Doctor Who – Dalek Review (or “How To Book The Daleks – Part Two”)

Back in my review of the William Hartnell story, The Chase, my angle was on how the Daleks are “Booked” – i.e. how they are written and presented to the public.

I made the point about how at that stage, they weren’t supposed to be the most threatening force in the universe and so making the story almost comical in its portrayal of them was not the bad thing that so many fans believe it to be.

Since then in their nine subsequent appearances in Classic Who, I lamented the way they went from being super-villains in Daleks’ Master Plan and Power of the Daleks, to rubbish characterless drones who were mostly fodder to keep a Davros story moving along.

Yes, as much as their final Classic Who story – Remembrance of the Daleks – was a top quality tale, the Daleks were a spent force long before that point.

So bringing them back was not without its risks.

Any writer tasked with the responsibility would have to make sure their iconic status was re-established and that viewers would find them refreshing.

So could Rob Shearman do it in the effectively titled Dalek?

We shall see.

Doctor Who – Dalek Review: What’s This One About?

Heavily influenced by Jubilee – the Big Finish Audio by the same writer starring The Sixth Doctor & Evelyn Smythe – it’s about a single Dalek left over from a war who is kept prisoner and tortured.

This one escapes and wreaks havoc upon the base it has been kept in, but a bond it has formed with Rose leads to it changing.

Thoughts – How To Book The Daleks (Part 2)

Booking is important.

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it's a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it’s a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

In professional wrestling, a form of pre-determined “Sports Entertainment”, the ability to sell tickets to the arenas and the shows to a Pay Per View audience depends upon people believing that there’s something worth buying; believing that something interesting might happen.

So the main event of the card has to involve a credible threat. If nobody believes the challenger will win then they won’t bother paying to see it.

As such, wrestling promoters – if they are doing their jobs right and they so rarely are – must ensure that the challenger is perceived as someone who has a chance of beating the champion.

This thinking can be applied to the Daleks.

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking "Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?"

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking “Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?”

The Daleks – as far as the general public are concerned – are the main villains in Doctor Who. They are his most deadly enemy. Within the context of the show this is also the case.

So they have to be strong, they have to have credibility; a belief that the Doctor might not be able to defeat them.

The Daleks from Destiny onwards were killed in such great numbers and so easily that each time they came back for more there was no drama. What was the point of it?

RTD was faced with the dilemma of making them credible and threatening again, and what better way to do that than to have one single Dalek wreak so much havoc.

It’s booked as being almost invincible, while also being a clever enough foe to outsmart its opponents at every turn. A one “man” war machine.

The Dalek is also given a personality, feelings and a sense of individualism. Through the power of Rob Shearman’s writing, we almost end up feeling sorry for it, despite it having just killed so many people. To some degree, the Dalek cuts through his captors like a Stallone or Schwarzenegger style action hero and the way it developed a bond with Rose and the way the Doctor was so desperate to see it killed, it almost, almost flipped the show on its head and turned the hero into the villain and the villain into the hero.

The Doctor’s reaction is what sells it most. He’s a mixture of terrified and furious. Its mere presence brings out a side to the Doctor that we’ve not seen before, even going back into the Classic Era. He wants to hurt it, he wants to kill it, he is the one – as I say – almost acting like the villain. And it’s summed up beautifully by the Dalek saying “You would make a good Dalek” to him.

His reaction to that was superb

When the 45 minutes was over – with the Dalek not even being defeated by the Doctor – the viewers were left thinking “Well if only one Dalek can do all that, imagine what an entire army of Daleks could do!?!”

Instantly they have been re-established as the number one villain to a whole new generation, and they also look a lot better too.

As such, Dalek was a success not just as a single episode, but in setting up the finale too.

Random Observations

  • It’s amazing to think that this was shown on TV at a time when 2012 seemed futuristic. I’m not sure technology has advanced quite as fast as they thought it might.

    It's a trap! Again!

    It’s a trap! Again!

