nuWho 1×06: Dalek

I like the Daleks. They look distinctive, they talk funny, and they serve well as a continuing menace for the Doctor. They are for him what the Borg are for Picard, minus the cyborgification trauma. Both the Doctor and Picard value life in all its myriad variations, both of them strongly prefer to talk than to kill. But neither the Borg nor the Daleks will ever be talked out of their sole driving purposes, purposes that go squarely against everything their protagonist rivals believe in. The Daleks are ideal recurring opponents for when you want to take negotiation off the table and write a story about desperate tactics and cunning and villainy. So they are one-dimensional, yes; they do look goofy on modern TV, yes; but they fit very well into the universe of Doctor Who, which likes a little cheese.

A signal for help has detoured the TARDIS to somewhere under 2012 Utah. Rose and the Doctor realize they’re in a museum of alien artifacts. The Doctor’s eyes are practically shimmering with nostalgia as he zeroes in on an old-school Cyberman head. “The stuff of nightmares,” he calls it, which calls to mind Neil Gaiman’s later “Nightmare in Silver”. An alarm goes off, and a bunch of men come in, very promptly, with full battle gear and big guns and surround the two.

We meet Henry van Statten, the guy who owns the place, and — speaking of cheese — he’s a Whimsical Big Meanie Who Controls Everything From Behind The Scenes. He tells his lackey to replace the President, who’s dropped ten points, presumably in his approval ratings, and when the lackey suggests that that isn’t the best idea he fires him too. His new lackey suggests the next President be a Democrat because, um, they’re funny? There’s a dramatic pause as she comes under the scrutiny of the W.B.M., but fortunately for her, his internal roulette wheel settles on the “I like you, kid” reaction. She adds that two intruders have been arrested, 53 floors below. Underground bunkers are well and good, but this is a bit much. van Statten suggests everybody laugh at a pun. They chuckle. I trust the power structure is clear to everyone by now. He schedules the intruders followed by a visit to his “pet”. The new lackey, Goddard, radios Simmons to see if he’s made any progress in getting the pet to be more amusing. Cut to a Dalek’s eye view while Simmons, who seems to be drilling into the thing, says he’s got it up to screaming.

The Doctor and Rose find van Statten admiring what looks like a pan flute made out of a scallop shell. The Doctor suggests he not hold the thing like that. Goddard tells him to shut up in a professional manner, while the guy showing Statten the thing asks if it’s dangerous. We have our Implacable Roadblock and Open-Minded Smart Person identified. “No, it just looks silly,” the Doctor answers, to finish off a nice little exchange. Everybody prepares to blow him to bits, but van Statten just hands him the flute, and he plays a few notes on it. van Statten takes it back and gets some pleasure out of playing the same quality of notes that the Doctor was producing.

Introductions are made, with Rose getting her back up at being treated as a mere pretty face. It turns out that van Statten secretly owns the Internet (this was after the dot-com bubble, remember), whatever that means. He’s probably to blame for the GoDaddy Super Bowl ads though. Then, uh, some sort of message is shoehorned into the dialogue out of nowhere, with the Doctor accusing van Statten of locking away everything he doesn’t understand and van Statten amusedly asking if the Doctor claims to know more than he does.

I don’t understand the purpose of the Doctor’s accusation here. The usual implication, for me, would be that van Statten tries to ignore or neutralize anything that he “doesn’t understand”. But when the Doctor meets him, van Statten is holding a thing he doesn’t understand. He cheerfully accepts the Doctor’s information about the thing. That isn’t locking it away in the literal or metaphorical sense. So, what’s the deal? The Doctor’s tone isn’t one of warning, just accusation, so it isn’t about meddling in things one doesn’t understand.

Anyway, van Statten turns a little less whimsical and a little more threatening as he asks what the Doctor was doing so close to his “one living specimen”. van Statten and the Doctor head down to see it, because why not show the burglars around. van Statten has won life already, the rest is just using the universe as his toy.

van Statten invites the Doctor to “impress” him. The Doctor is locked into the room with the “metaltron”. (van Statten is rather prouder of his creativity than he should be.)

