Monday, 28 December 2009

Doctor Who: Dalek

“You would make a good Dalek.”

Blimey. It’s been ages since my last review. And they probably won’t be all too frequent until the New Year, after which I’ll really get going. Anyway…

We’ve established the new format, with a story in the far future, a story in the past, some present day alien invasion hi-jinks, and a lot of rather clever and knowing deconstruction of the series and its tropes. Here, this time from Rob Shearman, we get what feels like our first “regular” story now that the format has been set up, but also one which develops the Time War stuff and the season’s arc.

The Doctor and Rose land in a museum of alien artifacts somewhere beneath Utah in 2012, where they find among other things the arm of a Slitheen and the head of a Revenge era Cyberman. Which would presumably be from the 29th century, but best not to dwell on such things. Anyway, they’re soon caught and taken to the museum’s owner, amoral tycoon Henry Van Statten. Van Statten is a fantastic villain, casually wiping the memories of people who annoy him and casually leaving them as homeless junkies on a street somewhere. He also owns the Internet, apparently, and also seems to somehow choose the President of the USA.

Van Statten has managed to capture a real alien creature, which he calls a “Metaltron”. This is of course a Dalek, and the moment the Doctor realises what else is in the room with him is, ahem, fantastic. Eccleston plays this very intensely indeed, and we soon discover that not only is this the last Dalek, but it was the Daleks the Time Lords were fighting against in the Time War. The Dalek and the Doctor are each the last of their kind, and both prisoners of Van Statten. This is a very different way of presenting a Dalek- not only is there only one, in a position of apparent vulnerability, but the whole Time War angle makes us look at them afresh.

Meanwhile, Rose goes off with Adam, Van Statten’s annoying underling, a character I couldn’t look at for more than two seconds without the word “Hollyoaks” occurring to me. This is not a good thing.

Adam spends his time cataloguing Van Statten’s artefacts, which automatically puts him in a lesser position to Rose, who’s experiencing the wonders of the universe in a rather better way than he is. She’s also better than him morally; Adam is willingly working for someone who’s more than a bit dodgy and doesn’t seem too concerned about the Dalek being tortured. But Rose is horrified, sympathising with the Dalek. They have a bit of a chat, and then Rose puts her hand on its dome. Oops. This is the sort of psychological Dalek cleverness we haven’t seen since the days of David Whitaker. I like it.

Even better, the Dalek then goes on to demonstrate exactly how cool it is, using its sucker to kill its former torturer Simmons (so that’s what they’re for!), downloading the whole Internet, and turning its mid-section right round to shoot behind it. And right through this the gun makes the same sound it used top in the ‘80s. This Dalek is pretty damn impressive. If I didn’t know better I’d suspect they were going all out to show just how scary a single Dalek is just so they can really freak us out by showing hordes upon hordes of them at the end of the season. Of course, it probably won’t happen.

We get the obligatory stairs scene, of course; it may not be doing anything Remembrance of the Daleks hasn’t already done, but it’s no less cool for that. And I loved the cold inhuman efficiency of the Dalek activating the sprinkler system and simply electrocuting everyone. This is Dalek behaviour circa The Daleks’ Master Plan.

The Dalek conversation with the Doctor is just as good, getting to the heart of the Daleks and the Doctor’s relationship with them. Without orders the Dalek doesn’t know what to do, so it simply intends to revert to its default behaviour and just kill everyone. But the Doctor’s outburst (“Why don’t you just die?”) raises some uncomfortable parallels.

Rose ends up trapped behind the closing door with the Dalek, seemingly doomed. This has particular resonance after Jackie demanded of the Doctor last episode whether her daughter was safe. Naturally, the Doctor takes this out on Van Statten, a total git who’s entirely deserving of the abuse, but the terrible guilt he feels is obvious. There’s quite a lot going on between this scene between Van Statten and Goddard, too, as power gradually drains away from the one to the other. Van Statten’s authority suddenly means nothing.

Of course Rose is alive, and has “contaminated” the Dalek with her humanity, not something which would be welcome to an absolute racial supremacist. And once we, the audience, know that, we get a bit of comic relief with the Doctor (“Broken. Broken. Hairdryer.”) And then the Dalek goes sunbathing. What else?

The ending is most satisfying indeed. Rose forces the Doctor to face what his survivor’s guilt has done to him as he’s the one pointing the gun at the Dalek, not vice versa. But then, on the other hand, Rose is made to be complicit in the Dalek’s suicide. In other news, Van Statten gets his comeuppance as Goddard takes over and wipes his memory. Finally, the obligatory Time War conversation finishes things off, as the Doctor confirms to Rose that he’s definitely the last of his people as it “feels like there’s no one.”

Well, that’s just got to be another 5/5, which means this season so far is doing really rather well. I’ll score a story less that 5/5 at some point, honest!

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