’s a genius,” he tells Van Staten and sure enough, using his sucker arm to interact with the computer the Dalek is able to break free. Now it is time for the rampage to begin for real as the Dalek cuts a swathe of dead bodies through Van Staten’s men.
My oldest son remains unimpressed: “Daleks are crap,” Louis declares, pointing to its slowness. Milo is a little more open-minded: “Its like a tank,” he suggests as the Dalek demonstrates its new gun turret midriff. I have to agree; this Dalek certainly seems much heavier built than before. Like a tank there is no need for this machine to accelerate anywhere, there is something inevitable about its destructive progress through the underground complex. My youngest son who is busily screaming himself into a fury in the other room distracts me. When I come back Adam (Eye candy) is taunting the Dalek at the bottom of the stairs.
‘Elevate!’ is the creature’s response and we get to see a Dalek fly, again. Whereas in ‘Remembrance’ the effect was achieved by attaching the Dalek prop to a Stannah Stairlift, here we get to see it hovering up the stairs from above and below, slowly and inexorably approaching its quarry at the top.
Having kicked another Dalek myth into touch, the machine continues to sweep through more storm troopers, demonstrating some canny moves along the way. At one point it hovers a good few meters up into the air and sets off the sprinkler system whilst Van Staten’s men plug him with shots. He then uses the water to simultaneously electrocute all of the troops.
The fact that this Dalek is a genius and is able to express complex thought patterns and rudimentary emotions is a mark of this show. Shearman had stated that his intention was to emulate the feel of the Daleks from the Troughton era, where they were a considerably more formidable foe than in the later Davros years. In this I believe he succeeds, although a lot of the groundwork for this had already been laid in the Big Finish audios. Therefore it is no surprise to see Nick Briggs at work here, as his work as both producer and writer on numerous Dalek audios surely gives him a right to be the voice of the Dalek.
Back to the story, the Doctor has persuaded Van Staten to seal off the complex, as there is no way of stopping the Dalek otherwise. However, Rose and Adam are still trapped down there. They wait until the last possible moment before sealing the doors, Eye Candy manages to escape, but Rose cannot get out in time. The Doctor watches in horror as the Dalek approaches Rose and screams ‘exterminate!’
The Doctor is angry with Van Staten for putting his own greed before everything else, with Eye Candy for getting away when Rose didn’t and with himself for not being able to protect her. However, Rose is not dead, for some reason the Dalek is unable to kill her. Something happened when Rose touched the Dalek’s casing earlier on. The Dalek had already explained to the Doctor that it was able to use the energy from ‘the time travelling human’ to regenerate itself; now it seems it was more than just energy that was transferred. The Dalek now has Rose’s emotions as well, something which it uses to its advantage when it contacts the Doctor again. The Dalek offers the Doctor the ‘life of the one that he loves’ in exchange for its freedom. The Doctor agrees, not wanting to be responsible for Rose’s death, meanwhile he and Adam go and find a suitable weapon to use against the Dalek.
When the Dalek confronts Van Staten with his crimes there is a prize bit of Dalek humour. As Van Staten pleads for his life the Dalek reminds him that he ordered its torture in order to hear it speak. “Now hear my voice,” says the creature ominously. “Exterminate!”
Rose is there and pleads with the Dalek to not kill Van Staten, pointing out that there is no need for it to be a slave to its original programming. Incredibly the Dalek agrees and asks Rose to help it gain its freedom.
As the Dalek and Rose disappear down the corridor, Milo asks: “So what are inside these things, the Daleks?”
“Oh, something with lots of tentacles, a bit like an octopus,” I explain.
“That’s just like the Martians in War of the Worlds,” suggests Milo, taking my breath away. “Ah, so the Dalek is like a Martian War Machine.” Incredible, I’d never made that link until a couple of years back.
The Dalek stops and turns its gun up to the ceiling, blowing a hole through the concrete so that a ray of sunlight bathes its casing. Then, opening up like a magic box of drawers, we get to see the creature inside, properly this time. In the past there had always been something protean and unknowable about the Dalek mutant, I had to generalise when I described it as a tentacled creature to my son. For in truth Dalek mutants have been anything from blobby bits of slime to claw wielding arthropods in the past. To see one now as a definite octopus with one eye was kind of a relief really. Something strange and terrible has happened to this Dalek though; something, which Rose is only just beginning to appreciate, as the Doctor looms up out of the tunnel bearing a big gun.
Time for one more ironic inversion as Rose saves the Dalek from a vengeful Doctor. She says that it has changed, begun to question itself. From its compartment the creature says it is the last of the Daleks. The Doctor quickly realises that the creature has absorbed Rose’s DNA, it is now mutating into something new. But this is not good news for the Dalek, as the Doctor points out. As in ‘Jubilee’ the lone Dalek faces an apotheosis before it dies and in both stories it is the Doctor’s assistant who facilitates its destruction. Rose, not being aware of the history of racial purity that propels the creature to destroy itself, gives it the go ahead it somehow needs from her to self-destruct. Finally it is over, the last of the Daleks has died; or has it?
There are one or two glaring continuity and plot errors in the story. How for example, is it possible for the Dalek to use information derived from Earth’s orbital satellites about whether there are any other Daleks in the galaxy? More to the point, you might wonder, since the story is set in 2012, surely there must be a whole planet full of the creatures out there waiting to invade the Earth in 150 years?
Having said that though, ‘Dalek’ is probably the strongest story of the season (or at least joint favourite with ‘The Unquiet Dead’) and could easily become a classic in its own right. It certainly has helped bring a screen presence back to the Daleks, which they haven’t had for well over twenty years. Although it has still yet to match up to their impact on audio (and again the format of the show has a lot to do with this-there being no time for complex plot development), I think it was an important show to make.
Louis however insisted that if he were in charge of drawing up monsters for the Doctor to fight he’d have him pitted against an invisible robotic Samurai warrior that can fire ninja stars from its mouth. There’s just no pleasing some people!