  • Here’s a throwback from Classic Doctor Who – we have the ridiculous “Two Way Television Screen” for the Doctor’s conversation with the Dalek.
  • Generally speaking, the acting is again of a high standard, with the likes of Corey Johnson (van Statten) bringing solid performances to the table.
  • Christopher Eccleston was a star here. His range of emotion didn’t seem forced like McCoy or Colin Baker, and the writing gave him something different to try as the Doctor.
  • Even Nicholas Briggs, who I don’t like much at all, was very good as the Dalek voice.
  • I also thought it looked great too, and though I said before that that would go without saying, I’m saying it.
  • The Kaled mutant looked fantastic.
  • As well as that, the Incidental Music  really made a difference to what we were seeing and heightened the drama, probably for the first time since the show returned.
  • The only negative? The bloke off Coronation Street who I find wet and irritating.
  • What I found interesting was the almost arrogant/apologetic way Adam had to admit to being a genius. I’ve never understood why people should be embarrassed to be clever, but it’s fine to shout out from the rooftops that you’re thick, and wear it as a badge of honour? It’s inverse snobbery.
  • I loved the line about how van Statten owns the internet. I wonder if anyone really does?
  • I’m not sure how Broadband (which might have seemed new and exciting in 2005 but I doubt it) could have come from Roswell though?
  • Having the Dalek be able to swivel round like a tank seems like such an obvious idea that you wonder why it was never done before. Budget constraints probably.
  • The levitation bit would have seemed more exciting if it hadn’t been done before though, but I’m sure this was just to vanquish the commonly held belief by morons who would say that they can’t climb stairs.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

  • It might have been a reasonable thing to say in the 60s, but is the comparison to a pepper pot still valid in 2005? Do people still have pepper pots shaped that way as standard?
  • Hurrah for the appearance of a Revenge of the Cybermen Cyberman head. Although it probably should have been an Invasion one if we’re being anal about it.
  • I enjoyed the scene where the Dalek crushed the bloke’s head with the sucker, finally giving that particular appendage some use.
  • If you like Dalek, then I seriously recommend you listen to the aforementioned Jubilee. It’s suitably different – and yet similar enough – to Dalek that you can easily enjoy both.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #15. High praise indeed

Doctor Who – Dalek Review: Final Thoughts

With a score of #15, this is Doctor Who fandom’s third most favourite Dalek story.

My personal opinion is that while that might be right, I’d disagree with Genesis and Remembrance being #1 and #2.

What is clear is that Dalek immediately takes the crown from the Aliens of London as being the best story since the show came back.

It does exactly what it sets out to do – it re-establishes the Daleks as the Doctor’s #1 nemesis.

And it does it with some style in a well put together 45 minutes that is a success on almost every level.

Highly recommended viewing.

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2 Responses to Doctor Who – Dalek Review (or “How To Book The Daleks – Part Two”)

  1. Joe Seeley says:

    Recently discovered you site and really enjoy going through your backlog of reviews, not limited to the Doctor Who stuff. Just wondering in what aspect do you not like Nick Briggs? As an actor? A writer? Or ??? I’m certainly a fan of what he’s done with Doctor Who in general and Big Finish in particular so I’m curious to hear more.

    Dalek was certainly a great episode for all the reasons stated above, but I find myself thinking Jubilee is even better, it certainly has more pathos and a darker tone (cf. that lil midget getting cutup to fit in the Dalek costume =-O). Of course you couldn’t just lift it from audio format and make it a success as a TV episode as-is, so Dalek does a great job taking the best elements from it.

    Keep up the good work. I always enjoy reading your and Doc Oho’s highly opinionated, entertaining, and informative reviews.

    • sgmilne says:

      Hi Joe,

      Glad you’re enjoying the reviews.

      With Briggs, I just feel – rightly or wrongly – that he’s too much of a presence in new Who. I mean, he does almost every alien voice, and his range of voice acting isn’t all that varied. I don’t think anyone can be that varied in doing alien voices, so it’s annoying to see the same guy doing them all.

      And the same goes for the Big Finish stuff. I know he’s the boss, but with the amount of releases of all genres that they do, that involve him (in some cases as the star)…

      It just gets too much.

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