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Dalek

There. I've watched it (studio machine, in case you were wondering. But I still want to get my home media setup in order in case I miss an episode again). Meanwhile the entire Whovian blogosphere has already moved on from "Best \/\/40O 3\/Ah" to "Look! Shiny new Fear Forecast on the Beeb!" But it was good. It really was. Spoilers below the cut.

What made it good, though, wasn't the writing, which was really no worse or better than similar handlings of the "Alien enemy robot is lost and alone with our heroes, who turn out not to be such paragons of virtue themselves" template. I've seen that one done rather poorly on the original Battlestar Galactica and rather better in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which the crew are stuck with an isolated human-born Borg unit and try to rehabilitate it. As an aside: the major difference in approach is that ST:TNG, being American, treated the template very optimistically, and Doctor Who, being British, does not. In ST:TNG, the lost Borg returns to his kind, but brings some of his humanity with him, paving the way for the conversion of the Borg into a defeatable and less fully evil Collective. In Doctor Who, the one remaining Dalek has no kind to return to, can't cope with the changes his absorbtion of Rose's DNA has caused, and sees no option but to self-exterminate in an unnecessarily cheesy special effect (the only one in this episode). Meanwhile we find out that the chappy with the ears is a genocidal maniac. And he caused the homicidal dustbin to turn up on Earth in the first place, and probably all that other alien debris as well.

So, yes, there were some good ideas used in the writing, there was a vision there that was distinct, but on the other hand, some of the execution of that vision was a little too direct. That wasn't what made it great.

What made this episode so good was the direction, and especially the fact that it was a single arc of suspence with only a little oscillation whenever Rose was nearly killed.
Imagine suspence as a graph of a wave-form: on the X axis, there is the amount of time that has passed since the start of the story. On the Y axis is the fear and tenseness induced in the audience - zero is no tension,the highest point of the visible axis is the point where you hide behind the proverbial sofa. There are really two basic approaches to suspense in visual media: you get short, repeated waves, rising more or less slowly to a peak and then dropping off sharply to close to zero as the latest scare turns out not to have been deadly at all (it has to drop off sharply to induce a feeling of relief, otherwise the audience experiences anti-climax); or, more commonly in movies after 1970, you get a single, slooooooow rise, and a single sharp dropoff. "Dalek", masterfully, combined the best of both approaches: tension built sloooooowly, but as the sounds of Rose being shot were heard in Van Statten's control room, tension dropped only slightly as Rose turned out to be alive but still trapped with a deranged Dalek. It then continued to rise to a new peak with the Doctor's search for a usable BFG from Van Statten's collection, culminating in his aiming said BFG at the weakened, self-doubting Dalek right through Rose. Even after that, there was still uncertainty about what the Dalek would actually do. After all, it was crazy by any standard including its own.
Time flew watching this episode. Best so far. Even with the cheesy self-destruct sequence.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 5, 2005 6:50 PM.

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