Dalek was the sixth episode of series 1 of Doctor Who. It was the first appearance of a Dalek in the revived series and the debut of companion Adam Mitchell. The story was adapted from Robert Shearman’s Jubilee.
Narratively, Dalek was the first major look at the Last Great Time War’s destructive scope, on both the Dalek species and the Doctor himself, and the severity of the guilt and rage in the Ninth Doctor that lingered onward after he personally ended the war by causing an intolerable amount of death. It was here that the darkness that stained his spirit built to a crescendo, and he found an ominous parallel with his most hated foe.
The Doctor’s TARDIS is drawn off course by a signal and materializes underground in a bunker located in Utah in the year 2012. As the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler step out to investigate, they find that the bunker is a very special sort of museum, full of alien artifacts, including a mileometer from the Roswell crash, a stuffed Raxacoricofallapatorian arm, and even the head of a Cyberman. As the Doctor muses over the fact that he’s getting old, he touches the glass casing of the Cyberman exhibit and sets off an alarm. Immediately, he and Rose are surrounded by armed guards.
They are taken to see the owner of the Vault — Henry van Statten, a billionaire businessman who claims to own the Internet. One of his employees says that he can’t replace the president. Van Statten then fires the man with the remark, “Thank you so much for your opinion, you’re fired!” He has been collecting alien artifacts for years, and is impressed when the Doctor manages to identify a new piece that one of his assistants, a young English researcher named Adam Mitchell, has acquired in an auction. The Doctor shows van Statten how to play the alien musical instrument, but is disturbed when he tosses it aside carelessly. Van Statten asks the Doctor if he would like to see his one living specimen dubbed Metaltron, which is locked up in a part of the Vault called the Cage. Van Statten’s scientists have been trying to get the Metaltron to talk by torturing it, but it has so far remained silent except for screaming.
The Doctor enters the darkened Cage, and begins by saying that he is here to help. When he introduces himself, however, a grating, familiar screech repeats his name, synchronized with flashing lights. The Doctor is shocked at the impossibility of the sight before him as the lights come up. The Metaltron is a Dalek in chains. It declares the Doctor an enemy of the Daleks and cries its intent to exterminate. The Doctor, panicked, bangs on the door and demands to be let out, until he realizes that the Dalek’s casing is cracked and worn and its weapon stalk does not work. Delighted, the Doctor rounds on the Dalek, who is demanding orders. The Doctor says that no orders will be forthcoming; the Dalek race is dead, all ten million ships of its fleet burning, and the Doctor was the one who destroyed them. The Dalek asks what happened to the Time Lords, and the Doctor grimly acknowledges that all of them are dead as well, casualties of the Last Great Time War. The two of them are the last of their kind, and the Dalek declares that, because of this, they are the same. This casts the Doctor into a rage, and, determined to finish off the last Dalek, he pulls a lever, sending electricity coursing through the Dalek, ignoring the Dalek’s pleas for him to show mercy. Van Statten sends his guards to stop the Doctor.
As they ride up to the upper levels, van Statten’s assistant, Diana Goddard, tells the Doctor that the Dalek fell to Earth fifty years before, on the Ascension Islands, where it burned in a crater for three days before anyone could approach it. It passed through the hands of several collectors before van Statten bought it at an auction. The Doctor concludes it must have fallen through time somehow, and van Statten notes that the Dalek is not the only alien on Earth now. The Doctor is chained up, stripped to the waist and painfully scanned. As van Statten gleefully observes that he can patent the Doctor’s binary vascular system, the Doctor realizes that van Statten is not just a collector. He scavenges technology from the artifacts and then sells them. Van Statten proudly admits this, revealing that broadband was derived from Roswell technology, and that recently his scientists found the cure to the common cold in bacteria recovered from the “Russian crater”.
Meanwhile, Adam is showing Rose (who is unaware of the Doctor’s predicament) around the base. When Adam shows her the Dalek on the monitor, they see one of the technicians, Simmons, torturing it, trying to get it to speak again as per van Statten’s orders. Rose asks to be taken down to the Cage so she can stop Simmons. There, Rose talks to the Dalek, offering to help. The Dalek feigns helplessness, getting Rose to approach it. In sympathy, Rose touches the Dalek casing, and immediately the Dalek absorbs some of her DNA, which allows it to regenerate part of its casing and break free of its chains. When Simmons approaches it, the Dalek uses its plunger-shaped manipulator arm to crush his skull. The Cage is sealed, and van Statten alerted. The Doctor calmly tells van Statten to release him if they want to live.
Although the lock to the Cage has a billion combinations, the Dalek easily runs through them in a matter of moments. It then smashes a computer terminal with its manipulator arm, absorbing electricity from the Vault and seven states in the western United States to completely repair itself, as well as learning all the information on the Internet. Rose and Adam are evacuated from the level as van Statten’s guards surround the Dalek, firing at it. However, a force field melts the bullets before they hit its casing, and its middle section can swivel around, giving its energy weapon a 360-degree field of fire. Van Statten shouts over the guards’ communicators that he does not want the Dalek damaged, but there is no answer — the Dalek has killed all of them. The Doctor tells Diana to have weapons distributed to everyone.
