“Why don’t you just die!?”
Series 1 couldn’t have recovered from Aliens of London/World War Three any better. This episode was simply brilliant, with much of the credit due to the peerless writer Robert Shearman, who adapted Dalek from his Big Finish story Jubilee. Dalek did an exceptional job of introducing the Daleks to a new audience. It was very much from the Doctor’s reaction as soon as he realised what was in that room with him that it became clear this was something big. The wild succession of emotions that overcame the Doctor really brought home how deadly and heinous this creature was: from stupefied disbelief upon hearing that distinctive growl again, to abject terror at finding himself locked in a room with the hateful creature, to gushing relief when he realised the Dalek’s weapon wasn’t functioning, to terrible, fearsome rage at the despised, helpless thing before him. Christopher Eccleston’s acting in this regard was truly sublime; from memory it’s probably his best sequence in the entire series. He really brought across the Doctor’s sheer hate and fear of this creature, and, indeed, the episode succeeded in inspiring fear of the Dalek in the audience, too. It made emphatically clear that this was something unspeakably evil, and something indescribably dangerous. It would only take one solitary Dalek to wipe out an entire base, an entire region, perhaps even an entire planet, given time—and it would do so gladly. An exceptional first outing for the Daleks in the revived series.
This episode was also about the Doctor. “We are the same” the Dalek suggested to the Doctor, who began to contradict it before changing his mind and agreeing with it, then proceeding to attempt to kill it. The question “could the Doctor kill in cold blood?” was answered then and there. I think that might have been a slap in the face for a lot of those who’d watched the classic series and had become used to a Doctor who would never contemplate killing anything, even the Daleks (see: Genesis of the Daleks). We also learned, for the first time, that it was the Doctor who was responsible for ending the Time War, for the death of all the Daleks and the Time Lords. The man in the cricket whites or the silly scarf would never have done that. Could the Doctor really have committed mass genocide? Wipe out two entire intelligent species, including his own? Kill billions, trillions, of living beings? Apparently he could, and did. “You would make a good Dalek” the Dalek said to the Doctor as the Doctor prepared to kill the last Dalek remaining, finishing his bloody job. It’s really bracing, provocative viewing, and very well done indeed.