Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Dalek

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It’s a mutation. The Dalek race was genetically engineered. Every single emotion was removed except hate.

It’s the Daleks!

The Daleks have been a staple of Doctor Who since day one. (Or week six, if you like, making it oddly appropriate that it’s the sixth episode of the new series which features the Daleks). They’re iconic. They’re right up there with the TARDIS and Tom Baker’s scarf – in fact, they’re probably above them. No, they are above them. The Daleks have a history.

So bringing them back like this is kind of a big thing. (It’s a massive thing). Hell of a lot riding on this one, wasn’t there?

Robert Shearman wrote this one, and he did an absolutely fantastic job. It’s really, really amazing. And I’m not just saying that because he’s on tumblr!

One of my favourite bits about this story is how, at times, the Doctor is actually scarier than the Dalek. That’s amazing, and it comes from the brilliant writing and the equally wonderful acting. Quite early on, when the Doctor first encounters the Dalek, and he mocks it, sneers at it – that was unsettling in the extreme. It’s not only the actions of the Daleks, but the reaction they prompt from the Doctor that makes them so potent in this episode – and for me, this reaction carried a lot more weight than when the Doctor was simply scared. (Which says a lot, considering how scared he got!)

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That of course feeds into the rather wonderful dichotomy between Doctor and Dalek here, where each act almost as mirrors of the other. One of my favourite Dalek scenes in the entire episode is it’s first meeting with Rose, where it manipulates her… it’s something rather Doctor-esque, actually.

You’ve also got the “You would make a good Dalek” moment. Obviously, it’s a great scene, you don’t need me to say that – the fact it’s quoted almost constantly is evidence enough. But I’m going to say it anyway, because wow. It’s fantastically written, and brought to life astonishingly well. This episode is probably Christopher Eccleston’s finest hour as the Doctor. It’s just brilliant; it sets the relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks for years to come, and it establishes the Daleks as a real threat. The Doctor’s anger, grief, and fear are all so wonderfully realised that you can’t help fear the Daleks alongside him.

The Dalek itself provides a fair few reasons to be scared as well. Other than when we saw it’s manipulative side, which I will always hold up as one of the Scariest Dalek Moments Ever™, we see it completely lay waste to the entire museum (which, by the way, is a fantastic premise and setting. Loved the Cyberman moment as well). The one that stands out the most is the electrocution scene; the Dalek isn’t just cruel, it’s sadistic as well. That’s frightening.

(And Simmons with the sink plunge- sorry, extrapolator. I think that’s the name of it anyway, I’d have to check… I’ve just come back from writing a later part of this review, I just remembered another moment that I thought was great!)

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In another episode, the Dalek and the Doctor might overshadow the rest of the cast – and, to be fair, they almost do. But the strength of the other characters means that this is never quite the case. Van Statten and Goddard are both brilliant creations, and I loved them throughout – there’s some nice moments of humour from the pair of them. Adam too fares pretty well, but doesn’t leave as much of an impact as the other two.

Rose is again acting as our audience surrogate, and asks all the important questions – like, for example, “what the hell Doctor?”. She’s us in this equation, which is brilliant. There really wasn’t a better way to use her in this episode.

(Although, and this is totally unrelated, she’s quite bad at running, isn’t she? I mean I know she was on the phone at the time but come on, your life is in danger… sorry, rambling!)

The direction is fantastic as well – Joe Ahearne did a really great job with it all. I can absolutely understand why Christopher Eccleston sings his praises, the direction on this episode is wonderful.

So… 10/10, I think. That’s the first perfect episode of the season – woohoo!

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: World War Three

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Do you think I don’t know that? ‘Cause this is my life, Jackie – it’s not fun, it’s not smart, it’s just standing up and making a decision because nobody else will.

Yeah alright this is a weird one. It’s… it’s weird, okay. But weird is good! I like weird.

Anyways, I tell you what I want to talk about. Ferengi.

I’ve always thought the Ferengi were kinda like the Slitheen – profit-driven, often a family business, that sort of thing. But there’s also another similarity – the Ferengi were originally going to be villains, like the Klingons. That was the original pitch for the big eared, profit-driven little guys. But eventually they realised that the Ferengi were just a bit ridiculous, so they were changed to more comic characters. Which was good! Quark was one of the best characters of DS9!

So, I’m just thinking… maybe that’s the way to treat the Slitheen as well? Not quite villains, but they’ve the potential to be something more interesting.

