06 September 2014

Doctor Who 802. Into the Dalek

Doctor Who
802. Into the Dalek

Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat

It's a good, solid Dalek story, reminding viewers that these creatures are, in fact, a formidable threat. And it's one of the better second New Doctor stories in a while. There's still a couple of nooks and crannies that could use improvement, but overall, "Into the Dalek" is a well crafted story that shows early promise for the direction Series 8 is heading.

What if a Dalek got so topsy turvy that it actually became good? And out of sheer luck, The Doctor is brought face to face with one - his new patient. The thing still doesn't have a clue who The Doctor is, insofar as the past these two species share, so the heavy drama comes from the seemingly perpetually cross Doctor, who's sickened by the things very existence, but reluctantly intrigued by what this development could mean.

Look, the Daleks are ridiculously overused. 2012's "Asylum of the Daleks" was terrific, it honestly, properly was. Some gorgeous set design and CG work. It didn't necessarily make the villains scary again, but it did make them interesting for the first time in ages. Then they popped up again in both 2013 specials, one for the dramatization of the Time War (plus, how does one have a 50th Anniversary year without the Daleks, eh?) and the other to ensure The Doctor's death on the fields of Trenzalore in "The Time of the Doctor". So, they've been used sparingly in the last year, but for some reason it still feels like Dalek overload. Yet, admittedly, the Daleks work.

Don't get me wrong, this episode still didn't really educate me on Dalek anatomy (same way as "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" failed to really illuminate the labyrinth that is The Doctor's time capsule) and hearing the Daleks shout "Exterminate!" every second and a half like they had to say it to work a Dark Arts spell was nails-on-chalkboard irritating, but the Daleks were powerful for the first time in ages. For me, they will never invoke fear like they did for children back in the sixties, watching them for the first time on Skaro (which got a name drop this episode! woot!), but "Into the Dalek" and "Dalek" are really the only two times the viewer gets the sense that these guys are serious trouble, and could, in fact, be badass enough to defeat the Time Lords.

Now, the bigger question of "Into the Dalek" was: did Peter Capaldi improve on his performance as The Doctor, and is there a better sense as to who this character is? For the most part, yes. Capaldi's darker, less tolerant Doctor is established pretty much immediately with a wonderful scene between Journey Blue, the girl he saved, and himself, as he badgers her about the appropriate way of asking to be brought back to someone's ship. It's a great scene - hell, if this episode did anything right, it was setting up who this Doctor was better than last week, and I suppose that's the point. Have "Deep Breath" question this new man, and have the Doctor's greatest foe validate him as the universe's greatest hero and greatest weapon.

The Twelfth Doctor, the stern and ruthless calculator who capitalizes on people's imminent deaths to accomplish a goal ("I was saving us, he was dead already!"), who gauges his morality with a question to Clara ("Am I a good man?"), and who is complimented by the Rogue Dalek as the personification of a "good Dalek." I can dig this. This works. Capaldi's performance still has areas of wavering and not quite selling the character instead of the performance, but overall, his work took a giant leap forward with this episode.

Clara continues to be the real strength of the series, completely owning the two 2013 Specials and these last two episodes. Her attitude towards the Doctor and her fun flirtatious side with the newly introduced Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) presents her as someone with spunk and charm. Oh hell, enough yabbering, she was terrific, and although Danny's introduction did seem a bit melodramatic in some aspects (predominantly the bits where his past as a soldier is brought up), there were enough comedic beats to make it fun. 

Just throwing this out there, although it'd be too obvious - Journey Blue is a descendent of Danny and Clara's children. I think it'd be kinda cool to have a Companion meet their future lineage, but again, might be too obvious. Why would Ford and Moffat have a character comment on "Blue" and "Pink"? Either throwaway gag, or deeper meaning.

Now that's just a flippin' cool shot. So is this:

Overall, good episode with amazing pacing. It felt like a whole story was told without feeling rushed. A strong introduction to Danny Pink, and a strong characterization of the Twelfth Doctor that was mostly captured by a wavering Peter Capaldi. "Into the Dalek" is one of the better, more interesting Dalek stories around - although it woulda been nice if the Dalek interiors had something a little more original and captivating - but I'd be more than happy not to encounter the Daleks for another year.

Notes & Thoughts
  • There is something absolutely ridiculously satisfying in watching Daleks get blown to bits in this episode, right? We get to see (at least) five Daleks explode in camera with practical effects. Oh, it's beautiful. It really is.
  • Amusing observation (at least for myself): in both Matt Smith's second episode and Peter Capaldi's second episode as The Doctor, they (and their companions) are forced down a tunnel and into a big pile of sludge, both inside a creature of some kind. Interesting, no?
  • Also about prior plot points making their way into this text, I did like The Doctor's aversion to military characters being incorporated here. The Doctor has never had a real like for people with guns - a tolerance, sure, but never a real fan - and that's reinforced here with his dismissive affront to Journey Blue's request to join him. I dig the continuity of character.
  • Speaking of which, quote time: "I think you're probably nice. Underneath it all I think you're kind and you're definitely brave. I just wish you hadn't been a soldier."
  • Although this now makes me sad, realizing that even if Lorna Bucket had survived the Battle of Demon's Run in A Good Man Goes to War, The Doctor wouldn't have picked her up for journeys inside the TARDIS. Bugger.
  • I could go another year without hearing a Dalek belch "Exterminate!" Oh my god, there was way too much of that this episode. Anyone else feel the same?
  • Interesting note: the original script included a sequence where the One Dalek Killing Machine boarded the Dalek mothership and initiated its self destruct, destroying the Dalek ship in a vicotrious explosion. I was looking forward to seeing that. Pity it was excised, although I haven't the foggiest why - budgetary purposes, perhaps?
  • So Missy the Heavenly Gatekeeper makes another appearance this week (this series' Eye Patch Lady?), and the main consistency between both appearances is that it's connected to The Doctor - victims of the Doctor's actions. So, whoever dies directly by choices of the Doctor. 'least, that's my working theory. But, for what purpose?
  • Next week is Mark Gatiss taking a swing at Robin Hood. Not the hugest Gatiss fan, but this looks like a fun romp at least. Plus, this shot from the Next Time trailer, love it: