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DOCTOR WHO Review: “Into the Dalek”

SPOILERS HEREIN. PLEASE WATCH BEFORE YOU READ

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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78 comments

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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”

    • 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.

  • I’m looking forward to the Eleventh Doctor and Twelfth Doctor meeting themselves in some future episode a few years down the line…has the potential to be very good TV.

  • I feel like they shot their wad with the whole “am I a good man” line. Instead of being some overarching theme for the season, it became too focused on this episode alone.

    • 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.

    • How do you know? Have you some special access to all the future episodes? That is not to say that you are not right but it is entirely too early to make such a statement. 

  • I loved this episode. The writing, acting and directing was fantastic. It had an old schoolDoctor who feel, almost like we were watching a tom baker era, but with a modern twist. It seems that the cameras were hand held and slightly “shaky”, which added to the older feel. I’m a huge Matt smith fan, he will always be my doctor. Peter capaldi is such a great actor and has brought out a different side to the shoe, which I really luke. I’m intregued by missy and wonder if pink and blue are somehow linked???

  • I thought both of these first two episodes were blah. I’m not liking Capaldi so far. He doesn’t have the magnetic charm that Ten and Eleven had, and so I don’t think he’d convince people to follow him and listen to his ideas. In general, I don’t find curmudgeonly-old-men characters appealing. I guess some people think they are charming. And Pink seems like a run-of-the-mill boyfriend/extra companion. The idea of Missy is really intriguing me though. Looking forward to finding out more about that.

    • 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.

    • I’m with you! Can’tunderstand everyone swooning over this misogynst, bullying doctor-   He killed a human being without a second thought-not liking it. And I am NOT a swooning nouveau fan girl but a middle aged fan from  as long ago as Tom Baker era. Don!t care for Capaldi and brave enough to say ita,

      • 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.

  • The scene where the Doctor is about to connect the Dalek’s neural cables together and is thinking of Skaro must be an awesome callback to the Fourth Doctor’s story Genesis of the Daleks. Loved it.

    • 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.

  • Love the new Doctor!  Capaldi plays the badass so well he’s not the boyfriend of previous versions but ruthless when he needs to be.  Really, really, enjoying this.

  • Did anyone make the connection between Gretchen and the Robot man from Deep Breath?  After last week’s episode, we weren’t sure if he jumped or was pushed.  After “into the Dalek,” I think the Robot man jumped – to sacrifice himself.  Gretchen sacrificed herself… and they both wound up in heaven with Missy.

  • Right at the end Journey asks to join the Tardis. She’s rejected “because she’s a soldier.  Huh? The Dr just tried to change a Darlek. He’s worked with the military (UNIT as example) he keeps getting people and aliens to change. Reject someone “because she’s a soldier.”? Given, Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down so a Kipling writes  ” But it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But he’s a “Hero of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;”

    • 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.

    • 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…

  • I think we’re getting the War Doctor that we have asked for since the reboot. The Doctor is threw with being the constant charmer. He’s taking action, and calling it as he sees it. This could be the demise of our beloved Doctor, but damn is it good television.

  • Am absolutely LOVING it. And am absolutely stupified by those who are NOT into it. Makes me want to pull a Clara and face-five those people really hard!!

  • Good episode, the dalek brain remind me of HAL 9000 memory bank, i dont know if it was a nod to them but it was good. I wonder if the distraction that made the doctor to be “late” will not surprise us later on the season, that won’t be something unusual. 

  • Loved the episode but is it just me or is BBC America BUTCHERING the episodes with their commercial placements this year.  They have always been choppy, but the past two episodes have just been ridiculous.  Might have to just watch the next day via iTunes.

    • Absolutely loved that line too. If Capaldi continues too be this ruthless,  he’s going to be MY  Doctor. It’s such a nice change of pace from all the over the top melodrama that was 11. 

  • I was waiting for Clara to remember some of her other “lives” from her experiences in “Name of the Doctor” and recall Oswin Oswald being a Dalek that was “good” to be like “really, no good Daleks?”

