About Time I Found Something To Do (Dalek)

(108 comments)

The most fearsome creature in the universe is known for its
love of setting off the fire alarm and toilet papering houses.
With obvious thanks and considerable apologies to Tat Wood, Lawrence Miles, and Lars Pearson. About Time Volume Seven is out at the end of the summer, and will be absolutely phenomenal. 

Dalek

(Serial 1.6. One Episode, 30th April 2005.)

Which One Is This? To the general public and to long-standing fans, the return of the Daleks. Or, at least, one Dalek. To newcomers, the one where the Doctor inexplicably freaks out at a robotic salt shaker.

Firsts and Lasts: In new series terms, it’s the first appearance of the Daleks, the first story set in the near future, the first time the TARDIS is pulled off course, the first earthbound story set outside the UK, and the first mention of the Doctor having two hearts. It’s also the first new series appearance of the Cybermen, albeit not one that “counts.” In overall terms it’s the first appearance of quasi-companion Adam Mitchell, the first appearance of the Davies-era Dalek design, and the first time on television that they’ve been voiced by Nicholas Briggs. Visible only to fans, it’s the first time a story from the wilderness years has been reworked for television. And to the general public, it’s the first time that Daleks ever climbed stairs, since nobody ever actually saw Remembrance of the Daleks. And for production personnel, it’s the first of three stories directed by Joe Ahearne.

Two Things to Notice About Dalek

1. The list of debuts masks the fact that, more than any other story so far, this one is crafted to work simultaneously on two levels. To established fans - which is to say anybody reading this - the obvious focus is the perversity of the Dalek doing things like having its eyestalk droop in sadness while it says “I am alone…”, while Eccleston’s performance, while solid, is nothing less than they’d expect from this Doctor meeting the Daleks. To new audiences - and they do exist - what’s striking is in fact the Doctor goes completely unhinged here, and begins torturing what appears to be a trapped robot. The effect is similar either way - a sense that fundamental rules are being broken and that something very wrong is happening here.

{What are the Metafictional Alchemical Resonances of Dalek’s Psychochronographic Emboitments?

Dalek is haunted by the series’ past. “The stuff of nightmares reduced to an exhibit.” It’s telling that the Cybermen, i.e. the inadequate second rate Daleks, actually make their first new series appearance before the Daleks do. The Daleks are not just symbolic of their usual connotations, but of the still-lurking terror of what the series was. Van Statten represents the way in which Doctor Who and its past were generally considered, particularly in the 1990s. He’s an egotistical, overly privileged asshole who collects Doctor Who props without understanding the beauty of any of them. He’d probably give you that life-sized Dalek prop he owns in exchange for a missing episode. (But see The Lore for other people with their own personal Daleks.)

So the Dalek emerges out of the series’ dead past. And, of course, it signifies the Time War. This is first and foremost a metaphor for the series’ cancellation; the traumatic event that separates the classic series from the new. The Dalek is what has festered in the wound of the series’s diseased past. They are death and narrative collapse, yes, but they are also simply nostalgia: the past. The Doctor, when confronted with them, becomes a fairly straightforward action hero with a BFG. That is to say, he becomes a normative, Americanized action hero of the sort that people might have expected out of a big epicked-out production of Doctor Who. “Lock and load” indeed.

This is narrative collapse. The Doctor, in order to survive, has to kill off the two symbolic poles of the classic series: the Time Lords and the Daleks. Or, put another way, in order to emerge from its collapse into the cult ghetto it has to abandon the apparent premises of the show, jettisoning them for lift as it tries to flee its dying universe. And this past is ultimately dropped in the form of a giant parody of what people expected Doctor Who to be. This is, of course, the big joke of the Time War: it’s crap. It’s unfilmable and untellable. It’s the archetypal wilderness years story in that regard. The Time War is The Ancestor Cell and Lungbarrow and Zagreus and the Leekley draft. It’s every awful piece of fanfic ever. (And it echoes within the story in the Dalek-kills-everyone sequences, done as cod-Terry Nation, which, in a sort of Doctor Who version of Poe’s Law, distinguishable from the real thing only in that it has no disease weapons.)}

2. It is adapted from Shearman’s Big Finish audio Jubilee, one of the more acclaimed pieces from the wilderness years. In fact all of the writers on the first series were veterans from the wilderness years to some extent, highlighting the extent to which those years really were formative and influential on the new series. Both Shearman and Cornell were hired specifically to recreate their wilderness years work, although Cornell, unlike Shearman, was not tasked with adapting a specific script. In practice Jubilee and Dalek are radically different stories, with only the central image of a lone, chained Dalek and a few of the Dalek’s more cutting remarks being retained. The new frame of Van Statten and his bunker was Davies’s invention.

The Continuity

The Doctor. Definitely a bit odd in this episode. He’s initially curious and game for helping out a stranded alien, but quickly turns into an angry and terrifying persona the likes of which we’ve never seen, at least in the new series, and rarely in the classic series. Savvy with computers, he seems not to need any introduction to the base’s security systems. Has a frighteningly thorough knowledge of alien technology, and is able to identify at a glance any alien object that’s shown to him.

Ethics. Surprisingly brusque. The Doctor has few thoughts or qualms about getting a very large gun and trying to kill the Dalek, and it’s only Rose’s appalled intervention that pulls him back. Lucky escape, given that he willingly sacrificed Rose in an attempt to stop the Dalek, though he thinks better of it when given a second chance to make the decision. [This is fairly obviously a special case of it being a Dalek.] He also, obviously, took extreme actions in the War. [This is pitched pretty explicitly as an extreme measure justified by the sheer horror of the war - a point that’s made absolutely explicit in later stories, particularly The End of Time.] Perhaps most intriguingly, the Doctor shows what sounds almost like empathy for the Dalek’s ideology, taking care to explain how it thinks to both Van Statten and Rose. The Dalek, tellingly, suggests that he would make a good Dalek. Interestingly, the event that sparks this observation on the Dalek’s part is the Doctor attempting to order it to kill itself.

Background. The Doctor is finally revealed as the one who destroyed Gallifrey, where previously he had appeared to be a witness to it. Simultaneously he wiped out all of the Daleks, or at least tried to. The experience has clearly traumatized him. [In marked contrast to his attempted genocide of the Daleks in 25.1 Remembrance of the Daleks, though this is perhaps mainly due to the genocide of his own species.] The climactic event is described as everything “burning.”

The Supporting Cast

Rose. Quickly takes up the Doctor role in trying to help the poor tortured alien, showing the extent to which this is becoming normal for her. Traveling through time has apparently altered her DNA, but we’ll leave that rather remarkable event for Things That Don’t Make Sense. She visibly fancies Adam, but in a way that seems based largely on showing him up.

{What are the Metafictional Alchemical Resonances of Dalek’s Psychochronographic Emboitments?

And so we lose everything that ostensibly made Doctor Who into Doctor Who - all the mythos and lore. That doesn’t mean we start fresh - erasure is not the same as non-existence. We start with the ghosts of the past throughout the series. And, of course, we start with what we might call its true premise - its cultural role. This is an oddity of the wilderness years - if you asked any of us to explain the premise of Doctor Who we start with crap like “Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous,” all of which comes years into the program. If we actually start from An Unearthly Child its all Susan and mysteries. We never just did “there’s a man with a magic box, and he can travel anywhere.” And that’s what the new series does - it starts from there, albeit haunted by the ghosts of the accreted and slain premise.

Tellingly we replicate the exact structure of the classic series. The fifth episode of the new series is World War Three, ending with the sight of this strange new monster. The sixth is Dalek. These two episodes match “The Dead Planet” and “The Survivors” perfectly - a tease of the Daleks at the end of week five, the actual things as unknowable horrors in week six. We’re symbolically recrafting the beginning of the series itself, recreating the actual incantations that created this thing. The Daleks at once come out of the repressed traumas of the past series and come out of the very fabric of the thing.

We even recreate the beats of it. Within Dalek we first see a Dalek from within its own perspective, exactly like we do when it menaces Barbara at the end of “The Dead Planet.” But there’s a horror within this - as there should be, really. The scene of Barbara being threatened by the unseen thing in unsettling. As is first seeing a Dalek from its own perspective as it screams in agony. The screaming Dalek is a significant detail in part because it highlights the way in which the Daleks are themselves horrifying. At first the entire substance of a Dalek is auditory - a robotic, incoherent shriek.

Because, of course, the Daleks are the thing that can’t be erased from the series. Even when they’re deleted from the episode they persist, albeit in the cheeky and surely never making it to the screen title Absence of the Daleks. The fact that the episode is obviously a rewritten Jubilee means that the Daleks’ presence would always have haunted it. The Toclafane draft would have failed not, I suspect, because of anything Shearman did (by appearances he was doing them in the vein of The Holy Terror as a creepy and evil child monster, which is right up his alley), but because any monster in there was going to be the Latter Day Cybermen: the monster that are there only because Terry Nation got a bit stroppy. From the grave.}

Adam. Thinks himself a genius. [Not enough of one that UNIT thinks him worth hiring.] Doesn’t actually evince any interest in going to space on his own - it’s more or less entirely projected onto him by Rose.

The TARDIS. Is drawn off course by a signal emitted by the Daleks. [Presumably some thing related to the Time War - either TARDISes being set to track down Daleks or Daleks having developed TARDIS-derailing weapons, although if either were the case it’s a bit of a surprise that the Doctor doesn’t recognize it. Perhaps he just considers it unthinkable that a Dalek could survived.]

The Non-Humans

The Daleks. Have been redesigned, and apparently acquired a wealth of new tricks. Several seem unique to this model: the swiveling midsection, the Matrix-like bullet stopping, and the enhanced plunger are all one-shots. [This is the only Dalek we ever meet that was built for the Time War. Daleks for those purposes were built to “advanced” specifications that prior and future models don’t have.] We’re back to Daleks defined by an obsession with racial purity, which actually follows up nicely from their last appearance. The “Dalek bumps” on its casing appear to be a self-destruct mechanism. [They’re more likely some further sort of weapon that the Dalek has opted to turn against itself - this was, at least, Shearman’s intention.]

The Cybermen. Just the one - a severed head in a display case. It’s in Revenge of the Cybermen livery - subtly different from the livery in The Invasion. The label on the case - unreadable in the actual episode - says that it was found in the London sewer in 1975. [This is presumably meant to be The Invasion - 1975 is the date that BBC continuity announcers and the Radio Times picked for that story. Those dates are next to unsupportable by the episode itself, but the intent is clear enough. That said, it is the wrong head, and this may be more easily traced to an unseen adventure.]  It’s “stone dead,” and the Doctor seems surprised to see it. [This and the fact that the new series eventually provides a new origin for the Cybermen suggests that the Mondasian set may have perished. Then again, if it is from The Invasion he may just be surprised to see an artifact from such an old adventure - he does comment on how he’s getting old.]

The Slitheen. Rose confidently identifies a Slitheen claw in another case. [More straightforward - this is presumably a bit of carnage left-over from the end of World War Three. Though there’s no reason it couldn’t be some other Raxicoricofallapatorian family. The display case is illegible and not, in this case, offered in close-up by the BBC as a promotional image.]

Other Exhibits. Secondary sources suggest that the exhibit opposite the Cyberman is a decayed Sea Devil (see 9.3 The Sea Devils), and that the large object seen in wide shots is a Mechanoid (see 2.8 The Chase). [The former is plausible, while the latter would require both a major redesign of the Mechanoids and a heck of a missing adventure.]

History

Dating. We’re told it’s 2012. It must be early in the year, as Van Statten speaks of replacing the President, and, more importantly, debates between a Republican or a Democrat, suggesting that he intends to unseat the President during the primary season. [The possibility that a third party candidate won in 2008 can be discounted on the grounds of what is very obviously Barack Obama appearing in The End of Time.]

