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DOCTOR WHO Review: “Into the Dalek”

DOCTOR WHO Review: “Into the Dalek”


When is a Dalek not a Dalek? When it’s the Doctor, perhaps? That might not be as exact a notion as the Doctor himself thinks, but it’s very much the central theme of this week’s Doctor Who episode, “Into the Dalek”. It’s all about, in the broadest possible terms, good and evil, and what makes someone one thing and not the other. It also plays with the idea of whether being a soldier is a detriment to a person as a person, if being trained to kill negates someone’s ability to exist in peacetime. There’s some really deep things going on here. Oh, and it’s a Fantastic Voyage pastiche, Clara gets to slap the Doctor, and we meet Mr. Danny Pink. Quite an episode, and one I think was bloody brilliant.

Co-written by Steven Moffat and Phil Ford, who hadn’t written for the series since “The Waters of Mars,” but who show-ran The Sarah Jane Adventures, and directed again by feature filmmaker Ben Wheatley, “Into the Dalek” is a complete tonal shift from much of “Deep Breath.” There was a lot of establishing that needed to be done in the series opener and as a result it had to also be a bit of a big rompy comedy piece. There’s really good stuff in it, but also a lot of not great stuff. Here, however, we’ve gotten over most of the post-regenerative getting-used-to-people pleasantries and can get into some of what I hope Capaldi’s tenure will include more of. Oh, Capaldi… he did go on a journey, didn’t he?

Doctor Who Series 8

We begin with a ship being chased down and ultimately destroyed by a Dalek saucer. At the last second, the Doctor materializes the TARDIS around the only survivor of the massacre, a soldier named Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), whose brother died in the explosion and who immediately holds a gun on the Doctor and demands to be taken back to her main ship, . Being a badass (yes, the Twelfth Doctor is a badass), the Doctor tells her to try again until she finally asks nicely and says please. Politeness as a form of badassery; I love it. Anyway, he takes her back to her ship, the Aristotle, where her commanding officer and uncle Morgan (Michael Smiley) says thank you, but that he can’t let the Doctor breach the security of the ship and get away with it and so must be killed. But oh wait! He’s a Doctor and the soldiers have a patient… it turns out to be a Dalek who screams that all Daleks must be destroyed. DUN DUN DUN!

Moffat has said that the cold opens for this series were some of the best in the show’s history, and I think this one definitely lends credence to that claim. From an awesome space battle scene to the Doctor being cool, to a really fabulous twist with the Dalek.

Then we’re introduced to the new recurring character this year, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a new maths teacher at Coal Hill School, and someone who we’re immediately told is a lady killer, but who displays himself to be anything but when he meets Clara and has THREE opportunities to go out with her and blows them all. Luckily for him, our Ms. Oswald is quite persistent. He’s also a soldier, who it’s very clear through his reaction to things that he has killed more than one person, and at least one who wasn’t a soldier. He begins to cry in class about it as well. I think from these scenes we’re meant to glean that there’s a stereotype of bravado and playerness about soldiers but that Danny doesn’t display these qualities the way people expect him to. Very interested to see more of him.

Doctor Who Series 8

And we come to the main thrust of the episode. The Doctor goes to get Clara and on their way back to the Aristotle he asks her a very serious question: is he a good man? That’s a very heavy question as well and Clara admits that she doesn’t know. That’ll have to wait because they’re going “into darkness,” though they didn’t Star Trek there so I don’t think it counts. The problem of a “good” Dalek is an interesting one and the Doctor can’t resist wanting to go inside of it thanks to the military ship (which used to be a medical ship) having a shrinking chamber. That’s handy. The Doctor and Clara are shrunk down along with Journey and two other security officers (in case the Doctor is a spy) and they end up inside the Dalek’s metallic infrastructure.

Trouble starts when one of the officers (played by Game of Thrones‘ Ben Crompton) fires a cable line into the Dalek and its antibodies appear. The Doctor seems like he’s helping when he gives the soldier a pill, but it’s actually just so he can track the man’s remains in the ship. They follow it down a shaft and end up in a pool of protein goo, made from liquified bodies of the Daleks’ victims. Gross. This is all in order to reach the Dalek’s “problem.” It has seen beauty, a star being born, and it doesn’t want to destroy things that aren’t Daleks anymore. But the Doctor is distraught when it’s discovered that it’s just a radiation leak that caused the malfunction. He fixes it, and the Dalek goes back to being a regular Dalek.

