...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, December 07, 2015

Alex & Richard's Doctor Who 52: 03. Dalek


The Doctor… The Companions… the third angle to this triumvirate is the Monsters. And the first monsters of Doctor Who will always be…


The Doctor's Arch Enemies (Monster Edition) – see also "Terror of the Autons".

This is set in the space year 2012: the future when it was first broadcast, now the past – which is almost as weird as "The Tenth Planet" being set in 1980.

Henry Van Statten, the man who "owns the internet" and so almost by definition the biggest monster on the planet, has a secret bunker in the Nevada desert where he keeps his museum of things that have fallen to Earth. And right at the bottom is the pride of his collection, the only living exhibit, and an example of just how far it is possible to fall. Let's just say he's not as smart as he thinks he is…

Ten Reasons To Watch "Dalek" (warning: spoilers!)

  1. The Dalek – "One Dalek is capable of exterminating aaaaalllll!!!!" shrieks one of the metal meanies in 1965's all-time Dalek extravaganza "The Dalek's Master Plan (du jour)", and here writer Rob Shearman sets out to prove it, taking the Dalek through its murderous paces examining and reinventing every part – gunstick, manipulator-arm, body, shields (they've got shields!), heads-up-display and zoom-in eyestalk, and the bubbling ball of hate and genius inside; even the "dalek bumps" – and all the while inverting every joke ever made about them, death by sink plunger being perhaps the most gruesomely memorable.

  2. The Power of the Dalek – the Dalek though is far more than just a monster; it is an icon of Doctor Who; in many ways the Daleks made the Doctor, in both Watsonian (in Universe) and Doylist (from the perspective of the series creators) senses. Confronted by their pure evil, the Doctor begins to evolve a counter morality; and with the coming of Dalekmania a series that might have been cancelled after thirteen weeks became a hit that would go on to celebrate a golden anniversary.

    And, quite rightly, the idea that the Great Time War could ultimately turn out to be against anybody else is unthinkable. Yet there was a period where it looked like the Daleks would not be returning to Doctor Who in 2005…

  3. The Genesis of the Daleks… is credited not to Davros (the evil genius) and not to "laughing" Ray Cusak (the designer, who came up with the classic sixties pop-icon pepperpot shape and got paid all of £100 for his trouble) but to writer Terry Nation. And the estate of Terry Nation is (or more accurately, Hancock's their lawyers are)… uniquely sensitive to its rights as far as the deadly dustbins are concerned. Which means there can be some very tough negotiating to use them. Thankfully for history the dispute with the Nation Estate was resolved.

    (In the period when he didn't have Daleks, though, writer Rob and showrunner Russell had to come up with an alternative. Apropos of nothing, Russell, never one to leave an idea unused, for "Last of the Time Lords" introduced the Toclafane – bodiless children's heads flying around in armoured spheres… Just saying.)

  4. The Evil of the Dalek – the new series starts with an unusually bloodless Auton invasion. Clive (who is a not-very coded analogue Doctor Who fan) gets his head blown off by an Auton hand-gun at close range… but we don't see it. Along with a burping wheelie-bin, it made us wonder whether Russell had pitched his Doctor Who down to a child-friendly level, and would be keeping the deaths safely off-screen. Ho ho, how wrong we were. If anything, it's more that they want to build us up gently to this week. The Dalek slaughters about 200 people, in a variety of sadistically inventive ways, all on screen for your and your children's viewing pleasure. Try not to think that it's just "misunderstood" when it starts getting snuffly with Rose late on.

  5. You Would Make a Good Dalek: Christopher Eccleston – the success of reintroducing the Dalek, which let's face it is a faintly ridiculous looking thing, relies in large part on the reaction of the Doctor, and once again Chris Eccleston is stunning. Peter Capalid is (rightly) praised for the expressiveness of his acting chops, but Eccleston is capable of so much more with so much less. A shuffle of the feet and a glance down and he conveys heatbreak when it seems Rose is rejecting his offer to take her away in the TARDIS as the end of "Rose". In these early episodes he plays the Doctor as a man playing the part of a man playing a part – the Doctor putting on a front to cover something too deep to express. So when he loses it here – his veneer cracks and he goes full on berserk – it sells both his take on the Doctor, stricken by survivor guilt, and the Dalek as not a slightly ludicrous relic but absolutely the face of the enemy.

  6. The Human Factor: Billie Piper – people mocked the idea of former pop-princess as the Dcotor's companion, but this series simply would not have worked without her giving Rose Tyler her unique mix of working-class cheek and drive to experience everything the Universe can throw at her. Dalek, in particular, hinges on Rose treating the Doctor and Dalek as essentially the same, and essentially the same as her i.e. a person. And Rose succeeds in introducing some human factor to both the Dalek and the Doctor.

