Episode 1.06: “Dalek”

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.

The first five episodes of 2005’s Doctor Who: an examination of the relationship between the Doctor and Rose

This post covers the following episodes:
1.01 “Rose”
1.02 “The End of the World”
1.03 “The Unquiet Dead”
1.04 “Aliens of London”
1.05 “World War Three”

The oddest things about these five episodes are how quickly everything seems to be moving and how taken-for-granted the relationship between Rose and the Doctor is. In the span of five episodes (and no more than a few days of subjective time, according to Rose), Rose fell in with the Doctor, decided to travel with him to who knows when and where despite knowing less than nothing about him, and finally deciding to reject her heartbroken and confused mother as well as her boyfriend and the shattered remains of his former life in order to continue traveling with the Doctor. And maybe one could buy that without much trouble, except for how little time the Doctor and Rose have spent together.

“Rose” was actually fairly good as a start, as it portrayed how fascinated Rose is by the enigmatic Doctor, a presence so different in her life from anything or anyone else. The brief glimpses she gets of what he does, the slight grasp she gets on what he is, the non-answers he gives to her probing questions (“Doctor what?” “Just the Doctor.”) all serve to help forge a link between them. Rose’s ability to help the Doctor, first by pointing out the London Eye as the antenna the Doctor is looking for (he has trouble grasping it because he’s looking for a complicated answer) and then by knocking the anti-plastic into the Nestene Consciousness, helps forge the link the other way. Rose sees an escape from her dull life. The Doctor sees someone interesting, someone intelligent who thinks and acts in ways that compliment his own methods and behavior. Even if it was hard to believe that Rose would want to leave everything she had ever known to go with this guy, at least they made a good try at justifying it.

On the other hand, take “The End of the World.” What a bizarre use of a second episode! Rose, one episode after bravely taking action to save the world despite the Doctor’s foolish error in judgment, is robbed of most of her agency, ending up locked alone in a room just as the crisis takes off, and waiting there impotently until the Doctor can fix things. He, meanwhile, has strangely teamed up with a tree lady, who dies in a fire by the end of the episode. This episode did virtually nothing for the Rose/Doctor dynamic, despite it having only been established a single episode ago. Instead, they each wandered off and did their own thing, like two people who went to a party together and then found that everyone else there was more interesting than their companion. Not a great way to kick off a relationship.

“The Unquiet Dead” leads us to continue to question how the Doctor has survived 900 years of time and space, as he naïvely believes every word that the Gelth claim about being a small band of poor lost souls just looking for some way of taking physical form and living peacefully. While Rose disagrees with helping them, her actions compared to the Doctor’s (unlike in “Rose”) do not compliment or help him, as she is also wrong. She doesn’t want to disrespect the dead by “recycling” their bodies, but apparently has no more issues than the Doctor with what the Gelth claim about themselves. In the end, the Doctor and Rose are saved not by their own actions, but by Dickins’s lucky guess that releasing gas into the atmosphere would draw the Gelth out of their possessed corpses.

The two-parter “Aliens of London” and “World War Three” takes us back to Rose’s home in London, a mere two episodes after she left. While the Doctor mistakenly arrives 12 months rather than 12 hours after their initial departure (Can the TARDIS even be fine-tuned? — they missed their target date by nine years in “The Unquiet Dead” as well.), for the audience and Rose it hasn’t been that long at all. It makes it hard to connect with the emotional response of Rose’s mother and Mickey. It’s also very strange to see the Doctor and Rose acting like old traveling companions when they’ve been to exactly two time periods/locations as far as we know: a space station near the Earth in the year 5 billion, and Cardiff in the year 1869. They haven’t even left the solar system yet, despite the TARDIS’s claimed ability to go anywhere in the universe. So when Rose talks about being unable to tell her loved ones about “the things [I’ve] seen,” it rings a little hollow. The things she has seen have indeed been fantastic, but your average science fiction fan can think of a dozen far more fantastic things right off the top of his head, and Rose’s experience is a very small percentage of what the Doctor and the TARDIS are capable of showing us. These episodes, again, split the two main characters for a large portion of the time, with Rose dealing with her family and the Doctor looking into the alien crash. The Doctor betrays Rose’s trust when he uses the TARDIS to take a closer look at the official investigation of the crash, despite promises not to leave her and lies about simply going for a walk (though his giving her a TARDIS key was a nice moment). In the end, Rose and the Doctor (and a random Member of Parliament) do get to work together in stopping the crisis, and Rose is able to offer the Doctor some help, but it is again mainly the Doctor’s show. She is totally absent, for example, from the climactic scene in the meeting room when the Doctor realizes that the crash was staged in order to cause that very meeting to happen.

There are a lot of things to love about the first five episodes of the 2005 series of Doctor Who. It’s a great introduction to the universe. The tone is equal parts ludicrous and serious in a way that works far better than it should. The acting is very good and the dialogue very enjoyable. The combination of CGI with practical effects is great. But they don’t seem to quite know what to do with the relationship between the Doctor and Rose. Maybe it makes more sense to a veteran Doctor Who fan. I know in the abstract that this show changes Doctors and companions like some people change their socks, so it doesn’t rely on its lead actors to the extent that most other shows do, but I’ve yet to experience it. Billie Piper’s Rose and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor are the first ones I’ve known, as I imagine was true for many people tuning into this show in 2005 (Doctor Who was a niche show for decades before it exploded in popularity with this incarnation). I’m trying to wrap my mind around their relationship and get an idea of what it means to both Rose and the Doctor, and the show simply has not given Rose the screen time to grow, nor her and the Doctor together the screen time to establish the relationship that we’re already supposed to believe in.