Revisiting Doctor Who: Series 1, Episodes 6-10

How desperate was the Lad to watch Dalek? Very. He pestered me incessantly. Not that my arm was too hard to twist.

Episode 6: Dalek

The only way this episode could have been better is if the BBC had resisted broadcasting a spoiler at the end of Episode 5, and if they had called it something else to maintain the secret just that little bit longer (though Dalek is just… so… perfect, as episode names go).

A lone Dalek? Well, it clearly represents the pinnacle of Dalek technical achievement, with top-of-the-range intellect, force-fields and regenerative powers fuelled by “extrapolating the bio-mass of a time traveller” (classic techno-babble, love it!). So a single Dalek is very impressive indeed, much more of a threat than they used to be. Which makes for a fantastic reintroduction of the Big Bad Guy to the new run of the show. It’s remorseless rampage of extermination is chilling, and combined with the revelation that the Daleks were the other combatants in the Time War (and that the war had utterly destroyed both sides), serves to remind us of why we are supposed to find them so scary.

But Dalek also manages something new – it manages to remind us that a Dalek is not a robot, but a living being. In my view the embittered, harsh exchanges of dialogue between the Dalek and the Doctor are sheer TV genius, and the emotional vulnerability introduced to the Dalek by Rose’s DNA infusion is a great device to tease a sliver of empathy, if not sympathy, from Rose, the audience, and even the Doctor himself.

Was the Lad scared? Was he heck. “It was AWESOME!!!”. I despair.

Episode 7: The Long Game

Satellite 5 is the central news hub of the Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire, but it isn’t what it should be – the Doctor estimates it is about 90 years behind where it should be in socio-cultural and technological terms, and needs to find out why. What follows is an entertaining reflection on the influence of the media, with a nice turn from Simon Pegg as the sinister Editor.

The Lad wasn’t overwhelmed, but the “ports” in the front of the “journalists'” heads made him perk up, as did the final revelation of Max.

I hope I’m not desensitising him. Bah, when I was six, Sutekh was zapping people, Solon was transplanting brains and stitching a monster body together for Morbius, and the Master looked like a decomposing corpse. The Lad can take it.

Episode 8: Fathers’ Day

Now I was really unsure about whether to let the Lad watch this one. Rose convinces the Doctor to take her back to 1987 so she can be with her father as he dies following a hit-and-run accident. But the silly girl saves his life, damaging Time in the process, and without the Time Lords to sort things out the nasty Reapers come swarming through the rip in the Spacetime Continuum to “sterilise the wound”.

Not only do lots of folk get gorelessly munched, but the death of Rose’s father is an interesting plot device to stick in front of a six year old. It is a strong episode though, emotionally rich, powered by strong performances from the whole cast and nice dialogue which brilliantly evokes the mundane. Though the bit where the TARDIS begins to materialise in the church, and the wedding guests in the pews don’t seem to notice much, suggests the director should have been given a bit of a wake-up nudge at that point.

The Lad did enjoy this one, and again didn’t seem to be scared or in any way perturbed. I guess Star Wars, Ben 10 and the first four Harry Potter movies (I haven’t let him watch the others) got to him before Doctor Who could. Are kids just that much more aware that it isn’t real than I used to be at his age?

Episodes 9 & 10: The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances

Captain Jack is a divisive figure in Doctor Who fandom, but I like him. John Barrowman is a cheesy actor to be sure, and I’m not sure how appropriate omnisexual innuendo is in a show like this, but he crafts a likeable character, adds a nice bit of friction to the Rose/Doctor relationship, and launches a character who will not only be a core part of the show’s new mythology for several seasons, but will also drive a successful, rather more edgy spin-off in the form of Torchwood. So we forgive him his flaws.

The Doctor and Rose are trying to track down an alien vessel that has crashed into London in 1941 in the middle of the Blitz. At the same time, a bizzare “plague” is striking down Londoners. And a haunting little boy in a gas mask is scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Everyone, that is, apart form the Lad, who has taken to wandering around the house with his arms outstretched, zombie-style, asking in a deceptively sweet voice “Are you my mummy?”. Creepy.

That the source of the plague is the crashed alien craft – a Chula ambulance, to be exact – is apparent by the mid-way point of this two-parter. The Lad was seriously bugging me to let him watch part 2, but it was bed time so I had to deprive him. It is quite clear that my offspring likes ’em creepy.

The second part races to a climax which is smile-inducingly uplifting and emotionally satisfying, while remaining fairly consistent with its own internal logic. It avoids being too cloying simply by contrast with the first nine episodes, all of which have had a perceptible darkness at their core. The Lad liked it overall, but I did have to take some time to explain what was going on.

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About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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