Timestamp #166: Dalek

Doctor Who: Dalek
(1 episode, s01e06, 2005)

 

Spoiler: This is one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who, and the context of the Timestamps Project has only made it better.

The TARDIS materializes in a dark room filled with displays after following a strange distress signal. As the lights come up, the Doctor recognizes the space as an alien museum. He and Rose spot moon dust, asteroid fragments, a Raxacoricofallapatorian arm, and the head of a Mondasian Cyberman, but after the Doctor touches a display case an alarm sounds and the travelers are surrounded by armed guards.

A helicopter arrives – callsign Bad Wolf One – and delivers Henry van Statten, the owner of the collection. He’s a power-hungry billionaire who flaunts his influence and easily disposes of employees who disagree with him. He looks over some new acquisitions with assistant Adam Mitchell and learns from the Doctor how to operate one of the more delicate artifacts before casually tossing it aside.

He’s a frustrating pain in the ass.

Van Statten invites the Doctor to see the one living specimen in the collection, a creature dubbed Metaltron. The billionaire has been torturing the creature in order to make it speak, but so far it has remained silent. The Doctor enters the vault and introduces himself, but is shocked when the creature repeats the name in a familiar voice.

Metaltron is a Dalek.

The Dalek tries to exterminate the Doctor, forcing the Time Lord to run for the sealed door, but the gun stalk does not work. Surprised, the Doctor turns hostile and confronts the Dalek. In turn, the Dalek asks for orders. The Doctor tells it that orders are not coming and that all of the Daleks are dead. The Doctor killed them all, along with the Time Lords, in the mutually assured destruction of the Great Time War.

As the last of their respective species, the Dalek concludes that they are the same. The Doctor hesitates for a moment but finally agrees and attempts to destroy the Dalek. He is removed from the room and escorted to an upper level by van Statten and Diana Goddard. The trip is filled with discussion of how the Dalek fell through time to Earth and was eventually retrieved by van Statten. The billionaire takes the Doctor to an examination room and forcibly scans the Time Lord, all the while gloating over his accomplishments due to alien technology. The Doctor pleads with van Statten for his release, but it does not come.

Elsewhere, Adam shows Rose his collection of artifacts. After some discussion on the nature of the universe and a little flirting, they turn on the cameras and watch as the Dalek is tortured. Rose and Adam rush to stop them, eventually interviewing the Dalek. It tells Rose that it is in pain, prompting Rose to reach out and touch the armor casing in sympathy. The Dalek absorbs part of her DNA and powers up, breaks free of its chains, and kills a tech with its sucker arm.

As the alarm sounds, van Statten releases the Doctor, but they are too late to stop the Dalek from breaking free of the vault. It recharges from the base’s power grid, downloads the internet, and regenerates its armor. It rampages through the base and slaughters the soldiers. All the while, van Statten worries about keeping the Dalek in pristine condition.

The Doctor and Goddard plan a method to stop it as Rose and Adam run up a flight of stairs to escape. Unfortunately, Daleks have learned how to navigate stairs by flying. This was impressive when I first saw this episode in 2008, but after having seen Remembrance of the Daleks, it became a fantastic callback.

Rose and Adam continue to run while the Doctor opens van Statten’s eyes to the horror they have released: The Dalek will cleanse the planet because no other being is pure enough to survive. Rose and Adam find safety behind more soldiers. The Dalek arrives, looks straight at Rose, and then exterminates the entire squad using the fire sprinklers to conduct shots like electricity from the gun stalk. The Doctor, van Statten, and Goddard watch in alarm before planning an escape route. The Dalek addresses the Doctor directly, explaining how the DNA of a time traveler regenerated it and lamenting the inability to receive commands. Without commands, it defaults to base programming: Exterminate everything. The Dalek and the Doctor go back and forth, igniting the Doctor’s fury, but the Time Lord is knocked back on his heels by the Dalek’s response: “You would make a good Dalek.”

Yes, this shell-shocked Doctor certainly would.

Adam and Rose run for safety, but van Statten is forced to seal the vault before Rose can escape. It’s just her and the Dalek alone, and the Dalek supposedly kills Rose. Fortunately for her, the Dalek cannot because it feels her fear through the DNA link, and the logical conflict is driving it insane.

Believing that Rose is dead, the Doctor directs his fury at van Statten. The Doctor promised to protect her, and now he has failed. When Adam arrives, the Dalek addresses the Doctor, reveals the deceit, and demands to be freed lest it truly kill her. The Doctor relents and raises the blast door before looking for a weapon to fight with.

The Dalek and Rose take the elevator to van Statten’s office. The Dalek confronts the billionaire over the torture sessions and nearly kills him, but Rose stops extermination in exchange for the Dalek’s freedom. She walks it toward the exit, but it unexpectedly stops and blasts a hole in the ceiling. Channeling the human DNA coursing through its body, it stands in the resulting beam of light and opens its shell exposing the organic Dalek to the sun. The Doctor arrives with a large gun, but Rose stands between the two mortal enemies as a bridge of peace.

She talks the Doctor down, forcing both of them to face their mortality. Both of them have started down a road of healing by contact with Rose, but the Dalek cannot accept what it is becoming because of the impurity. The drive of being a Dalek is just too strong, and it asks her to order its destruction. At first Rose refuses, but after the Dalek pleads with her for merciful relief she relents. The Dalek rises, generates a force field around itself, and self-destructs.

The last of the Daleks is dead.

In the aftermath, Goddard has van Statten taken away and mind-wiped. The Doctor and Rose head back to the TARDIS, and while Rose offers a bit of hope – if the Dalek survived, maybe another Time Lord did as well – Adam arrives looking for a way out. Rose asks if he can join them, and the Doctor tells her that Adam is her responsibility.

The three of them board the TARDIS and head off to the next adventure.

 

This entire season so far has been centered on a damaged Doctor. We have seen clues along the way, including haunted sadness, anger, and even deflection, but this is where his actions come to roost. The beauty of this episode, and the big reason why it is one of my favorites, is because it takes our hero through the paces: The Doctor’s anger pushes him back into darkness before pulling him back to face who he has become. He has to diagnose his injuries before he can allow them to heal.

The bridge between these stalemated warriors is Rose. Her compassion is something that the Dalek doesn’t have and the Doctor has forgotten how to use. The awakening forces both warriors to effectively lay down their arms, even to the point of humbling the Time Lord with the power of the people he has traveled for most of his lives.

The parallels with veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the horrors of war are powerful. The arc of redemption compounds that power, and the representation that anyone can be the catalyst of that change, even a nineteen-year old department store employee, makes it that much more special.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Long Game

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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