Doctor Who – Dalek

Reinstated from Scary Rob’s Doctor Who Blog

I think I built this episode up too much in my own head… You see, I love Rob Shearman’s previous work to bits, especially his Big Finish Doctor Who audios Chimes of Midnight and The Holy Terror. This meant I was expecting to write a review praising Dalek to the high heavens and if I hadn’t been expecting to, I probably would have done.

The script is typical Shearman, and that’s by no means a bad thing but it means that it pales in comparison to his peak: the aforementioned Holy Terror. Nobody can make daft comedy terrifying by grotesque imagery like Shearman can, and director Joe Ahearne pulls off this idiosyncrasy well, but it doesn’t have the impact of The Holy Terror; Shearman does a brilliant job of turning the whole concept of what the Daleks stand for on its head by exploring the wider implications of the Dalek psyche and putting it in a position where it’s helpless and tortured but he’s already done this in Big Finish audio play Jubilee. In fact, Jubilee features much the same centrepiece: discussions of the meaning of Dalekhood between the Doctor and his companion and a captive Dalek (who won’t talk to his captor – what a coincidence!) who is alone, helpless and being tortured by an egotist who keeps it as a favourite pet. In doing this, Shearman says absolutely nothing new and only makes it all worthwhile with the poignant scene where the Dalek opens its casing to feel the sun on its skin.

The plot itself is full of holes, like the Doctor getting the bulkheads open again whole minutes after closing the things at a point where there was not enough power available for him to delay closing them. Convenient script amnesia dogs the whole proceeding. And some of the acting was just poor. I hope Bruno Langley’s character gets killed off before too long – or maybe turned into a piece of wood: that’d be a fitting end!

But let me now give some credit where it’s due. Rehashing must surely be allowed if the audience of the second showing is over ten times the size of that of the original. And just because the script is average going on poor compared to Rob Shearman’s previous form doesn’t stop it being a work of genius in the wider scheme of things. His handling of the Dalek is excellent, in fact: he manages to make the thing appear to be the unstoppable killing machine that they’ve always been billed as. Furthermore, the Dalek is genuinely scary. The Doctor’s panic when he first sees the thing is the first time I’ve been scared by this series and the tension of the later scenes had me as much on the edge of my seat as the escalation of The End of the World. And Shearman’s discussion of the Time War and the way the Doctor seems to have been involved goes some way to explaining why the current Doctor acts like such a twat sometimes – his own guilt has made him begin to question his behaviour in a way that ultra-powerful beings from the dawn of time never convincingly did throughout two publishers’ series of novels in the nineties. In fact, I’ve actually developed an affection for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor that I was beginning to despair of finding: he finally appears to be a coherent character as opposed to just a pointless rebellion against the Doctor’s previous personas.

So, in conclusion, suffice it to say that I think this is among the best episodes of Doctor Who, not just in this series, but of all time – it also just happens to be among the worst things Rob Shearman’s ever written. If this man’s shite is still genius, I don’t think anyone has a hope of touching his standard. It’s a shame he’s not on the list of writers for series 2, really…

~ by Scary Rob on 1 May, 2005.

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