The TARDIS rematerializes in a dim warehouse in Utah, drawn there by a signal. When the Doctor flicks on lights, Rose exclaims they’re in an alien museum. “Someone’s got a hobby,” the Doctor notes. The collection boasts an instrument from the Roswell, the arm of a Slitheen and “an old friend of mine. Well, enemy,” the Doctor notes. A Cyberman’s head, “the stuff of nightmares, reduced to an exhibit.” None of these sent the signal; it was something alive, “calling for help.” “I’m getting old,” the Doctor says quietly, touching the Cyberman’s glass display case.
Suddenly an alarm sounds and armed guards run in. “If someone collects aliens, that makes you exhibit A,” Rose murmurs. Way to give up the game in the first quarter, Rose.
Shift to a crowd of sycophants jogging to keep up with their lord and master, one Henry van Statten. It’s van Statten’s birthday, which must make him particularly frisky. When his assistant objects to replacing the President, van Statten orders him gone: “get him out of here, wipe his memory, and put him on the road someplace” starting with an M. Later we learn van Statten gives such orders all the time, not just on his birthday. Really, that makes it way less special.
The next assistant, Diane Goddard, gains the post by scurrying to the head of the pack. Goddard phones Simmons, the staff member examining van Statten’s “pet,” asking, “Is it talking?” Well, it’s “screaming — that any good?” No way is that good enough, Simmons! That alien-led Marilyn Monroe-esque rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. van Statten!” isn’t going to sing itself!
When the Doctor meets van Statten he immediately identifies an alien musical instrument, “a long way from home,” the Doctor says gently. Van Statten shunts it to the side then demands to know who he is. “I’m the Doctor, and who are you?’ “Like you don’t know,” van Statten scoffs, like he “just stumbled in” to his massive collection of alien items “by mistake.” “Pretty much sums me up, yeah,” the Doctor replies brightly. After the Doctor accuses van Statten of locking up everything he doesn’t understand, and van Statten accuses him for appearing right where he keeps his “one living specimen,” Rose murmurs, “Blimey, you can smell the testosterone.”
Van Statten “owns the internet,” and, when he’s not collecting alien bits and bobs, creates technological innovations. He’s also a bore of the first order, telling stupid jokes and calling one of his many recruited geniuses “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” when he tells him to go amuse Rose. Then he and the Doctor are free to prepare to whip out their dicks. Metaphorically. Probably.
Outside the sealed cage, van Statten instructs Goddard to shut the Doctor inside. “Don’t open that door until we get a result.” The Doctor approaches the alien whose signal brought him there, saying, “I’ve come to help, I’m the Doctor.” As the thing asks “Doc-tor?” he whispers, “Impossible!” A closer look reveals a chained Dalek, shrieking “Exterminate! Exterminate!”
The Doctor bangs on the door. “It’s talking,” van Statten objects, perfectly prepared to sacrifice his guest. When no shot fires, The Doctor laughs wildly. “It’s not working. Fantastic!” The Dalek, once a member of a huge army of genetically engineered armored beings, is now “a great space dustbin.” “If you can’t kill, then what are you good for, Dalek?” the Doctor taunts.
The Dalek insists he’s a soldier, “bred to receive orders. I demand orders!” But the entire Dalek race is wiped out. “I watched it happen, made it happen!” the Doctor yells before saying quietly, “I had no choice.” Even in this moment of exulting over an enemy, the Doctor feels the pangs of being forced to wipe out a group, even a group that wanted him dead.
“I am alone in the universe,” the Dalek says, and “so are you,” for the Time Lords are also dead. If they’re alike, as the Dalek suggests, then the Dalek deserves the same punishment it meted out. “Exterminate,” the Doctor says vengefully, pulling a lever to execute it with electricity. Wow, there go those pangs of guilt; the Doctor’s already borrowed the Dalek’s war cry and approach to dealing with an enemy.