Doctor Who Series 8

The Doctor seems almost relieved by this, because he was right. There’s no such thing as a good Dalek, but Clara slaps him and tells him there has to be a way of making the Dalek remember the beauty it once saw and made it change. The Doctor says they’ll need to get up to the memory banks to do this and the only way is for the other security person shoot cables and sacrifice herself to the antibodies (Holy crap, she ends up in “Heaven” also. Missy is a weeeeeeird character) so that Clara and Journey can go up, while the Doctor goes to talk to the Dalek and reason with it. All this while the Dalek ship begins to invade the Aristotle to kill the humans and retrieve its comrade.

Ultimately, the Doctor is able to show the Dalek his own mind and his own reverence for the beauty of the universe, but on top of that, the Dalek sees the Doctor’s own capacity for hate, and specifically the hatred of the Daleks. He said earlier that he used to just be the Doctor until he met them on Skaro, and then he knew the Doctor was not the Daleks; the opposite of them. But he’s heartbroken to learn that he has just the same amount of hate as a Dalek does, facing the other way. The newly-Dalek-hating-Dalek then kills all his brethren and tells the ship to turn away. The Doctor said he thought he’d found a “Good Dalek,” but the Dalek replies that he, the Doctor, is a GOOD Dalek.

Doctor Who Series 8

Clara, as always, says the right thing when the Doctor needs it. Not only the slap and making him see he was being an idiot, but at the end when she tells him she doesn’t know if he’s a good man but he tries to be and that makes all the difference. That’s what separates him, an ancient world-destroying entity, from the Daleks, a race of world-destroying entities. Intent is everything. And the Doctor turns Journey away from wanting to join the TARDIS, because she’s a soldier. Surely this will not be a good thing when he inevitably meets Danny.

“Into the Dalek” has so many great ideas and themes to ponder that I’ve completely glossed over some very sparky and delightful dialogue from the main characters. This IS the episode that I wanted it to be, and definitely feels like the Twelfth Doctor hitting his stride, finding his “The Ark in Space.” I can only hope it continues in this vein. If “Deep Breath” was a 7, I think “Into the Dalek” has to be a 9 for me.

Next week, surely a big ol’ romp with the Mark Gatiss-penned “Robot of Sherwood,” a sci-fi pastiche of the Robin Hood story. Cannot wait!

Let me know what you think of “Into the Dalek” in the comments below. Did I get all the pertinent information and theme-deconstruction?

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  1. ActionMan says:

    I just wished the antibodies looked more like antibodies instead of T-helper cells. Additionally, the wet clothes becoming instantly dry bothered me a bit. Minor things, great episode

  2. While not the worst episode in the last say, 5 years…Into the Dalek is still pretty bad. Yes it does have a good concept if already done, but we waste a third of the episode on a soap opera (because Clara cannot exist in a Moffat universe if not a love interest) and that they screw the pooch early on.
    The Doctor claims that a Dalek that wants to murder ALL OTHER DALEKS is MORAL. That is NOT moral, that is the definition of a sociopath. The episode is based around the idea that a sociopath is moral. So yeah, 1/10.

  3. Alan K. Chan says:

    One Dalek to kill them all? (all Daleks)

  4. wally says:

    I think the Dalek IS CLARA! Ejected from the planet when it blew up in “Asylum of the Daleks”. When it greated the Doctor and Clara, it said something like “hello doctor and me”

  5. David says:

    I was moderately upset that their clothing just randomly was dry after the protein gloop. But otherwise, this was a _vast_ improvement over last week’s episode.

  6. Arie Regan says:

    No mention of “… resistance is futile”? I’m interested in your take on that very specific language & general Star Trek-iness. 

  7. Gegory says:

    Is this not Dalek Caan?

  8. John says:

    It was a good story, even if it recycled elements from a Season 15 Who serial starring Tom Baker: “The Invisible Enemy.”
    Now, if we can get the 12th Doctor to pick up an alien companion, or another K-9 or Chameleon, then we’re on to something! Final grade: B

    • ian says:

      yep, i think he referenced fantastic voyage in the episode, but i definitely had some tom baker flashbacks. as much as i love the wit and humor of the past few doctors, this is definitely a bit more of a classic doctor, and i can appreciate his toughness and assholery.

  9. Dug says:

    Loved this episode over the last one. This one truly felt like a solid Doctor Who.  It had everything you want in it, and yes, the new Doctor is a badass!

  10. Jesse Bagby says:

    Glad I’m not the only one! 

