Review: Dalek

Last Alteration: Monday 19 September 2005


THE ZERO SPOILERS BIT

The much anticipated return of the Daleks - well, one of them at least. Will it please the fans? More importantly, will the general public buy the idea of a Dalek who - going rather against tv tradition - does considerably more than just throw high-pitched tantrums, entirely fail to press on with 'EX-TERM-IN-ATE!'-ing the Doctor and wait around to hear what Davros fancies them doing next?

A far more serious tone (a little too serious for me) following 'Aliens of London' & 'World War Three', and once again Eccleston's Doctor responds to the predicament in a fashion unlike any of his predecessors.

NO ACTUAL SPOILERS BUT SOME DETAIL

As I've said before, I really don't feel that there's any point in 'Doctor Who' returning if we're only going to get old stories re-heated with modern effects. As the trailer for 'Dalek' shows, while bringing back one of the series' most famous icons, the aim is to redefine Skaro's finest as something formidable, instantly lethal and not the ridiculous, squawking cliches they gradually turned into almost from day-one.

To put it bluntly, when this Dalek gets going, you know about it - well, briefly that is before you become a pretty snazzy 'flashing skeleton' special effect.

I'm sure this won't be a SPOILER since it's been so widely reported, but we also get a Dalek with a personality of sorts or at least one that reasons and schemes rather than just wildly zapping away. This aspect is less successful for me, possibly as we're all so used to the Daleks displaying, as Tom Baker put it, no subtlety whatsoever, and as Paul Morely had it, of not giving us the feeling that there's any Dalek equivalent of going down the pub.

While Robert Shearman's story may not go quite that far, it is still pretty disconcerting on occasions to hear a Dalek feeling sorry for itself or displaying anything other than the frenzied desire to blast away those non-Dalek life-forms it might bump into while about its daily business.

Whether or not viewers enjoy the episode may well depend on their willingness to accept this new interpretation. You'll either be delighted that someone's finally done something fresh with the one-note monsters, else the constant self-doubt and navel gazing will seem every bit as inappropriate, camp almost, as Spike Milligans' infamous, 'Stick-it-in-the-cur-ry' Dalek sketch.

Going back to Tom Baker's point that the Daleks' popularity comes down to their inflexible ranting -something backed up by Terrance Dicks' theory that youngsters would love to give bothersome adults a quick exterminating blast - I wonder quite how a generation of kids broadly unfamiliar with the Daleks will respond to this very different version of the xenophobic horrors.

Other aspects of the show are well handled. Van Staatan (didn't catch the spelling) makes a fine Bond-style villain, Rose gets pushed centre stage for much of the episode and as you might expect, Eccleston's Doctor isn't exactly re-staging the 'Have I the right?' speech from 'Genesis' - when he discovers what's chained up in the back room.

For those who haven't warmed to the Doctor's alleged mean streak so far - well, you may not be too pleased with his attitude this week.

There has been much talk of this story, with its lone Dalek taking down the staff of a high tech institute, having echoes of 'Alien'. Well, perhaps- but to me it felt more like a Troughton 'base under siege' serial only with the sort of tension and pacing that can work wonderfully in forty five minutes but rather tends to get lost over six episodes.

SPOILERS (though you'll have probably already guessed most of them)

Is there a 'Bad Wolf' reference?
Yes.
What about Davros?
He gets mentioned, though not by name.
What about this 'Time War' that wiped out the Time Lords?
As expected, yes, though I suspect there's still a fair bit more to come out in future episodes.

Jim Hall

  • Read Jim's review of the previous episode, World War Three, and the next episode, The Long Game.
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