Doctor Who Review: “Dalek”–Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World

“Hello. Are you in pain? My name’s Rose Tyler. I’ve got a friend—he can help. He’s called the Doctor. What’s your name?”

Most of Rose’s early days with the Doctor have been spent defending the people around her against the aliens who would harm them—or, in the case of the Doctor, against aliens who just have a different perspective. She fought for Mickey and Gwyneth and Harriet Jones, and on the earth’s last day, she stood there and watched her planet burn and remembered its people. Rose is so incredibly human, in a way that the Doctor needs. But she’s also traveled the stars, and that puts her in a unique position to get things done.

When Rose sees an alien in pain, she takes charge without a second thought, all of her compassion meeting all of the Doctor’s authority. This is what he’s given her. Her touch is literally more powerful now. It’s that same very human instinct to reach out and help, but it’s extended from a place of fantastic experience. As a time traveler, Rose has the ability to reshape the Dalek’s entire genetic structure. And here’s a news flash: Absorbing Rose Tyler’s DNA is all about absorbing feelings.

rose tyler dalek

Has anyone ever looked at a plunger and metal eye stalk with so much love? This show just gave an emotional arc to a Dalek, and all because Rose dares to care about it. Daleks are hateful and lethal and ideological in a way that isn’t dismissed, but maybe this one individual Dalek is capable of more, which goes against the Daleks’ “anything different is wrong” philosophy. The Daleks don’t have room for the individual. They don’t allow for change.

That’s really the difference between the Dalek and the Doctor: one of them wants to be changed by Rose, and one doesn’t. Rose asks the Dalek what it wants, aside from all the killing. It says it wants freedom, but it never lets itself get that far. In that gorgeous moment when the shaft of sunlight falls through the roof and onto the Dalek’s metal shell, the Dalek has to ask Rose how it feels. I’ve lived in perpetually rainy climates and had actual, nightly dreams about the sun on my shoulders for months on end. The sun is like waking up. The Dalek lets itself wake up, just for a minute. It lets itself feel that warmth, and then it retreats, overwhelmed. It would rather beg for death than live with these new emotions.

The Doctor calls the Dalek honest. It only has one purpose, as wrong as that purpose is. It carries out orders. And the fact that it has to beg—that the Dalek can’t even die without Rose’s command—is that honesty taken to the extreme. The indestructible killer is completely helpless on its own. There’s no one left to give commands.

doctor who dalek rain

Alone, the last of its kind, both a survivor and a victim of the Time War: the Dalek does have a lot in common with the Doctor. The trauma of the war is written all over Chris Eccleston’s performance. I love the way he rages at the Dalek. (“Fantastic. Ohhh. FanTAStic!“) But even with all of his anger and his repeated intention to kill his enemy, the Doctor would not make a good Dalek, precisely because he hates the idea that he would. It’s like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. If you don’t want to be in Slytherin, you’re not meant for Slytherin.

doctor who nine dalek we are the same

It’s clear that the Doctor fought in the Time War, that he took drastic measures to end it, and that he feels responsible for the death of his entire race. But the Doctor, unlike the Dalek, wants to move on from this. The Dalek was built for war. It craves orders. The Doctor’s been running from orders his whole life, and he holds a gun like he wants to keep it as far away from his body as possible, shifting uneasily on the balls of his feet. The Dalek needs its duty, and the Doctor regrets his.

rose out of the way dalek

Rose is here to put choice back into the equation. She’s not going to add to the Doctor’s guilt (“It wasn’t your fault”), but what he does with that guilt is on him, and she knows he’s better than this. The only Doctor Rose knows is the one who fought in the Time War, and she still sees him as fundamentally good. That’s really all he needs. Rose challenges the Doctor to be better by helping him forgive himself. She wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And they’re just getting started.

Bits and Pieces:

Traveling with the Doctor: worth dying for since pretty much always.

“What use are emotions if you will not save the woman you love?” Daleks ship it. And the Doctor does not care to deny it.

And the Daleks are RIGHT.

Look at this face.

“You just want to drag the stars down and then stick them underground underneath tons of sand and dirt and label them. You’re about as far from the stars as you can get. And you took her down with you. She was 19 years old.”

“The stuff of nightmares reduced to an exhibit. I’m getting old.”

“What are you gonna DO to me?” Eccles kills it in this episode, especially in his confrontation of the Dalek. 

"I saw it happen. I made it happen."

“And the coward survived.”

“It couldn’t kill Van Statten. It couldn’t kill me. It’s changing. And what about you, Doctor? What the hell are you changing into?”

“great space dustbin”

"I'm gobsmacked."

“I’m gobsmacked.”

“I don’t need to make claims; I know how good I am.”

“She’s gonna smack you if you keep calling her ‘she.'”

“The last guy who touched it burst into flames.” “I won’t touch it then.” #Sass

 “Adam was saying that all his life he wanted to see the stars.” “Tell him to go and stand outside then.” #SassIntensifies

doctor who nine dalek sass

“Dalek” is the first episode of the reboot that I’d call a real classic, bringing back the Doctor’s old enemies and pulling him closer to Rose. Six episodes in, and we’re really on our way now. What did you think?

2 comments

  1. RTD’s writing is SO character-driven. In the hands of another showrunner (no names named), the reboot would have been all flash and little substance for at least the first few episodes. “Dalek” is a psychological deep dive.

    Also, snaps for the sorting hat comparison. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

    –S

    1. YES. It’s so important that we were given episodes like this so early in the show’s run. We’re already getting such a strong sense of what the Doctor’s been through and who he is and who Rose is. I notice something new about the characterization with every rewatch. Love that RTD trusted audiences to follow these people.

      Good old JK.

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