Doctor Who Series 8 Review – “Into The Dalek” (Writers: Phil Ford & Steven Moffat)

“Welcome to the most dangerous place in the universe”.  This week, the Doctor and Clara are called in to do a bit of psychoanalysis on a Dalek… but who is  the more dangerous, the patient or the Doctor that’s treating it?

Just when you think everything possible could be done with the Daleks, Phil Ford and Steven Moffat uses them to shed light on what makes the new Doctor tick through a story that tips it’s hat to the 1966 film “Fantastic Voyage” and, even, the 1977 classic era story “The Invisible Enemy”.

The story starts off with a bang… literally… as the Doctor rescues main supporting character Journey Blue from an attack by a Dalek attack ship, but if anyone’s expecting all out action this episode, they may be disappointed as, despite the explosions… and there are a lot of them, this is more of a character piece with the Doctor at centre stage and the viewer being challenged in their belief that the man we have been watching for the last fifty years truly is the Doctor.

Two plots form the basis of the story.  The main “A plot” sees the Doctor and Clara, much as against the Doctor’s initial instincts, be pressed into service to help an injured Dalek who has developed a positive conscience.  During the course of the story, we are taken on a journey inside the Dalek and see the Doctor come face-to-face with his own prejuidices and that he may not be the hero that he believes himself to be.  Alongside this, he is challenged by Clara into seeing that the viewpoint he has been carrying with him since he first encountered the Daleks – one that he is right and the Daleks, by the fact that they are genetically and mechanically hardwired to hate, are wrong – may be as bad as the Daleks themselves.

The “B plot” sees the introduction of a new potential TARDIS member and, more importantly, a potential love interest for Clara in Danny Pink.  Danny is introduced as a teacher at Clara’s school and leader of the school’s Cadet Corps.  He is also seen as a man who has a past and an uncomfortable one at that, as witnessed in the seen when he is asked by a student as to whether he has killed people, including , possibly, an innocent, in his past as a soldier – something that we have recently seen the Doctor himself consider in “The Day Of The Doctor”.  he is also seen as a normal guy who has his own doubts and insecurities when it comes to matters of the heart and is a bit of a klutz when it comes to romance.

 

As I said earlier, the script works on using the action-adventure trappings to tell a character driven story. You see great snappy dialogue and well written characters working alongside explosions that Michael Bay would be proud of, if he was working on a television budget. If I had to level a criticism at the story, it would be at the pacing which gets a solid first half only to have the second half rushed through – certainly from when the Dalek is cured from the radiation leak – which made the story a little difficult to follow, even on a second showing.

As with the previous story, this “Into The Dalek” is directed by Ben Wheatley and he brings the same cinematic sensibilities right from the off – I mean, when have you seen a scene in “Doctor Who” with a fighter being pursued by a Dalek command carrier with that pace?  There are the big bangs and explosions in this episode, but I’ve never seen Daleks destruction done with so much style and glitz.  But this is only part of what Wheatley brings to the table as he brings a naturalism to the way the quiet moments and dialogue scenes are directed – something which is difficult for a sci-fi adventure series when you have so much technobabble flying around such as “nanoreduction” and “trionic radiation”.  There have been some really great directors since the programme returned in 2005, far too many to mention to list off, but based on the track record of “Deep Breath” and “Into The Dalek”, Ben Wheatley should be given a return engagement on the series.

 

 

Peter Capaldi builds upon the series opener to make a more rounded Doctor.  When he’s alone with Clara, the Doctor trusts her enough to allow him to be introspective and have doubts as to his character with the theme of the episode being whether he truly is a good man – something that has been a fixture since the Series Six episode “A Good Man Goes To War”.

In public, the Doctor appears to have lost a lot of his social skills, apart from demanding that Journey uses manners rather than a gun as a means to returning her to her base ship, the Aristotle.  He is abrasive, rude and dismissive of people, whilst having an element of what can only be seen as narcissism when he believes,incorrectly, that he has been proven right and there is no such thing as a good Dalek.  In fact, he has become like an intergalactic version of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.

