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?
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.
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.
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.
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.