Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Dalek

By Eddie Robson on 01 May 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Until now I liked the new ‘Doctor Who’: I liked it very much. But I didn’t really love it. These forty-five minutes have changed all that.

‘Dalek’ is all that I’d hoped 2005’s ‘Doctor Who’ would be: clever, funny, slick, exciting, emotionally charged, action-packed, aware of the programme’s history but not oppressed by it. It’s a triumph. By all accounts, writer Robert Shearman went through a great many drafts on his way to producing this script – including re-writes to accommodate the loss, then the re-instatement, of the titular enemy – and he can take pride in knowing that all his work has produced what may well be the best-ever episode of ‘Doctor Who’.

That script has benefited hugely from the contribution of director Joe Ahearne. Previously best known for his excellent hyper-naturalistic vampire series ‘Ultraviolet’, Ahearne has always been a shoe-in to handle some episodes of New ‘Who’ given that he’s practically the only man in British TV with a track record of handling material in this genre – in fact, the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t handling the all-important first block.

Instead, that block (comprising the first episode and the recent two-parter) went to Keith Boak, who frankly didn’t do a great job: he permitted his actors to mug too much and his action sequences were less than fluid. Thankfully, the goodwill and excitement which has accompanied the return of ‘Doctor Who’ has carried it through, as well as the more adept work of Euros Lyn on ‘The End of the World’ and ‘The Unquiet Dead’.

But ‘Dalek’ is so confident, so exciting, that it leaves all the previous episodes for dust. It’s a nice, simple plot: Dalek held prisoner in basement fights its way out. Doctor Who tries to keep it down there. A couple of contrivances are required to achieve this (it is revitalised by ‘the DNA of a time-traveller’… yeah, whatever) but otherwise it just works beautifully, with a series of great subversions that fulfil the episode’s lofty promise of making the Daleks scary again.

The flying-up-stairs moment is nicely done, but obvious (and, of course, it’s been done before). Much better are the skull-crushing plunger and the 360-degree gun-stick rotation, plus its processing power (it downloads the entire internet in a matter of seconds: given that this would have involved reading the Ain’t It Cool message boards, it’s hardly surprising that it subsequently determines to destroy humanity).

The regulars really come into their own here: Christopher Eccleston manages to be an effective presence even when stuck in an office for half the episode and his confrontation with the Doctor’s old enemy is exactly what an Eccleston Doctor should be like: righteous, excitable, capable of getting a bit lairy. Billie Piper emerges with even more credit for her handling of one of the riskiest scenes imaginable: an emotional moment with a Dalek.

In fact, everybody involved with this episode, from Russell T Davies to the runners, should be overjoyed with what they’ve produced here. Can they top this episode before the end of the season? Let’s hope so.

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By Eddie Robson

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