  • I’ve never liked the recent way the Doctor pops into his companions’ lives, after having a number of years of adventures on his own, to have an adventure with an Earthling, then drops them off again until the next time he wants to have a non-solo adventure.  I also don’t really like the companions getting to live their lives, developing relationships and having adventures without the Doctor, at least not without it being a spinoff show.  If you’re the Doctor’s companion you’re with him all the time, until you leave.   Capaldi’s first episode barely had any of him, it was all the other characters who have glommed on to the Doctor.  Let them have their own show, this is Doctor Who.

    • The dropping off/picking up thing is a simple consequence of the Tardis working more or less properly now – if you really could go anywhere/when then why _wouldn’t_ you just go home sometimes ?

      What I would like to see though is an episode about Clara dealing with the real-life/Doctor adventures juxtaposition because the question that occurs from typing the above is, OK, go home sometimes but why on Earth would you _stay_ there when you could be off having adventures in time and space ? Why do an everyday job knowing what’s out there or even _how_ do that everyday job knowing what’s out there ? That seems like it might be worth explaining.

      • I think that is why I’ve never liked Clara. If you *could* go off with the Doctor, why on Earth would you just sort of look in your diary and see if you can fit him in on Tuesdays?
        It seems a waste of a huge chance and opportunity.If I had the health and opportunity I would go travelling until no longer able to do so (with the Doctor or otherwise).

        • author

          This isn’t a Clara activity only. Remember, the Ponds decided to stay away for periods of time to live their own lives. Also, the Doctor said he was going to get coffee for Clara and came back three weeks later, so I think this one’s more on the Doctor than her.

  • loved the episode and was relieved/excited as it felt like a step up (forward?) from Deep Breath. I thought the exchange between The Doctor and the Dalek when he was in the Dalek’s head was kickass and the “You are the good Dalek” line definitely spoke to the darkness/light balance in The Doctor. im proly reaching big time but I also felt like the radiation leak The Doctor sealed up on the Dalek looked a little bit like the shape of the crack in time from 11. Again, could be reaching for connections where they aren’t any (maybe the crack was just a crack, but I never trust anything to just be what it is when Moffat is writing the episode!)…can’t wait for next week! 

  • They’re getting deep into the psychology of The Doctor this time around.  I think it’s because a large part of the audience has better memory for the previous Doctors than the Doctor himself, so we can get past adventure and cuteness sometimes to tackle his deep troubles.  Goodness knows, he’s chock full of them!

    • “Everything has its time and everything dies”.

      Yeah, this guy’s not half as cuddly as 10 and 11, much more of 9′s long view callousness. I did wonder if the end would have him going back to save Blue’s brother but nope.

      Interestingly, it looks like they’re bringing a soldier with PTSD into the Tardis too, maybe another shadow of the 9th Doctor.

  • I absolutely loved this episode and I’m diggin Capaldi as the new doctor. I have to admit that with past regenerations I’ve had the typical “I wonder if so-and-so will be as good as the previous…” but with Capaldi I knew I was going to enjoy him after seeing one of the videos that he did shortly after the announcement that he’d be taking over the role. He won me over from the start, and he just keeps getting better and better. I am loving this season so far. 

  • I think the underlying themes of is a good Dalek possible and is the Doctor that much different from a Dalek are done better during the “Dalek” from the ninth Doctor’s run. But this episode was fun. I wish there was no romantic subplots in this season.

    • No more of those silly childish “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, stuff” explanations from this Doctor, thank goodness. None of the Doctors from 1 to 9 would be caught dead speaking like that. Please let that nonsense rest for good, Moffat. Also, the sonic screwdriver hasn’t been used like a magic wand by 12, I hope it lasts.

        • 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

  • I must say, after being rather underwhelmed by Deep Breath, this is exactly what I wanted it to be. Capaldi, Coleman, the Daleks, and Phil Ford’s script (I’m assuming Moffat’s primary input was Missy) every single thing was what I dreamed it would be.

    12th may be my new favorite Doctor if he keeps up this stride.