[But there’s a much larger issue here, which is that nobody knows what a Dalek is despite their rather massive mid-2008 invasion in The Stolen Earth. Eventually that invasion got retconned out of existence in Victory of the Daleks, but that’s a function of Series Five’s plot. Still, it seems to provide the best explanation here, suggesting that the big rewrite of history actually takes place at a definite time.

The fact that Van Statten doesn’t know anything about the Daleks also throws open questions as to his relationship with UNIT, as their records from Day of the Daleks could also prove significant. Certainly he clearly has some UNIT connections, having obtained at least two if not three artifacts from UNIT stories (depending on whether you buy the Sea Devil claim). But that knowledge doesn’t extend to basic details like knowing what the Cybermen are - the case doesn’t identify a species. More to the point, he doesn’t know who the Doctor is. The suggestion is that Van Statten got access to a set of UNIT artifacts, but not to any essential databases of information. Adam’s comment about the stuff the UN tries to keep quiet, however, hints at some awareness of what’s going on.]

Wi-fi is based on technology found in the Roswell spacecraft. [Surely this is just some detail of transmission and antennas, as the alternative would require that networking technology be found on an alien spacecraft, which immediately raises the question of what the network was connected to and how anybody understood it. Interestingly, the Doctor is able to casually identify the Roswell spacecraft, which suggests that whatever happened he was involved in it.]

The Analysis

Where Does This Come From? In the most literal sense, it comes from Jubilee, the 2003 audio play Robert Shearman wrote for Big Finish, and which he was explicitly hired by Davies to rework for television. Jubilee’s plot featured lots of perverse Dalek moments, several of which are lifted directly for Dalek (the Dalek’s obsession with orders, the idea of one lone and mad Dalek, and the equation of the Doctor and the Daleks most notably), but it also featured an elaborate plot involving the British empire and time paradoxes, all of which is cut out of this. It also featured Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres as a psychotic couple straight out of Eastern European absurdism (think Ionesco’s The Chairs, for instance).

This is a subtler link, as Dalek features nothing overt in that direction. You can see the legacy of it in scenes like the exaggerated cruelty of Van Statten, or, perhaps most obviously, in the basic focus on perversity and strangeness. (And, perhaps most obviously, in the fact that the final scene basically takes place in a bare set with a single spotlight) But this is very much the tradition Shearman, as a playwright, comes out of. What’s key to realize is that this is yet another instance of Doctor Who subsuming past traditions of television; televised plays were the bread and butter of the BBC for years in timelots like Play For Today. It’s a style that’s intersected Doctor Who before - it’s also the tradition Philip Martin came out of in the 1980s, and was one of the first traditions Doctor Who drew on, coming to it right after the Daleks when it did a two-episode bottle story with The Edge of Destruction. British theater, and particularly televised theater, draws heavily from two main theatrical traditions: the social realism of things like Cathy Come Home and the absurdist tradition, which is what Dennis Potter really comes out of.

Both of these are extremely political traditions - Play for Today was aggressively so, and Dalek, in that regard, is no different. The American setting and the Dalek being tortured makes this in part a clear meditation on American foreign policy, and specifically the bits of it that involved torturing people. The important thing to note here is that the torture is absolutely useless. Even though the Dalek is, in fact, a monstrous killer it doesn’t have any useful information to give, and there’s nothing to gain by torturing it. In this regard it’s both socially current and cynically absurd.

The two traditions are instructive in part because the social realist tradition is very much the one Eccleston came out of. This is the first time in the new series that Eccleston’s Doctor has appeared in the sort of thing that viewers might have expected him to be in, albeit with deeply strange co-stars. The scenes between him and the Dalek are, for all their seeming perversity, oddly exactly what you’d expect Eccleston to be doing on television, only, you know, with a depressed robot. It’s been easy to ignore as Eccleston has previously flitted between mania and anguish, but the link to a tradition of plays lets Eccleston uncover a new facet of his Doctor that is at once a radical break and an obvious extension of the character.

Van Statten, meanwhile, is blatantly out of The X-Files. Davies intended him as a Bill Gates parody named Will Fences, but Shearman smoothed him over into the 1% parody that made it to the screen. All of the trappings are there - the fuzzy cyberthriller elements, the idea that there’s a secret owner of the Internet, and the pate of sci-fi americana, most obviously in the invocation of Roswell. But in this case The X-Files are largely standing in for something else: the legacy of the series, and particularly its equation with 90s cult sci-fi. It would be going a hair too far to suggest that this is taking aim directly at the X-Files inflected TV movie, but only a hair. But it’s telling that the first place we really encounter the series’ past en masse is in a story that allows for it to be compared to the American cult shows that everybody assumed that Doctor Who was. In this regard it’s telling that trivia about the past such as the fact that the Doctor has two hearts is, quite literally, torture to hear about.

But more than anything this comes from the generation of fandom that discovered portions of the classic series in hindsight, and the way in which they re-evaluated old stories and upended the Peter Haining-authorized received wisdom. The story’s central inspiration - Daleks behaving perversely - is the creation of David Whitaker (one of the most theatrical of the classic series’ writers) in Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks. But appreciating that fact required the release of audios and reconstructions of those two stories, as opposed to just trusting the program guides and the Nation-estate approved John Peel novelizations - ones that overtly tried to “correct” Whitaker’s supposed misunderstanding of the Daleks.

Dalek cribs from Power of the Daleks repeatedly and on the level of individual shots - the fussing over a lone Dalek in the lab, for instance, and the manipulativeness of the Dalek (where the story has its cake and eats it too, remaining ambivalent on whether the Dalek is tricking Rose into freeing it or is, in fact, being completely sincere) are all right out of that story. As is the basic fun of having Daleks say terribly inappropriate things. All of this is a very specific engagement with bits of the program’s past that are obscure even to fandom. This isn’t the Spotters Guide version of the Troughton Dalek stories (which lumped them in with all the other “classic” Troughton monster stories), but rather one based on rescuing the past of the program from its fans. Given this, it’s revealing that the Dalek’s big rampage is a shameless Terry Nation parody.

The Doctor as last of the Time Lords, on the other hand, is so blatantly Obi-Wan Kenobi as the last of the Jedi that it hurts.

{What are the Metafictional Alchemical Resonances of Dalek’s Psychochronographic Emboitments?

Which, in point of fact, is the case. The Time Lords may be disposable - realism suggests that eventually someone is going to get lazy enough to bring them back, but that point can be deferred indefinitely. But the Daleks are, in fact, essential to the series. They are the series’ second launch, and, more to the point, are the one that worked. The Daleks got ratings high enough that the series survived, initially on a production model of “we’ll make a bunch of weird crap nobody’s going to like and subsidize it with twelve weeks of extermination per year.”

That makes it sound worse than it is. It’s not that the Daleks are bad. They’re actually an absolutely lovely premise. Because they’re so gloriously simple. All monsters are in fact attempts to complicate the glorious straightforwardness of the Daleks as a premise: things that want to kill you. That’s the whole concept. They’re things. They want to kill you. No matter what you add to it, that’s what they come down to. You can have them steal the Earth to drive it around as a giant spaceship, but they’ll still just be doing it to kill you.

The Dalek is not merely fascist but singular - an absolute unity and coherence. It is ontological in its homicidal tendencies: a fixed point in narrative. In this regard it gestures towards narrative collapse - a familiar structure for Davies. Look at how Rose performs her usual “disrupt the narrative” function, running through the military scenes. And, most obviously, when she finally applies the age-old extra-diegetic trick of running up stairs. But equally, the Dalek simply rejects the disruption and levitates because its narrative structure is the one narrative structure that simply cannot be disrupted: death.}

Things That Don’t Make Sense. It’s played as a joke within the episode, but explaining how Van Statten’s ownership of the Internet works is difficult. The Dalek’s instantaneous absorption of the enter Internet is physically impossible with any existent storage and transmission protocols: there’s nothing that can shift exabytes of data in seconds. [We might assume that Van Statten has alien technology-based storage media working, and that the entire Internet is secretly hosted out of a bunker in Utah. But this can’t be true either; surely if the entire Internet is based in this bunker they’re not just going to seal it up with cement and abandon it.] Also, as Lawrence Miles has pointed out, the Dalek spends the overwhelming majority of the story full of pornography. Whether this counts as something that doesn’t make sense is largely a personal matter.

Similarly baffling is the Dalek getting through the keypad lock. First of all, it’s a mechanical lock. The Dalek’s plunger appears to be physically pushing buttons, which can only be done so fast without superheating the buttons from all the friction and just blowing the lock up. The lock also engages in that classic incompetent security tendency of confirming partial guesses on the combination. And what kind of lock doesn’t shut you out after five failed attempts? [The Dalek is presumably hacking the lock in some fashion, but the CGI of the plunger pushing buttons is weirdly misleading in this regard.] We also might ask why it’s just assumed the Dalek can’t get through the bulkhead, given that you apparently have to hit an enter key.

We addressed it fleetingly in The Continuity, but how Van Statten’s relationship to existing authority works is puzzling. He’s powerful enough to select the President, but knows nothing about UNIT or alien invasions, and in fact seems to have been singularly unable to recruit any of the vast number of British personnel who know anything about UNIT. This despite having the entire Internet, which, as we found out just last story, has considerable details about UNIT. Some of this is clearly willful ignorance - Van Statten is, among other things, a Bush parody - but any theory that attempts to fit Van Statten into the larger narrative of Doctor Who is going to involve ignoring something.

So, let’s talk about extrapolating the DNA of a time traveller, shall we? The prospect that travel in the TARDIS actually reshapes your DNA is unnerving, although the link between DNA and the TARDIS is made repeatedly in the classic series. But what’s really strange is that whatever it is that’s in Rose’s DNA is a power source such that the Dalek could regenerate itself when previous things, including raw electricity (which the Dalek later drains) don’t do it. So what does the Dalek get out of Rose? [Lawrence Miles’s theory of biodata seems like it should work here, but suggests that the Dalek in some fashion eats Rose’s future, a theory with difficult implications for the rest of her tenure as companion.]

Critique. The title says everything. Dalek. Just the one, singular and inviolate. The basic trick of this story - making the Daleks terrifying by having just one of them be the scariest monster Doctor Who has ever seen. This, in turn, is accomplished by making them the most perverse monster Doctor Who has ever seen. For long-standing fans and those who know what a Dalek is, this is a factor of the way in which the Dalek acts wrong and spits out all sorts of disturbing suggestions like that the Doctor would make a good Dalek. For new audiences it’s the fact that the Doctor is so unhinged by this monster such that even when crippled and bound it terrifies him. Either way the message is chillingly effective, establishing this thing as a fundamental threat like no other story.

All of this works, and works compellingly. Eccleston is on fire here, putting in more of an effort than he ever has before or, actually, ever will again. The scene in which he discovers what’s in the vault is in many ways the definitive one of his tenure, and single-handedly justifies, not that any justification is needed, why casting a real actor as the Doctor makes sense. Nicholas Briggs is never so happy as when he gets to recreate classic monster voices in perverse ways. And Piper has the confidence to play her role as someone who really has no idea what the Daleks are about, which is a difficult task in a story where everything else is screaming out how iconic these monsters are.

There are flaws - the supporting characters are silly and childish where Jubilee’s were sick and twisted. This means that the texture of the world isn’t up to the weight of what it has to portray. Much of the episode is trying mightily to be adult absurdist drama that happens to feature an evil salt shaker, but every time Van Statten has to do anything the air goes out of the story. But this is a nitpick: the point of the story are the scenes where the Doctor and the Dalek confront each other, and they’re glorious.

