"Have pity!"

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The Doctor and the Dalek face each other, the last members of their respective races. The Doctor rants, delighting in the Dalek's helplessness. Then the audience draws its breath in as the Dalek tells the Doctor what a good Dalek he would make. In his struggle against evil, has the Doctor become the very thing he was fighting against?


And that's the problem with Dalek. It's all terribly overwrought and emotional, but when you look past the syrupy music and the emotional manipulation, none of that actually makes much sense.

Take the Doctor, for instance. Christopher Eccleston does intense better than any other actor we know, and here he doesn't disappoint: it's a blistering and utterly convincing performance. This is a Doctor so damaged by his past that when reminded of it he's no longer able, as his predecessors were, to maintain any kind of distance. He can't help himself: he hates the Dalek, with a profound passion. Okay. That's not the Doctor as we've seen him, but that's perfectly fine - we know enough about his history for that to make complete sense. (What we do find unforgivably unDoctorly is his panicked scrabble to get away from the Dalek when he first sees it, but that's another matter altogether.)

So, scary, spit-soaked Doctor - fine so far. But what we can't accept is the script's constant shoving at us to condemn the Doctor for his feelings. Daleks. Ahem. Terrifying killing machines, responsible for the deaths of millions? Remember? But just because this one is slightly cuddly, we're supposed to think the Doctor's a Very Bad Person for hating it and wanting it to die. Que? Let's put this in the context Terry Nation was so fond of: the Nazis. Who amongst us if confronted with Hitler would feel any different from the Doctor? We'd be more likely to think there was something wrong with us if we didn't.

But feeling this hate means the Doctor's just as bad as the Dalek, right?

Of course it bloody doesn't. The Dalek hates because that's in its job description. It doesn't discriminate: it's an equal opportunity hater. The hatred the Doctor feels, on the other hand, is a direct response to the evil the Dalek represents, not to mention its track record. Spot the difference. Given that the Doctor hates the Dalek precisely because of the Dalek's evil, we don't think there's much danger of him turning into a Dalek any time soon. And because getting us to condemn him is much of what the episode's about, that takes a lot of the stuffing out of it.

But what about Rose? Rose feels pity for the Dalek; she wants to save it, not let it die, and she condemns the Doctor for his feelings. Shouldn't we feel as she does?

Well, the script tries very very hard to make us, but consider this: Rose doesn't know. She's never seen a Dalek before, and more to the point, she's never seen the destruction they're so fond of wreaking. All she's got to go on is non-specific ranting from the Doctor about some kind of general iniquity, but she doesn't have any actual details, and she's never seen it for herself. That's not wisdom: that's ignorance. What's more, when she's busy condemning the Doctor, she doesn't really understand how different this Dalek is from the others. She's only got this particular Dalek to go on, and this particular Dalek doesn't seem all that bad. Okay, it's killed a few people, but then they were shooting at it, torturing it and holding it prisoner. She's even out of the room when the Doctor's explaining its evil plans. The Doctor, on the other hand, is applying his past knowledge of Daleks to this one, which is a perfectly reasonable operating strategy: after all, even this more family-friendly model has threatened to kill the, er, woman he loves, and of course (tee hee) downloaded the entire Internet, therefore knowing everything (tee hee again). Rose doesn't get that, though, and so her judgment of the Doctor doesn't exactly carry a lot of weight.

And while we're questioning morality, what's with the Nicole Kidman-alike's decision, which we're clearly supposed to agree with, to mindwipe Van Statten and kick him to the kerb? Yes, he's not very nice - but isn't doing nasty things to nasty people exactly the kind of behaviour we're meant to be criticising the Doctor for?

And the Dalek?

Partway through watching this, one of us paused the tape and said "This is going to be Hugh the friendly Dalek, isn't it?". And a dreadful hush fell across the room.

For those of you currently making your domicile under a rock, Star Trek: The Next Generation's coolest villains were the Borg, who were pitiless killing machines very much in the mould of our favourite pepperpots. As a result, the episodes introducing the Borg were some of the strongest in the series. The absolute unwavering relentlessness of the Borg made an unforgettable impact.

Wouldn't ya know it? A couple of seasons down the track, someone said yeah, yeah, unstoppable evil hive-mind conquerors are all very well, but what if we made one, well, cute? And so Hugh the AdoraBorg was born. Gifted with individuality and emotions, Hugh stepped tremulously towards this-human-thing-you-call-feelings while the audience wiped away the tears. God, it was boring. And worse, it ripped up and stomped on the very qualities that made the Borg such great characters.