It’s a dark and dingy room, with unpleasant tools and dramatic lighting, and also a small blue light at the far wall. It’s a Dalek! The Dalek announces its desire to exterminate, the Doctor announces his desire to get out of the room, and van Statten is just happy to finally have it talking. One can imagine him showing off for future guests by tossing a random henchman into the room and watching the results. The Doctor realizes with joy that the Dalek’s shooty bit doesn’t work . . . at which the Dalek looks down at it like an action hero who just found out that he emptied his gun’s clip.

*sad trombone*

And now it all comes out, as the Doctor taunts it with an earnest vigor that I can’t quite imagine coming from any of the classic Doctors I’ve seen. The Dalek wants orders, but the Doctor tells him with relish that he wiped out all the other Daleks. “You destroyed us!” the Dalek responds, and the Doctor is sobered by that thought, unable to look the Dalek in the eye now. Even though it was the Daleks, it was genocide and repugnant to him. Or maybe he’s imagining a Time Lord saying that to him, because it turns out that he destroyed them too. The Doctor protests he had no choice but to burn everyone. The Dalek calls him a coward, which unhinges the Doctor. He coos that he heard the distress signal, then taunts the Dalek again. The Dalek brings up a recurring point, that it and the Doctor are alike in that both are alone. This hits the Doctor where it hurts, and he basically says, fine, I’ll act like you then, and electrocutes the Dalek without any of the pity it begs for. Eccleston does a good job with this scene, swinging from one intense emotion to another without going overboard.

Naturally van Statten sends people in to stop his pet being destroyed. He rushes in himself to talk to his precious Dalek and get it to talk to him . . . but the Dalek remains silent, even when confronted with the owner of the world’s greatest repository of kitty pictures. van Statten tells Simmons to make it talk again, and Simmons puts on his best creepy serial killer grin in response. Sadistic Henchman, check.

Next scene is in a very brown room. Everything is brown and yellow except the floor. It’s the workshop of Adam, the guy who was showing van Statten the flute. He tells Rose that he believes the U.N. is hushing up the existence of alien visitors. Rose agrees politely. The dramatic irony is thick, with Rose suggesting attainable interstellar travel and alien abductions and Adam laughing it all off. He’s not that crazy. Adam shows her Simmons zapping the Dalek and Rose insists on doing something about it.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is telling the others about the Daleks. van Statten is particularly interested in the bit where a genius genetically engineered them. Goddard surmises that the one they have has gone insane. The Doctor declares that it must be the sole Dalek survivor of the Time War . . . sure. Exactly one Dalek survivor, and out of all the zillions of planets and suns in the universe, it happens to crash-land on the second-favorite planet of its greatest enemy. If you believe that, I’ve got a $1.6 billion Powerball ticket I’ll sell you for five bucks.

van Statten points out that the Doctor also survived the war, to which the Doctor responds simply, “Not by choice.” He then points out that the Doctor is just as valuable as the Dalek, to which the Doctor responds with a look of “I don’t like where this is going.”

van Statten forcibly scans the Doctor and announces that he will patent the Doctor’s dual-heart system. I guess you could patent a specific method of dealing with the neurological and hydrodynamic challenges. The Doctor’s “locking away” accusation from earlier now fits into place in the plot, as van Statten turns out to be collecting things so that he alone can profit from them. He used Roswell tech to make broadband, he used a holographic medical program he snatched from a bunch of yahoos from the future to replace short-order cooks everywhere, and he used bacteria from Tunguska to find a cure for the common cold, for which he will now sell “thousands” of non-curing treatments for cold symptoms.

CLEARLY HE IS TEH EVIL MASTERMIND. Except, there are only like, what, six cold symptoms? Are your treatments targeting individual nerve endings? And to be able to cure the cold, you’d have to be able to kill any of the hundreds of viruses that can cause the symptoms referred to as a cold. You could sell a few cures instead and still make money, and your brand will be regarded as an amazing industry leader into the bargain. Plus, with all the geniuses at your command, surely you’re extrapolating cures for other, more serious viral infections now, too. No mention of those?