The problem comes in basically any other scene. Which unfortunately make up an awful lot of the episode. In these sequences it is not the lone, terrifying monster but a representative of an entire race. The magic tricks - climbing stairs and actually suckering someone to death - are good fun for the public, but the fact remains that they’re there to cover the fact that the sight of Daleks casually slaughtering things are not actually the gripping television that people imagine.

All of which is to say that far from establishing the Daleks for a new generation, this story marks their high water mark. No attempt to portray the Daleks since has risen to this level because in practice the role of the Daleks isn’t to provide perverse literary psychodrama, it’s to exterminate stuff. Subsequent attempts to make them crazy and dangerous don’t work nearly as well because this is the only time we have sufficient question marks over the nature of the show, the Daleks, and the Doctor to get away with it.

But the fact that it can never again be repeated is not in and of itself an argument against doing it. If anything it’s the braver option. Dalek has the same relationship to Rose that “The Survivors” has to “An Unearthly Child,” providing a second launch for the series - something that Davies deliberately structured the series for, fighting adamantly against executives who insisted the Daleks should appear in the first episode.

So yes, this is the peak of the Daleks and they become predictable afterwards. But no more than the way in which the austere metal things that lurked in the abandoned city on Skaro became the familiar exterminating pepper pots that everybody wanted for Christmas. Unlike The Daleks itself, this still works years later, and it’s tough to imagine it losing its punch entirely, simply because it has that secondary structure of being unnerving because of our familiarity with the Daleks. It may only be possible within the context of the series’ relaunch, but it nevertheless makes itself the definitive Dalek story in a fundamentally durable way.

The Facts

Written by Robert Shearman. Directed by Joe Ahearne. Ratings: 8.6m (15th for the week). Audience appreciation was 84%, a series high.

Supporting Cast. Steven Beckingham (Polkowski), Corey Johnson (Henry van Statten), Anna-Louise Plowman (Goddard), Bruno Langley (Adam), Nigel Whitmey (Simmons), John Schwab (Bywater), Jana Carpenter (De Maggio), Joe Montana (Commander), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voice).

Working Titles. Absence of the Daleks (see The Lore), Creature of Lies

Cliffhangers. Cold open of soldiers surrounding the Doctor and Rose and readying their weapons. Lead-in to the next episode features Adam Mitchell leaving in the TARDIS, but no active cliffhanger.

What Was In The Charts. Tony Christie featuring Peter Kay, “(Is This The Way To) Amarillo”; Bodyrockers, “I Like the Way”; Will Smith, “Switch”; Caesars, “Jerk it Out”; Nine Inch Nails “The Hand That Feeds.”

Hey, Isn’t That… 

Bruno Langley. The episode’s big celebrity guest star, best known for playing Todd Grimshaw on Coronation Street, where he was the first openly gay character. Those attentive to the overall themes of this project will recognize the humor in Rose getting a boyfriend who’s actually from a soap opera, but who is probably just not that into her.

Anna-Louise Plowman. Recognizable for a several year stint on Holby City, but if we’re being honest she’s probably more familiar to the sorts of people who will read this for a seven-episode set of appearances in Stargate SG-1.

Nicholas Briggs. The Daleks are, of course, voiced by Nicholas Briggs, man about town for countless Big Finish productions and occasional writer and director of them, but who has made quite a career in the new series as the go-to voice of all of the monsters.

{What are the Metafictional Alchemical Resonances of Dalek’s Psychochronographic Emboitments?

And so their irreducibility from the narrative is oddly satisfying because they are themselves irreducible. If you had something as oversignified as the Cybermen as your irreducible monster you’d be up a creek. But the Daleks are gloriously well-suited to this. They work as a haunting and unkillable menace within the overall structure of Doctor Who - the point where complete and nihilistic oblivion is situated within the narrative, a gravity that the TARDIS is endlessly trying to escape.

We might try to imagine an alternate version of Dalek - not the doomed Absence of the Daleks, but one in which it was the last word on the classic series. The Daleks are finally dead, we know what killed them and the Time Lords, and while we’re left with the Doctor’s guilt over the Time War we aren’t actually left with any clear reason why we have to revisit the Time War. But, of course, nobody seriously thought the Daleks weren’t going to come back again. They’d been reintroduced to the premise. Such that it’s not, in fact, that the Doctor committed genocide against the Time Lords and the Daleks so much as that he used a part of his own narrative premise to destroy a second rotting part of it. The Daleks become, in other words, the series’ autoimmune system - a narrative force whose presence forces the series to clean out the debris of its past. They become the agent of the series’ regenerations. As, fittingly, they were in the series’ first regeneration, which, again, this story is blatantly modeled upon.

But what saves it from narrative collapse is, of course, Rose. Look at the final scene. Between Murray Gold’s decision to pick music that, as most of his music does, forces the audience to feel a particular way and the fact that he picks a feeling that is utterly, diametrically at odds with the script it becomes the most perverse thing in the episode. On the one hand it’s shot theatrically - bare stage, single spot - and is done as an aggressively bleak piece about a dying and irredeemable fascist. On the other, it’s scored and edited as a love scene, right down to the hilarious shot of the Dalek reaching a single tentacle out to Rose. It’s Daleks mashed up with the emotional excess of soaps or, if we want to go more cinematically, Titanic. The Dalek tries to absorb a Doctor Who companion and gets EastPowellEstate. Fatally.

And this is the true exchange of the Time War. It’s not just that the Doctor uses the Daleks to amputate a gangrenous limb of the series, but that the series regenerates, gaining access to the emotional tools of soap operas as part of its narrative bag of tricks. This is the central problem the Time Lords always had - they were, as a premise, rather bigger on the outside. Instead we get the business of depicting people, a subject with virtually limitless interiority.}

The Lore
  • The Cyberman was inserted at the insistence of Julie Gardner. Shearman was originally going to do a museum entirely of new series monsters, which was, actually, a fairly limited set of options. This is characteristic of the series at large in this period - all of the writers save Davies were nervous about references to the past and prone to treating it like a de facto reboot. The torture scene was also Julie Gardner’s request, as she felt the episode was a bit too macho and wanted a shirtless Eccleston in it.
  • Shearman’s difficulty in adapting Jubilee to television hinged in part on the fact that Jubilee was based around the problem of overfamiliarity with the Daleks, whereas Dalek is about introducing them fresh. Shearman took this to extremes, attempting to get through the entire episode without naming the Daleks, and wanting to call it The Creature of Lies. Davies was unimpressed with this approach. Shearman’s earlier drafts also, like Jubilee, focused extensively on the supporting cast, taking much of the episode for the Dalek to be released. Davies was, again, unimpressed.
  • It was not clear how much violence the BBC would allow in the Saturday teatime slot these days, and at one point Shearman was trying to have a Dalek that only stunned people. Later he went to the other extreme, having the sucker death involving violently throwing Simmons around and burning off his face. 
  • Shearman didn’t expect Eccleston to play the Doctor so monstrously, having expected more brash and self-aware bravado in the performance. Eccleston loved the cellar scene, buttonholing Briggs and rehearsing it over lunch. Eccleston viewed the scene as a Holocaust survivor confronting a Nazi, which alarmed Briggs with its seriousness. Eccleston’s focus on the Doctor’s monstrosity is also responsible for the wad of spit on his lip at one point, which he insisted on keeping in.
  • Over the fourteen drafts of the script many things changed. Originally there was more of a focus on the Van Stattens as a family, with Van Statten having a wife and Adam being their kid. The entire supposed motivation for torturing the Dalek was to be to get it to say “Happy Birthday” to Van Statten. Other drafts featured Van Statten mutating into a Dalek. The only item to remain in every draft was the “hair dryer” joke.
  • Shearman was coming off a not entirely pleasant experience on Born and Bred, and had decided he wasn’t going to do TV besides his own concepts. His agent thus dutifully turned down the offer to write Doctor Who. Shearman was quick to get it straightened out. 
  • One of the big tabloid stories in the lead-up to the new series was caused when an extra on this story leaked a photo of the new Dalek design to the redtops. It's possible to have him pointed out to you at conventions, particularly if you remember that he got paid more than most of the people working on the episode and buy them a drink accordingly.
  • Shearman was told that, when doing publicity material, he had to pretend the stairs scene was the first time the Dalek climbed stairs, which distressed him, since he’d nicked it from Remembrance of the Daleks. This isn’t the only lift from the McCoy era - Shearman notes that the structure of “trying to get to the surface” came from Paradise Towers. The scene where the Doctor yells at Van Statten about the stars, meanwhile, was pinched from The West Wing, specifically “Galileo.” 
  • Shearman viciously resisted notes from the BBC insisting that the Dalek be humanized in the final scene, proclaiming Rose its friend. Shearman was adamant that the Dalek remain a fascist, and wanted the focus to be on how it would rather die than be like us.
  • After several drafts were completed Shearman was informed that the negotiations with the Nation estate for use of the Daleks had gone poorly, and, in fact, he was going to have to come up with an entirely new story. He called upon Russell T Davies to work on ideas, and was greeted at the front door, ironically, by Davies’s own full-sized Dalek prop (later seen in Asylum of the Daleks). The Daleks were eventually re-secured in part by the quiet intervention of Steven Moffat’s mother-in-law. 
  • Bruno Langley was not, apparently, much of a Doctor Who fan, and did not realize until recording DVD commentary that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, which explains how he sold Adam’s confusion over the point in the episode itself. 

Comments

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

My personal fan theory-wise for the Cyberman head is that it's from the missing adventure that the Third Doctor and UNIT faced the Cybermen in. 1975, after all, also fits the vague 1970s-1980s setting of the UNIT dating (although if we accept the Third Doctor adventures taking place in the year they were broadcast, this still requires some fudging of dates).

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

"The important thing to note here is that the torture is absolutely useless. Even though the Dalek is, in fact, a monstrous killer it doesn’t have any useful information to give, and there’s nothing to gain by torturing it. In this regard it’s both socially current and cynically absurd."

Worse still, Van Statten ultimately doesn't care that much about any information the Dalek might or might not have; he just "wants to hear you talk." Torture is thus presented not just as ineffectual, but as little more than cruel, petty bullying that is simultaneously also the ultimate sign of feeble-minded weakness masquerading as posturing strength, the last desperate resort of an ultimately weak man trying to impress others with the signifiers of strength and power but found ultimately lacking in both.

The Bush Administration? Gitmo? Surely not.

Link | Reply

Commander Maxil 4 years, 6 months ago

Great article. I have to confess that, after all the excitement of waiting for the return of Doctor Who i found i was unsure about it after the first 5 episodes. I had enjoyed them to a point, but found the faster pace harder to come to terms, with, and had then been doubly disapointed with the Aliens of London/World War 3 two parter. I also found Eccleston's prickliness hard to coem to terms with (though in retrospect, seeing the whole of series 1 as a whole, i appreciate just how great he is). This then was the episode that finally won me over to nu-Who, a fantastic story, well-acted with Eccleston and Billie Piper giving such strong performances. Not as great perhaps as Jubilee, but then there is very little in the whole wide world of Doctor Who over the past 50 years that compares with Jubilee, but a great episode nonetheless. And very intersting to hear all about the script revisions and the backstory to how the episode was made.

Link | Reply

Matter-Eater Lad 4 years, 6 months ago

With regard to the presidential switch dialigue, perhaps Van Staaten, like a few other billionaires in 2012, vastly overestimated the impact of his SuperPAC.

Link | Reply

Assad K 4 years, 6 months ago

What perturbed me about Dalek when I saw it was that I seemed to be expected to be sympathetic towards the Dalek. It was one thing when it killed the torturer who obviously took great relish in his work. Soon after however, it's an exterminato-fest where guards (including the semi-sympathetic woman who decides that the Dalek may listen to some sternly worded orders and a pistol) and accountants are massacred. Barely two minutes after the Dalek has electrocuted a couple of hundred people, Rose is busy defending it and it's right to enjoy its lifestyle of choice. The Doctor is the one 'holding the gun'? I'm sorry, but that's kinda the only way to approach a Dalek.

