The new Doctor Who, episode 6: “Dalek”

Any fan of Doctor Who knows about the Daleks, the inhuman killing machines that have been the bane of the Doctor’s existance since his second ever story in 1963. Despite their distinctive "pepperpot-shape", as the BBC site refers to it, the Daleks are evil killing machines, single-minded in their determination to "exterminate" anything they hate in the universe. And the thing they hated the most were the Doctor and his fellow Time Lords.

So it seemed inevitable for the Daleks to return in the current revival of the classic series. After all, the Daleks were basically the signature villains of the series. It would be in bad taste for the Daleks not to appear, kind of like having Superman without Lex Luthor or the Fantastic Four without Doctor Doom.

I wanted so much to have a complete fanboy meltdown over this episode. I’m both happy and sad to report that it was really excellent in places but not so excellent in others.

The key for this show lies in its reverance for history. Unlike the new Battlestar Galactica, which I also really love, the new Doctor Who is definitely a continuation of the original series. The fifteen-year gap between the last of the old series and the beginning of this series is explained in this episode, and the reasons are wonderfully fitting for the show. Of course the Time War was between the Daleks and the Time Lords. How perfectly fitting! And how wonderfully this history is brought in to the episode.

What I most loved was how spooky and inhuman the Dalek seemed. The last of its race, the Dalek seemed lost without orders, confused without its social structure. Like a Borg seperated from its pod, a main part of the Dalek’s personality was lost because it didn’t have a group to fight with it. But when the Dalek does fight, it’s a frightening killing machine, a real weapon of mass destruction. The scene where the Dalek electrocutes a whole group of security guards by turning on the sprinklers and then shooting electricity from its body was positively spooky. And the problem of how Daleks climb stairs was wonderfully addressed. The Doctor was lucky there was only one Dalek in the Utah cave where he encountered it. If there were more, he would have been in deep trouble.

There’s lots of touches in this episode that are both wonderful for longtime fans and fun for newbies. At one point, The Doctor finds a Cyberman head  and seems almost wistful for his old enemies. And the eternal question of "why don’t people just climb up stairs to escape the Daleks?" was dealt with in a very cool way.

Unfortunately not every moment was great. The ending, where we see the creature within the Dalek suit, was an awkward letdown. And the megalomaniacal billionare who owns the Dalek was a dull cliche.

But overall, a memorable and wonderful episode, and a worthy successor to what has come before.


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