Thursday, January 20, 2011

Postclassical Who - "Dalek"

The best bit of this story is the head from Revenge of the Cybermen in the glass case.
Don't take that as a particularly harsh criticism of this episode, because it's okay. I just enjoy the reference to the classic series, even though an unpleasant part of me feels like it's sullied slightly by merely appearing in this era. But I shall repress my inner Valeyard and aim for something constructive rather than indulging my worst impulses. "Dalek" is a decent story. Nothing mind-blowing, mind you, it's still drawn in rather broad terms, but it's probably one of the better episodes from this series and this era as a whole. Of course it has lots of problems, like predictable moustachioed semi-villain Henry van Statten or the tedious 'lots of soldiers getting shot' staple but it has its high points.
Eccly puts on a good show as an angry Doctor and we get more of an impression of him as a post-traumatic survivor who has spent his recent life being a soldier rather than a scientist. His conversation with the Dalek is well played, although I'm not sure that I understand it screaming when the grinder is being used on it; the armour wouldn't be very effective if it allowed the actual creature to feel pain, would it? I do enjoy the low, pleading, but also strangely seductive tone it uses when encouraging Rose to touch it. It's a shame that this occasion of Daleks being crafty wasn't utilised more in this era. The idea of it recovering due to being touched by a time traveller is absolute nonsense, of course, and I find that a little unsatisfying, although I do enjoy it drinking in the power of the entire West Coast. It's curious to consider it downloading the entire internet, because I'm amused by the thought of how much pointless entertainment and pornography it would have had to sift through to find anything useful.
Then the Dalek starts to have an emotional crisis due to absorbing Rose. I don't entirely mind this even though it's complete bunk because Daleks have changed perspective before, such as in The Evil of the Daleks, and its questioning of its purpose is okay, although I would have liked to have seen a pure Dalek simply going nuts as well and more of an explanation of the alternate perspective, which is mentioned when the Doctor says "It honestly thinks it's the right thing to do" about extermination. Such as it is they seem to dawdle a lot between the ramifications of a humanised Dalek and a normal Dalek, so they never get to explore either in as much depth as they could.
Then there's the weird ending. I like the idea that Rose isn't trying to protect the Dalek, that rather she's trying to protect the Doctor from doing something he will regret in a fit of pique, but I don't like the way that when the Dalek starts having suicidal thoughts due to the pain of its new feelings, they enable it to kill itself. That's like step one of how not to combat depression. I don't know why they couldn't have tried to encourage the Dalek to cope with its feelings and possibly taken it someplace new where it could start a fresh existence, but I suppose that would be too difficult for a modern audience to deal with - the bad guy has to get blown up somehow.
We also get some more info fed to us about the Time War - how it was fought between the Daleks and the Time Lords, who from this point on are sort of repainted as the two great forces of Doctor Who lore, how Gallifrey and Skaro have both been destroyed and how both races have been reduced to but one living representative. Personally I find this starts to bog down the series and the characterisation of the Doctor a bit as things go on, but at least it works here to an extent and it provides a bit more motivation to the setting, until the Dalek wants to see the sun on its face, which is a bit more of the sentimental garbage that this era starts to wallow in after a while. At least the creature looks suitably abhorrent and disgusting. Adam is also a tedious and simplistic character, but at least he doesn't stick around. As I say, good acting from Eccly and Nick Briggs as the Dalek, some good dialogue, a vague reference to Davros and an awesome Cyberman head are what elevate this story above most of the others this series.

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