The Dalek in Jubilee, of course, really didn't kill anyone who didn't seem to deserve it. Which, in Jubilee, was every character.

Interesting to read that Rob Shearman was distressed by the whole 'THE DALEK HAS NEVER GONE UP STAIRS BEFORE!!!!!!' conceit that, oddly, seems to have permeated much of Dr Who fandom itself. And it's a joke that only works for fans - any new viewer would wonder why Rose seriously thinks that an advanced mechanoid would never have learned how to conquer that highly advanced construct that a flight of stairs is. But bravo, Rob - I hope you mentioned it to Ben Aaronovitch as well.

Also have to chuckle at Nick Briggs being alarmed by Eccleston at rehearsal.

I did feel that the show overpowered the Daleks considerably - would they still be vulnerable to plastic explosives and RPGs up the eyepiece, in this brave new world? The Doctor is also extremely unhelpful - all he can suggest is having everyone get together and shoot lots of bullets at the Dalek. Thirdly odd - the decision to bury the vault in concrete. There might still be a lot of useful stuff here, you know. That could be researched. Maybe without torture (useful line to insert in reedits: 'UNIT is on its way to take over this place. They aren't getting their grubby hands on our toys!').

Link | Reply

Mike 4 years, 6 months ago

Couple of editing quibbles to get out of the way:

- "The Dalek, tellingly, suggests that it would make a good Dalek."

Shouldn't that be 'he would make a good Dalek' or are you making a cutting point about the Doctor's inhumanity?"

- "The Daleks were" What?

- "We’ve might assume"

Sorry about that, I'm editing my own work at the moment so in that sort of mood.
Fascinating post, with some very good arguments as usual. Loved The lore stuff, didn't know most of that before.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

"Shearman didn’t expect Eccleston to play the Doctor so monstrously, having expected more brash and self-aware bravado in the performance. Eccleston loved the cellar scene, buttonholing Briggs and rehearsing it over lunch. Eccleston viewed the scene as a Holocaust survivor confronting a Nazi, which alarmed Briggs with its seriousness. Eccleston’s focus on the Doctor’s monstrosity is also responsible for the wad of spit on his lip at one point, which he insisted on keeping in."

And this, right here, is why you hire Christopher Eccleston.

Somewhere, in a parallel universe only a little different from our own, Christopher Eccleston spent three years as TV's Doctor Who, bowing out in a climactic struggle with the Master in "The End of Time", only to regenerate into the charismatic Scottish character actor David Tennant. We've just had the official word (though rumours were swirling for months) that Tennant will leave the show next Saturday, and his replacement - an obscure young actor called Matt Smith - has left fans wondering at the judgement of the production team.

I think I'd like to visit that world, at least long enough to pick up some DVD box sets.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

Evidence I've been reading this site too long: when I saw "The Daleks were (line break) The Cybermen" I was not sure if there was an editorial mistake there, or if our host had decided to go all Westing Game on us, and the point is that the Daleks in some sense are the Cybermen

Aside: Though there’s no reason it couldn’t be some other Raxicoricofallapatorian family.

(Full-on-nerd-mode) Based on The Sarah Jane Adventures, it appears that coloration among Raxicoroicofallapatorians is associated with clan, making it likely that the arm in question is indeed Slitheen.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

So what you're saying is that the Dalek is both the signifier of the classic series and the cause of its demise, while Rose's soap opera DNA (both literal and narrative) emboited within it is the way forward for the series, the new toolbox it desperately needed to accomplish its revival and renewal.

And you say this in an article in which your own alchemical analysis is emboited within an About Time-style, rigidly organized, continuity-obsessed, nitpicky analysis.

Well played, sir, well played.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

Given the abject shock experienced by the right when the election went the way that anyone who looked at actual poll data knew it was overwhelmingly likely to go, I think this explanation makes the bit WAY better now than it was with its originally intended meaning back in 2005.

Link | Reply

J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

...

Thanks Iain.

I thought the audience of the TARDIS Eruditorum would be a safe place to avoid this type of spoiler.

:|

Link | Reply

Travis Butler 4 years, 6 months ago

One does have to wonder how much Our Host is sending us up with some of the bits in the analysis. ^_-

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

For avoidance of doubt: I have no idea what is happening in any future episode of Doctor Who, and my alternate timeline is simply based on an estimate that if Tennant had taken over after series 3 he'd be about ready to leave now.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

I did feel that the show overpowered the Daleks considerably - would they still be vulnerable to plastic explosives and RPGs up the eyepiece, in this brave new world?

I dunno. On the one hand, part of the terror of the Daleks, classically, is not really that they are individually indestructable so much as that you can blow up Daleks from dawn to dusk every day for the rest of your life and you haven't made any existential difference to the threat the Daleks pose.

On the other hand, I think it's a bit hard to buy the daleks as The One True Big Threat unless they're properly invincible. It's hard to sell "These guys are the thing that required sacrificing the Time Lords" when it's not 'There's nothing we can do to stop it!' but rather "There's nothing we can do to stop it because all our bazookas are in the shop today"

I do note a bit of a parallel to War of the Worlds here: in the book, Thunderchild manages to destroy a machine, and is only defeated because it's not fast enough; in the radio play, they're able to take one of the machines out with a kamikaze attack. But by the 1953 movie, the machines are properly invincible, and can't be so much as scratched by atomic bombs. And this change has a lot to do with the fact that in the 1890s, writing a clear analogue to European colonization, you could see as part of your analogy the technologically disadvantaged natives managing the occasional small victory but succumbing to massively greater military might; and in the 30s, when aerial warfare was still The Next Big Thing, there was some mileage in showing the actual moment when "Holy crap, even air superiority is no longer enough!", but by the time you get to 1953, and we're in the atomic age, you pretty much have to show that even nukes won't work.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

It becomes exceedingly clear which approach is more compelling, yes? No wonder he needed to preface the work with considerable apologies.

Time War, indeed.

Link | Reply

Travis Butler 4 years, 6 months ago

(And sigh, jumping into this one first instead of going back and doing the comments disrupted by unexpected weekend trip...)

So, to get back to the discussion started in comments on End of the World: (And of course, the structure of this entry just sends up the comment. Curse you, Philip Sandifer! ^_-)

This was, as I said before, a tour-de-force episode; and as Commander Maxil notes above, it's also the episode that really convinced me the new series was worthwhile. It does an amazing job of drawing out the Doctor's emotional damage, and what's happened to him in the recent past. It's probably the best episode of the first series, and one of the best of the new show period.

At the same time, though, it's an example of the limitations of the new series. For all the symbolic and emotional journeys in the episode, there's very little that actually happens in terms of plot events; a Dalek is awakened, goes on the killing spree lampshaded by Our Host, then kills itself. All of the episode's symbolism and interiority is built on that very simple plot skeleton. Could the episode have been more if it'd had more to build on? If there had been additional time and/or episodes to connect more to them dry bones?

Compare Remembrance, which could build on two Dalek factions, an ancient TIme Lord artifact they're fighting over, and the Doctor's plan to turn that artifact into a trap. Or Genesis, where a long war has exhausted both sides, to the point where one plots genocide via rocket, and the other develops the 'eventual evolution of our race' into genocidal war machines that will grow to threaten the entire universe - and the Doctor is sent back to stop it, by the TIme Lord society he resents. Or Jubilee itself, which adds a strange time paradox and a fascistic alt-British Empire to the idea of the Lone Dalek.

All of the techniques used to stunning effect in this episode could also be applied to a plot structure with more to it, and arguably achieve even greater things than this episode does. "Scope" is the word I was looking for when this discussion came up earlier; with multiple episodes, the old series could tackle plots with larger scope than the new series can manage. (And if I can get back and write the comment I was planning for World War III, that's one thing I do give it credit for - with two episodes, it can manage a broader and more interesting plot than the first three episodes did.) I don't think it's a coincidence that, in general, my favorite episodes of the new series have been the two-parters.



Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't know about that. Or, at least, it's certainly not my intention - I really do have tremendous regard for the About Time series. Especially the Where Does This Come From section, a section of the About Time books I reliably read and think "Christ, this is good." In writing that section, actually, I consciously felt like I had to up my game. And still didn't do as well as I imagine Tat Wood will.

Link | Reply

Travis Butler 4 years, 6 months ago

The problem is, it gets very easy to write yourself into a corner that way.

It works very well in this episode, where the Lone Dalek is convinced to kill itself. It's a single-time problem. It works much less well when it comes up in the season finale, where it takes a deus ex machina from a godlike Rose to keep the Daleks from winning. And next season's deus ex machina is even worse, when the Daleks are shown to be powerful enough to wipe the floor with the reconstituted Cybermen, and the show has to resort to a magic 'suck them all back into the void' that isn't properly foreshadowed nor worked for. (At least the characters had to put in a lot of effort to set the scene for the first season's finale.)

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

In addition to what Ross says, I think it's also a matter of simply making the Daleks a sufficiently intimidating threat to a generation which, if they knew what Daleks even were, pretty much regarded them as those silly pepperpot things with silly eyestalks that are easily shot off and that have plungers even though an alien race having plungers is fundamentally ludicrous and which can't go upstairs even though, again, fundamentally ludicrous. IIRC Shearman asked his girlfriend what she thought was most silly and ineffectual about the Daleks and consciously wrote to address those criticisms and invert them to make them unsettling again. The Dalek has a forcefield. The plunger crushes people's skulls in (still love that bit). They have a 360 degree line of fire. And so forth.

Perhaps it is overcompensating a bit too much in the other direction, but then, a scene where the Dalek gets it's eyestalk shot off by a gang of squaddies probably wasn't going to cut it in the 'let's get people scared of the Daleks again' stakes.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

Then again, more modern, compressed styles of writing can achieve the kind of plottiness than you like within a 45-minute episode. The Crimson Horror is a great example of this: it has all the plot substance of a classic horror movie, but told in half the time.

There's an analogy with music. here. Back in the seventies, if you wanted to do a song that shifted between four distinct musical movements, which introduced first-person feelings of desire and despair before broadening out to consider these as manifestations of primal evolutionary forces acting on all of humanity, you would write a ten-minute progressive rock epic and release it as an album-only track. These days, you write it as a three and a half minute pop song, get Girls Aloud to sing it and have a critically-acclaimed hit single.

Arguably, Doctor Who hasn't quite got there in 2005, although Father's Day does as much as an eight-part Sapphire and Steel serial. By a few years into the new series, however, it can set up and resolve in 45 minutes the kinds of stories that the old series took twice as long to get through.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

"But there’s a much larger issue here, which is that nobody knows what a Dalek is despite their rather massive mid-2008 invasion in The Stolen Earth."

As that is later 'retconned', as you say, we can let that slip. But what about Doomsday? It's only London where the Daleks fly around, but it would've surely been reported quite widely. And that one's never retconned. (Jumping ahead, why are Sarah and Jack so damn scared in The Stolen Earth when they hear the Daleks - were they asleep during the whole London (Doomsday) battle?)

Of course, there's the whole Time Travellers theory we could use. That this whole episode, Dalek, is later rewritten by time. This episode happens in a timeline before Doomsday and The Stolen Earth both come along to re/unwrite it.

"Also, as Lawrence Miles has pointed out, the Dalek spends the overwhelming majority of the story full of pornography. Whether this counts as something that doesn’t make sense is largely a personal matter."

Untrue, since the internet is only actually made up of a small percentage of porn. Rather than the myths of 70+%.

"fighting adamantly against executives who insisted the Daleks should appear in the first episode"

Is this true? I've never heard this before. I do wonder what the plot would've been had this happened. Would it be better or worse with episode 1 being the Doctor and the Daleks?

