As winter’s cold grip becomes stronger, The Christmas Special fades further and further from our memories. Most Whovians reach out to grasp that excitement of The Who Universe by spinning up the DVD, or hard drive, going back through the past episodes that have brought us a sense of awe and wonder. Saying all words along as we watch some of our cherished memories again and again.Then there are those episodes we watch in total silence, no matter how many times we have seen them, because they are just so powerful that the experience of watching them always feels like the first time. This was true in the Classic series, and just as true with the New series. With that in mind, let us experience Dalek.
Airing April 30, 2005, Writer Robert Shearman brought back an ancient foe of the Doctor. He also brought back a sense of wit and charm to Doctor Who. Sometimes dark, sometimes a bit funny, but always sympathetic to all the characters, this episode could have lost focus quickly. Yet at no point did it. The writing, dialogue, action and pace were done perfectly. Though this episode was highly emotional, the writing never went for the cheap emotional shot. Every action was more then understandable, emotional reactions were never out of place. I think the best part of Shearman’s writing was he was able to bring multiple viewpoints to the episode and you felt sympathetic to everyone of them despite the fact that half the time they were polar opposite.
Now, I’ve gone on record as not a huge fan of Eccleston’s Doctor. I have stated repeatedly, and sometimes vehemently, that he only plays the Doctor, that he doesn’t truly understand the character and his performance lacks because of it. I’m not changing camps either. In the next review I will probably say similar things. However, this episode, I could not imagine anyone but Eccleston doing. I will give him credit. The pain, fear, anguish, and rage that The Doctor feels when finding that the distress call that pulled the Tardis off course comes from a wounded Dalek that fell through a crack in time during the Last Time War feel so right and so perfect that you can not doubt it is the Doctor on screen. Eccleston brings the emotions and actions needed for the audience to see how much the Doctor’s anger and pain effect his every decision while dealing with this ancient enemy. Even the fact that the Dalek is being tortured by his human captors factors into the Doctor’s blind need for vengeance.
Billie Piper does a fantastic job of playing Rose Tyler this episode. Rose really is the voice of compassion and reason this time. Unaware of the history between Dalek and Doctor, Rose is separated from the Doctor, and is kept company by Adam. Adam is a tech who catalogs all the alien tech and remnants collected by Henry van Statten, a multibillionaire that owns the internet. (This the only point that you have to “just go with it”). In an attempt to impress Rose, Adam opens the video intercoms onto the room the Dalek is being kept. Just in time for Rose to see the Dalek being tortured. Demanding to see it, she bullies Adam into taking her down to the room and promptly offers to help the Dalek. The compassion and hurt over the Dalek’s treatment just shines through. Billie is at her best. Everything Rose does is driven by her need to help, to stop the hurting. Her sweetness and openhearted appeal to a creature that she has never met before leaves you absolutely breathless.
Usually I would point out the guest star I thought did well at this point. But this episode the one who did the best was actually the Monster of the Week. The Dalek. A solider, genetically bred to take orders, jerked out of time and flung screaming into the Earth, to be captured by humans and held in torment and torture for fifty years. Being driven insane by his condition. Then to find the one to answer his distress call is the one he has be bred to kill, only to find out he is the last of his kind in existence. The emotions displayed and expressed by this “monster” makes you know that the true monsters in this situation are those that kept him as a toy, a plaything that needed to be punished cruelly for not doing what he can’t. After a simple touch from someone that is trying to help him gives him the energy to repair himself, (it’s explained in the episode and makes sense in the show,) and he starts killing all those around him, you can’t really hate him. You just feel pity for him as he is following all that he knows. He is a lost soul, begging for direction. The only help he gets is from an enemy that can’t see past his own rage long enough to realize that the Dalek needs help. All of this is topped off with a profound sense of loss when it is discovered that Rose’s touch changed him in such a fundamental way that he can no longer be considered a Dalek.
All of this culminates in one of the greatest scenes of the first season of the New Who. The Dalek, after finding himself unable to kill, is escorted by Rose to the top level of the compound they are in. After blowing a hole in the ceiling, the Dalek opens up his armor and enjoys the sun streaming down on him. This simple pleasure is so heartbreaking that you can’t help feel for the Dalek, even though you’ve just watched him kill 200 people. (The body count is repeatedly brought up when Statten insists not to harm the Dalek because it is one of a kind.) A few minutes later the Doctor come running up and pulls a gun on the Dalek. Rose stands in the way of the shot and as the Doctor tries to justify the cold blooded murder of the creature that is just sitting and enjoying the sun. Again, Robert Shearman brought such a perfect balance of viewpoints that you feel for everybody in the scene. Eccleston and Piper do such a wonderful job in this that you just want to cry. Rose finally gives the order to the Dalek to self destruct, ending it’s pain, and you can see it just tears her up.
The special effects were good this episode. The practical were some the best I’ve seen of Doctor Who. The CGI was a bit of a let down in some places but it was and is forgivable. The Score was used absolutely brilliantly. Without pulling your emotions heavy handedly, it brought the scenes that were poignant all the way to heartbreaking.
Final Thoughts. Was it good TV? Absolutely. The story telling in this episode was what most television shows try to attain, and fail miserably at. Was it Good Doctor Who? It is one of the best episodes of the new Who. It proves that when Doctor Who really tries, there is nothing in its league.
Until Next Time my fellow Whovians.