This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
8.2 Into The Dalek
“Am I a good man?”
No episode of Doctor Who is easy. Dalek stories? They carry a heavier burden of responsibility than most. As iconic a part of the show as the TARDIS, these are the creatures that are supposed to be – but rarely are – the Doctor’s deadliest foe. They can blitz away Cybermen without a second thought. They have weapons that can kill in the time it takes to admire a fiftysomething man’s eyebrows. They make the BBC lots of cash through toy sales. And yet it’s rarely a Dalek episode that’s called out as a series highlight (Remembrance Of The Daleks the most recent towering exception, Dalek running it close).
Into The Dalek stakes one hell of a claim, though.
It’s to the credit of Phil Ford – returning to writing live action Doctor Who for the first time since The Waters Of Mars – and Steven Moffat, who try something a bit different. It’s to the credit too of the production team, and returning director Ben Wheatley, for realising it all so well too. As a consequence, the episode takes a less obvious approach, and emerges as one of the most downright enjoyable episodes of Who in the past year or two.
“I will do something amazing”
The central idea, of actually venturing inside Skaro’s finest, wisely skips past any big explanation of technology, instead opting for the required technobabble to get the Doctor, Clara and a small crew shrunk to requisite size (it’s a shame Rick Moranis wasn’t available to do it). Getting them out at the end of the episode is dealt with even more economically. Instead, the core focus here is on the simple idea of exploring a Dalek from the inside, by zapping everyone down to thimble size.
Thus, through the eyepiece goes a miniaturised crew, making good on the billed idea of sending the Doctor to the most dangerous place in the universe. It immediately lends itself to a fresh perspective on the Daleks too. We’ve seen their innards before, of course – remember Sylvester McCoy’s neck being grabbed in Remembrance? – but never in this level of detail. Here though, think a more successful Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, just with a Dalek instead.
Clearly, they’ve had a ball putting this together too. We get the occasional cut across to a computer screen so we can see where everyone is inside the Dalek itself, but you don’t have to look far to see the evidence. The flip side of that shell casing is never far out of shot, and the lighting in particular – shining through bits of the grill – is quite brilliant.
Inevitably, it turns out that what’s inside a Dalek is just as dangerous as what’s outside. A Star Wars-esque pool of sludge and slime is as safe as it gets, and the effective attacking antibodies give everyone ample reason to peg it down a corridor when required. Ben Wheatley’s camera consistently finds interesting angles to explore all of this from, too. It’s really, really, good fun.
“Die all you like. Not my problem”
Yet the exciting core exploration is but one part of why Into The Dalek works so well.
Staying with the Dalek first, there’s an obvious parallel being drawn between the colder, harder logic of this Doctor and the softer, warmer glow we get from a malfunctioning Dalek. This is a Dalek who has seen beauty (even if it’s switched that memory off), who’s one step away from being a National Trust tour guide. Oh, and he wants to destroy all of the other Daleks, courtesy of a radiation leak. Handy, not least because it paints a possible future of a friendlier bunch of Daleks. Could we get faction wars again?
The Doctor and the Dalek are a foil for each other here of course, and this compellingly comes to the fore at the end of the episode, as the Dalek identifies the hatred that burns at the heart of the Doctor. It’s a brilliant scene, not least when Capaldi’s Doctor virtually begs the Dalek to see the good in him. Heck, Clara can’t give him the answer he wants as to whether he’s a good man, so it’s unlikely a Dalek is going to oblige. You don’t need us to tell you how well Capaldi plays all of this.
Anyway, as ‘Rusty’ sees it, the Doctor is the best Dalek of the two of them. Where’s all this search for goodness leading for the Doctor? Is it tying into what appears to be a religious undertone to the series, perhaps?
“She cares, so I don’t have to”
Elsewhere? Well, if Into The Dalek feels that it only just manages to cram everything in that it needs, then that’s also because it finds room to introduce a major new character. It’s been billed in advance that Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson, is a new addition to the cast this year, and post-opening titles, we get to meet him for the first time. It will not be the last.
What do we learn about him? Not much. He’s a teacher, albeit one who used to be a soldier. He’s hiding a secret, although as you might expect in episode two of 12, it’s only been hinted at thus far. We know that he’s killed, and it’s all but said that he’s killed someone who wasn’t a soldier. Expect meat to be put on the requisite bones in the weeks ahead. It’s a good start for Anderson himself, appreciating he’s just got the foundations of his character to work with here.
And we’ll be getting more of him and Clara too. We meet Clara again three weeks after the events of Deep Breath, still awaiting her coffee. She now reads The Guardian (the Mail will be thrilled about that), and she’s working at a school set deep in Doctor Who lore, Coal Hill. Furthermore, there’s a burgeoning romance between her and Danny. Where does whatever his dark secret is fit into that?
There’s also no sense of her actually travelling permanently with the Doctor. In much the same way that he ended up zipping in and out of Amy and Rory’s lives, the Doctor has been away for a while before he meets Clara again. Furthermore, at the end of the episode, he sets off again alone. Is this how things are for the foreseeable future?
Either way, Into The Dalek is the episode where we get to see Peter Capaldi fully at work as the Doctor. After an impressive pre-titles space fight (arguably more suited to the cinema screen than last week’s dinosaur), he’s teaching manners to Zawe Ashton’s Journey Blue. Having just lost her brother, she’s about to meet her maker too. In steps the Doctor, and then we also get to meet her uncle, the excellent Michael Smiley as Colonel Morgan Blue. Smiley boasts this episode’s finest facial hair.
Capaldi’s Doctor, however, remains the star attraction. It would be fair to say that Twelve is not one to let his emotions get in the way, and proof was in steady supply. There’s the moment where he coldly, almost callously realises someone is going to die, and uses that to his advantage. He’s also quite happy to let the Daleks perish without a second thought. Then there’s ‘Rusty’ peeping into his soul.
The Doctor’s brain is working as hard as ever (even if he has his “not a clue” moment), it’s just that at the moment, Clara is having to inject the humanity into some of his decision making. It’s a strong dynamic, one that hopefully will continue to give Jenna Coleman interesting things to do. So far so good there.
“I see your hatred of the Daleks, and it is good”
What’s ultimately most impressive about Into The Dalek is that it wraps several different jobs into one hugely entertaining episode of Doctor Who. Sure, getting a Dalek to re-remember things becomes a matter of pushing the right buttons in the need to speed to a resolution, and you get the sense that a few more minutes would have afforded the episode a breath or two. But this is confident Who, and rollicking good fun at that.
Bristling with wit, and proving again that a single Dalek tends to be better value than a bunch of them (the influences of Rob Shearman’s Dalek are hardly hidden), it’s a really good, really entertaining episode. It also manages to shine new light on creatures that have been around in Doctor Who since the start, whilst not actually making them the key focus of the episode. No small feat.
Furthermore, it leaves more crumbs towards future events. In particular, Missy is back. It seems that everyone who dies in this series will go off to whatever her ‘Heaven’ turns out to be. It might just be that she’s watched Star Trek V and got a bit of inspiration, but how can she harness dead people, and what is she planning to do with them? Don’t expect anybody to be telling for a few weeks yet.
Over to Mark Gatiss next then, who has the challenging job of following this one. His latest Who, Robot Of Sherwood, sees the Doctor enlists a bit of help from Robin Hood. If Gatiss can keep the fun, lively tone of this one, with a continuing deepening of Capaldi’s Doctor, then we’re onto a winner. Bonus points if he gets a Weetabix joke in…
Our review of last week’s episode is here.
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