"The Cyberman was inserted at the insistence of Julie Gardner."

God, I love this woman.


>> As for the climbing stairs thing, the Daleks have done it since the 60s if we're honest. In The Chase, on the Mary Celeste, there's a Dalek on the second level of the deck. So it either hovered up there or found a convenient ramp. Let's go with the former, eh?

>> Another thing that doesn't make sense: the Dalek taking forever to go up the stairs, as it follows the actual stairs. Why not get central and go directly upwards, through the centre of the stairwell? Possible answer - it was doing this deliberatly to taunt the humans, to chase them, to scare them. But that's iffy, because it ultimately wants to kill them.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Joe Ahearne directs this one, along with Father's Day and the two-part series finale. He's got some nice flourishes -- the reflection of the Cyberman's head framing the Doctor in the opening, for example, which has nothing to do with the script. It's a visual way of hinting that this story will explore the Doctor's own monstrosity, and that up to this point he's been much colder and emotionally shut down than we might have realized.

So this story lays more groundwork in the show's use of esoteric symbolism and repeated imagery. The use of the Mirror as an exploration of identity, and here it's the Doctor and the Dalek who are mirrored; they participate in each other's stories, from their mutual subjection to torture to their mutual desire for freedom; the Doctor becomes as a Dalek, while the Dalek struggles to become "doctored."

The shot where Rose looks the Dalek in the eye, so close the Dalek's blue light makes her own eyes glow, presaging the finale. Eyes are very important to the show, the gateway to the soul -- which is to say, the doors to the TARDIS, for here it's where we get the implication of interiority.

The X motif of the chains holding the Dalek at bay -- known as St Andrew's cross, for his request to be martyred differently from Christ was honored, and presaging the eventual "torture" that reveals the Doctor's hearts -- is particularly notable. There's a bit of wall scrawl in Paradise Towers, just behind the dematerializing TARDIS at the end, in the X motif, crossing the thematic colors of Red and Blue; the X motif indicates the union of opposites, and the "cross-over" to The Other Side -- like Rose's ability to infuse a Dalek story with the narrative logic of a soap opera, or the Dalek's eventual Ascension at the end of the story.

There's been a lot of focus on Hands in this series -- the first thing the Doctor does in Rose is to grab Rose's hand, and there's many closeups of this act -- and this continues with Rose's hand-print glowing on the Dalek casing. The Hand, as established so far, is a literal representation of connection, of being touched. So to say that Rose's "DNA" has gone so far as to rewrite the Dalek while bringing it back to life is a Sci-Fi gloss, for what we have here is really a work of magical realism. The symbol acts upon the signified. It's not Rose's DNA doing the work, it's Rose's essence, but that is too woo-woo for the aesthetic of the show.

Finally, the setting itself is metaphorical in a Jungian sense, again. This story takes place in an underground bunker, which means it's an Underworld story. It's a story that explore the Doctor's subconscious and reveals his dark secrets. The Dalek represents that part of the Doctor he hates in himself, and his first response to the Shadow within is to revile it, destroy it, lock it away. But the Shadow Self can't be destroyed. It must be confronted, assimilated, even loved (which is why we have Rose down here, the antithesis of the Dalek.) The Doctor's descent is mirrored by the Dalek's ascent -- again, there's that crossing pattern, the X motif.

So we get a story of psychological integration -- and this is why, I think, Davies was ultimately right about the dramatization of the end. It isn't about redeeming a Nazi, which is an allegorical interpretation. It's about dealing with the monster within, which is part and parcel of Alchemy in the classical sense. The monster within, which feeds on hate, can only be transformed through love. Fight that shadow, try to repress it, and it only grows stronger.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Intent rarely has anything to do with it, Phil. Your alchemy is a mirror of the Revival, while About Time is a mirror of the Classic series. And sure, Tat Wood's stuff is good, but it's rooted in that cult-SF approach of facts and figures and lists, very anorak.

So there's a structural difference, and of course the new structure owes a debt to the old structure, but it's still a quantum leap forward.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

As I mentioned the last time we had this conversation, it seems to me like where you draw the line between what the episode is "built on" and what are the details is completely arbitrary; the "skeleton" of Dalek for me is the whole of the time war, whereas in Rememberance, I don't consider "two dalek factions" to be "skeleton"; I consider it a plot twist. Something frankly not very important to the plot of the story that just gets thrown in as the Big Surprise Complication For Act 2. Aside from giving John Peel a giant sad, I'm not really sure the Renegade Faction contributes much of anything to how the story unfolds

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

The military grunts don't take orders from the Doctor, don't respect his knowledge, they just fire at will, an embodiment of brute force and cynicism. And I think it's this which makes the "shoot the eyestalk" scene effective -- we see the limits of the Doctor's authority and personal power.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Travis:

You've also put me in mind of the new Gaiman Cybermen. It's nice to have them updated, but they're far too invincible now. So much, in fact, that 'you need to blow up the whole planet if even one is on the planet'. That's gotta be undone later on, or we'll see less advanced Cybermen. Because there's going to be a Cyberman on Earth and Earth won't be blown up.

(At least Gaiman set this in the far far far future, though, so we can still have less advanced models if the story requires it.)

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

I think if you're an old-school fan, the Dalek flying up the stairs isn't going to cut it for you, since you've seen Rememberance, but I know for me at least, it wasn't the force field, and it wasn't the skull-crushing, but when the Dalek swiveled its midsection around, that made me come to a full stop and say "Holy crap the Daleks are terrifying again!"

(Though possibly the best "No, the Daleks are not silly" moment comes much later, in Journey's End when one of them burns the paintball off its eyepiece)

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

The amount of internet that is porn depends on how you measure it. It's a small percentage if you just mean "percentage of websites", but if you're actually talking about raw number of bytes of data on the internet, porn was a sizeable percentage until a few years ago due to digital video being so much larger than practically anything else, and porn having a 5-10 year headstart on everyone else adopting the internet for digital video. (The factoid I like to throw out is that on one CD-ROM you can store the complete works of every major author in the english language, or about one hour of standard definition internet porn)

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

'Could the episode have been more if it'd had more to build on? If there had been additional time and/or episodes to connect more to them dry bones?'

There's a problem with hypotheticals like this, though, since they tend towards a utopian view where everything goes perfectly and the grass is always greener. True, if it had had more to build on and a longer running time, "Dalek" could have even better. Equally, it could also have ended up being a complete mess, and the inhabitants of that other universe could easily be looking enviously towards a universe where "Dalek" was a tight 45-minute episode about a Dalek that broke free, went on a killing spree, challenged the Doctor's morality before being confronted with it's own and killing itself and asking "Couldn't it have been even better if...?"

Yes, "Dalek" does expose the limitations of the 45 minute format, but then there's countless excellent serials of Classic Who which nevertheless expose that having four 25+minute episodes has it's own set of problems to deal with. I do think at some point you do have to be satisfied with what you have in the circumstances you're in rather than yearning for something better under different circumstances -- especially when what you get, as done within these particular confines, is still pretty spectacular. I mean, there's nothing wrong with wanting or expecting the highest quality, but to some degree saying 'under these different circumstances "Dalek" could be even better' is a bit like saying 'this one billion dollar check would be even better if it was a two billion dollar check'; that's quite true, but what we've actually got is still nothing to sniff at under the circumstances, so there's little real point in tormenting ourselves with whether what could have been might have been better.

Link | Reply

Travis Butler 4 years, 6 months ago

Sorry, I don't buy that. Not for an instant.

It's hard for me to argue your specific example of Father's Day, because that's my least favorite episode of the first season and I disliked it enough that I retain very little of the overall plot; just the things I hated about it. But I think I can argue that while Father's Day may capture the *concept* of Sapphire and Steel - things that went wrong in Time which must be set right, however ruthlessly - it only 'does as much' if you take the reducto ad absurdum of equating the story to the concept.

For me, at least, a large part of the story lies in watching entertaining events unfold. In Empty Child/Doctor Dances, do we actually 'need' the scene at Nancy's impromptu dinner for her charges, to put forward the story concept? Or her later confrontation with the founder of said feast? I suspect both scenes would be missing in a hypothetical one-episode version of this story, yet they're both wonderful. Can you really say the story would be better in that version?

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 4 years, 6 months ago

I picked Sapphire and Steel because I recently watched the second serial - the one set in the railway station - and Christ Jesus it was slow. "Episode 3: Steel goes up some stairs. Episode 4: He comes back down." That kind of thing. It had some good ideas and creepy visuals, but really no more substance than Father's Day (or Gridlock, or The Fires of Pompeii, if you prefer).

I've been talking about how you can compress the typical 70s 4-parter into 45 minutes. Compressing a new series two parter into one isn't quite the same thing: that's more the equivalent of the old 6-8 part stories, any one of which you could do perfectly happily as a modern two part story.

Link | Reply

dm 4 years, 6 months ago

Another point on the framing in that Cyberman shot, it looks as if the Doctor is wiping away its tear. Whilst I maintain that the only Cyberman design that I've ever found truly frightening was the cloth face of the Tenth Planet, the tears on the later designs were quite an elegant way of presenting the horror that they represent (yes, fine, the qlippothic horror).

Link | Reply

Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

Traveling through time has apparently altered her DNA, but we’ll leave that rather remarkable event for Things That Don’t Make Sense.

Obviously this means her biodata--

But what’s really strange is that whatever it is that’s in Rose’s DNA is a power source such that the Dalek could regenerate itself when previous things, including raw electricity (which the Dalek later drains) don’t do it. So what does the Dalek get out of Rose? [Lawrence Miles’s theory of biodata seems like it should work here, but suggests that the Dalek in some fashion eats Rose’s future, a theory with difficult implications for the rest of her tenure as companion.]

Ah, very good. In that case... if it's eating her future, would it be out of line to suggest that it gets a sliver of Bad Wolf-ness? (Which, itself, is infused with EastPowellEstate-ness.)

Secondary sources suggest that the exhibit opposite the Cyberman is a decayed Sea Devil (see 9.3 The Sea Devils), and that the large object seen in wide shots is a Mechanoid (see 2.8 The Chase). [The former is plausible, while the latter would require both a major redesign of the Mechanoids and a heck of a missing adventure.]

I WANT BOTH THOSE THINGS.

Davies intended him as a Bill Gates parody named Will Fences, but Shearman smoothed him over into the 1% parody that made it to the screen.

Definitely the right decision - Bill Gates was, at this point, well on his transformation from "someone who made a hell of a lot of money through unethical practices" to "someone who actually did ethical things with that money".

Eccleston’s focus on the Doctor’s monstrosity is also responsible for the wad of spit on his lip at one point, which he insisted on keeping in.

And this is just one reason why he's great.

Shearman was coming off a not entirely pleasant experience on Born and Bred, and had decided he wasn’t going to do TV besides his own concepts. His agent thus dutifully turned down the offer to write Doctor Who. Shearman was quick to get it straightened out.

Insert laugh track here.

Also: Wow, now I really want to read About Time.

Link | Reply

Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

This is an oddly appropriate theory, considering the whole "museum piece fandom" thing.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

The other thing narrative compression gives us is more stories. And that's more than sheer variety -- which in itself is sufficiently compelling -- but a host of opportunities to advance and complicate character development and long-term story arcs. An individual story might receive less breadth, but the season itself becomes much more rich.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

At the time my reaction to the episode could be represented by saying that they really oversold the 'daleks can't climb stairs' moment. Remembrance doesn't do a big build-up: it just has the dalek reach the stairs and keep going, which is far more effective. The other thing is that the episode as written asserts a false moral equivalence between the Doctor and the daleks.
Viewed after listening to Jubilee, the Jubilee elements gain greater prominence. So while I think it's inferior to Jubilee in every respect, it still deserves admiration for being an attempt to adapt Jubilee for a general audience.

