In this series of articles I am going to revisit past episodes of Doctor Who, or just the old favourites anyway. In this instalment I am going to explore ‘The Dalek’, an episode from Christopher Eccleston’s run.
This episode is a tribute, a love letter to Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ film series. This is because an individual of an alien race is the antagonist of the episode. We later became accustomed to The Doctor fighting armies of Daleks but this episode asserted how dangerous even one of them is.
Older fans who watched the show in its original run will have seen The Doctor face off against a dalek army. Nevertheless, this episode raised the villain’s profile. Something similar was done in the ‘Alien’ franchise. The first instalment only involved one xenomorph, whereas ‘Aliens’ featured multiple.
The first scene is a reference to this. Rose and The Doctor exit the TARDIS into a museum of alien creatures. This is more than the location of the story. It’s also a visual reference to the aspect I just mentioned.
In the same way that the curator of the museum has collected alien artifacts; the writers of this episode are presenting all the tropes of a creature feature.
‘The Dalek’ was a key episode for the show in general. Eccleston was of course the actor to usher in the timelord’s return. This was the first really dark episode in the new incarnation of the show. The previous episodes had been fairly light and fluffy whereas this episode was serious, high stakes.
Part of that feeling of gravitas comes from The Doctor’s prior knowledge, even fear of the dalek. He is even scared of it at first. I was too young to have seen classic DW so this episode’s first airing was my first experience of the daleks. I recall it being really effective that this brave hero was scared of this old foe.
Eccleston’s fantastic acting contributes to this. His aggression and unhinged anger show how scared he really is. The previous villains were dismissed with a clever plan and a wink to camera. This villain, has him backed into a corner. He must then become more dangerous like a wounded animal.
At one point, The Doctor completely loses it and the dalek responds: “you would make a good dalek”. That is one of the best moments in the show’s modern run. There are parallels such as this between the two throughout the episode, this is sci-fi writing with depth.
This is just one of the many highlight episodes I can think of. There will be many more of these retrospectives to come, the next one will likely be on ‘The God Complex’. Be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss it!