Matthew Kresal looks back at the origins of the popular Ninth Doctor adventure Dalek, first broadcast on this day (April 30th) in 2005.
A decade ago saw the return of Doctor Who's most iconic villains to the screen: The Daleks. Intertwined with the Doctor from the show's earliest days, it's arguable that their introduction in the New Series helped to cement its triumphant first year. Yet those watching the Robert Shearman penned episode Dalek likely weren't aware that its roots stretched back into the wilderness years to a Big Finish audio drama called Jubilee.
Jubilee was the fortieth release in Big Finish's Doctor Who main range and the story that kicked off the 2003 anniversary year for the company. The roots of the story can be traced back a little further in time when BBCi (as it was then known), fresh off the success of the first episode of the Death Comes To Time webcast, and with that story not being completed, turned to Big Finish for a possible webcast. A number of pitches were made, including a story by Shearman (already a successful playwright and author of Big Finish audios including The Holy Terror and Chimes Of Midnight) called Dalek Invasion. BBCi eventually went with the Cybermen story Real Time which was released in 2002, but Big Finish's then executive producer Gary Russell decided that Shearman's story would be a good fit for what was then their only major Doctor Who range. Upon release it was hailed as one of the strongest Big Finish releases and one of their best Dalek stories. Listening to it, it isn't hard to figure out why.
Jubilee featured the sixth Doctor, as played by Colin Baker, and his companion Dr Evelyn Smythe, played by Maggie Stables. The story opens with the TARDIS suffering a malfunction while landing, what the Doctor describes as it trying to land in two places at once, before apparently leaving them marooned in the Tower Of London. It quickly turns out they've arrived in 2003 but not the one that we know.
A century before, in 1903, the Daleks invaded in what has become known as “The Great Dalek War” which the Doctor and Evelyn helped to thwart but that left the late Victorian British Empire in possession of Dalek technology. The English Empire, as it became known, conquered the world and with many of its worst aspects still intact is now about to celebrate that anniversary. Part of which will see it blowing up the last surviving Dalek from that invasion which has been silent for decades and is now being tortured in the Tower in hopes of making it speak.
While the Doctor deals with the leader of the English Empire, Rochester (played by Martin Jarvis), Evelyn gets attached to Rochester's wife Mariam (played by Rosalind Ayres) and to the sole surviving Dalek, with whom she forms a bit of a bond. Eventually, through a series of events involving the Doctor's imprisoned duplicate for this time-line and the Dalek, the Dalek invasion of 1903 happens again in a 2003 unprepared for it. The Sole Dalek is convinced by the Doctor and Evelyn that the Dalek's goal of universal domination will only lead to the Daleks wiping all forms of life, including themselves, out with an insane single Dalek like itself remaining. The Sole Dalek agrees and engineers not only its own self-destruction but that of the entire invasion fleet which sets history back on track.
Viewers of Dalek may already see similarties between that episode and the audio Jubilee. Indeed one of the reasons that RTD commissioned Shearman was on the back of Jubilee's success, with RTD noting that it was the audio that led to him deciding to do a lone Dalek episode for the New Series. Indeed Shearman's first pitch, reproduced in DWM 449 in 2013, worked in many of the black comedy elements from the audio and even had characters named after two actors who featured in it. Early drafts of Dalek also featured the billionaire villain's wife with shades of Mariam Rochester to the character, while Van Statten's attitude towards the Dalek and his collection of alien artifacts has echoes to Rochester's attitudes towards both his Dalek and his collection of artifacts leftover from the invasion. The similarties go even further than that though.
Listening to the audio and comparing it to Dalek, there are at times striking moments of deja vu. The scene where the ninth Doctor encounters the Dalek for the first time and how that initially plays out, prior to getting into the Time War info-dump, is almost identically to the part one cliffhanger from the audio and its resolution in the second episode. The sixth Doctor doesn't have the Time War scars of the ninth and is led away from the Dalek under different circumstances but the essential substance of both scenes is the same.
Another example from the episode is the scene where Rose meets the Dalek prior to her touching it. In both audio and TV episode, the companion asks the Dalek if its in pain and expresses some outrage for the fact that its being tortured. Even when the Dalek is eventually let lose to kill (by having its gun restored in the audio or Rose's touch regenerating it on TV), it stops itself from killing that character above all others. The relationship between the Dalek and the companion in both are similar, with the companion feeling both pity and fear for the lone tortured Dalek. The idea of the Dalek being more than what the Doctor thinks it is by the companion bringing out some "good" in it, plus the aforementioned scene, show just how much of Jubilee there is in Dalek.
Yet its the differences that are worth noting and its those that keep the TV episode from simply being a remake of the audio. While both stories feature lone Daleks, why they're imprisoned and why/how they reach their eventual fates are significantly different. The Dalek in Jubille for example realizes the futility of the Dalek's aims while the Dalek in the 2005 episode commits suicide as it's unable to deal with the changes brought about by its encounter with Rose's DNA. Why Rochester wants his Dalek to speak is different from Van Statten's, though in both cases it's driven by each man's ego. The Dalek in the audio is also able to manipulate those around him, such as two guard characters where the Dalek makes a point about power and ruthlessness, something that is lacking in the TV episode. Last but not least of course are the different settings, with the TV episode being set not in an alternative 2003 London but in Van Statten's underground base in 2012 Utah, which means that much of the auxiliary and background details in Jubilee aren't used at all.
At the end of the day, Dalek is "inspired" by Jubilee rather than being a straight up remake of it. Yet while there are differences, the 2005 TV episode clearly has its roots in one of Big Finish's best audio stories, drawing out the best elements into a different context, making it arguably the single best Dalek episode of the New Series and the episode that firmly brought them into a new century. A decade on, both Jubilee (as an audio) and Dalek (as an episode of the New Series) remain excellent examples not just of the series in their respective mediums but also of the cross-pollonization of the show across those mediums.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.