Link | Reply

Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

I think this can be extended to Van Statten's arrogance explaining any conflict between what he says and what makes sense.

Link | Reply

Ununnilium 4 years, 6 months ago

And it's a joke that only works for fans - any new viewer would wonder why Rose seriously thinks that an advanced mechanoid would never have learned how to conquer that highly advanced construct that a flight of stairs is.

I disagree; "Daleks can't climb stairs" was one of the Things Normal People Know about the series.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

The lock also engages in that classic incompetent security tendency of confirming partial guesses

That bugged me in The Charwoman's Shadow when I first read it at age nine or so!

Link | Reply

J Mairs 4 years, 6 months ago

... You are forgiven. ;)

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

"Daleks can't climb stairs" was one of the Things Normal People Know about the series.

Agreed; this cartoon (Punch, 1981) wasn't aimed solely at fans.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

Gotta agree with jane, there. Part of what's great about your site, Phil, is also part of what's great about the new series, that's it's not beholden to the fan-industrial complex.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

I find myself uncannily reminded of a panel I attended about comics at a science fiction convention a couple of years ago. The panelists (all of whom were in their 50s or older) bemoaned the rise of decompressed comics, arguing that in the good old days you could fit as much story into a single issue as you would have nowadays in a four-part microseries.

The grass, as Scott says, is always greener.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

The Dalek isn't so much full of porn as full of spam, really.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

I would argue that Remembrance does a much bigger build-up emotionally, though, since it has the Doctor freaking out at the door. (A scene I always felt was a bit out-of-character, honestly.)

As for a false moral equivalence between the Doctor and the Daleks, I'm not sure that it is false. This particular Dalek has not, as far as we see in the episode, killed anyone except in self-defense. Yes, it was chasing Rose and Adam, but all of the people it killed were either directly involved in torturing it or pointing weapons at it.

Link | Reply

Neo Tuxedo 4 years, 6 months ago

It's about dealing with the monster within, which is part and parcel of Alchemy in the classical sense.

Or, to quote the co-author of our host's Three Doctors post:
"I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!
He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death."

Remembering that Eternal Death is dying to Eternity to live again vegetated into Generation. If the Dalek is the Doctor's shadow, his Spectre, and Rose is his Emanation, is Adam his Generated self the way Orc is the Generated image of Luvah and Satan that of Urizen?

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

In The Chase, on the Mary Celeste, there's a Dalek on the second level of the deck. So it either hovered up there or found a convenient ramp.

I used to think the scene in "Dalek Invasion of Earth" when they're at the top of the steps by the Albert Memorial was the first instance. Alas, the stairs are on only one side, and you can reach it by ramp/slope on the other sides.

Originally, of course, they were confined to flat surfaces because they were supposed to be like bumper cars (dodgems).

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 4 years, 6 months ago

There's been a lot of focus on Hands in this series

Well, the next series will soon cut that short.

Link | Reply

Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

the Nation-estate approved John Peel novelizations - ones that overtly tried to “correct” Whitaker’s supposed misunderstanding of the Daleks

Did you cover this before? I'd be interested to hear more about it.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

@Neo: Adam's not a major player in Dalek, though obviously the name's significant. But yes, he's a rather "base" reflection of the Doctor, almost a fannish shadow in his preoccupation with gadgetry and vain consideration of his cleverness. More interesting is how he's treated in the next episode.

@BerserkRL: Winter is Coming, Jaime Lannister. Yet even when cut short, there's the potential for regrowth and regeneration -- and connection. The Hand of the "King" becomes a way for Jack Harkness to return to the TARDIS, and how Donna will touch the stars of Time-Lord consciousness.

Link | Reply

Multiple Ducks 4 years, 6 months ago

This here's the article:
http://www.philipsandifer.com/2013/01/am-exterminated-am-exterminated-war-of.html

Link | Reply

Jesse 4 years, 6 months ago

Thanks!

Link | Reply

encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

1. I liked "Rose" and "The End of the World," really felt let down by "The Unquiet Dead" and the Slitheen two-parter, but it was "Dalek" that convinced me to settle down and just give this series a chance, allowing for ups and downs along the way. It's just brilliant.

2. "You would make a good Dalek" joins "Go on, pull the trigger, end my life" in the inexplicably overrated Doctor Who moment file. To be fair, this is the only episode where it really works, but "we're two sides of a coin, you and I" is as trite as it gets. The point it makes is one of the most important parts of the episode, the moment itself chilling and almost shocking, but the line itself out of context is not so hot.

3. Have you SEEN Bruno Langley? I mean, Mickey's cute and all, but I'd think even a straight guy would notice that Adam is GORgeous. I think Rose might be attracted to him for at least one more reason than you cite. Imagine my disappointment when he gets branded as "the failed companion" next episode. Sigh.

4. Phil, if Tat ever decides to take on another co-author for About Time, you have my vote.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

How many viewers did Destiny of the Daleks get?

Y'know, the one with the Doctor actually taking the piss. "Why don't you try climbing after us?"

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Why, out of interest, do you feel it's out of character? He's scared of the Daleks by default. And this is the first time he's witnessed one coming up the stairs... and towards him. I think he's right to be a little more scared than usual. (I also like the idea that the Seventh Doctor puts on his manipulative little man mask but, deep down, is still quite scared of things himself and it's only when he's alone that he gets terrified, as in this instance.)

As for the stairs build-up, Dalek unfortunately has the worst line. Badly written, badly delivered by Bruno. "...defeated by a flight of stairs." Listen to it. It's just so cringeworthy. Exposition is fine, but not when it's delivered by this 'actor'.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Me, I prefer Dalek to Jubilee in just about every respect.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

2. Whilst I do agree it's a little overrated, I think it's just the actual line that triggers the Doctor so beautifully. The Dalek doesn't say "you are like me" or "we are the same". It's the fact the Dalek says "you would make a good DALEK" which properly enrages the Doctor, and rightfully so. It's basic stuff, but it fits in well with this war-torn survivor. And when the Doctor then agrees before trying to exterminate the Dalek, wow, it's powerful. (Though that bit is arguably a lot more effective and memorable than the preceding line.)

4. Seconded! So much.

Link | Reply

encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

There are many points at which I want to punch About Time, but on the whole it's absolutely not to be missed, and it's very much in the spirit of this blog, or vice versa. Despite accusations in the comments of this post, its "fannishness" is no more than it should be, which is to say thoroughly self-aware and wise about what it's doing. The essays are pretty much everything you ever need to read about the classic fan controversies and manage to be both thorough and tongue-in-cheek.

In short, they make every other programme guide I've ever read, about this show or any other, look like a John Nathan-Turner book. Not to be missed.

Link | Reply

encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

The conjugation of Doctor Who fandom:

I love Doctor Who.

You geek out about it.

Those anoraks over there are obsessive ranting maniacs about it.

:)

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

Been a while since I've seen it, but doesn't his freakout start before the Dalek starts hovering?

Either way, he never panics like that in any of his other encounters with Daleks throughout the serial, so it bugs me.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

2. Sure, the line isn't great out of context, but it's a great moment because of its context. The whole point of saying, "That was a great moment," is to recall the experience of that moment, which necessarily includes that context.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 4 years, 6 months ago

Understanding the importance of soap opera narrative dynamics really is pivotal to the Davies style of Doctor Who. It reminds me of some of what you found most interesting about the Davison era, especially its first year: that the show began taking some of its ideas about character dynamics from soap operas. And Doctor Who in Season 19 had potential to become more soap-like in its character relationships and dynamics. The problem with the Davison era, of course, was that this idea was never followed through. It seemed to be Nathan-Turner's idea (and probably the best idea he ever had as producer, apart from hiring Andrew Cartmel), and JNT wasn't in charge of the scripts, or had the skills or training to do so. His script editors had their wheelhouses in more traditional kinds of sci-fi (Bidmead) were temporary staff who never made much contribution (Root) or only really knew how to do militaristic sci-fi action (Saward). That's the strange link between the RTD era and early JNT: both wanted to make the show work more like a soap opera, but only RTD really knew how to follow through.

I think the major factor RTD understood was how to integrate emotional content at which soap opera dynamics excel into the context of a sci-fi show. JNT knew the basic trappings of it (multiple characters conflicting in a variety of manners and intensities, characters defined in part by emotional events like Adric's loss of his brother, Nyssa's loss of her homeworld, and Tegan's loss of her aunt). But because he was always separate from the work of writing the show, nothing of it could really translate into the scripts. JNT's writers in the Davison era only knew how to do straightforward sci-fi, and not soap dynamics. RTD's position was as a producer/writer, so he could come up with the broad ideas, but also had the skills to put them to work in a script.

I do, however, find it understandable that Shearman never wrote for Doctor Who again, if the script really went through fourteen drafts! And the only constant through every single script was the hair dryer joke. Each of those drafts were probably pure gold, but after the tumult of season one's production, I can understand RTD never wanting to go through it again. I can understand Rob Shearman never wanting to go through it again. The more I read about the tumult of the first year of the show's production, the more amazed I am that anyone at all came back for season two.

This reminds me: will any of the posts this season talk about the horrible clusterfuck that producing Doctor Who was in this first year? Because one of the key elements of post-2003 Doctor Who TV is how incredibly difficult it is to produce. I remember a comment in The Writer's Tale of Davies laughing (with just a hint of bitterness) on looking at one old shooting schedule for season one, 'We thought we could shoot four scenes in an afternoon!" It may be the same show that Hartnell and Troughton pounded out at 40-odd episodes/year, but it is manifestly not the same show that Hartnell and Troughton could pound out at 40-odd episodes/year.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Although to be fair, he's never again locked in a tiny enclosed darkened cellar with Daleks either. Plus, the transmat is fixed and he says many more could be on their way.

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

It's also a handy visual indicator that this Doctor isn't going to be connecting with people much, preferring to stand a bit back and laugh at them. "I'm that sort of man."

Link | Reply

Nick Smale 4 years, 6 months ago

Something I've never been terribly clear on: When the Dalek disappears, is it destroying itself or is it just teleporting away? I've long assumed that it survives, and goes on to become Parting of the Ways' Emperor, but is there anything in the text to support this?

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Ooh, I've never heard this theory before but I like it. It could explain why the Emperor later decides to build Daleks from human remains, because the Dalek here (which would become that Emperor) is mutating into human-Dalek itself.

I don't think there's any evidence on screen or in the scripts, but it works a treat!

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Hi, Nick!

No, in all honesty, I expressly intended the Dalek to die. It's a bit ambiguous on screen, because there was a need for the Dalek's death to be pretty neat and not leave an awful lot of rubble - but I always felt that any chance dear old Derek had at redemption could only be earned by his refusing to go on living. (Besides which, what attracted me to the Dalek was that he really wasn't anything special to the race, he was a survivor through random accident only. I hoped there'd be a greater poignancy to him that he was an ordinary 'grunt' soldier searching the universe for orders rather than some Emperor in the making.)

But that said, what we get on the screen certainly *is* ambiguous, and author intention aside, there's nothing to stop the Dalek from my story being the Emperor in POTW if you like! :)

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 4 years, 6 months ago

It's definitely not Shearman's intent - he remarked at DePaul about people with similar hypotheses due to the ambiguous special effect. Basically, both the debris from the exploding Dalek and the sequence where the Dalek bumps are shown to be weapons got cut for budget reasons, but the Dalek was 100% intended to be dead.

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Interesting stuff, Jane. Thank you. I love the way that the use of Rose's hand is a display of magic realism - the simplicity of the moment, and the symbolism of that act of sympathy and the way it affects a *physical* change, is very persuasive to me.