Adam, Rose and a female guard named De Maggio are climbing the stairs to the upper levels, hoping to escape the Dalek, but it hovers up after them, killing De Maggio. Van Statten still thinks the Dalek can be negotiated with, but the Doctor bluntly tells him that the Dalek will kill everyone who is different from a Dalek, because it honestly believes they should die. It is the ultimate in racial cleansing, and the Doctor claims that van Statten has let it loose.
In the Vault’s weapons testing range, another group of guards take up a firing position. Once Rose and Adam are clear, they open fire on the Dalek, but it sits there, impervious, even allowing the Doctor to see this on the monitors to prove it. It then hovers in the air, triggering the sprinklers. With one shot, it electrifies the water on the floor and kills the guards there. A second shot runs through a metal walkway, taking care of those guards. It demands to speak to the Doctor, and reveals that absorbing Rose’s DNA — the genetic code of a time traveler — allowed it to “extrapolate her biomass” and regenerate itself. Its search through the world’s satellite and radio telescope systems has revealed no Daleks anywhere, confirming the Doctor’s claim that it is the last of its kind. As the Dalek now knows that no new orders will ever come, it intends to carry out the default Dalek function — to destroy and conquer. The Doctor suggests, with almost uncharacteristic venom, that if it wants an order, it should just kill itself. When the Dalek protests, the Doctor screams, “Why don’t you just DIE?!” The Dalek observes that the Doctor would make a good Dalek, leaving him in a stunned silence.
Van Statten has managed to restore some power to the bulkheads, but not for long. The Doctor holds off activating the doors for as long as he can to allow Rose and Adam to get to safety, but the power is failing, and he has no choice but to shut them. Adam makes it to the other side, but Rose is trapped. Over her “super phone”, Rose tells the Doctor it was not his fault, and the Doctor hears the Dalek cry, “Exterminate!” and the sound of the Dalek weapon firing. Furious with grief, he blames van Statten for all the deaths that have transpired, especially Rose’s.
The Dalek, however, has not killed Rose. The DNA it absorbed from her is making it hesitant, and it can feel Rose’s fear, something that a Dalek should not be able to do. It contacts the Doctor, holding Rose hostage and demanding that the bulkheads be opened or it will kill her this time. It taunts the Doctor, saying, “What use are emotions if you will not save the woman you love?” The Doctor tells van Statten that he already killed Rose once; he cannot do it again. He unseals the doors. Adam informs the Doctor that, while the alien weapons van Statten has collected are down in the lower levels, there are some uncatalogued ones in his laboratory. Van Statten mind wipes his employees after he terminates their service, and Adam wanted to keep some aside in case he had to fight his way out. The Doctor sorts through the pile and finds a large weapon like a handheld cannon.
The Dalek reaches van Statten’s office, and threatens to kill van Statten for torturing it. Rose stops it, and the Dalek hesitates once more. Rose tells the Dalek that it does not have to kill any more and asks it what it wants. The Dalek replies that it wants freedom. They ride up to Level 1, and there, the Dalek blows a hole in the roof of the Vault, letting the sunlight stream through. It opens its casing to reveal the mutated creature inside, a tentacle waving up to capture the warmth of the Sun. The Doctor appears, weapon in hand, telling Rose to get out of the way, but Rose refuses to let the Doctor kill it. The Dalek did not kill van Statten — it is changing. But what, Rose asks, is the Doctor changing into?
The Doctor, appalled at his own actions, lowers the weapon. Thinking on Rose’s words, he realizes that the DNA the Dalek absorbed from Rose is mutating it further. The Dalek also realizes this, as its mind is filled with so many new ideas, and it cannot reconcile it with the Dalek notion of species purity. It asks Rose to order it to die – at first she cannot bring herself to, but when the Dalek screams in desperation for her to obey, she reluctantly does. The Dalek rises into the air, the globes on its shell disengaging to form a sphere around it. The spheres emit energy and it implodes, completely disintegrating. Meanwhile, Goddard orders the guards to take van Statten away and mind-wipe him for causing the events that resulted in the death of 200 people. She also orders the Vault to be filled in with cement.
Rose and the Doctor make it back to the TARDIS, where the Doctor ruefully observes that the Time War is finished, and as the last survivor he “wins”. Rose asks whether it is possible, since the Dalek survived, that some of the Time Lords did as well. The Doctor says he would feel it if they had, and it feels like there is no one. Adam comes by, saying that they have to leave as Goddard is sealing the base. Rose hints to the Doctor that they should take Adam along, as he always wanted to see the stars. The Doctor is skeptical, but does not object and tells Rose, “On your own head.” Adam, not knowing what they are really saying, follows the Doctor and Rose into the TARDIS with a puzzled expression, and it de-materializes.