The Doctor tells him he’s worse than the Dalek, then tells him to do as the Doctor says so that the Dalek doesn’t kill everyone in the base. But van Statten is confident that the Dalek cannot escape its confinement. Meanwhile, Rose heads down to tell the Dalek the Doctor can help it escape its confinement. She tells it she isn’t afraid of it, which is just rubbing salt in the wound when you’re a Dalek. The Dalek is very droopy and depressed and other words one doesn’t associate with Daleks. Rose gives it a pat, and it turns out that that plain metal casing can take in cellular material that rejuvenates a Dalek in no time flat.

How much of the despondency was an act, and how much was genuine? I think there was some honesty there. The Dalek motivation is “We rock”, and if there’s nothing in the universe that rocks, what’s the point of existence? I also believe that the Dalek recognized an unwitting pawn in Rose, and calculated the best way of getting a human ignorant of its nature to free it. Humans are big ol’ softies, with their mercy and empathy and yecch.

The Dalek destroys its chains, then accepts Simmons’s invitation to sucker him to death. The Doctor hears the red alert and tells van Statten, again very simply and without heat, “Release me if you want to live.” He does, apparently without argument.

Rose and company get out of the Dalek’s cell and lock it. The Doctor says that the Dalek can calculate the lock combination quickly because it’s a “genius”, which is taking the word into “inconceivable” territory. Geniuses are creative. Being able to spam ten billion numbers a second doesn’t make you a genius, it makes you a supercomputer. I question whether the electronics could distinguish such brief inputs anyway. Anyway, the Dalek gets out, and Rose still shows no fear, merely flinching away as the guards demonstrate that Bullets Won’t Stop It. The Doctor watches on a screen with muted horror: It’s all beginning again. The Dalek smashes its screen and takes in sweet, sweet electrical power to smooth its knobs, shine its coat, and recharge its shooty thing. Somehow it taps into power plants and Internet too. The Doctor claims it “absorbed the entire Internet.” Genius or no, that many viruses and popup ads ought to crash its brain permanently.

Anyway, the Dalek takes a few practice shots, then zaps a fleeing guard straight to the bone, then casually picks the assault team off one by one. Oh, it also now has an energy shield that shifts projectiles out of reality or something. The Doctor says it melts bullets, but I guess the FX budget wasn’t up to that. While van Statten is still ranting about keeping his toy unharmed, the Doctor tells Goddard to arm everyone with whatever guns can be found, and Goddard, who seems to have switched allegiances (very surprising to me), rushes off to do his bidding.

A guard tries to talk peace with the Dalek from atop a flight of stairs, but the Dalek has mastered special effects enough to float around now. The Doctor makes it clear to van Statten that negotiation is impossible — all the Dalek wants is slaughter.

It gets a slaughter when the next assault team attacks. The Dalek casually lifts into the air, sets off the sprinklers, then electrocutes everybody with two shots. One wonders if it feels a special need to flaunt the Dalek superiority, being the last one. The Doctor takes this hard, but quietly. Rose, who by now is really frightened, has noticed that it seems to be following her around.

As the Doctor, van Statten, and Goddard discuss sealing off the Dalek, the Dalek patches through to their room. It announces that it has confirmed that the Daleks are gone, but will continue to EXTERMINATE. The Doctor tells it there’s no point to that anymore, and the sad little Dalek in the rain gets all forlorn. He viciously tells it to kill itself, in fact. His body language and tone of voice have been fairly low-energy since the first confrontation, but now Eccleston dials it up again. This suggestion is clearly born of the Doctor’s hatred overcoming any compassion or hope he might otherwise have for the Dalek. The Dalek tells him, in fact, “You would make a good Dalek.” That deeply shocks the Doctor, as he realizes the truth behind the statement.

With the Dalek close behind Rose and her guard, the Doctor has to consider sealing the vault before Rose has made it out. He decides it must be done. Adam makes it out, but Rose is stuck with the Dalek. They hear EXTERMINATE and a zap, and that’s the end of Rose. The Doctor is deeply hurt by his failure to keep Rose safe, and takes it all out on van Statten, who is actually showing a bit of empathy by now, being a mere human again and not Lord Of All He Surveys.

