1.6 – “Dalek”
Deep in an underground bunker, a rich man named Henry Van Statten has collected an array of alien objects. One of these, a so-called ‘Metaltron’, is alive and being held captive whilst Van Statten and his employees work around the clock to figure out what it is and how to communicate with it. Enter The Doctor and Rose, who quickly discover that the ‘Metaltron’ is actually the last surviving member of The Doctor’s deadliest foes…
I’m going to say this up front; “Dalek” is one of my favourite Eccleston-era episodes so, forgive me, because I’m about to gush as though I’ve been infected by the water on Mars. We all knew this was coming. Ever since Doctor Who was brought back, it was inevitable that the Daleks would make an appearance (and rightly so). We wanted to hide behind our sofas, but this episode gives us something different; a Dalek with a sob story.
The Doctor explains to Rose that they’ve landed in the bunker because something was “calling for help.” That something is, of course, Van Statten’s ‘Metaltron.’ In its own private prison, the creature is screaming in pain as it’s experimented upon and tortured in an attempt to get it talking. The Doctor is appalled by this and, upon entering the cage, he tells the creature that he has come to help. Hearing the name Doctor, the creature wakes and that well-known cry echoes around the cage: “EXTERMINATE!”
Except, of course, it can’t do any exterminating, because its power is dwindling and it’s trapped in chains. The Doctor’s reaction is, in my eyes, sublime. It’s one of Eccleston’s finest moments as the Time Lord, as he first panics and rushes to the door in fear, begging to be let out, before realising that his enemy is helpless. He shows the darker side of his character as he rails against his foe. His line as he tells the Dalek about the destruction of its race (“I watched it happen – I MADE it happen!”) never fails to send a shiver down my spine. Eccleston is brilliant in this scene, showing us that however wonderful we think he is, the Doctor is not a man to be crossed. And yet we also see a flash of the guilt he feels at the part he played in ending the Time War. As he turns away from the Dalek and lowers his voice to explain that he had no choice in doing what he did, the emotional intensity is immense. I can’t tell you how much I bloody love this scene. If this scene was a cake, I’d eat the lot, with no spoon. If this scene was a man, I’d marry it in a heartbeat.
I said earlier that this episode gives us a Dalek with a sob-story and, in spite of knowing how merciless the creature would be at full-strength, the sight of it screaming in pain as The Doctor forces an electrical current through it, moments after it has pitifully acknowledged that it is “alone in the universe,” is actually rather moving. I can remember watching this episode for the first time, thinking – completely unexpectedly – poor thing.
Just before we start fundraising for the stricken homicidal maniac (Dalek Relief anyone?), we cut to Rose flirting with Van Statten’s employee, Adam Mitchell. He tells Rose he’s fascinated by all things alien, but doesn’t believe space exploration will happen in his lifetime. He logs onto the CCTV in the cage and shows Rose the creature being held prisoner. When Rose sees the Dalek being tortured, she’s horrified (she’d totally be up for Dalek Relief – I can see her as Bob Geldof: “Every time I click my fingers, a Dalek dies…”). Rose insists that Adam takes her straight to the cage and it’s at this point that we cut to any Eccleston fangirl’s dream come true: The Doctor, bare-chested, handcuffed to a grid!
Yes, now The Doctor is being experimented on (and not in a fun way). Van Statten is overjoyed to discover he has not only one living alien in his bunker now, but two. This keeps The Doctor nicely out of the way for what happens next: on arriving at the cage, Rose takes pity on the imprisoned Dalek and promises to help. She lays a hand on its metal casing and BAM! It absorbs the time energy from the TARDIS, breaks its chains and resorts to its original setting: kill anyone and anything non-Dalek that it sees (memo to all staff: Dalek Relief is cancelled). Exterminate!
The Dalek does what Daleks do best and goes on a killing spree. It attacks everyone it comes into contact with, as The Doctor watches in horror via CCTV. Rose legs it with Adam and, chancing upon a flight of stairs, believes she’s safe. But this is New Who and stairs are no match for these bad boys. Elevate!
After screaming at the Dalek to kill itself, The Doctor is forced to seal the vault in order to contain the threat, thus believing he has doomed his companion to certain death. However, as the Dalek approaches Rose, we realise that the creature absorbed more than just time energy from her touch; it took on human DNA, too. As Rose pleads for her life, the Dalek finds that it can’t exterminate her. It persuades The Doctor to let it out of the vault in exchange for letting Rose go. From there, the Dalek heads to Van Statten’s office, intending to exterminate the man who caused it such misery. However, it fails to do so, after Rose again pleads with it not to kill anymore. The Dalek is conflicted by human emotions and it tells Rose it only wants freedom. After Rose takes it to the top of the vault to bask in the sunlight, it begins to question whether it wants to continue in its new form. The Doctor bursts in with a gun he’s found in Van Statten’s collection, but Rose begs him not to kill the Dalek, explaining that it isn’t as devoid of emotion as he believes. We see how much Rose’s opinion means to The Doctor and we witness him question himself as much as his enemy has. The Dalek cannot tolerate what it has become and asks Rose to order it to self-destruct. In a surprisingly moving scene (hang on…Dalek Relief might be back on!), the Dalek implodes, too conflicted to live with its new human DNA. How this episode manages to make me feel such sympathy with a bringer of death and destruction, I don’t know, but it does. As the Dalek dies, I always feel a pang of sadness.
The episode ends with Rose inviting Adam along in the TARDIS with her and The Doctor. That can only end well, right?!
Gush, gush, gush…Have I mentioned that I love this episode? From Eccleston’s incredible scene with the chained Dalek to the fact that I genuinely felt sorry for said mortal enemy in the end, this is a brilliantly scripted and perfectly acted piece of drama. The idea of human DNA changing a Dalek’s emotionless state and causing such huge conflict within the creature is a brilliant one. As the 9th Doctor himself would say: FANTASTIC. 9/10.
Written and edited by Emma Tofi