The Science of Doctor Who: s01e06, “Dalek”

Remember these? It’s only been a gap of nearly three years, after all, hardly a blink in the overall scheme of space and time and universes. And while my focus will remain on the science issues of the scripts, there’s likely to be commentary on plot elements too. There’s simply too much to talk about as new Who evolves. So lets talk about one of the best episodes of the Ninth Doctor, and probably the best Dalek episode since 1963.

The Dalek itself doesn’t pose too many science problems. It’s a mobile armored life-support unit for the Kaled mutant inside, and while some of the construction materials and power sources might be a little implausible, there’s nothing especially offensive there. However, I would like to know how the Dalek regenerates itself simply by “extrapolating the DNA of a time traveler”. I’m willing to accept that there’s a cloud of strange energy following time travelers around because of their exposure to the Time Vortex and the energies powering the TARDIS. I have more trouble that a simple touch from Rose could provide the Dalek’s nanomachines (of course it’s nanomachines, right?) with enough energy and raw materials to repair all the visible damage. Just how much time-zap do Rose and the Doctor carry around, anyway?

“The Dalek’s downloading the Internet!” Well, that’s great. But here’s how the Internet works: There are a bunch of files on a computer somewhere which make a game or a web page. Your computer sends a request from your home connection, to your Internet provider, to the big telecommunications networks, to the other computer’s provider, to its connection, and finally to that computer, which sends you the file(s) back over a similar path. Each part of that path can only send so much data so fast, so it doesn’t matter if your computer and your connection can download the Internet in an hour unless all the other parts of the path can.

And, well, even if super-rich guy has the special private uber-connection into the big telecoms, it doesn’t help. You still are limited by the capabilities of the local networks and computers from which you are downloading. So, sorry… no downloading the Internet in an hour, even if you are a Dalek. (And by the way, they’s why the “I own the Internet” line makes no sense whatsoever. Own all the big telecom companies? Well… maybe. Maybe. He sure as hell doesn’t own all the ISPs and the computers attached to them. Sorry, big guy.)

Oh, and could someone tell van Statten that we’ve invented all sorts of machines even in real 2005 that can scan someone’s biology without causing them excruciating pain? X-Rays, MRIs, tomography machines… van Statten’s clearly a bit of an idiot who doesn’t care how much he’s damaging the thing he’s “studying”. Hell, if he took proper care “studying” his specimens, he’d probably have learned so much that he really would own the planet.

And speaking of which, what sort of idiot kills people on a whim if they fail to amuse him? He’s a monster, and it’s played for a giggle but is really not funny. The guy’s lucky one of his own men hasn’t shot him in desperation by now if he’s been making a habit of this. And don’t tell me van Statten isn’t really having them killed: if your memory’s been wiped clean, your body may still be alive, but you are gone. You are never coming back. He’s a murderer on a whim, and I can’t say I’m sorry he gets the same done to him. (Yes, that means that Bail Organa and Owen Lars are also cold-blooded murderers, and no I’m not kidding.)

Still this is a great episode. Rarely has a Dalek been this terrifying; we can see that stairs really don’t bother them; and as someone said, this is the episode where a Time Lord acts like a Dalek, a Dalek acts like a human, and a human acts like a Time Lord. Some excellent acting all round, and this is one of my favorites. See you soon for “The Long Game”.

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