Turns out Rose is still alive! The Dalek just wants to complain about how her biomass corrupted it with fear and cooties and a love for pink and Skaro knows what else. Oh, and hold her hostage. The Doctor can’t bring himself to let Rose die again, and nobody stops him lifting the seal. Adam mentions that there are uncatalogued weapons outside the vault — and by the way, there’s seriously only one staircase connecting upstairs with all the good stuff below? — so they head to his workshop, where the Doctor finds something sufficiently big and powerful-looking.

“I feel pret-ty, oh so pret-ty, I feel pret-ty and wit-ty and — WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME”

Rose endures one of the more awkward lift elevator rides in history. Forty-five stories, and all the other person wants to talk about is genocide and how violated it feels by your touch. They get up top and the Dalek corners van Statten, who blubbers excuses for all the torture, then blurts out that he just wanted it to talk, which is close enough. Rose stops the Dalek from killing him, and the Dalek decides what it really wants is freedom. It blows a hole in the ceiling, and when Rose expresses appreciation for the sunlight, it opens its chassis so the tentacled blob inside can experience it for itself.

Rose talks the Doctor down from destroying the Dalek, insisting that it’s changing its ways and demanding he consider what he’s turning into, lugging around a huge gun from a testosterone-loaded action movie. This gets through to the Doctor, who has never been fond of guns AFAIK, and he backs down, thanking Rose for stopping him and saying that Rose’s DNA has made the Dalek something new, evidently something that the Doctor now wants to see keep living. Unfortunately, the Dalek can’t cope with this, telling Rose to order it to commit suicide, because DAH-LEKS ARE SU-PREME AND MUST BE KEPT PURE and honestly it just can’t handle this fear thing. Finally Rose gives in, possibly feeling pity for someone who’s got the Internet rattling around in its brain, and the knobs come off and envelop the Dalek in a sphere of vaporizing energy. TPTB have gotten their money out of the tentacled blob effects in this scene. It looks pretty okay to me.

Goddard, upset because of all the deaths, has van Statten taken away, memory-wiped, and dumped by the road in the same manner that van Statten got rid of her predecessor. This is one time it’s nice to see a Standard Role turn out to be a normal human. Really, everyone in this organization seemed to be “normal” people, aside from Simmons and van Statten. There was no sense of Armed Guards #1-100 being “Durr, I am guns for brains,” but rather just people doing their job. They had very few lines, so this was all down to nonverbal language, costuming, and directing. In fact, the characterization overall turned out to be more nuanced than I had expected after the first few scenes.

In the face of Rose’s hopeful suggestion, the Doctor insists he’s the last survivor of the Time War, at least until TPTB get another idea for a Dalek story. He acknowledges that he needs Rose’s companionship as well. He doesn’t want to give Adam a lift, being miffed that Adam left Rose alone with the Dalek, but lets him slip in behind his back when Rose intervenes. And off to the next adventure we go!

For all the darkness in these first few episodes, this one makes it clear that the Doctor has some sort of moral compass that restrains him. The Doctor told the Dalek that everything the Dalek’s race represented is gone, but the same isn’t true for the Doctor. That’s because he made his own path, decided for himself that he stood for something more than standing around watching the universe fall apart, and he’s continued along that path even after the Time Lords are gone. Electrocuting the Dalek is done with a ferocity we haven’t seen from him, and the Dalek and Rose shock him several times when they point out how he’s letting his hatred control him. Clearly this is less about the Doctor having an unpleasant side and more about how much the Time War has affected him.

Rating: 3 stories below Utah State

Favorite dialogue: Doctor: I’m the Doctor. And who are you?
van Statten: Like you don’t know. We’re hidden away with the most valuable collection of extraterrestrial artifacts in the world, and you just stumbled in by mistake.
Doctor: Pretty much sums me up, yeah.

Game that futuristic computers are most likely to be based off of: Battleship

Top hat sourced from nicubunu.

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