Confused, though, by what you mean about Russell's dramatisation of the end of the story? There was another softer version of the ending suggested (though not, I think, by Russell), but that final confrontation between the Doctor and Rose / Dalek was pretty much the way I'd always envisioned it. I think Russell and I were always in accord over that!

Link | Reply

David Ainsworth 4 years, 6 months ago

While it is problematic to have the lone Dalek be so potent, in the sense that a Dalek army becomes almost a non-sequitor (Look, it's Death! And his 100,000 twin brothers!), the uniqueness of this Dalek offers a chance at multiple sorts of reboots. The lone Dalek here destroys itself rather than admit to impurity, but most of the Daleks to come are largely defined by impurities of various sorts. This Dalek isn't a one-off, it's the last of its kind to survive because it cannot admit to change. Ironically, the subsequent appearances of the Daleks see them abandon their Death associations to many degrees. If the Doctor is a bit Dalek-like here, the Daleks are going to turn into Time Lord substitutes; only in comparison to the massively corrupt bureaucrats, the Daleks are pretty lousy as lords of time. They can't get alchemy right, their regenerations remain too locked in to their past incarnations (to the point that the last rebooted Daleks ended up redesigned to make them closer to the old models), their temporal manipulations are repeatedly self-destructive. Even their attempts at ultimate destruction are ultimately creative.

Does this Dalek perhaps come to understand the Doctor because of the way in which it changes? Our other Doctorish Dalek manages a Doctorish feat of heroism, saving someone instead of killing him, and he ends up essentially on the Doctor's side, or at least like Nine is here. I think the chilling part of "You would make a good Dalek" is that in context, this Dalek is clearly going to die while the Doctor will not. A Doctor who lives on as inheritor of the Dalek tradition (who is Death) looks chillingly plausible, even if the Daleks kill for "bad" reasons and the Doctor for "good" ones. This episode isn't one willing to allow ends to justify the means.

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, I always explain the events of Dalek, in retrospect, by the age-old time travellers' reply: though Dalek is set after Stolen Earth from history's perspective, we're following the adventures from the Doctor's perspective, and everything is in flux. So when Van Statten tortures a Dalek in 2012, he's never heard of the Skaro nasties because it's only the Doctor's subsequent adventures that unleash them back upon the universe. (It's the same way I get out of being confused why Torchwood isn't around during Jon Pertwee's tenure, because it's expressly created after 'Tooth and Claw' to capture David Tennant. ...And I try to forget the Weakest Link question in Bad Wolf that already knows about them!)

There are drafts (honestly!) of Dalek in which, having absorbed the internet, the Doctor mocks it for the fact it must have also downloaded lots of porn and petitions for the revival of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They nearly made it through to the shooting script! Dear God, that would look like a tonal disaster now. My biggest error with 'Dalek' was always trying to put in more jokes.

I always hoped for a staircase that was walled off, so that the Dalek couldn't, you know, just shoot them where it stood or fly up the middle if it wanted to. But that's a limitation of filming practicalities, and where the scene was shot just happened to have *that* sort of staircase. I should probably have realised that might happen, and doctored the script accordingly. (I never much liked the taunting anyway - why would Adam and Rose assume the Dalek *couldn't* negotiate stairs somehow?)

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Absolutely. The torture isn't to gain anything practical whatsoever. Van Statten doesn't want the Dalek to give up its secrets of space age technology, or anything that could be put to any use.

In an earlier draft, when Van Statten had a wife, she was trying to make it speak for the most banal reasons imaginable. She wanted it to wish her husband happy birthday as a surprise. (There's still a reference to it being Van Statten's birthday at the beginning of the episode, but it just sort of hangs there pointlessly now.) When the Dalek finally confronts its some time masters, and demands to know why it has been tortured, it doesn't even bother to exterminate them after it finds out - it just turns away from them with withering contempt.

I think it might all have been a bit too silly for the episode, in retrospect, but I certainly wanted to emphasise the complete triviality of why the Dalek was being made to suffer, and that its torture was all the more cruel because of that.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Your last sentence there has given me another thought: I wish we could get novelisations of the new series stories. I think they'd very much be viable (kids still love to read, and I think there's a market for post-2005 novelisations of Who) and it'd be great to be able to reinstate the countless cuts/scenes since 2005.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Nice to see Rob follows the blog (see below).

Hi Rob!

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Hi, Lewis! Oh God, yes, this blog is fantastic - I'm a huge fan. Phil won't believe it because he's too humble, but getting to meet him in Chicago last week at DePaul gave me a huge buzz!

Link | Reply

BatmanAoD 4 years, 6 months ago

"All monsters are in fact attempts to complicate the glorious straightforwardness of the Daleks as a premise: things that want to kill you.... The Dalek is not merely fascist but singular - an absolute unity and coherence. It is ontological in its homicidal tendencies: a fixed point in narrative."

Does this remind anyone else of the sections of Tolkien's essay on Beowulf in which he argues that the critical consensus of his time was absolutely wrong in assuming that straightforward monsters are an "unworthy" subject for a poet of such skill?

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 4 years, 6 months ago

In the Remembrance of the Daleks making-of (or one of the docs), Cartmel talked about how it was so ingrained in public conscious as a joke that he got a recent card with one of those cartoons on it. It didn't stick until the new series Daleks came around.

Link | Reply

Pen Name Pending 4 years, 6 months ago

The thing about "Dalek" is it's almost a first part to the finale. Its main purpose is to reintroduce the Daleks, and it does it well and tautly without overstaying its welcome. Stories like Remembrance are sojourns built upon previous knowledge of the Daleks (and in the case of Remembrance, the whole show).

The Star Trek: TNG episode that introduces the Borg ("Q Who?") was highly praised. I watched it a few months ago and was surprised how little happened.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

So, that is a neat thought, but why would you be "unclear' on that? That's like saying "I'm not clear on when, at the end of 'Rose', the Doctor and Rose go off in the TARDIS, do they go straight on to the End of the World, or do they stop off first at an orphanage in 19th century paris to eat all the orphans, and then, their hunger sated, go on to the end of the world all giddy and excited, having sworn to just pretend the whole thing never happened?

The Dalek basically says "I'm going to destroy myself now," Rose orders it to destroy itself, it flies up in the air and destroys itself. Supposing anything other than that requires deliberately misreading what happened for absolutely no reason.

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

Hi Rob,

Loved your presentation at DePaul -- I was a bit shy, and didn't introduce myself, but I was there!

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the discussion here regarding Chimes of Midnight, you'd indicated that you didn't want the Dalek to have a redemption arc, that you intended its self-sacrifice as being wholly motivated by its sense of self-hatred for being contaminated by human emotion. The production itself, on the other hand, gives it a pronounced upward note, allowing for audience sympathy -- such as the use of Murray Gold's music.

I think that was the right way to go, given that the Dalek is singular and as such comes to represent a particular individual, and hence more than an allegory for an abhorrent philosophy. I think it's important because, at least in the Doctor's philosophy, everyone capable of making a choice deserves the opportunity for redemption -- and, as I said, at this scale the story can be read psychologically as well as allegorically; we each and every one of us has a monster inside, and it's tricky dealing with that monster.

(That psychological reading is why I love Moffat's "Beast Below," btw, which shows that this aspect of the subconscious/unconscious isn't purely bestial, but can also be angelic. In general that's why I appreciate the not-actually-a-monster stories so much.)

The other reason why I think the production's redemption of the singular Dalek works philosophically is that the Finale shows us the Daleks functioning as a complete society, which is a much more apt metaphor for describing an entire abhorrent philosophy that permeates a culture. By bringing the Daleks back in this fashion, the problem of giving this particular extreme racist redemption is finally addressed -- and made much more unique.

Anyways, regarding the "confusion," am I mistaken in conflating the production's redemption of the Dalek with Davies himself? Like with the choice to do the music the way they did?

Link | Reply

jane 4 years, 6 months ago

@Froborr: I see what you did there. ;)

Link | Reply

5tephe 4 years, 6 months ago

OH THANK CHRIST (and Froborr, obviously) SOMEBODY EXPLAINED THAT.

I know I am outing myself as just not enough of an anorak to comment here, but I've never even seen an About Time entry before. I was horribly confused.

This was clearly deliberate, but it seemed so much more dull (and frankly comprehensible) than all of Phil's other experiments in form.

So glad I didn't have to outright ask. Now I'll need to go and read it again.

Link | Reply

encyclops 4 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, I'm not sure exactly what I'm reacting to. I think it's that the trope itself is so hackneyed, and it always feels to me like people are praising it as though it's a revelation when in fact the genius is in everything around the line, the fact that unlike just about everyone else who trots it out, Shearman earns it. But maybe that's what everyone else means too, and I'm just being uncharitable. :)

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm pretty much in agreement Ross, but I suppose you could make the case that the Dalek is arguably dishonest on a fundamental level (see the way it manipulates Rose into touching it, although as noted above this also carries some ambiguity), and that it's lying for its own reasons.

The way it's framed does perhaps introduce some (as established below, clearly unintended) ambiguity.

Link | Reply

Nick Smale 4 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Link | Reply

Nick Smale 4 years, 6 months ago

So, that is a neat thought, but why would you be "unclear' on that?

Sorry if that was inelegantly phrased. What I meant to say was that, when the show aired, I thought it unambiguously clear that the Dalek survived and became the Emperor, but I later came to question that hypothesis.

Why did I read it like that? I'll try and reassemble my reasoning...

Firstly, as everyone has said, with no blast and no debris the scene where the Dalek disappears does seem ambiguous. But more than that, it also seemed too elaborate... the Dalek hovers in the air, the spheres emerge from its shell, spin around it, generate a field between themselves, and the Dalek within vanishes... it seemed too baroque for a weapon release, more like the sort of complex sequence of actions that might be required for a teleport or time jump.

I think I also felt it was implausible that the show would actually kill the Dalek at that point. I mean, there's only one Dalek left in the universe, right? And they're not going to kill the Doctor's primary antagonist, are they? I imagined that we'd see a long sequence of future adventures where the lone surviving Time Lord and the lone surviving Dalek faced off. So when the Doctor meets the Emperor, I naturally jumped to the conclusion that this was the first rematch.

But more than that, there was a unique characteristic of the Emperor which I thought proved it was one and the same as Dalek's Dalek: it didn't have a shell. Now, the sequence at the end of Dalek where the creature revealed itself to Rose had really impressed me. This was the first time in the history of Doctor Who where we'd been given an unambiguous look at a healthy Dalek mutant, and more, we saw it not just freeing itself from its shell but revelling in the sensuality of the experience; and now with the Emperor we find a mutant that chooses to live its life naked, without a shell. That commonality seemed like a sign that the two were actually the same creature.

(And I've just noticed that Rob Shearman himself has replied to my question further down. Golly! And thanks Rob!)

Link | Reply

T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

It's silly, but it's a perversely wicked sort of silliness that I think would've worked for the episode and for Van Statten as a character. Almost wish it had stayed (though I do love the episode as is).

Link | Reply

Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

"I do think at some point you do have to be satisfied with what you have in the circumstances you're in rather than yearning for something better under different circumstances -- especially when what you get, as done within these particular confines, is still pretty spectacular."

Haven't you just described almost every negative post on Gallifrey Base there?

Link | Reply

T. Hartwell 4 years, 6 months ago

Ooooh, Scott gave an argument I can finally agree with on the whole "1x45 vs. 4x25" debate- I was frequently being turned off by the extremes that seemed to view one as inherently better than the other, with 1x45 minute episodes being too light and inconsequential and 4x25 minute episodes being too padded out and slow.

