Dalek

DVD NTSC
Region 1
13-episode
box set

DVD PAL
Region 2
13-episode
box set
DVD PAL
Region 2
3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 165, starring Christopher Eccleston)
  • written by Robert Shearman
  • directed by Joe Ahearne
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 45 minutes
Story: The TARDIS lands in an underground museum of alien technology in Utah, 2012, and its rich owner, Mr. van Statten, believes he can double the number of captured live aliens by adding the Doctor to his collection. But this Doctor harbours some dark secrets from his recent past, which are about to catch up with him, and Rose has no idea how deeply she is involved....

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Audio commentary by Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voice), Bruno Langley (Adam), writer Robert Shearman, and effects supervisor Dave Houghton.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Dalek (11 min.), with Briggs, Shearman, Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose),
    Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator), executive producer Russell T. Davies, producer Phil Collinson, production designer Edward Thomas,
    composer Murray Gold, and creature effects designer Neill Gorton.
  • "On Set with Billie Piper" video diary entry
  • "Designing Doctor Who" production design segment
  • trailer

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


The return of a classic Doctor Who villain in the new shorter story format results in a fairly solid but predictable adventure with fewer worthy surprises and developments than it deserved.


Entrances

The police box makes a decent showing in this adventure, but its visual throbbing during materialization seems a bit much. Why mess with the traditional dissolve? Nothing of the interior appears this time, but if it's going to be the new 2005 design, I don't really miss it.

The Doctor and Rose make themselves easily known to viewers, and quickly identify the setting and get about exploring it. Excellent. Sadly, this is now the fifth story in a row that has failed to take us beyond Earth's orbit. Although the Utah 2012 setting is preferable to the constant landings in England, (and nicely populated by actors who don't need to fake their North American accents), it's really not enough to satisfy the building craving to explore an alien landscape. In fact, by putting the entire adventure underground, we don't even get to see anything of the Utah landscape.

Cybermen constantly have their costumes upgraded over the years, inexplicably, and it seems to follow the TV show's broadcast chronology, rather than that of the Cybermen's own evolution. Strange then that 2005 brings us a version of a Cyberman's head that predates the last seen version from the 1980's. This one dates back to "The Invasion" (story no. 46, from 1969) and "Revenge of the Cybermen" (story no. 79, from 1975). Just one example of the many familiar and unfamiliar things in Van Statten's museum.

The story is fairly well crafted with respect to giving the human characters some good interaction, and lots of meaty emotional scenes. Nicholas Briggs has been busy making his name famous in Doctor Who fan circles for years; he now takes to the television version of the show to prove that he knows exactly how a Dalek voice should be performed no matter what the circumstance. Very nice! The unveiling of each new element of the script is also perfectly paced and hits the appropriate atmosphere each time like a bull's-eye. But the plot and substance from which this is drawn take too many liberties to remain believable.


Backstory Blunder

The bombshell footnote from "The End of the World" (story no. 162) is expanded into a full-blown backstory of major import to this story's narrative, and its flaws are compounded. Now, not only are Gallifrey and its Time Lord citizens all gone, but you can add the planet Skaro [again] and all the Daleks save one to the list of creatures that are supposedly no more. Why bother? You know it won't be long before another writer either concocts some wild sci-fi process to resurrect them all and involve them in another story steeped in the "advancement" of Doctor Who mythology, or correctly realizes that this backstory can't be exactly what it is presented to be.

Here we are in 2012, pretending that the Daleks are finished. What about the 22nd century Dalek Invasion of Earth, seen in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (story no. 10, TV version), "Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D." (story no. 10, feature film), and "Day of the Daleks" (story no. 60)? Yet the Dalek absorbs the entire internet and uses our satellites and radio telescopes to do a super scan of the galaxy, and can find no evidence of any of his mates in 2012. Whether or not he should expect to find them using our primitive equipment is part of the "super powers" problem, but the Dalek sure seems far more convinced than any fan should be, knowing the BBC's marketing habits.

The dialogue seems to imply that all time has been changed since Doctor Who went off the air in 1989. Wiser metaphysicists know that that means you've blundered your way into a parallel/branching/alternate universe, even if you think that it's the universe that has moved/changed instead of yourself. Gallifrey and the Daleks are safe and well in the home universe we all grew up watching. Eccleston's Doctor just needs to find his way back there and start cheering himself up.

And so it feels like we're just going through the motions with this ultimately inconsequential story arc, and that it isn't worth the amount of emotional investment that the characters are clumsily thrusting into it. It also feels as if one of the last scenes from "Remembrance of the Daleks" (story no. 152) has been overblown into an entire story premise, and that we've missed a more exciting story during Doctor Who's 15-year absence from TV that would have set all this backstory up.


Magic and Superpowers

The new improved design of the Dalek makes him chunkier than his predecessors; the added hard-edges and rivets make his armour look like it was produced more primitively than before. However, Daleks are now as ridiculously magical as the 2005 sonic screwdriver; they've developed super powers.

The plot hinges on the most ludicrous of the lot, and falls apart if you stop to think about it. Firstly, it is just really far-fetched to think that the bio-mass of a time-traveling human is somehow more magical than that of a "normal" human being, and that just by coming into contact with the metal outer casing of Dalek armour, the Dalek can absorb it and use it. (Coming into contact with a Dalek surgical probe or the inner creature itself would be far more convincing). It is also far-fetched to think that there's enough energy there to make the difference for the otherwise helpless Dalek to suddenly be able to break free of its chains and start roaming around again. (Remember, the Dalek himself is also a time-traveller at this point. Is he really gaining anything new in this regard?)

But, knowing how much Daleks like their technology and continue to innovate, let's say they have developed these far-fetched abilities to the point where it looks like magic to us laymen. A more important question is WHY they would develop this, considering that they are so disgusted with themselves upon absorbing alien bio-mass that they need to kill themselves to remain racially pure. This process would never get out of the Dalek testing labs. How could it ever be grafted onto the armour of the standard foot soldier?

Another of the Dalek's new superpowers is to be able to further recharge itself and absorb the entire internet in a few seconds by smashing its arm through a video monitor. Not plugging itself in, but smashing. Magic rules, science drools. Don't be surprised if I don't buy it.

One improvement that does work, which many people might not have thought of, is the improved dexterity of the sucker arm. Very nice use of computer graphics - this could easily appear to be an ability that Daleks have had all along, and we simply hadn't seen it yet. Nice!

Going up the stairs - we've had that before in 1988. We probably could have used a little less emphasis and screen time on that one, although it's still a good idea to put it in somewhere.

There is clearly an attempt to create drama and tension out of the scenes of the Dalek and his adversaries countering each other's strategies, but because magic is ruling many abilities on both sides, and it's not clear who can really do what, the tension is far less than it could be. It's a great pity that the humanoids are so much more impotent than the Dalek, forcing the resolution to be based on an unheard of level of super-power oversight. I prefer to see the characters get great mileage out of ingenious on-the-spot solutions using everyday objects, or character logic. This one is too unreal for me.

The BBC now has no problems doing the special effects to make the Dalek menacing. The laser beams are top notch, and still manage to tastefully throw their targets into a negative image to maintain continuity with the earliest Dalek stories.

Threatening Rose's death.... inconsequential. You know it's not real. Threatening Adam or Diana Goddard, or the female trooper DiMaggio would have kept the audience guessing. Notice how the emergency power was just about to run out, leaving just enough time to close that bulkhead. Afterwards, they have as much power as they want, and open and close bulkheads as they pleased. What changed, beyond the needs of the script?

Speaking of impromptu scripting needs, what's with the Dalek proclaiming the Doctor's "love" for Rose? Daleks are certainly no authority on this subject, and this one has certainly received no information on the Doctor's view of the relationship. (At least the Cyber Leader in "Earthshock" (story no. 122) had the good sense to ask for evidence of his assumptions in a similar situation). This line only seems to be here to unnecessarily explain the Doctor's motivation in opening another bulkhead.

And although Rose and Eccleston's Doctor have a good working chemistry, it appears to me to be far from the "soulmate" situation that Executive Producer Russell T. Davies once excitedly described it as. It is in fact held in check as much as any other Doctor/companion duo, even those that had more chemistry, and this one spends more time on dialogue to emphasize this point than any other. Rose's exchange with Adam did so earlier in this very same episode. So let's hope no over-excited fans take the Dalek's plain-wrong comment too seriously.


Anyway, as 2005 stories go, "Dalek" is not bad. In fact, it's probably essential for understanding the greater 2005 season story arc, and manages to pull many good punches beside its misfired ones. But it still has a significant way to go before it could be considered a great Doctor Who story.



This story has become available on DVD:
DVD NTSC Region 1
13-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
13-episode box set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The 13-episode box sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The 3-episode volumes only feature the plain episodes.


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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Long Game"



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