Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: Dalek

Before we get started, could everyone who thinks this is really and truly the last Dalek we'll ever see on Dr. Who please join me in this corner? I've got a fabulous offer on shares in the Brooklyn Bridge I'd like to tell you about.


The TARDIS intercepts a distress call. Answering it lands the Doctor and Rose in a secret museum of alien artifacts under the Utah desert, which gives the BBC a wonderful chance to clean out their prop room.

The collection is the private property of arrogant American billionaire Henry Von Statton. Von Statton's first appearances are the only point in the series where I cringed. Are arrogant American billionaires really such jerks? But wait, it turns out later he started out as a computer geek. I guess that explains it. (end sarcasm)

The collection's prize is a living alien still in its little space suit that Von Statton has been torturing to try to get it to (literally) open up. The Doctor reacts like a bull who just had a red flag waved in its face. He charges in to save the little alien from the nasty humans. He comes in all soft and quiet to rescue the poor frightened creature, trying to win it's trust, saying, "I'm the Doctor. I'm here to help you.", and guess what it is?


It's a Dalek of course, says so right in the title. The Daleks are one of the Doctor's oldest and deadliest enemies. While it is in a severely weakened state, looking as pathetic and comical as they always do, the Dalek and the Doctor have a very revealing conversation. Then the Dalek regains it's strength, and a whole new generation learns how scary a "cosmic dustbin" can be.

This episode is the finest acting we've ever seen by anyone playing the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston shows off why he has a shelf full of dramatic awards to his name. He runs a gamut from compassion, terror, rage, grief, self-loathing, and sadism. This is not the Doctor of our childhoods. This is a haunted combat veteran out of touch with his inner Galifreyan, who doesn't know how to get back to his earlier self yet. Brilliant.

The entire cast and crew performed like they were trying for Oscar nominations, a delight in any TV show but especially welcome in a "children's show". Eccleston said in any interview that his motivation for doing the Doctor was "to show children what good drama looks like, so they'll know what to ask for when they're grown." He lives up to that goal in this episode.

Back to that revealing conversation, which is possibly the best acted sequence ever on a Dr. Who episode.
Reportedly Eccleston's intensity during his first meeting with the Dalek frightened co-stars who weren't even on stage with him. I can believe it. The Daleks supposedly have all been destroyed by the Doctor, 10 million ships worth. We learn later a Dalek ships holds "just over 2,000 Daleks", so quick pencil work here, that's "just over" 2 HUNDRED BILLION Daleks.

That's an awful lot of blood on his hands.

Then we learn that the Time Lords are all destroyed too, in the same instant that the Daleks were supposedly destroyed. So was the Doctor also responsible for the destruction of his own people?

That's an awful lot more blood on his hands.

It's almost impossible to believe. In spite of whatever falling out he and the Time Lords had before the original series started -- the one that cost him his place in their society, led to them cauterizing a portion of his brain, and left him on the run in a broken-down time machine as a single parent looking after his only remaining grandchild -- the Doctor has always been their staunchest defender. He constantly derided them but he constantly derides humanity as well, and he never stopped protecting either race from alien threats. So what happened to convince him such a drastic step was necessary?

Oh, right. The Daleks.

He's always gone out of his way to give the Daleks another chance before. Now he goes out of his way to deny a Dalek another chance. What's happened to change things? What's happened to change him?

The rest of the story is predictable. Of course the Dalek escapes, kills a bunch of people, and menaces the main characters. What couldn't be predicted is how very well done that part was. It had you wondering if a single pepper-pot really could exterminate an entire planet. it also raised some other questions.

"The Time Lords cauterized the part of his brain that could connect with other Time Lords back before the very first episode. He says he can't sense "them" anymore but he hasn't been able to sense "them" in decades, except maybe in the aggregate."

"What's bothering me is where is Gallifrey? It was removed from time and space, and could only be reached by Tardis. So how could it have been destroyed? Maybe it wasn't destroyed. Maybe it was simply pushed further out of reach."

Oh, and Rose picks up Van Statten's former alien antiques' buyer, a cute genius English lad named Adam. You can almost see the Doctor rolling his eyes, "As long as he doesn't mess in the TARDIS."

Overall, this episode will go down in the Hall of Fame.

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