Friday, 15 January 2010

Series one #5: "You would make a good Dalek"

Review: DALEK
Written by Robert Shearman, directed by Joe Ahearne, 2005

There isn’t much to say about this episode. I think it’s the most entirely successful episode of the series so far, including as it does the best ever use and exploration of the Daleks, as well as feeling substantial enough to convince as a whole, complete story within the 45 minute runtime. It also undoubtedly benefits from an admirably tighter focus and limited setting – something which is arguably true of series one in its entirety, compared to later stories like The Fires of Pompeii or Planet of the Dead. And it was genius to hold back such a major part of the Doctor Who ‘legend,’ which makes so much more sense than the series blowing its wad with them in a season opener.

The Dalek/Doctor interaction is genuinely electrifying, and I love the unheroic spin on the Doctor, and his spittle-flecked vitriol (“Why don’t you just DIE!”). However, the story is a bit too desperate to show off by countering old prejudices about the series, and therefore overdoing the Dalek’s capabilities, and also too in love with Terminator-lite hardware. I’d prefer some of the more unhinged, dwarf-mutilating bonkers-ness of Shearman’s Jubilee audio.

Also, although the idea of the museum makes sense to be in America (it just wouldn’t work in England), the Utah setting doesn’t seem entirely convincing. (Conveniently British) Adam and the slightly clumsy love interest doesn’t work that well either. In fact, most of the incidental characters – Van Statton included – don’t really match up to the ‘hardness’ of the central conflict between the Doctor and Nick Briggs/the Dalek.

The emotional slant on the Dalek is very effective – I’ve always liked them best when portrayed as emotional (if deranged) rather than cold and logical – as is its perception and intelligence. This is the former portrayal taken to extremes, where we see one experiencing loneliness and anguish and self-doubt.

Unfortunately, all the subsequent new series Dalek stories have been downhill from this high point, with Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways immediately reducing them to a cartoon army, and mere shocktroops for their Emperor. (Although I guess that isn’t really a Dalek story; they’re just the most appropriate baddie for a big finale.)

However, does no-one else find a gravitas-boosting choral rip-off of Carmina Burana a hugely predictable choice for the Daleks’ score?

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