Can you see where we're going with this?

Like the Borg, what makes the Daleks so terrific is their total lack of empathy. So why would giving a Dalek a full range of emotions be a good idea? What, exactly, are we going to learn from it? That a creature without empathy once given it finds it harder to kill? You don't say. Wow, we never would have seen that coming. (We groaned aloud at the "It's beginning to question itself!" line.) And as well as it being thuddingly obvious, it commits the heinous crime of diluting the Daleks. No, no, no.

One of the many problems with a storyline of this type is that you risk getting trapped in a bog of sentimentality. We very much approve of the way the Dalek decides to embrace death over cuddliness, but other than that, man, is the slush ladled on. There's the drooping eyestalk, for a start. Ugh. And the music is appalling: all through Dalek it's hideously heart-tugging stuff that would sound obvious in a soap opera, but the mush reaches a crescendo in the dreadfully overblown sunlight scene. When the Dalek asks wistfully what sunlight feels like, we're probably supposed to be sniffing into our hankies, but the manipulation was so obvious that we just sat there stony-eyed as the music slurped on.

And our lack of involvement wasn't helped by the sheer stupidity of some of the plot. If the Dalek has no understanding of emotions other than hate at the beginning, how does it know how to emotionally manipulate Rose so effectively? How does it know she's a time traveller? How is one Dalek suddenly so powerful? How does it know how the Doctor feels about Rose? And let's not start with the whole downloading the Internet and therefore knowing everything stuff. (Although we will point out that if it really has downloaded the entire Internet, it's probably riddled with viruses and spyware. Now that's the story we really would like to have seen.)

That's not to say it's all bad, however. Far from it. While we don't like the basic structure, there's mucho good stuff in amongst it. As we said earlier, the Doctor is sheer brilliance, and the episode is more than worthwhile just for that. We particularly like the way he apologises to the Dalek for its acquiring feelings: he understands, far more than Rose can, how painful it finds the experience (and the apology also knocks the feet out from under the argument that the Doctor is crazed by hate).

And Rose is, again, simply dazzling. She's good all through (we particularly like her pretending to be gobsmacked by the idea of aliens when she's talking to Adam), but her "I wouldn't have missed it for the world" speech stands out: it's powerfully affecting in a way much of the rest of the episode is trying for but doesn't manage. And her compassion for the Dalek, ignorance-based though it may be, shines through, and with a welcome lack of sentimentality, what's more. Could she be any better?

As for the other characters, Van Statten is a bit too broadly drawn as the Ugly American to be very interesting, but we do love his portrait. We like the female soldier, who manages to inject a nice integrity into her scenes before dying for the cause. And Adam, well. He's not working out too well thus far, is he? We seem to have a tiny voice whispering "Adric... Adric..." in our ear. But we'll try and keep an open mind.

In amongst the angst, there are some terrific comedy moments: we love the Doctor's wonderfully Men In Blackesque "Broken... broken... hairdryer..." line. And our Ultraviolet favourite Joe Ahearne's direction is eye-catching, particularly in its use of close-up (we particularly liked the shot of the Doctor's eye during his obligatory "I'm sorry" speech). As for the special effects, we didn't find seeing a flying Dalek again particularly exciting, but we liked the unhinging scene and the cute little Dalek. And we totally, totally loved the bumps flying off and whizzing round. Fantastic!

It's fundamentally flawed in its conception. But the Doctor and Rose make it well worthwhile for all that.

MORAL: Be careful who you mingle your DNA with. It may have unintended consequences.



How does the Dalek manage to snap its chains so eye-poppingly? It hardly moves!


The Doctor's speech about Rose being only nineteen and all is very affecting, but unfortunately it's gigglesomely undermined by the next shot showing her standing there still breathing.


Why does Rose say "About time" to the burying of the museum? Sure, Van Statten might not have used the alien stuff for Good, but somebody else might have. The cure for the common cold's in there! And besides, is it such a great idea to keep truth hidden, as a general principle? Isn't that just what Russell T Davies is moaning about the baddies doing in The Long Game?

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.co.uk US: DVD not available

Buy entire series DVD box set: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.co.uk Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.com

Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.com

Download Doctor Who episodes at Amazon.com