Sixty Things I Like About Who: #6 – 11
This is part two of a series celebrating, in no particular order, things I’ve enjoyed about the first five years of the Doctor Who revival.
I have the feeling that the writer’s brief for this episode was, “Take everything about the Daleks that people mock, then knock ‘em down.” From the Daleks’ alleged inability to navigate stairs to the uselessness of their sink plunger arms, Robert Shearman’s script ably deflated the myths. The lone Dalek, last survivor of the war between his race and the Time Lords, was depicted as cunning, brutal and capable of psychological insight about his greatest enemy, the Doctor.
In returning the Daleks to their preeminent position of galactic menace–and making them a credible threat to the Time Lords–the production team perhaps went too far. New series Daleks are virtually indestructible. As this episode convincingly claimed, a single one could conceivably kill every last person on Earth.
“Dalek” also reestablished that the conquerers weren’t emotionless drones. Rose Tyler found herself sharing an empathic bond with the slimy creature inside the metal shell. She–and we–learned of its self-loathing and constant pain. When the Dalek mutant felt the sun on its body for the first time, one could hardly help being touched.
The episode was absolutely necessary to understanding the true nature of the Daleks, and it set the stage for their full-on return in the final moments of “Bad Wolf.”
#7: The Bicycle Pump
There had been suggestions in the original series that the TARDIS was a living machine, but the new series took it further. The redesigned central console was formed from a mass of coral that had grown around various found objects serving as in-flight instruments. Some were decidedly low-tech, such as a bell of the type you’d find on a store counter. The most inexplicable, however, was the bicycle pump. Its function remains unexplained–it’s apparently been identified as the “vortex loop control”–but what it does best is make the Doctor look like an utter madman.
#8: Sarah Jane Smith
Ah, Sarah Jane. Arguably the most beloved of the original series’ many “companions,” Sarah was by turns feisty, vulnerable, capable, flippant, brave and a bit of a screamer. Dumped on a suburban street by the Doctor after he was summoned to his home planet of Gallifrey, Sarah never quite left us, or we her. She reappeared in the sole spin-off of the old show, K-9 & Company, and again in the 20th anniversary episode “The Five Doctors.”
The episode “School Reunion” was not only a huge love letter to the character (and the middle-aged boys who’d been smitten with her), but an object lesson to then-current companion Rose. Rose was by then already becoming far too attached to the Doctor, fantasizing about settling down with him in some galactic backwater and raising Time Tots. Meeting Sarah Jane drove home that she was only the latest of many people to travel in the TARDIS, and that one day she’d be left behind as well.
Elisabeth Sladen still looked great (even if there’s a “for her age” hiding in that sentence) and caused us to fall in love all over again. So popular was her guest appearance that she was at last awarded a successful spin-off series. The Sarah Jane Adventures airs on the BBC’s kids channel, and has recently completed its third season.
#9: Mercy Hartigan
Old-school Doctor Who didn’t have many female villains. Sure, there was the Rani, as well as Queen Xanxia, Lady Adrasta and Cessair of Diplos. But one of the most prominent was Eldrad, and she turned out to be a dude.
New Who, however, has demonstrated again and again that, like Barbie, girls can do conquer and destroy anything. In just the first four seasons, their wicked ranks have included Lady Cassandra, Blon Fel-Fotch, the Wire, Tess Booberson, the Empress of Racnoss, Florence Finnegan, the Carrionites and Matron Cofelia.
The most recent femme fatale was Mercy Hartigan from the 2008 Christmas special “The Next Doctor.” Mercy’s backstory was deliberately left unclear, though it was subtly implied she’d been a former prostitute. Whatever her actual profession, she was deeply angry at the patriarchal nature of the Victorian Age into which she was born.
She made a stunning appearance at a snowy graveside, disrupting the somber atmosphere with her flaming red dress. The objections of the pallbearers were soon stilled when she loosed her accomplices, the Cybermen, upon them.
Hartigan aided the invaders in constructing and powering up their massive Cyberking, but was betrayed when they forced her to become its controlling intelligence. In the end, her mind proved too strong and she dominated the Cybermen in turn.
There will be a new race of Cybermen! My Cybermen! Logic and strength combined with fury and passion!
I think it’s too bad she didn’t succeed. The Cybermen have always been second-class Who villains; they’re the ones you call up when the Daleks aren’t available. I would’ve welcomed a revamped Cyber-race with Hartigan as its “king.”
Which brings us to the next item on this list:
#10: Giant Steampunk Cyberman!
Because, Giant Steampunk Cyberman!
It’s a Cyberman! Powered by steam! And it’s giant!
And if a giant, steampunk Cyberman controlled by an angry ex-whore wasn’t enough, its arms turned into guns!
Say it loud! (Because that’s the only way you’ll be heard above the sound of steam-driven pistons!) GIANT STEAMPUNK CYBERMAN!
#11: The Doctor Says “No”
I get chills every time I watch this scene, and I’ve watched it a great many times. In the concluding minutes of “Bad Wolf,” the 9th Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) realized that Rose had been spirited away to a hidden Dalek fleet. The Daleks got all up in his grill with their “we will exterminate your companion” smack. Then the Doctor told them what he was going to do. And we learned that there’s nothing the Daleks fear more than a Doctor with “no weapons, no defenses, (and) no plan.”