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
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
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!