If you missed it tonight, shame on you. Make sure you catch Sunday’s repeat, or you’re missing out dreadfully.
“Dalek” sweeps away all other contenders, from old and new. It is an absolute triumph of television, conveying drama and emotion in equal measure, and propitious amounts of that. I’m notorious for being cruelly pedantic in my reviews of any sort of media, never permitting the slightest fault to be omitted as I indulge in a malevolent delight in tearing down every edifice. Yet it’s genuinely requiring massive effort on my part to find anything that could conceivably construed as a fault in this edition of Doctor Who. My only quarrels with this episode was that Van Statten was something of a one-dimensional entity being your stereotype fresh-out-of-the-box Greedy Business Magnate Mk. I, the “elevating” Dalek looking a little too obviously computer generated, and the armaments of the soldiers still sounding like weedy pop-guns, lacking the throaty, tympanum-rupturing roar and growl of deadly armaments.
Beyond those niggles, however, “Dalek” is a majestic episode. Christopher Eccleston excels himself, spitting venom, rancour and loathing at his great foe as he circles it, each word of reprobation another twist of the knife, another vindictive, steel-capped kick to the stomach as he gives voice to an entire species’ worth of resentment, and sheer, unadulterated hatred. The frisson in the atmosphere as Dalek and Doctor circle about each other in a deadly dance of death, every revolution disgorging another convulsing, vomiting spray of disgust, damnation and despair, burns through the air just as much as does the Dalek’s own raygun.
Who could imagine that we could ever feel anything for the arch-nemesis of forty-one years of Doctor Who? I never envisaged it - but witnessing the Dalek engage in its final throes brought me, a proud man of eighteen who should have grown out of this, to literal tears. The hollow core of the Dalek’s being - the soldier without an army, the warrior without a quest, the killer without a target - is communicated beautifully. Who would have thought that this prop would have been capable of conveying emotion? Yet the drooping eyestalk and the phlegmy, stuttering, electronic grate of its voice are harrowing things to see and hear. I’m not a limp-wristed libertarian who applauds the tired (and frankly embarrasing) plot device of “the evil beast has a nice side really”, but the execution of it was superb - and sensibly treated, as well. The Dalek is ultimately a weapon - he can’t tolerate emotion.
Although Van Statten himself was rather bland, as I communicated earlier, how his subordinates reacted to his tyrannous employment was well-realised. Adam putting an optimistic gloss on his chances of escaping with his cherished mind intact, and Van Statten’s secretary sacrastic and prim way of giving the proprietor a taste of his own medicine, were both marvellously human.
Again, there are pleasing fillips of continuity to keep us “Classic Series” fanboys sated - the Cyberman’s decapitated head and the old jokes about stairs and “pepperpots” brought a self-deprecatory smile to my face.
“Dalek” was a marvellously emotive piece of television, superbly acted, and impeccably written, infusing the viewer with as much emotion as the cast. It’s a pity really, because I fear no further episode could ever scale above this apogee. Let’s hope I’m wrong!
Robert Shearman deserves a peerage for delivering us this script - I await His Grace Duke Shearman of Utah’s entrance into the House of Lords eagerly!
As I related earlier, I’m not fond of the “there’s a golden centre past the crust of hate” sort of plot, either - good God, I’m an avid Warhammer 40,000 player and I don’t consider my day complete unless there’s an abolute massacre with the kill counter sent flying off the scale!
But whatever you think of the Daleks, a warrior race deserves a death with honour. This could never be achieved if the Dalek’s end was a dirty, miserable, dirt-smeared cessation, ground to paste by sheer wearying attrition. We would feel deflated, not sombre. The humble way the Dalek meets its death instead enables us to give one last salute, acknowledging the Dalek’s massive legacy even though we may despise it. There’s a hint of atonement. It was a moving way to end a war that has clashed and crackled across forty-one years of television, books and comics. As the Doctor mutters humourlessly at the close of the episode - “I win.”
I understand that new watchers of Doctor Who, disassociated from this long history, might not appreciate the nuances and subtleties of this plot. But as a long-term fan of the series, I think that it was a poetic requiem.
So. Six weeks until we have the Dalek renaissance. Will we come to fear and respect the new as much as we did the old? Can they match the high standard of terror and murder their predecesors achieved? What worlds will be broken, what stars devoured, what races obliterated? In the death of this Dalek, there shall follow even more. That’s what you should remember, and not get hung up on whining about “cheesiness”. There’s a much darker backdrop to this episode than you might anticipate.