    This liberal attitude, leaned from the Doctor, but that now has to be taught back to him, might at first seem like naiveté, but in fact it's the solution to the situation. The Dalek after all isn't safe; it's a ticking timebomb in the basement of Van Statten's museum! Rose's kindness might be what "sets it off" but is also in the end is what disarms it.

  7. The New Dalek Paradigm: Nick Briggs. Briggsy trained himself for this role by playing a version of the Doctor for home-made audio adventures that would one day evolve into Big Finish. His take on Sherlock Holmes is also rather good but (I hope he'll forgive me) Holmes is a pretty good fit for Brigg's own character anyway. But it's as the Daleks that he's found his definitive persona. Here his acting completes the reinvention of the, basically doing here for voice work what Andy Serkis did for motion capture with Gollum – yes, I do think that the Dalek in "Dalek" is that level of achievement.

    To give character and alien emotion to rubber prop with an electronically distorted voicebox… and more than that to make us actually care about this monster, even after it's slaughtered the rest of the cast… is genius.

  8. The interconnectedness of things. This season of Doctor Who – Season Twenty-Seven, "The Trip of a Lifetime" – is the most thematically unified since Season Eighteen "Change and Decay". The first three stories are a starter course in what Doctor Who can do – invasion of Earth, aliens from the future, ghosts from the past – with touches of continuity from the old series, and establishing the Doctor as survivor of a war, the Great Time War in fact. "Aliens of London" then brings us back to where we started… Rose's home and another alien invasion… except it's all gone a bit wrong and we start to mix things up. Then we do "Dalek": six weeks in and a second chance to jump on board the trip of a lifetime (and another Radio Time cover to prompt you). The revelations in "Dalek" (who actually fought the Time War) simultaneously wrap up the narrative of the first half of the season (the Doctor's mysteries stand largely revealed by now), reboot the classic monsters and make it "ok" for the series to keep bringing back the ghosts of its own past, and set up the arc of the second half of the series. And as a bluff, links to the next episode by way of Adam's story as "the companion who failed" (which cunningly disguises the fact that the Doctor actually goes from one Dalek story straight to another… if you think about it). The second half of the season features story after story about people abusing Time Travel – Adam, Rose and Jack – before "Boom Town" makes the point completely clear that this is all about consequences, the one thing the classic series never seemed to have. But we also see that these stories are about redemption: Adam doesn't get it; Rose is sorry; Jack earns his; Margaret Slitheen gets her second chance. And then the conclusion shows us how the Doctor's casual attitude to the places he leaves behind is also an abuse of Time Travel and that there are some pretty big consequences of that too… but that through what he's been through with Rose, he too can earn his redemption.

  9. Bad Wolf – the "DVD easter egg" running through the 2005 season, which caught the imagination of press and public was the repeated meme of "Bad Wolf", words running through the episodes like "Blackpool" through Rock.

    This week it's the call sign of Van Statten's helicopter. It was clever because it was so inexplicable; even once you know the answer(!) The words are loaded with threat, redolent of the "big bad" concept from Joss Wheadon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer of a season "level boss" bad guy. They are invisible string, tying together disparate times and places, and (not coincidentally) the disparate episodes of the season for those who don't want to be bothered with developing themes like Rose's character growth or the Doctor's post conflict PTSD. And the solution is an ontological (bootstrap) paradox before Steven Moffat even thought he'd invented them.

  10. "Elevate!" The Dalek conquers the stairs – which everyone knows the Daleks first did on screen in "Remembrance of the Daleks". (Or, by implication, as early as "The Chase", where they are able to reach the upper deck of the Marie Celeste; although toppling off into the water suggests a lack of sophistication to their powers of flight.)

What Else Should I Tell You About "Dalek"?

Rob Shearman, who wrote "Dalek" is the only writer from the 2005 "Eccelston Year" who has not returned to write another episode. Which is a shame, because he's also written some cracking Doctor Who for Big Finish (the adventures on CD people – you'll hear more about them as we go along).

If you need one, my score:

Almost perfect, demolishing every argument against the Daleks as ruthlessly as the Dalek itself wipes out the inhabitants of Van Statten's concrete museum.

Plus there's a Cyberhead among the exhibits.

If You Like "Dalek", Why Not Try…

"Earthshock" – Classic monster reinvented as bigger big bad than ever before and goes on a rampage slaughtering most of the cast. With dinosaurs. Also features boy genius.

"Asylum of the Daleks" – One Dalek, alone in the most secure cell at the bottom of a bunker-institution, and the one – impossible– girl who has put a little bit of humanity inside it. Sort of.

Meanwhile on the other side…

Alex is watching "Rose".

Russell Davies does absolutely everything right and a phenomenon (do-do do-do-do) is born.

Next Time…

Grandmother's Footsteps…

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

9/10, huh? So where does it lose the one point?