The Doctor and Rose arrive Henry Van Statten’s museum of alien artefacts in Utah, 2012. But one exhibit is still very much alive…
The Cyberman head in Van Statten’s museum is a rare, exciting nod to the earlier seasons of Doctor Who in the 2005 series. Long-term fans having scanned the walls of Clive’s shed and waited for a reference to the UNIT-era when the appear in Aliens of London in vain. I think probably at the time, in common with other fans, I was hoping that the previous years of avid viewing and collecting would give some insight and knowledge above the audience of newbies.
In 1972, the Daleks appeared for the first time in the Pertwee-era, in Day of the Daleks. The story was made by a production team who had never used the Daleks before. They recreated the performance from memory, so they don’t get the voices quite right. While the voices aren’t quite authentic, what they instinctively did get right was the Doctor’s behaviour towards his enemies. Pertwee stands up to them , treats them with contempt, suavely dismissing their ideology and evil ways. Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor approaches his first scene with the Dalek like an Actor, understandably reasoning that the Doctor would react with fear in the presence of his most deadly enemy. But cowering and begging to be let of the room isn’t a typical Doctor reaction, and I would rather see him face down the Dalek. Like a hero.
In his peerless TARDIS Eruditorum (2013, Eruditorum Press) Philip Sandifer, in his entry on The Dalek Invasion of Earth, says, “[The Doctor] takes the danger his companions are in and turns it into fun. And this is why he has to chinwag with the Daleks. For no other reason than that it is more fun. Every Doctor Who confrontation, in the end, is built around the expectation that the Doctor will enjoy it, and thus that it will be more fun to watch. The Doctor talks his way out of trouble because it’s more exciting. You don’t want to see the Doctor just blow up the Daleks from afar. You want to see him mock them first, then go defeat them.” I think this is why I dislike this scene so much. The Doctor reacting with such fear diminishes him, rather than elevates the Daleks to greater heights of scariness.
Once we knew of the War Doctor’s existence, after The Name of the Doctor‘s cliffhanger, everyone was curious to know what this John Hurt incarnation was going to be like. My thoughts turned back to the way the Ninth Doctor behaved on this first meeting with the Daleks since the Time War ended. Based on this I’d expected him to be perpetually angry, spitting, gun-toting psycho, driven battle-crazy by fear and hatred of the Daleks. But no, he’s cool as hell – like the Doctor should be.
What Rob Shearman does brilliantly is to address each of apparent weaknesses of the Daleks. They have a sink plunger for a hand, it can asphyxiate victims and download the internet; it looks like it can’t climb stairs (and can’t in the popular consciousness, despite Remembrance of the Daleks); we see it elevate in the stairwell. Although their frustratingly slow rate of fire from their previous exploits remains.
This has the effect of making the Dalek a credible threat once more, an unstoppable killing machine that cannot be defeated. The scenes that Billie Piper shares with the alien are the best scenes in the story. We’ve seen the Daleks manipulate humans before, exploiting greed and power-hunger in Power and Evil of The Daleks, but playing on Rose’s compassion is a great way of showing they are clever and devious, not just shouty tanks. Of course, all villainous aliens must be defeated by the Doctor, or in the case of the 2005 series, more likely Rose Tyler.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Dalek here is ultimately defeated because a girl touches it. Part of the Doctor’s anger in this story must be that the Time Lords never adopted a strategy of just transmatting teenage girls into battle zones to touch as many damaged Daleks as they could before being cut down by a hail of blaster-fire.
The twenty-first Doctor Who tradition of someone’s DNA being easier to catch than a dose of the clap finds it’s origins in this story. Here we have the Dalek infected with Rose’s human DNA, which somehow includes her morality. In subsequent series we’ll see the Doctor’s Time Lord DNA be transmitted to the human Daleks in Evolution of the Daleks by the medium of lightning; and by someone’s parents making a baby in the TARDIS. Conversely, in Big Finish’s Relative Dimensions we learn that the Doctor’s great-grandson Alex, half Time Lord on his mother’s side, has only seven percent Time Lord DNA. Which just goes to show, DNA is a funny thing.
Originally published on my Doctor Who blog: Trap One
Next: The Long Game