But the most interesting aspect of his Doctor comes later in the episode when he forms a psychic link with Rusty The Dalek. The fact that a Dalek not only sees the beauty and wonder of what he has seen in his travels but the darkness of his soul and his hatred for the Daleks and what they represent shakes the Doctor to his core.

Don’t mistake this Doctor as being a dour type though. Peter Capaldi displays as whip-sharp comic timing as David Tennant or Matt Smith. The only difference is that he manages to make the sass of this Doctor more naturalistic and less like a defence mechanism. He doesn’t care what the universe thinks about him and that’s what makes this Doctor funny. (For example, calling Clara his “carer”).

The term “carer” and the way the Doctor defines the phrase perfectly encapsulates how Clara’s role fits into this story and gives Jenna Coleman with another meaty performance this week to build upon the redefined Clara from last week. The role of the companion, certainly in the modern era, has been to serve as the human balance for the Doctor and keep him in check. Clara certainly fulfills this role in this story as she becomes not only his conscience, but his teacher. The Doctor’s entrenched hatred for what the Daleks represent blinds him from the fact that a Dalek once made good can be so again.

Jenna also convinces in the scenes where Clara has to have the hard conversations that all friendships have. You know the ones… Where your bestie asks you to be honest and give you their opinion both barrels, no matter how uncomfortable the topic. Jenna manages to convince in being put in a corner and having to be brutally honest with the Doctor. She doesn’t know if he’s a good man, which certainly rings true following her admission to Vastra that she doesn’t know who her friend is any more.

The budding friendship/romance between Clara and Danny is entertaining and not overplayed. The choice of Clara being the assertive person in the relationship certainly rings true of her character, but you have to wonder whether her control freak nature will be able to stand up to living two distinct lives.

Samuel Anderson is given a nice low key entry into the role of Danny. There’s no big entrance – in fact, it’s a low key entry that matches up to the introduction of characters like Rory and Mickey, but it’s a great move for Danny to already have a mysterious back story from his time as a soldier. I’m already of the belief that the Doctor and Danny will lock horns in the future especially as Danny will serve to be an uncomfortable reminder of what the Doctor was during the Time War.

As with Jenna’s performance in the relationship, I like the tone that Samuel has set for Danny. He has the reputation from the headteacher as being a bit of a ladies man, but nothing could be further from the truth with the cross cutting scenes showing Danny rehearsing what he really wanted to say to Clara which eventually lead him to headbutting a desk.

Zawe Ashton gives a nicely pitched performance as Journey Blue. Yes, she’s a soldier and her focus is on the mission and, in the early scenes, on her brother, but the character also shows thethat if the situation was different she could have been a potential companion – especially as she makes the decision not to destroy Rusty upon her Uncle’s orders which is reminiscent of the scene in “The Doctor’s Daughter” where Jenny shoots a steam pipe to stop Cobb from following her rather than killing him. However, she isn’t given that option by the Doctor at the end of the episode solely on the basis of her being a soldier rather than who she is.

As with “Deep Breath”, there is a very brief cameo by Michelle Gomez in the role of Missy – this time greeting the minor supporting character of Gretchen into “Heaven”. This is becoming intriguing because Missy only seems to be claiming the lives of those who have been killed in the Doctor’s adventures.

“Into The Dalek” is a story that will no doubt polarise opinion. On the one hand, fans will enjoy the story for the fact that it seems to set the direction of this series in that the Doctor’s adventures aren’t always nice and jolly and that maybe the Doctor isn’t the safest person to be around. On the other, people could see it as a story where the Daleks are being used again with the purpose of establishing that it’s the same programme that’s been shown over just short of 51 years. I have to admit that I enjoyed it despite the pacing of the second half and I hope for a strong run as Series 8 move forwards.

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