So, last week we left off with the Doctor, Rose & Harriet Jones, and Mickey all in different, dangerous situations involving Slitheen. We knew they’d get out of it – not just in a cynical TV watching way, but because there was a trailer. Whoops.

Anyway, the Doctor uses the Slitheen’s own trap against them, electrocuting the one in the room with him. And, in quite a clever conceit, this actually affects them all. It’s a pretty interesting idea (though not as central as I remember it) which brings up some interesting questions about the Slitheen.

What it leads into, though, is a sort of comedic scene with the Slitheen struggling to get back into its skinsuit (a pretty chilling bit of body horror if you dwell on it, but the episode never really does). And that’s indicative of a lot of this episode – it seems to jolt between two extremes, never being quite serious or quite a comedy.

But… you know, as it goes, I think that’s okay? What we don’t necessarily remember in retrospect is that Doctor Who was in a pretty precarious position at this stage. They had to make sure they appealed to as wide an audience as possible. And… fine, this doesn’t mesh all that well. The jokes for the kids and the drama for the adults aren’t as cohesive as they are in later years. But, you know, everyone is allowed to stumble along the way.

So long as you don’t expect this episode to be, say, Midnight, or Vengeance on Varos, you’re going to get a lot out of it. It’s a good episode!

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Having said that, there is a lot to like. If the episode swung one way or the other – full comedy, or fully serious – it probably would be a bit better.

There’s a sort of character arc for the Doctor and Mickey, for example. The Doctor treats Mickey in a rather horrible, dismissive way in the first episode – he doesn’t really care about what Mickey went through, likely because of what the Doctor’s just been through himself.

As the episode progresses though, both viewer and the Doctor begin to respect Mickey, to the point that the Doctor invites him to come aboard the TARDIS. And that’s the point of the way he was treated in the first part of the episode; it’s a very deliberate choice. Whether it was the right choice, or the most Doctor-like portrayal, is certainly debatable, but I liked it.

And on the other side of it, there’s some really, really funny lines. Personal favourite was this entire exchange:

Slitheen: Aaaaahhh, Excuse me? Your device will do what? Triplicate the flammability?

The Doctor: Is that what I said?

Slitheen: You’re making it up!

The Doctor: Oh well, nice try. Harriet,

[offers Harriet Jones the decanter]

The Doctor: Have a drink. I think you’re gonna need it.

Harriet Jones: You pass it to the left first.

The Doctor: Sorry.

[hands it to Rose]

Absolutely hilarious. Loved it.

It’s all the stuff like that which makes me wish it had meshed a bit better – you don’t need the Slitheen to be quite so farcical with all the one-liners like that. That would have struck a much, much better balance than what we got, and probably would have improved the overall quality of it.

Because, of course, you’ve still got some relatively heavy stuff, which might have made more of an impact in a slightly more serious episode – all of the stuff about Rose’s safety, for example. That could have been expanded a fair bit. (Ah, but should it have been? Could they have done that? Was Doctor Who safe enough at that point? Probably not)

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Also, two other things I loved: Christopher Eccleston’s ‘serious’ acting, and Harriet Jones taking charge of the missile strike. There are lots of little touches there, where Eccleston really sells that the Doctor is now a man who’s seen far more bloodshed than he would ever have liked to. It’s also particularly telling that he describes his life as being neither fun nor smart – it says something about the way he views his travels now, and the way the War changed him. It’s really, really impressive.

(Especially when you think about what he’s saying – I could save the world but lose you. It’s something of a microcosm-like depiction of the decision which he made to end the Time War – I could save creation, but isolate myself forever. It’s actually a really layered moment – I didn’t realise the connotations until a few hours after I’d finished the rest of this review, let alone whilst watching it. It’s probably something that didn’t survive the John Hurt retcon as well as it could have…)

Same goes for Harriet Jones – fantastic character. That moment where she takes charge is rather lovely, if sadly brief. It foreshadows some of her later decisions though, doesn’t it? You can quite clearly see that this is the same woman as in The Christmas Invasion, or The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

So… ultimate estimation of the episode?

Eh, I’m struggling. It could have been a bit more coherent, there could have been a better blend of the two aspects. That certainly drags it down. But there really was so much to love about it, on both sides of the court.

Hmm. Okay, whatever. 7/10. But it’s a very different seven out of ten to the other seven out of tens, because it’s a different episode. So there.

(Next week though, wow. That is an effective trailer. I got chills, and I’ve already seen the episode and know what it means. God, imagine it, back in 2005. That must have been amazing)

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