Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dalek - "You would make a good Dalek."

Dalek (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #161)

Yeah, not so much. Hang around a bit and see how many of you there are ...
A single, dying Dalek is imprisoned in wealthy and immensely powerful industrialist's underground collection. Tortured and alone, it sends a signal to find more of its own kind. The signal attracts the TARDIS instead.

Don't touch the Dal... 
The conflict between the Dalek struggling for its freedom, in existential crisis thanks to the contamination of Rose's DNA (huh?), and the Doctor trying to save everyone from the Dalek reveals that one can't live with change. The other can.

If you're a fan of the wilderness years audio dramas, there's a level of this not entirely accessible to the casual fan. This story is based on "Jubilee," and makes canon sort of complicated if, like me, you're treating what's broadcast as the canon, such as it is, with the original novels, changes introduced in the novelizations, and original audiobooks as non-canonical. There's an insightful and compelling Sandifer post about this story because of course there is. That's the one you're going to want to read to understand how the Dalek is narrative collapse and get your fix of how this fits in the tangle of classic series, wilderness years, and new series synthesis of all that's come before in the act of coming into its own.

Following my M.O., I'm going to stick with letting the folks who already said it so well have have their say where I don't have any significant disagreement. This is another one of those instances where I sincerely recommend anyone that might be reading this follow the links if they're into the deeper analysis. No need to reinvent the wheel.

I will say I've watched this four or five times since it was on TV and I'm still amazed how briskly it moves. There are several calm, talky scenes, punctuated by bits of extreme peril and (cartoonish) violence. The story never flags; it's tone and pace are almost perfectly executed.

If we're going to nitpick, there are a few things that come off a bit flat or jar us out of being completely absorbed in the story: Corey Johnson as Van Statten (a modern-day Harrison Chase) feels like he's out of the Jeremy Piven School of Bro Acting; and, we're told the Dalek killed hundreds of staff in the bunker, but we didn't see that many people -- like the death toll was inflated or not enough extras were roped into the production; and there's Adam, who just doesn't fit; and the music sometimes works at cross-purposes to the story. That last is a recurring problem in this season and one that becomes only more glaring upon re-watch.

Bringing back old monsters is a dicey proposition, and the way it undid much of the JN-T era, on top of just bringing back the Autons in "Rose" makes it especially risky. But this episode is brilliant and, had it been the last Dalek story, probably would've left them in better shape than they are now, which is to say, wildly over-used.

On its own, without foreknowledge that thousands of Daleks will be seen in short order, and without getting mired in stuff like whether that's the exact right Cyberman head in the display case, this story is engaging and satisfying despite its a discernible accretion of wrong notes.

Writing this in the long gap between the 2013 season finale and 50th anniversary event, this story highlights the dangers of delving too far into an explanation or presentation of the Time War, a complex, paradox-rich element of the mythology that, as Sandifer puts it "[is] crap. It’s unfilmable and untellable." Any account of it is bound to be unsatisfying, and it worries me that the John Hurt (not-)Doctor story brings us to the brink again (think about how close we came to getting bogged down in the return of Gallifrey) of burdening the series with Time War silliness. The Time War works as an awful thing that happened in the Doctor's past, a source of pain, loss, and guilt for him, but it's the kind of thing only the borderline annoying fan can enjoy -- the one with encyclopedic knowledge of the continuity that strikes us as only being possible for the Sheldon Coopers and Abeds of the world. (I say "borderline annoying" because that fan is the one who can and will explain, at length, what it's all about because there's no concise, interesting way to relay the jumble of contradictions and the framework of conjecture involved in telling the whole of it in something like a coherent manner. We can admire them for grokking something so implausible and riddled with contradiction while, at the same time, being glad we're not putting *that* much energy into reconciling it all.) The 50th anniversary and Christmas specials are still ahead of us as I write this, so here's hoping that all turns out to be satisfying and doesn't force the introduction of Capaldi to happen during, or immediately after, a polarizing deep-dive into roots of the Doctor's agony over his(/not his?) role in the [insert overly dramatic music cue here] Time War.

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