This is more like it! After several episodes consisting largely of fumbling around searching for a strong connection between Rose and the Doctor, “Dalek” succeeds where others have failed by delving deeply into the Doctor’s past and personal demons.
The Dalek, captured by American billionaire Henry van Statten, causes a wide variety of reactions in the people who encounter it. The Doctor is filled with hatred and seeks only to destroy it, completely missing the irony that he is having exactly the same reaction to it as it is having to him. Rose is curious and wants to communicate with it, seeing a person in it long before it opens its panels and reveals the fragile creature within. Henry, of course, sees it as a valuable status symbol, and seeks to keep it subdued only to possess, and to learn about it only to be able to engrave something on its plaque in his museum. The Dalek itself manages to convey an impress amount of feeling for a robotic dustbin that screeches like Commander Cobra. It’s alone and lonely, and seeks only to obey a horrible directive that no longer serves any purpose, the only thing it knows to do.
This is the most vulnerable we’ve seen the Doctor yet, over the course of an episode, as he is haunted by memories of the Time War and blinded by his feelings of hatred for the Dalek. Rose, who does not bear the Doctor’s baggage, is able to look at the Dalek differently. This allows the Dalek to manipulate her into touching it early on, but it also allows her to see something in it besides an emotionless killer. The Doctor and Rose are separate for most of this episode, as they usually seem to be for some reason, but their stories move in parallel and compliment each other. While they both, for very good reasons, fear the Dalek, Rose has an open mind and tries to find a way out that doesn’t involve more destruction. For the Doctor, destruction is the only option.
Their stories finally meet in the end, coinciding with when the Doctor and Rose are physically reunited as well, when Rose stands between the Doctor and the Dalek, preventing him from shooting it. Despite the fact that it manipulated her before, Rose senses that the Dalek is harmless and sincere now, and such is her power over the Doctor that he is willing to listen to her and be convinced. This episode also contains the nice moment when the Doctor thinks that he has condemned Rose to die when he seals the vault to trap the Dalek before she can escape. His reaction, and his later unwillingness, after finding she is alive, to actually let her die in order to keep the Dalek trapped, speaks volumes about his feelings for Rose, much more than has been said in the previous five episodes. He sees himself, more than anything else, as Rose’s protector, to the extent that he looses the Dalek on the world rather than let it kill her. This is a highly irrational decision, but it’s believable and a great character moment.
Early in the episode, the Dalek claims that it and the Doctor are “the same,” because they are both the last of the kind and the last survivors of the Time War. The Doctor vehemently rejects this idea at the time, but by the end of the episode it becomes clear that they are more alike than the Doctor would care to admit. The Doctor is just lucky that his own directives are much more palatable than the unfortunate Dalek’s. In the end, the Dalek even says that what it wants is “freedom,” something that the Doctor takes for granted, but which the Dalek has never experienced.
This was easily the best episode of the show so far, and I hope to see a lot more like it.