Scott summed my feelings up well that both have their inherent advantages and disadvantages compared to each other. I personally prefer 4x25 minutes, but that's entirely me and I regularly enjoy the new series anyways.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't think killing oneself intentionally can really count as redemption. Giving up one's life for a particular purpose, yes, but that's because giving up one's life achieves some greater good. The only good achieved by the dalek killing itself is that there's one less dalek. If that's a good, then that means daleks are inherently a burden either to the rest of the universe or to themselves. The dalek comes to agree with the Doctor as the Doctor was when the Doctor ordered it to kill itself. It's hard to consider that redemption.

Link | Reply

Anton B 4 years, 6 months ago

I'd totally forgotten about the Weakest Link 'Torchwood' question! And we all thought Moffat was the only writer who plants timey wimey seeds. I think the reference can be handwaved by Rose's subsequent messing about with the time streams Bad Wolf shenanigans. (Or of course ignored if you value sanity over continuity). My personal explanation for all paradoxes in Doctor Who is that the Tardis visits parallel timelines. It's just rarely mentioned.

Rob let me thankyou for one of the best and consequently most rewatchable Dalek episodes Doctor Who has produced so far.

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

Hi, Jane!

And - ah, no, we've been talking at cross purposes! (Curse you, internet!)

The story is explicitly all about a redemptive arc for the Dalek, and that was my intention throughout each and every draft. Right from the start where we see it chained up and tortured as a victim, the story depends upon the audience's natural sympathies being for the 'monster'. And the story was to play upon the ambiguity of that: at one point early on the Doctor called the Dalek a 'creature of lies', as reflected in the story's working title - but Rose calls us to ask ourselves whether it's ever as straightforward as that. When the Dalek first meets Rose, is it simply trying to manipulate her, or is it honestly revealing its despair? I always thought it was doing both at once, even in spite of itself.

So you've got a story which is structured around three encounters between the Dalek and the Doctor, and each one purposefully designed to show how much both of them have changed since the last encounter. The Doctor's fear and taunting give way to something colder, where it instructs the Dalek to die - and the Dalek itself acknowledges the change, saying 'You would make a good Dalek' - until, at last, he confronts the Dalek with a big gun. And the Dalek is changing too, far more blatantly.

What I wanted (and what I got, actually - thank you, BBC, for not making me change it!) was a sequence at the end where we saw both sides of the Dalek in conflict with each other. When it asks Rose to order its death, it still follows it with the Dalek shriek of 'Obey!' It wants to reach for the sunlight, but it also is appalled by what this new urge represents. Because we see the Dalek is capable of redemption we feel for it, I hope - but at the end of the day it's still a Dalek, and it chooses death as a Dalek rather than a compromised more complex existence. Which is its tragedy, I think. But I fundamentally wanted to explore that capability, and to ensure that next time we got to see the Daleks en masse (which I knew from then on all stories would probably do) the audience *might* remember them as a group of individuals rather than as an army, as something that aren't just emotionless robot but bursting with passion, and something that aren't just 'monsters'. The sequence where the Dalek asks Rose whether she's afraid, and admits he is too - which echoes right back to their first encounter - is something I'm very quietly proud of.

(to be cont...)

Link | Reply

Rob Shearman 4 years, 6 months ago

(...continued! Phew!)

But it's a difficult balancing act, and it's a scene which is based upon a certain degree of ambiguity. What I was resisting was the simple equation of Rose touching Dalek = nice happy Dalek. That seemed to me trite - the story needed you to believe that the redemption the Dalek might feel was hard fought for and painful, and basically, *not* some cute inevitability the moment it's infected with DNA. Chris and Nick and Billie play the scene so well, and make sure there are no easy answers to that final confrontation. My problem with the sequence - and it's only a niggle - is that the music from the nevertheless brilliant Murray Gold removes the balance, and tells you categorically that you should be feeling sorry for the nice Dalek. And I think that fudges things a bit.

Because David Anderson is right - there's nothing redemptive at all in the Dalek killing itself. That's the means by which it refuses to be the same as us. The redemption is something already achieved and wrestled with, and the Dalek simply can't cope with it. I think it's dreadfully sad the Dalek chooses extinction rather than life with hope.

So, long answer to your question: the production's redemption of the Dalek was what I wrote in, right from the first draft. The commission brief was to reintroduce the Doctor's big baddies, and to do so in a way that restored just how powerful they were, and that they were the key villains in the Time War. I don't believe in evil as such - I can't write about it anyway, all my BF stories don't have proper villains, and I was never able to write a monster story. I think Russell liked where I was taking the character of the Dalek right from the get-go, and was happy to encourage me in that direction - even though I get the impression it challenged the expectations of other people on the production as to what this story was meant to be doing. And ultimately I'm very proud the redemptive story was the one we made - when the Toclafane draft came in that was back to square one! - and my only concern was that we didn't overegg the sympathy earned by the Dalek so that its journey had some proper dignity.

I seem to have said something to you at some point during our previous discussion (clumsiness on my part, it's hard to do this on a kindle fire!) where you believed I was wanting some Saward-like depiction of the Daleks as something cynical and mean-spirited. That would mean I wouldn't have written a word of my script! The exploration of the Dalek as a character, and the way that character changes, up until the moment it seeks the sunlight, was my central focus for a year's writing. And that sunlight sequence was something I held on to since day one. (They do it nicely, don't they?)

Sorry we didn't meet at Chicago. (I was shy too! It was scary doing all that onstage stuff!)

Link | Reply

Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

So effectively "Dalek" is the orphaned story that eventually ends up never having existed, as "Doomsday" trumps it. However "Waters of Mars" depends on "Doomsday", as Adelaide Brooke remembers seeing a Dalek through her bedroom window while living near Canary Wharf.

But hang on, in "Victory", Amy doesn't know what a Dalek is, because the Crack has swallowed up "Doomsday". So does that mean "Waters" is gone too?

Which just goes to show how pointless canon really is, though that doesn't stop fans from trying to resolve it or break it (in equal measure).

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

My original interpretation of the ending of 'Dalek' was that there were two forces at war inside the Dalek: the inclination to be a Dalek, which was horrified at the prospect of becoming Other; and the inclination to be Other than a Dalek, which was horrified by the prospect of being a Dalek. Dying was the only thing that both sides could agree on.

I note that this is the first of several instances of a fundamental tension in the Doctor's character: the Doctor, for all he talks about everything dying and everything having its time, always chooses life -- the biggest incidents in the new series where I remember even the non-anorak fans getting really morally outraged are the ones where the Doctor chooses to save a life when they felt he "should" have let them die: Love & Monsters, Journey's End, arguably Forest of the Dead.

And you've got this handful of incidents where the Doctor ends up getting one-upped by someone else (either bested by them or bailed out after his own best plans fall apart), and it's precisely when someone else chooses to die: Dalek; Father's Day; Gridlock; Last of the Time Lords; The Poison Sky; Forest of the Dead; Waters of Mars. And, of course, in the end, when the Tenth Doctor goes, he doesn't simply get-fatally-wounded-saving-someone-else: he has to make the active and specific choice to die -- not "I'm going to try this dangerous thing which might kill me; oh look, it did," but "I have to go in there and press the "Kill the person who presses this button" button."

Link | Reply

Froborr 4 years, 6 months ago

I'd always read that final scene as redemption for the Dalek as a Dalek: It is the entirety of the Daleks, and it is becoming corrupted. The only way to salvage the purity of the Daleks--which, to a Dalek, is the single most important thing imaginable, even more important than survival--is to die. In its own, utterly alien value scheme, it's a heroic sacrifice, and so it's rewarded by getting to die doing its favorite thing. "Exterminate."

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 4 years, 6 months ago

Spacewarp: The Waters of Mars actually depends on The Stolen Earth, which is erased by The Big Bang (cracks), which means the whole of the Tenth Doctor's downfall is undone, which means no End of Time and no Big Bang, meaning... oh man.

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

Remember, time is more complicated than "X got erased so Y didn't happen." Like Mr. Clever says, you can trace things by the holes they leave. So even if The Stolen Earth didn't happen (Which is far from certain, given that the whole universe got restored from the backup), it can still have lasting effects

Link | Reply

Seeing_I 4 years, 6 months ago

"It’s the archetypal wilderness years story in that regard. The Time War is The Ancestor Cell and Lungbarrow and Zagreus and the Leekley draft."

Speaking of the Leekley draft, I am currently preparing for a dramatic reading of that script at the TimeGate 2013 convention, May 24-26 in Atlanta GA. Should be a cheesetastic good time. And believe me, the actual script is much worse than you think.

Link | Reply

Seeing_I 4 years, 6 months ago

Rob, it's always good to hear from you. Your zombie-grandma story still gives me shivery nightmares sometimes.

"When the Dalek first meets Rose, is it simply trying to manipulate her, or is it honestly revealing its despair? I always thought it was doing both at once, even in spite of itself."

In my case at least this authorial intention came through clearly. I always thought the Dalek was, indeed, that despairing - but would never deign to reveal its thoughts to human scum, unless it was for an advantage. It's only when Rose identifies herself as a companion to the Doctor that it speaks to her, after all.

"at the end of the day it's still a Dalek, and it chooses death as a Dalek rather than a compromised more complex existence."

Echoed by the Doctor's line in "Parting of the Ways," where he offers Jack the choice to "die as a human or live as a Dalek." Jack chooses death, too (though death tells him "no thanks" LOL).

Link | Reply

Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

Lewis: Of course, you're right. Duh. Got my Dalek finales mixed up. On unrelated news I'm one of the many thousands who've just got banned from GB for a week. Can't say I'm bothered. May not even go back. Ho ho.

Link | Reply

Spacewarp 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm currently re-reading "The Writer's Tale", and it's real eye-opener as always. It should be required reading for all Doctor Who fans, especially the ones who accuse writers (any writers) of lazy scripting. There are two jobs in this country guaranteed to age you before your time - Prime Minister and Doctor Who head writer.

Link | Reply

Nicholas Tosoni 4 years, 6 months ago

I explain away the vast hordes of Daleks as seen in "Parting of the Ways" and "The Stolen Earth" as "invasion theater." That is, they're *exulting* in their supremacy.

Link | Reply

Scott 4 years, 6 months ago

I do very much like the idea of a Dalek being so filled with contempt for someone that it can't even be bothered to exterminate them; it ties in nicely with the Doctor's declaration that even the Dalek is superior to Van Statten.

(And also, I did have to suppress a yelp of glee upon discovering the writer of the episode in question had commented favourably on one of my observations of it. :-))

Link | Reply

Charles Knight 4 years, 6 months ago

"This and the fact that the new series eventually provides a new origin for the Cybermen suggests that the Mondasian set may have perished. "

Just as a very minor point - while I don't think it is every every explicitly stated on screen - Moffat went back to and only uses *our* Cybermen - who now just look just the same as the alternative universe Cybermen so...

Link | Reply

Ross 4 years, 6 months ago

Until they explicitly state as much, I am assuming that the Cybus-Cybermen who escaped the void assimilated the local Cybermen, this being why they (a) look the same (b) aren't extinct any more, and (c) Aren't complete crap.

Link | Reply

Assad K 4 years, 6 months ago

At least 'our' Cybermen didn't have a silly catchphrase (unless David Banks' 'Excellent!!!!' counts..).

Link | Reply

darkspine10 1 week, 6 days ago

"The Daleks. Have been redesigned, and apparently acquired a wealth of new tricks. Several seem unique to this model: the swiveling midsection, the Matrix-like bullet stopping, and the enhanced plunger are all one-shots."

That's not actually true. The enhanced plunger is also used in Doomsday to extract Dr Singh's brainwaves, and to scan for intelligence in Daleks in Manhattan.

The swivelling midsection is seen again in both The Parting of the Ways and Evolution of the Daleks (during the attack on Hooverville).

And finally, the bullet shield appears again in Parting. It's not until Evolution when we first see a bullet ricochet off a Dalek casing in the new series.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom