Caution: This review contains spoilers on the second episode of series 8 of “Doctor Who.”
I’m finally able to get more reviews up this week. Today we’re going to revisit “Into the Dalek,” which finds the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) acting as a physician of sorts on the spaceship Aristotle after saving Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) from a fiery death. Unfortunately, he couldn’t save the female soldier’s brother, but he seems unaffected by the woman’s grief as he’s holding a pair of coffees in hand. To his astonishment, he finds that his patient on the warship is none other than a Dalek (voiced admirably as always by Nicholas Briggs).
It’s fairly early in his regeneration, which means viewers and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are still getting used to him. We find that he’s wrestling with the question of whether or not he’s a good man, an inquiry that Clara doesn’t know how to answer. He swings back to pick her up to assist him on the case, which involves shrinking down to go inside the Dalek. We get a fantastic one-liner here as he sums up Clara to the crew on Aristotle: “She’s my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.” Anyway, the Daleks have long been an enemy of the Time Lords, given the time wars that the Doctor has fought in. It seems like writers always want to throw in a Dalek episode, which can certainly inject a bit of fun into any season.
Our Dalek here doesn’t seem to recall the Doctor as an enemy because of the problems in his core system. He’s aptly named “Rusty” by the Doctor and has a sort of lighter tone in his voice (as much as a lighter quality can be added to a Dalek’s voice – admittedly, the Daleks all sound the same). The Doctor is incredulous at the idea of a good Dalek, let alone a Dalek that can appreciate beauty in the universe. (Recall “Asylum of the Daleks,” where the Parliament of the Daleks still revered hatred as a form of beauty, in spite of the sickness of the Daleks in the asylum.) Unfortunately, Rusty’s antibodies are activated and attack the Doctor, Clara, and their military escorts, leading to more deaths. Clara slaps the Doctor, furious at his refusal to help those who are basically dead.
The Doctor fixes a crack in Rusty, stopping the “malfunction” that was caused by leaking radiation. However, Rusty reverts to being a regular Dalek and begins to wreak havoc on the warship on the (life-size) human soldiers. Clara and Journey venture further in to reactivate Rusty’s experience of beauty in the universe and the Doctor forms a telepathic link. It gives us a neat look into how the Doctor views the universe, but it also causes Rusty to feel what the Doctor feels: “I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good. Death to the Daleks!” Even if he hates the Daleks, perhaps nothing could be more horrifying to the Doctor than turning on one’s own race, something he thought he’d done with the destruction of Gallifrey.
Yes, viewers are treated to a scene with a Dalek blowing up a bunch of other Daleks! It’s a sequence that Peter Capaldi himself watched on the set, even though he wasn’t scheduled to film until later in the day. The “Doctor Who Extra” segments are new this season, with some neat behind-the-scenes interviews and reveals about each episode. I think they’re rather fun for the most part (the in-depth interview on Foxes’ segment in “Mummy on the Orient Express” was useless for such a brief appearance) and seem to answer the call by fans for a “Doctor Who Confidential” type of series.
The Doctor turns down Journey’s request to join him on the TARDIS, as he dislikes soldiers. Clara answers his original question, that she doesn’t know if he’s a good man, but that he tries to be one. Finally, there’s another scene with the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez), who has brought over yet another casualty into the Promised Land.
The Verdict: Fun Episode, Good Doctor, But …
In spite of being a joint venture by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat, you’re left wanting a lot more with “Into the Dalek.” There’s a bit of creative cutting back and forth from two scenes between Clara and the new maths (or math, for us Americans) teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). Danny is saying lines he should have said to Clara, but we also see that what he actually told her resulted in nothing less than an epic fail. While it comes off as funny at times, the pairing off of the two teachers feels extremely rushed. Getting to feel Danny’s awkwardness backfires for viewers, a trend that carries on for the rest of the season. Just because the Doctor is no longer Clara’s “boyfriend,” it doesn’t mean writers need to thrust Clara into a relationship so soon. It’s a lot of wasted time that could have been used to tease out more about the mystery of Missy and her connection to the Doctor.
Secondly, the caliber of writing here is perplexing when one revisits an episode such as “Asylum of the Daleks,” which like “Into the Dalek” a) was written by Steven Moffat and b) ended up as an exploration of the question of human qualities in a Dalek (human turned into a Dalek). Ironically, that Dalek turned out to be an echo of Clara Oswald, a human that turned into a Dalek. Thus one might say that “Into the Dalek” shows the situation in reverse in showing what the Doctor would be like as a Dalek (a Dalek going human or Time Lord here) with the telepathic link they were able to make. However, “Into the Dalek” fails to arouse the same sense of intrigue and horror, even though both make use of the Dalek POV shots and escape scenes. Still, it was great to have the Dalek explosions here and Rusty was a cute nickname for our heroic Dalek.
Much of the weight of the episode is thus carried by Peter Capaldi’s performance as the brooding twelfth Doctor, an aspect that could have also been explored further. He’s shown that he does quite well in trying to arrest the viewer’s attention with the close-up shots as he gazes at unfamiliar territory, such the membrane to enter the Dalek. It’s a fairly well done slow motion sequence. Much has been made of the eyebrows, even by the Doctor himself as in “Deep Breath,” but it’s certainly more than that. It has more to do with the penetrating approach that his countenance takes on, as well as the way he carries himself. The combination in tandem does a lot in convincing one that Peter Capaldi is the Doctor and isn’t just acting like the Doctor, as sometimes happened with Matt Smith in the role. It’s important to utilize both Capaldi and better scripts, which could be the makings of some really great episodes.
“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings at 9|8c on BBC America.