The Doctor: Ah! Look at you!
[Inside the glass case, the head of a Cyberman]
Rose: What is it?
The Doctor: An old friend of mine… well, enemy. The stuff of nightmares reduced to an exhibit. I’m getting old.
Production Code: 1.6.
Doctor Who Season: S27 (Ep6).
Story Number: 161.
Doctor Who and the Dalek…
This story is at the heart of the radical reshaping of Doctor Who for a 21st Century audience. So far this season, it’s already been established that the Doctor is the Last of the Time Lords. Why was this done? Some possible reasons: to make the Doctor “special” again – if there’s the possibility of other Time Lords and TARDISes roaming the Universe, the Doc just isn’t that much of a big deal; to simplify things – the amount of continuity concerning the Time Lords that had encrusted around the basic idea was too much and the basic bold core of the programme had become obscured; to create a compelling and emotional backstory for the main character.
This story emphasises that the Daleks are a mirror to the Time Lords, on equal footing, their greatest enemy, but the genius of the story is showing this rather than just telling.
Robert Shearman was requested by RTD to pen this story, and asked to re-use some of the ideas of his Big Finish audio Jubilee (audios that for years in the Doctor Who TV drought kept the spirit alive).
The Doctor’s character has been established for the new audience – he’s kind, courageous, curious, rarely but sometimes harsh (with Cassandra).
The story begins with the TARDIS answering a call of distress. The Doctor is actually a walking museum exhibit – a relic of times-now-gone. He reaches out to his past – another icon of Doctor Who (a Cyberman-head of Classic design), “Look at you!” he declares almost tenderly but reaching out means the alarms go off.
As Rose notes “you can smell the testosterone” as the Doctor faces off to his captor, but there is a difference to the two, even if the Doctor can macho-posture as well as Henry van Statten can. The Doctor shows a light touch to interacting with the alien musical instrument, it shows he isn’t quite the uncultured thug Van Statten is (who tosses the instrument to the floor; who has the Metaltron chained up and tortured.)
Van Statten wants the Dalek to sing too.
An audience unfamiliar with the “Metaltron” might think that the Doctor might – as he’s a kind fellow in the main; as he’s answering a distress call; as he’s shown he’s not like Van Statten – well, react to the Metaltron in a certain way, a kinder way.
This story shows the Daleks are something fearsomely terrible, something that can cause the Doctor to throw off his halo of compassion in desperation and terror and anger. As the Dalek’s lights blink on (just as the lights of the musical instrument blinked on), the Doctor reacts.
After the fear, the realisation, it’s powerless.
This two-handed scene (between the Doctor and the Dalek), is the heart of the story.
“Ten million ships on fire” – that scene, dialogue. Shockingly defining this new era?
In many ways, it’s THE scene of the 2005 season – not just because of the shocking rawness of the language, the Eccleston performance, but the way it puts the finishing touches to the status quo of this new phase of Doctor Who:
Dalek: I demand orders!
The Doctor: They’re never gonna come! Your race is dead! You all burned, all of you! Ten million ships on fire; the entire Dalek race wiped out in one second!
Dalek: YOU LIE!
The Doctor: I watched it happen! I MADE IT HAPPEN!
The Doctor and the TARDIS have been established for the new 2005 audience, and now the Dalek – but, for those who were already fans of Doctor Who, or this fan at least, there was another dimension – this dialogue was hugely resonant with what we knew of the Doctor and the Daleks saga already: I was thinking “Remembrance of the Daleks” as the ten million ships were described.
It sets the scene, the “Last Time Lord” has his mirror with the “Last Dalek”, and it emphasises the Daleks’ core placing in the mythos of Doctor Who, all in a few lines.
Interestingly, Skaro being gone isn’t mentioned (compare and contrast to The 1996 TV Movie which can’t wait to include Skaro), but then again neither is Gallifrey. That these “Space Planets” aren’t mentioned perhaps makes the dialogue more primal and elemental, it’s the Doctor’s people and the Dalek’s people who are the focus of the shouting and bewilderment.
Rose, ignorant of the Daleks – shows some compassion and through the touch of a time-traveller “regenerates” the Dalek.
This is a slightly counter-intuitive plot-devlopment (it doesn’t make much sense really), but – it’s Beauty and the Beast though – all the other characters despise this monster, even the Doctor, but Rose doesn’t (the Beauty to the Beast, glammed up in a minimal way, looking super-glamourous in a vest).
The camera loves the Dalek technology in the same way the camera loves Rose – the spinning midsection, the force-field – there’s a certain frisson for the audience to the Dalek’s “revenge” on its captors.
Ultimately though Rose is there to remind the Dalek – and the Doctor – of a world beyond hate.