Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dalek written by Rob Shearman and directed by Joe Ahearne

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor comes face to face with his greatest nemesis and it opens some old wounds...

Northern Nutter: He really is the marmite Doctor, huh? I know people who think he is the best incarnation who came along at the right time and shook their world up. Others think he is the weakest because he didn’t stick around long enough and Eccleston’s shoulder shrugging attitude towards the show stuck in the craw. I’m somewhere in the middle – he’s certainly an eye opening actor and brought some real grit and gravity to the part but at the same time I don’t think he always played humour so well and there isn’t a great deal of material to judge him by. For me he’s well above seven and five, well below six, two and ten and somewhere around three and one. Dalek features Eccleston’s most assured performance in his season, he’s riveting throughout and this is precisely the sort of material this actor was made to bring to life. I love it when he delicately strokes the musical instrument, he can be a remarkably gentle Doctor when he wants despite the granite exterior. He doesn’t need to make claims since he knows how good he is. The scenes between the Doctor and Dalek define this first season. He spits venom at the creature and teases it cruelly; we have never seen a Doctor this vicious before and it's slightly uncomfortable and utterly riveting. He is haunted by the loss of the Time Lords and he acts the school bully towards the chained up creature that is unable to fight back (‘I got your little signal…poor little thing’). He reacts violently to being told he is like a Dalek (probably because he knows it’s the truth, battle scarred and reactive) and he actually grins as he tortures the creature. Truly a war torn Doctor, slightly unhinged by the violence he has seen. The Dalek is only a threat because the Doctor has shown up. This really isn’t a man you want to get angry, his condemnation of Van Statten when Rose appears to have been sacrificed to keep his little toy locked away is venomous. Look at Eccleston’s blazing eyed frustration when the creature tells the Doctor he would make a good Dalek, if a look could kill that Dalek would be scrap metal. His relief when Rose is discovered alive is palpable. This is the point where I really felt his depth of feeling for her. He is willing to risk the lives of many to save that of his companion. Rose gets to hold a mirror up to the Time Lord and show him what he has transformed into in the face of the Dalek; angry, homicidal and looking for vengeance. The TARDIS is a little piece of home and if any other Time Lords existed, he would know. Eccleston gives the performance of the year in Dalek, he might not be my favourite actor to have played the role but he certainly gives one of the top ten performances of any actor to play the part in this episode.

Chavvy Chick: A perfect encapsulation of the confident, self assured Rose from series one and not the jealous, hopeless creature from series two. She’s gone all punk for this episode and looks hotter than ever. She’s gonna smack you if you don’t stop calling her she. I love how Rose tries to sound amazed by Adam’s claims that the universe is teeming with life; her lifestyle actually experiencing these wonders makes his toying about with technology seem even geekier. She is a reckless flirt but then I would be in the same position when it comes to a pretty boy like Bruno Langley. Rose feels for the Dalek and cannot stomach its torture, no matter who is telling her it is an evil thing. When she thinks she is going to die Rose tells the Doctor that she wouldn't have changed anything. All I could think of was what Jackie's reaction would be to this development. I never believed that Rose was dead but Eccleston's reaction to her 'demise' was so powerful that whether it was true or not was irrelevant. He believes that she is and that is a blisteringly dramatic void in his life. Billie Piper gives a very strong performance in Dalek and Rob Shearman writes excellently for her character. It would have been nice for him to have returned in series two, Rose could have done with some of this attitude and spunk in her sophomore year.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you want orders follow this one. Kill yourself. The Daleks have failed. Why don’t you finish the job and make the Daleks extinct. Rid the universe of your filth! Why don’t you just die!
‘You’re about as far from the stars as you can get!’
‘Broken, Broken. Hairdryer.’
‘This is not life. This is sickness.’

The Good Stuff: Having a stuffed Slitheen arm in the museum is a lovely touch, especially in the light of the last story. The retro Cyberman helmet gave me chills and Joe Ahearne gives the prop maximum exposure in order to provide a great little fanboy thrill. Both the Doctor and the audience get to reminisce about simpler times. How nice is the matte painting of the museum complete with flashing lights? It sets the scene vividly. We get a chilling POV of the Dalek being tortured complete with gurgling scream. These viewpoint shots were scattered out amongst the classic serials (The Daleks, Death to the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks) but they would soon become a staple of every story that they feature in. A Dalek in chains being tortured is frightening for what it says about us. It is astonishing how quickly Rob Shearman manages to turn the Dalek into a victim and the humans into the enemy, an uncomfortable role reversal that somehow feels right. The Time War is finally exposed in Dalek, the final battle between the Time Lords and the Daleks. I really like how the first series drip fed the information rather than just shoving it all in your face in one go. Davies was smart enough to only ever talk about the War and not show it, he understood that they would never have the resources to pull off such an epic struggle. Through powerful descriptions this struggle becomes a chaotic, massacre across time and space and elevates the Daleks way above all the other foes the Doctor has ever encountered. It is a dramatic backdrop for the series' revival and one of the showrunner's most impressive creative decisions. I don't know that many writers would have made the choice to so dramatically alter the landscape of the series off screen like this but the wave of drama and consequences that flows through the series in its wake is extraordinary. Dalek is just the tip of the iceberg. What a fantastic way to re-introduce the Daleks, a quiet character story that reveals how powerful they are. If one Dalek can cause such a bloodbath, imagine the impact of an army of the creatures? The extermination x-ray and slow motion bullets and the segmented Dalek swivelling his belly around are all awesome innovation. Can somebody please give me the cure for the common cold? I'm the worst patient on the planet. I could have done with some more of Rob Shearman's sick humour such as the moment when the guard is suckered to death. The elevating Dalek is nicely done but the Remembrance version was far less self-congratulatory. It feels as though they are trying to emphasise the moment. I love the twitching Dalek gun in the lift; he’s just aching to kill somebody. Anybody. Eww…the yucky, gunky, sticky Dalek mutant with a winking eye is never to be forgotten. Nobody has ever explained why Davros had a such a fetish for bumps in his design of the Daleks...and it is certainly a lot less of an embarrassing suicide technique than the Dalek that has a nervous breakdown in Death to the Daleks for losing a prisoner.

The Bad Stuff: The 'in-tru-der window' gag is appalling. So bad they felt the need to use it twice. Was Van Statten supposed to be this irritating? I can't decide whether it is the character as written or the way the actor chooses to play him. There have certainly been classier megalomaniacs in the series and the comparisons with Davros are completely unjust. If you check out the audio version of this story that Dalek was based upon you will discover a far funnier, more disturbing villain in Martin Jarvis' Rochester, a weak, cowardly, wife beating monster of a man. Adam is hopelessly wet and it annoys me that Rose would fancy such a hopeless geek...but then Bruno Langley is desperately cute and so I fund myself succumbing all the same and that annoyed me even more. Aren’t all those guards wearing rubber? Surely they should be protected from the Dalek massacre via electricity? I hate the ending with a passion bordering on insanity – who wants to see a Dalek opening up his casing and reaching out for the sun? It is entirely unrepresentative of what the Daleks are about and anybody new to the series might be fooled into thinking they always turn this soft. Jubilee managed to maintain the Dalek prisoners dignity with much more success and with far less overdone sentimentality. Turning an individual Dalek into a character rather than a drone is a smart idea but I'm not sure I buy into the idea of one of these creatures admitting that he is frightened. Diana Goddard is equally as irritating as Van Statten, especially when she is in charge.

Crazy Colombian: Let me tell you about my friend Daniel. I met him entirely by chance and we hit it off immediately. He's five hours behind me and about twelve hours flight time away but somehow we have managed to cultivate a precious friendship against the odds. He has introduced me to the delights of the Resident Evil franchise and it has been my massive honour to introduce him to the world of Doctor Who. When he asked me to tell him about it I didn't know where to begin. With 50 years of mythology to plough through how do you begin to encapsulate what this show is about? After hitting him with a barrage of information about the Doctor, the TARDIS, regeneration, the Daleks, etc he decided it was time to watch some so I pointed him towards the New Series. He watched Rose-World War Three on his own and had some fascinating observations to make about them all (his reaction to the Space Pig in Aliens of London was a scream). We've even gone through my reviews together afterwards, not only so he could see what I think but to (hopefully) improve his grasp of English (which is already superb). When it came to Dalek I wanted to watch this episode with him. We arrange a date to Skype, started the episode at the same time and I watched as he experienced the Daleks for the first time. I have to say it has to be one of my all time favourite Doctor Who experiences. He hissed at Van Statten and almost punched the air at his comeuppance, he was not at all convinced when I tried to make him think that Rose was going to die but most of all he fell head over heels in love with the Dalek in the episode. At one point he said he his heart was beating faster and I could see he was visibly excited during some of the action sequences. It was glorious to experience the episode anew through somebody else's eyes. I have already pencilled him in for Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways. Back when I was a kid this was a solitary programme to watch, something to hide away from reality in. But now it has become a joy to share it with others and to see it through their eyes.

The Shallow Bit: Eccleston topless might get the shippers excited but he’s far to skinny to be worthy of a second look! Rose and her grungy look is definitely the hottest thing about this story.

Result: A dramatic and powerful story, Dalek cemented the return of the Daleks in Doctor Who and ensured that they would return again and again and again and again... Saying that, Dalek is nowhere near as clever, funny, twisted, macabre or entertaining as its audio equivalent Jubilee. They can be taken as two entirely different stories though since the audio version has practically three times the length and time to inject a great deal more humour, pathos and detail. It feels as though someone has taken the audio and sucked away all the dramatic bits and made Dalek, a punchy and violent episode but lacking the imagination and dark humour that sparkles in the best of Rob Shearman’s work. This is probably the most individual Dalek we have ever seen on the television, an unforgettable character in his own right. The audio version tested human psychosis to its limits whereas the TV version suffers the indignity of cracking open its shell and reaching out for the sun. A sanitised version of the original story? That's a little unfair since this episode clearly made the impact that it was supposed to...but given the choice I always listen to this story rather than watching it. What helps Dalek is how well directed the story is, the action is visually stunning and Christopher Eccleston gives an unforgettable performance that really slaps you awake whenever he is on screen. Well made and well intentioned and very exciting in spots: 8/10


Anonymous said...

hello Joe, what do you think about the Charley Pollard spinoff of Big Finish? I got a bit sick of her and don't see the point of an spin-off of her, what are you thoughts?

David Pirtle said...

Dalek was the episode that convinced me that this new show could be amazing. It may fall short of its source material, particularly in the relationship between the Dalek and Rose, which wasn't nearly as interesting as the one between Evelyn and her Dalek, but I think it does about as good a job as it can given the constraints - a much shorter running time and a more family-friendly mandate. I mean there is no way the BBC would have allowed something as dark as Jubilee to go out on TV under the Doctor Who brand.