Van Statten and his minions run in when the Dalek is threatened, stopping the Doctor. Meanwhile, Rose looks through Adam’s alien paraphernalia, replying kindly, “I’m gobsmacked, yeah,” when he tells her aliens and time-travel actually exist. Good thing he’s so pretty. He’d give anything to travel the stars, he says, wistful. To impress her, he patches into the Comm system to see what’s going on with the live specimen. The alien’s useless, Adam observes casually, “like a great big pepper pot.” But Rose, seeing Simmons torturing the Dalek, springs into action. They have to find the Doctor and get him to help.
The Doctor’s terse history of the Daleks includes how they were genetically engineered to remove every emotion and focus only on destruction, a horrifying prospect. Van Statten interrupts, “Genetically engineered?” clearly impressed. He and Goddard dismiss the Doctor’s concern that the Dalek is incredibly dangerous. After all, it’s been on earth 50 years already. “It must have fallen through time, the only survivor,” the Doctor mutters. “It must have gone insane,” while it waited, Goddard theorizes.
“You survived too,” van Statten says in reference to the Time War. “Not by choice,” the Doctor responds. “The only one of your kind in existence,” van Statten says with growing excitement. Whoops, van Statten’s got a new specimen for his torture chamber.
The minions don’t waste a jot of time; the next moment the Doctor he’s strapped to a table, shot through with lasers that both torture him and reveal facts about his anatomy. Van Statten chatters excitedly about the Doctor’s two hearts; he’ll patent this binary vascular system. Van Statten’s not merely a collector, then, but an exploiter of alien technologies. The Doctor screams at the pain but finds the strength to tell him “that creature in your dungeon is better than you,” because at least a Dalek is honest (unlike the selfish van Statten, who hides cures he’s found and markets stolen technology for his profit alone).
Rose and Adam reach the Dalek, sneaking in with his genius-level security clearance. “Yes, I am in pain,” the Dalek answers to Rose’s question. Though the humans who torture him fear him, she doesn’t. “I am glad before I die, I met a human who was not afraid,” the Dalek says.
Honestly, the Dalek at this point might as well be a great big cuddly monkey plushie to Rose, who has been told nothing of it’s race’s vicious killings. She only sees a defenseless being in pain. When it insists he’ll die alone, she reaches out to touch him. Unlike the last person who burst into flames at the contact, her contact shocks her and leaves a glowing hand-print. More, Rose’s touch rejuvenates, letting it blast off chains and “sucker” Simmons to death.
Van Statten, realizing the situation, agrees to the Doctor’s order: “release me if you want to live.” Still, the Dalek’s sealed in with a complex code. “The Dalek’s a genius,” (van Statten salivates at the exploitative possibilities), “able to “calculate billions of combinations in a second flat.”
The guards get ready to open fire. “Rose, get out of here,” the Doctor orders. Van Statten objects, “Don’t shoot it! I want it unharmed!” The Dalek makes quick work of smashing a computer monitor and soaking up energy, “draining the entire base,” while repairing itself in the process. It’s downloading as well, absorbing the entire internet. “It knows everything,” the Doctor says grimly (it’s also looked at oodles of porn and gambling sites — I’m just saying).
“The Dalek survive in me,” the lone Dalek shrieks, shooting instruments and cameras. I don’t think any reality TV star can top the Dalek for pure destructive histrionics. “You’ve got to kill it now,” the Doctor orders. But van Statten prefers a “wait while all the guards in the compound are electrified into dancing dead skeletons,” approach to the situation.
Bullets bounce off the Dalek. Van Statten remains unperturbed at the slaughter of his guards. “I don’t want a scratch on its bodywork,” he complains. “They’re all dispensable; that Dalek is unique!” “Give guns to everyone,” the Doctor tells Goddard, who seems reluctant to let this mass-killing continue even though her boss is a-ok with it.
Meanwhile, Rose and Adam run from the action, escorted by a guard. When they hit the stairs, Rose stops, saying they’re saved if it can’t climb. Rose’s theory is just good thinking, but Adam reveals himself as something of a douchenozzle in training when he taunts the Dalek: “Great big evil alien death machine, defeated by a flight of stairs!” Yeah, sucks to be you, Adam, because Daleks can fly! Or, at least, they can levitate and kill the guard like that. *snaps*
“I thought you were the great expert, Doctor,” van Statten jeers back in his office. He thinks they can talk the Dalek out of its raison d’être (which, if you’ve forgotten by now, is to EXTERMINATE!). “It must be willing to negotiate; there must be something it needs!” Oh, he so doesn’t get the Dalek thing, the Doctor tells him. “Anything different is wrong” to them, the Doctor insists. “They’re the ultimate in racial cleansing, and you, van Statten, you let it loose!”
The guards/military men give a resounding, “Whatever!” to the Doctor’s advice to concentrate fire on the Dalek’s vulnerable points (dome, head, eyepiece). They’ve had all kinds of experience shooting stuff, okay? Humming, “This Is How We Do It” after Adam and Rose run past, they and the rest of the Vault’s remaining staff open fire on an unharmed, frozen in place Dalek.
“It wants us to see,” the Doctor realizes. The Dalek elevates and shoots out the fire extinguisher, triggering sprinklers. Everyone continues to pump bullets out, getting wet and, yeah, highly-conductible in the process. With a single shot, the Dalek electrifies the floor, killing everyone on it, then doing the same to the balcony shooters.
“Perhaps it’s time for a new strategy,” van Statten stammers. Oh, you think? But they can’t abandon the Vault. The bulkheads are too massive, and they’d have to bypass the security codes. “Good thing you’ve got me, then,” van Statten answers, preparing to flex his genius muscles.
“I shall speak only to the Doctor,” the Dalek shrieks. He explains he regenerated using a time-traveler’s (Rose’s) DNA. But he knows he’s alone: his searching of the internet, satellites, radios, and telescopes confirmed what the Doctor said. “Where should I get my orders now?” he demands. If he has none, he’ll simply destroy. “What for, what’s the point?” the Doctor yells. “It’s all gone, everything you were, everything you stood for.” “Kill yourself,” the Doctor says harshly. “The Daleks must survive,” it objects shrilly. “Why don’t you finish the job, and make the Daleks extinct?” the Doctor shouts, increasingly frantic himself. “Rid the universe of your filth! Why don’t you just die?” “You would make a good Dalek,” the Dalek says evenly before shutting down all camera views.
If they’re going to open the bulkheads to escape the Dalek, they have to seal the vaults. The Doctor instructs Rose and Adam to run while van Statten completes the complicated override of the security systems. Time runs out, and a visibly shaken Doctor must execute the plan to seal the vaults without knowing whether Rose has made it or not.
“Rose, did you make it?” he asks urgently. “Was always a bit slow,” Rose answers weakly. She leans on the sealed door while the Dalek approaches. “It wasn’t your fault,” she assures the Doctor. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” They hear the Dalek shriek, “Exterminate!”
“I killed her,” the Doctor says, stunned. “I said I’d protect her, and I killed her.” It’s particularly poignant knowing that Jackie’s pleaded with him to keep Rose safe in the last two episodes. The Doctor turns on van Statten. “Mankind goes into space to explore, to find something greater –” That is what he wants, van Statten protests. No, he wants to drag the stars down and label them, the Doctor tells him. And “you took her down with you. She was nineteen years old.”
Rose, still alive, watches the Dalek. “Go on, then, kill me,” she tells it. “I feel your fear,” he says. “Daleks do not fear, must not fear,” it insists before shooting — not at her, but around her. “You gave me life. What else have you given me?” it screeches. “I am contaminated!” In taking on her DNA, the Dalek’s absorbed and then must react to Rose’s humanity. It’s another great parallel between the Dalek and the Doctor; the Doctor needs what Rose has to offer to survive emotionally just as desperately as the Dalek needed it to survive physically.
“You were quick on your feet leaving Rose behind,” the Doctor snaps at Adam, who rolled under the vault door to escape the Dalek. “Open the bulkhead or Rose Tyler dies,” the Dalek yells, asking, “What use are emotions if you will not save the woman you love?” “I did it once; I can’t do it again,” the Doctor says. It’s brilliant, really: he’s saving her now, but we also got to see the moment when he didn’t. Every time from now on when Rose is in danger, he’ll think back to that one time he didn’t save her (even if she lived through it after all).
“What do we do now, you bleeding heart?” van Statten explodes as the Doctor opens the bulkheads. “What am I?” the Dalek asks Rose, anguished, having a first for the Dalek race, an existential crisis. Given the opportunity, the Dalek doesn’t kill van Statten, though he obviously tortured it.
“There must be something else” it wants besides exterminating everyone, Rose says. “Freedom,” it decides, leading her to a place where it can shoot up through the bulkhead shields. A ray of sunlight beams on it. “You made it,” Rose says. She glances up. “Never thought I’d see the sunlight again.” “How does it feel?” the Dalek asks, beginning to open its armor.
I understand classic Doctor Who fans have seen Daleks in earlier episodes. But for someone like me, introduced to the Doctor starting with Series One, it’s shocking how vulnerable it looks, how simple in design its organic form is: a pulsing brain on a small squid’s body. It’s obviously been, in its significant numbers in the past and now even in its present form by itself, a massive threat to the Doctor. But it’s so defenseless looking, and with its newfound humanity impacting the way it views the world, it appears an almost entirely powerless victim.
We can’t forget, though, the way the Dalek ruthlessly and efficiently executed all the guards and staff inside the Vault. The Doctor certainly hasn’t. He emerges, ordering Rose to “get out of the way” and wielding a missile launcher he’s extracted from Adam’s stash. “That thing killed hundreds of people,” he argues when Rose won’t move. “It’s not the one pointing the gun at me,” she snaps back. “It’s changing. What about you, Doctor? What the hell are you changing into?” The man who’s taught Rose even villains deserve a second chance really would make a good Dalek at this point: he’s ready to act as a merciless executioner.
“I couldn’t,” the Doctor stammers, near tears. “I wasn’t.” God, Christopher Eccleston IS SO GOOD! He looks completely undone here. “Oh, Rose. They’re all dead,” he says at last. Cripes, it’s absolutely wrenching — they’re all dead, meaning the Time Lords, meaning every race and species that perished in the last Time War. Gah! *pounds the keyboard because of the utterly painful moment of awesome*
The Doctor recognizes the Dalek’s mutated now. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Isn’t that better?” Rose asks. Not for a Dalek, who demands Rose tell him to die. Reluctant at first, at last she gives the order. “Are you frightened, Rose Tyler?” it asks. “Yes,” she replies. “So am I,” it says, before giving one last “Exterminate!” order, this time to itself. Its casings release their bolts, which form a sphere around the Dalek, letting it implode and obliterate itself entirely.
How do I deal with the weirdness of van Statten getting his comeuppance, but in the worst possible van-Statten-y way? Goddard orders him off, telling the guards, “take him away, wipe his memory, and leave him by the road someplace. By tonight he’ll be a homeless, brainless junkie living on the streets of San Diego, Seattle, Sacramento. Someplace beginning with S.” Yeah, I get the poetic justice. But you’d make a good Dalek, Diana Goddard.
“I win,” the Doctor tells Rose heavily. He’s truly the last Time War survivor. But if the Dalek survived, Rose offers, “Maybe some of your people did too.” They couldn’t have, because the Doctor would feel it, “in here,” (he taps his head). “Well, good thing I’m not going anywhere,” Rose replies.
Adam catches up with them to say Goddard’s ordered the Vault shut down and filled with cement. Rose subtly asks if Adam can tag along so he can see the stars. “Plus, he’s a bit pretty,” the Doctor says pointedly. “I hadn’t noticed,” Rose says. Man, she’s a terrible liar. “Doctor? What are you doing standing inside a box? Rose?” Adam asks, mystified. He follows them, and the TARDIS dematerializes.
Wow, some ri-god-damn-dicilously good episodes this week, am I right? See you next week for three more recaps, Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, starting with “The Long Game”!