Tuesday, 1 April 2014

'Dalek'




‘You’re about as far from the stars as you can get.’

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up in a question?
Can the fan-collecting gene go too far?

Best moment for Old School Who?
The wonderful intensity of Doctor Who confronting the last surviving member of the race that his people were at war with. He has some fabulous scenes of raving and taunting. They ‘rhyme’ across the years with Tom Baker’s scenes with Michael Wisher’s Davros in ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ at what might now be seen as the very beginning of the Time War.

Best new thing?
This is Doctor Who played dead seriously. There are no comic turns and almost everyone the Doctor and Rose meet is an absolute conniving shit weasel. The earnestness is perhaps the most prominent new thing here – the decision to tackle the idea of the Daleks head on. What if they were as powerful and ruthless as they were supposed to be? What if they weren’t just a joke?

They’d never have got away with that in the 20th century…
It’s very much a boys-and-guns episode and lots of the surprises and treats are to do with things that the Twenty First Century Dalek can do – pull people’s faces off with its sucker arm, melt bullets in mid-air, drink the internet and fly.

Hurray for Jackie Tyler – best guest moment?
I’m not very keen on any of the guest stars here. The villains are generic SF villains – the crazy billionaire collector and his ruthless blonde secretary who turns the tables at the end. Adam isn’t interesting enough. The attention is clearly, rightly, on the Dalek itself throughout.

The ‘I love me Nan…’ moment
I love the idea of giving the Dalek a hint of Rose’s DNA and contaminating him with her teenagery hormones, rage and self-doubt. His voice drops and he comes to life as an individual. I always loved the stories when the Daleks were outnumbered, up against it, and having to get sneaky and resourceful. My favourite Dalek moment of all is when, drained of firepower, they pretend to be allies to the Doctor in ‘Death to the Daleks’ and are, all the while, testing out machine guns. That twisty psychology of theirs is the best thing about them, and we get some of that here. It’s the most chilling thing about the Daleks – that they can start to remember their humanoid past, and manipulate the emotions of humans. However, the moment that hits the Charlotte Church-ometer for me in this episode is the line: ‘What use are emotions if you can’t save the woman you love?’ It has the subtlety of a voice-over on a blockbuster movie trailer.

What?!?
We get more details about the underlying story arc. Here we learn for the first time – as we might have excitedly guessed – that the Time War was fought between the Daleks and the Time Lords. This makes the two opponents here the equally matched final survivors of a conflict neither is proud of. We learn that the Doctor was responsible for the deaths of every Dalek and the destruction of their fleet. And we learn that the Time War story arc really, implicitly, stretches all the way back to 1975 – when the Time Lords decided to interfere with history and sent Tom Baker to nobble Davros.

Huh?!
There’s not a missed beat or a twisted plot point here: everything is smooth and consistent and whipped into perfect mini-blockbuster shape.

Where was I?
I have to admit – I find the Daleks the most juvenile and badly-utilised part of the Doctor Who mythos. I was glad that they were being used in a  new way, and we felt the danger and power of just one of the creatures. The whole episode’s saying – if these things were real, they’d be terrifying. We hear it in every line Eccleston says here.

The bits I love less are the boys’ toys aspects – the ‘look, it can fly’ and the Doctor’s getting out the big guns. That, along with the drippy ‘let me feel the sun on my hideously mutated face’ moment, made me feel like the show was pushing things as far as they could go down the lets-do-Aliens / Predator route. It was saying – what if you actually did play Doctor Who as a big, butch SF shooty monsterfest?

Looking back, I can see it was that, but it was also about the bigger story of the Doctor – and how the show allowed him to be crazy here. He chose a great big gun. The show was asking us to consider what he had become, and what might have turned him into this monster? Even when the show’s bringing back the old classics it’s reinventing everything. Even the stuff that looks clichéd is a reinvention.

Singlemost fabulous thing
It has to be that quote at the top. ‘You’re about as far from the stars as you can get.’ The Doctor tells Van Statten – the man who’s spent millions on buying up alien remains and tat, guns and hairdryers – that he’s a dick. He’s used all his resources and brilliance in order not to explore, but to drag the stars down under the ground where he can hoard them and gloat over them. It’s a chilling rebuke to compulsive collectors everywhere.



1 comment:

  1. I agree, and I love how they played the dynamic between the Dalek and the Doctor. This was the episode that convinced me I could like Dr Who again, properly, it had the capacity to ask how far the Dr. would go. I wasn't sure if I were more scared of him or the Dalek.

    The Daleks first flew/ hovered in Remembrance of the daleks (funnily enough) and no-one ever remembers that....!

    ReplyDelete