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Interview with Robert Shearman

01/05/2005. Contributed by Jessica Martin

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Beneath the Salt Plains of Utah, billionaire collector Henry Van Statten holds the last relic of an alien race. When the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) investigate, they discover that the Doctor's oldest and most deadly enemy is about to break free ... we sense dalek trouble ahead!

Writer Rob Shearman still feels like he was handed a winning lottery ticket, only to discover it was a double rollover week. Delighted to be asked to write for the new series of Doctor Who, he was then stunned to be given the job of bringing the Daleks - or rather a solitary, suffering Dalek - back into the Doctor's world.

"To be honest, I was staggered," he admits. "I assumed (lead writer and co-Executive Producer) Russell T. Davies would want to handle such a key episode, but he gave it to me and I was absolutely thrilled to get it."

Russell had been impressed by a 2003 Doctor Who audio play featuring the Daleks which Rob wrote, and he used its basic plot for the brief storyline which he gave Rob as his starting point for reviving the Doctor's arch enemy.
The Daleks, pitiless metal-clad creatures hell-bent on conquering the entire universe, first appeared in the show in 1963 and remain its best-known monsters. But they don't scare everyone...

Rob recalls: "When I told my wife that I'd been given the Dalek episode she wasn't impressed because, as she remembered them, they weren't anything to be that afraid of, and in a way she's right. So the way I approached it was to focus more on the creature inside the machine, to make it a proper character who elicits our sympathy at first but then displays all its evil and cunning.

"What Russell has done so well is humanise the series and make it more emotional. So to have the Dalek as the Doctor's biggest foe, it needed at least some of the depth of character that the Doctor now has in Christopher Eccleston's portrayal."

Doctor who in Dalek trouble

When we first encounter the Dalek, it is in a wretched state - isolated, imprisoned, tortured - but it still unnerves the Doctor.

Rob says: "There was always something a bit clinical about the previous Doctors - they never showed fear. But Russell said 'Who wants to watch a hero who's never frightened of anything?'. Hence the Doctor's terror when he realises he's in a cell with a Dalek. I think Chris has made him far more real, in a way, than his predecessors."

An accomplished writer for the theatre, TV and radio, Rob enjoyed "replaying" his childhood in the new series, having become a firm Doctor Who fan at the age of 11.

"I was too scared to watch it before then," he laughs. "I've been taken aback by all the excitement about the Daleks' return," he adds. "People seem to have high expectations. I hope, in the nicest possible way, they manage to traumatise a whole new generation of viewers!"

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