Since Steven Moffat has taken over as executive producer of Doctor Who, the Daleks have been used sparingly. There have only really been two Dalek episodes, 2010’s Victory of the Daleks and 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks (which was more a Clara episode than a Dalek episode). This is in stark contrast to the Russell T. Davies era (which I have more than this issue with) which had eight Dalek episodes in four seasons and generally made them look like chumps in all but one of those stories.
For the second episode of the Capaldi era, we’ve already got ourselves a Dalek episode. There’s no better way to throw a Doctor head first into the chaos of the universe than pitting him against his arch-nemesis.
One of the recurring themes of the Moffat Dalek episodes and the first Dalek episode of the revived series is the relationship between The Doctor and the Daleks. While each has their primary raison d’etre (for the Doctor, it’s helping people while the Daleks are only interested in extermination), neither would be quite the same without their primary foil around.
It’s that needing each other to be the enemy that forms the crux of this episode. When The Doctor finds himself face to face with one of his mortal enemies broken off from the pack, he can’t believe that the Dalek is good. Having dealt with the Daleks for hundreds of years, and we viewers for fifty years, every time the Daleks haven’t seemed cartoonishly supervillain evil, it’s been a facade. They’re hellbent on the extermination of all life in the universe, apart from their own. It’s no wonder why The Doctor is as set on the end of the Daleks as they are on his.
The episode does have a parallel with Eleven’s Victory of the Daleks episode. That episode saw Matt Smith’s sort of spastic, funny man Doctor meet Daleks that were apparently working for the good of Britain and the Allies in World War II. He doesn’t believe that the Daleks are good and tries to figure out their end game which ends up turning things on their head and causing more harm than good.
This time out, The Doctor can’t believe that this one Dalek that is being held by the human rebels is a good one. And just like Victory of the Daleks, The Doctor won’t let his previous experiences with the Daleks go which causes more harm than good. By refusing to believe that Daleks can actually be good, the Doctor seems to do very well with self-fulfilling prophecies. He did it in Dalek, Victory of the Daleks and here too.
When it turned out that the Dalek wasn’t good, just broken, it seemed like a victory for The Doctor. A victory that almost got everyone killed but a victory nonetheless. By the end, we found out that Daleks can be “good” but it’s all relative. Maybe they can be good but it’s suppressed by Dalek programming. Maybe all they really need is an intervention for it to be possible for them to be good.
That does bring me to an interesting juxtaposition between this Doctor and this Dalek. Similarly to the Dalek in Dalek, you have an angry-ish Doctor facing off against a comparatively civil Dalek. Capaldi plays off well against the disembodied voice of Nicholas Briggs who both try to come to grips with each other’s opposite position on the morality scale (and opposite positions from where we’d expect them on the morality scale). They’re really not physical or mental but moral foils for each other. Given that Twelve is an older gentleman, he can’t do the aggressive physical action that we saw from his three most recent predecessors so Capaldi needs to have a mental or moral foil and this Dalek does a fantastic job. Sure, it might be a bit samesy as Deep Breath but the addition of the Daleks makes it feel different.
One important improvement over Deep Breath is that Into the Dalek was The Doctor’s story rather than Clara’s. Sure, we started and ended on Clara’s life back in London but the moments in between were all about the Doctor. We’ve quickly gotten by the establishing moments of Twelve and we felt like we were having an adventure with Twelve and not his assistant.
In my review of Deep Breath, I mentioned the Davison line from a Doctor Who special saying that Doctor Who was really about putting you in the shoes of his companion. Not all of us could be a Timelord who has 13 lives and can travel through space and time but we can be that random girl (or guy) plucked from the street to go away on an interstellar adventure.
However, you can’t make us love The Doctor if all you’re going to do is focus on Clara. Doctor Who is just as much The Doctor’s story as it is Clara’s. There would be no show if it wasn’t for the mad man in the blue box and we have to see how he works in order for him to grow on us.
This episode was also important in re-establishing the relationship between The Doctor and Clara. Well, it almost seemed as though they had already re-established their relationship by the time he visited her on Earth. This episode breezed through all the relationship rebuilding and said “this is how it is now and they’ve accepted it” so that the audience goes along with it. Sometimes, we don’t need a huge preamble. We’re willing to go along with things if they make sense. The dynamic between The Doctor and Clara makes sense so we don’t need another episode to them and the audience on the same page as to how they think about and treat each other. It’s a “don’t tell us, show us” sort of thing so that the narrative doesn’t drag.
Overall, while the tone of this episode was quite similar to Deep Breath, the execution was better. The inclusion of a familiar foe in the Daleks gives us a sense of life getting back to normal which was needed after spending the whole of Deep Breath establishing Twelve as the new Doctor and spending a lot of time looking at how Clara is dealing with it. Clara’s dealt with it and life moves on.
More importantly, we got a look at the new Doctor in his element. It’s far better to show something to advance the plot than to just say it. Just saying this Doctor is a bit darker, more forthright and pragmatic is worse than showing it. They certainly showed that in Into the Dalek and it made this episode better for it.
Other random points of note:
- I did quite like the use of the classic sci-fi trope of shrinking to fit inside a body. Since we’ve never been inside a Dalek, it gave us a unique take on both the Daleks and this classic shrinking trope.
- So Clara has a new, non-Timelord love interest. It’s the next logical step from The Doctor telling Clara that he wasn’t her boyfriend in the last episode. If they write her out, this would give them a logical out. Just please don’t bring him along for the ride because he’s the companion’s boyfriend. Rory became an actual character so he worked. Remember Rose’s boyfriend? Best you don’t.
- “She’s my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.” ❤ Twelve.
Next up, The Doctor does comedy. Okay, it’s not a surprise that The Doctor does a lighter episode or that Peter Capaldi does a comedy episode seeing as both have a history with comedy so hopefully this works out well, even if it’s a massive change in tone from Twelve’s first two episodes. Anyway, The Doctor and Clara visit Sherwood Forest and run into Robin Hood. Just when you thought he was a tale from days of yore, he makes an appearance on a show starring a man with 13 lives who travels through space and time in a 60s British police box. But I’ll come back to that in the next review.