In the sixth episode of the first series of Doctor Who, the Doctor and Rose travel to an underground bunker where an arrogant American is hoarding alien history. There, we meet a Dalek for the first time and the Doctor is forced to explain what the Time War is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Here’s to hoping that “World War Three” is the only episode I don’t enjoy as much as the others. We are nearing the halfway point of Eccleston’s reign as the Doctor and I’ve grown to enjoy his portrayal of this character. In “Dalek,” besides getting some crucial answers to a lot of questions I’ve been asking, we get to see Eccleston play the Doctor with a bit more intensity than usual.
The Doctor and Rose land over 50 stories down into a bunker in Utah; it is unexplained throughout why Rose’s hair suddenly and inexplicably changes to be more frizzy, but I’ll run with it. (It was pretty distracting for the first five minutes or so.) This is also one of the first times the Doctor openly speaks about how the TARDIS took him to this time and place. We learn it’s because of some sort of signal being sent out in this veritable fortress of a museum.
Oh, right, it’s a museum of aliens. Before it’s confirmed that they’re in Utah, I thought that this was going to be an Area 51 episode. Instead, it proves to be a fairly humorous take on American culture at the hands of Henry van Statten, played brilliantly by Corey Johnson. I think Robert Shearman, the writer for “Dalek,” wasn’t aiming at some sort of insulting characterization of the American male. I wasn’t offended by van Statten or what he represents as American power. On the contrary, his dedicated sense of wealth and entitlement as the owner of all these alien artifacts was in-character to me. The idea that someone would seek out and then collect such things in an entirely selfish manner is realistic for how van Statten was portrayed.
Anyway, let’s get to the real point of all of this: the Doctor finds out what was sending the signal that the TARDIS picked up. van Statten has captured a live specimen, which he foolishly dubs the “Metaltron,” and is torturing it to get it to speak. This creature is a Dalek and is the last remaining of its kind. When we first saw the Dalek on screen, I wasn’t particularly intimidated by it. In actuality, it kind of looked silly. This was the infamous villain of so many Doctor Who episodes? It was just a robot, I thought, and a slow one at that.
For the Doctor, it’s a chance for him to let out fury in a way we’ve not seen before: the Time War was between the Daleks and the Time Lords (over what, we’re not told), and it was the Doctor who did something to exterminate the remaining Daleks AND the Time Lords all at once. I don’t think we’ve ever witnessed that sort of extreme violence from the Doctor and the thought is scary: what on earth did the Daleks do to cause the Doctor to rationalize his use of extermination?
The bulk of this episode deals with the Dalek taunting the Doctor and the Doctor attempting to figure out what exactly he should do with this thing. van Statten himself, who considers himself all-knowing about alien affairs, only proves that he knows nothing by continually ruining the situation. Rose, on the other hand, imbues the episode with her sympathy, which ironically is what activates the Dalek in the first place. I thought it was pretty neat that the Dalek could draw out the radiation Rose had absorbed from her travels in the TARDIS and I laughed so, so, so hard when it downloaded the entire Internet and the Doctor says, “IT KNOWS EVERYTHING.” Literally one of the funniest lines to ever be spoken on public television, even if Shearman didn’t intend it to be. GUYS, WE ARE THE INTERNET AND WE KNOW EVERYTHING.
The more I learned about the Dalek, the scarier it got. The Doctor explained that the Dalek’s purpose was explicitly orchestrated. He never says whom did it, but they were created with only the capacity to hate difference, making them the “ultimate in racial cleansing.” They thrive on the survival of their species. And this episode poses an interesting question: What do you do if you’re the only one left? The Dalek itself constantly struggles with this, and I do believe the few statements of aimless loneliness we see are real.
But that doesn’t make the Doctor immune to this sort of identity crisis either. The Doctor’s hate at what happened during the Time War causes him to resort to violent threats again, which both Rose and the Dalek point out: isn’t he turning into the very thing he hates?
The great irony of it all is that Rose’s DNA alters what the Dalek actually is, so much so that it’s nature to destroy what is different actually destroys itself in the end (upon Rose’s orders, that is). I didn’t think we’d ever get to see what actually lives inside the robot-like shell, as it’s part of the mysterious terror of what they are. And yet, after Rose attempts to free the Dalek (as she believes it has fundamentally changed), it opens its casing and we get to see the shriveled, slimy creature that lives inside. IT IS REALLY GROSS, TYVM. I was happy that this revelation didn’t make the Dalek any less creepy, since sometimes when things are explained or shown, it reduces their mystique.
The episode has a sort of wistful end for the Doctor, who realizes that he technically “won” the Time War, another reminder that his entire race is completely gone. It is a sad moment and I can’t begin to empathize with that sort of thought. Poor Doctor. 🙁
But on a high note, we’ve gained a new companion! At the last minute, one of van Statten’s technicians, Adam Mitchell, decides to join them! INCREASE THE MAX PARTY TIME, GUYS!
- One of the “weapons” Mitchell saved was a hair dryer. I laughed.
- There was a brief moment where I believed Rose actually died and the Doctor would take on a new companion.
- “You would make a good Dalek.”
- “You just want to drag the stars down and stick them underground beneath tons of sand and dirt and label them. You’re about as far from the stars as you can get.” WRITER HIGH FIVE MOMENT. Sick burn!
- The idea that the Roswell crash gave us broadband Internet is HILARIOUS. Thank you, aliens!
- Adam’s head is going to ASPLODE when he realizes how different things really are.
- “It’s weird, it’s kind of…useless, it’s just like this…great big pepper pot.”
- Again: the Internet knows everything. This is the greatest show of all time.