  11. ian says:

    actually the first doctor arrives on skaro pretty early in the first series, so when he refers to the first time he arrived on skaro he was probably referencing william hartnell’s story.

  12. ian says:

    it’s not exactly subtle.

  13. ian says:

    well, someone doesn’t like humor.

  14. Lucy says:

    I’m actually 49 years old, so I don’t think I count as a swooning nouveau fangirl. That’s a typical dude reaction to what I said. (haha now we are both making assumptions about the other) 😉 Also, I didn’t think either Ten or Eleven was physically attractive. So all your assumptions are wrong.

  15. Lucy says:

    He didn’t actually kill anyone, from what I saw. He just didn’t waste any time trying to save the soldier because a) he was convinced it was hopeless and b) he didn’t care anyway.

  16. Lucy says:

    I didn’t notice that but you are right. Thanks for pointing that out!

  17. Susan says:

    Since we still don’t know if The Doctor pushed The Half Faced Man out of his ship, or if Half Faced Man jumped as per The Doctors conclusion, this will be an ongoing theme, I think. I think Missy is the keeper of the souls who will be used in Judgment against The Doctor. My limited theory as a fairly recent Whovian from the States.

  18. Bob says:

    I think it’s an important plot point that the female soldier was named blue and the male soldier was named pink.  I think it will be part of the season resolution.

  19. Susan says:

    I like him! I didn’t think I would, but I love his intensity. He carries the dark side where Smith really couldn’t. I think we will see a lot of new ranges and strengths with Capaldi.

  20. J says:

    I’m glad someone brought this up. While I enjoyed the episode overall if for no other reason than having Daleks in it, that line the Doctor had about soldiers really rubbed me the wrong way. I realize he’s a (practical) pacifist who abhors weapons and will only use violence as a last recourse, and he never seemed overly fond of soldiers in the past, but this bit just seemed so out of character for him. The Doctor has had myriad companions over the years and that’s not even counting all those he’s had in the comics and novels based off the show. A comparatively recent example is Captain Jack Harkness, who began as a petty time traveling con man but the Doctor inspired him to be a hero ultimately sacrificing himself (he gets better though). The character grew so popular that he starred in the spinoff series Torchwood. He wasn’t a saint but the Doctor gave him a chance and he became a better man for it. Hell, just to show off how nerdy I am I’ll even go into the classic series. As early as the John Pertwee era, the Doctor’s closest and most enduring friend was Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, leader of the British branch of U.N.I.T. and, yes, a soldier. While his status as a companion is open for debate and though they rarely agreed on anything and often bickered back and forth there was a clear mutual respect between the Doctor and the Brigadier. Now one could make the argument that the Doctor had just learned something unpleasant about himself and wasn’t in the mood to deal with Journey at the moment, but I think the writers just wanted to keep her out of the TARDIS, which would be fine had it been handled better than “no soldiers allowed”. This is particularly troubling considering the Doctor’s actions during the Time War, not to mention all the other wars he became involved in throughout his travels. It’s his understanding the realities of war that make his pacifism and disdain for weapons endearing and sympathetic rather than a vehicle for some soap box rhetoric for an anti-war agenda. Yes, war is bad, but soldiers aren’t. Not all of them. If he had said “you’re needed here, your battle’s not finished,” or something down those lines, you’d have the same result without making the Doctor look like a jackass. Again, I enjoyed the episode, and while I’m still missing Matt Smith, Capaldi’s Doctor is already growing on me, and I’m really looking forward to next week’s Robin Hood story, it’s just that one line that irks me…

  21. LakeGhost says:

    I think the reason The Doctor doesn’t want a soldier as a companion is because someone who will blindly follow his orders is no good to him. He needs a companion who will question him, challenge him. I don’t think it was because he has anything against soldiers, just not what he needs in a companion, especially now.

  22. Jim says:

    Humor has its place. But if one is trying to present serious sci-fi the the yuk-yuks and belly laughs really have to diminish then go! 
    Otherwise you end up with ‘Morons from Outer Space’ or “Mork and Mindy’ or ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
    Sure serious Sci-Fi can have a smile or chuckle moment it and still be taken seriously. Serious? Battlestar Galactia, Lost, Fringe, Falling Skies, etc

  23. lreillyi says:

    Not thinking David was attractive?????  I mean I’m a straight guy, and I still think he was pretty darn hot…

  24. Verilidaine says:

    Exactly!  I thought of those two ‘companions’ straight off the bat.  Plus various soldiers he’s worked with, liked, and mourned over the years.