Doctor Who Review 8.02 - 'Into the Dalek'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.30.2014
The Doctor recruits Clara to help him battle his oldest enemies and learn an important lesson: can even a Dalek be redeemed? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review of "Into the Dalek!"
[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Saturday's episode of Doctor Who.]
The nature of good and evil is by no means a new topic to fiction; in fact, it's perhaps the oldest theme in storytelling. It's certainly not a new concept within the world of Doctor Who, either. Since the beginning of the show's run all the way back in 1963, there has always been a certain level of moral ambiguity to the Doctor. He was intended to be a mysterious figure whose motives weren't entirely clear; while that got somewhat lost during the show's original run, the morality of the Doctor is something that has come up many times during the show's revival.
Steven Moffat in particular is a fan of the topic, tackling it in a more overt manner than Russell T. Davies did with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Eccleston's moral conflicts largely came out of a survivor's guilt from the Time War, while Tennant's Doctor began to lose his way primarily when he was without companions such as the "Waters of Mars" episode. Matt Smith's Doctor was a much more conflicted character; one of his best moments (among many) was when he told Madame Kovarian, "Good men don't need rules...and today is not the day to find out why I have so many." Moffat seems intent on continuing that theme of the Doctor's goodness (or lack thereof) with Peter Capaldi. We saw it tackled directly in "Deep Breath" from his conversation to Clara about righting his wrongs and the question of whether he pushed the Half-Face Man to his death or not.
And now we have "Into the Dalek," which takes the discussion a step further. When testing the limits of how far our favorite Time Lord will go, there's no better enemy to pit him against than the Daleks. No other creature can send the Doctor quite so far into a dark place as his oldest enemies and this week we see just how true that is, as the Doctor is recruited into another battle with the hatred-fueled creatures from Skaro. This time though, it's a little different. As the Doctor learns, the Combined Galactic Resistance has discovered a damaged Dalek who is in pain after becoming good. This presents the Doctor with a conundrum. He has encountered a Dalek with humanity before (the Rose Tyler-contaminated one in series one's "Dalek") but that one was so disgusted with itself that it sought self-destruction. This is a different situation, and one in which it might be possible to show that indeed a Dalek can be made moral.
And therein lies the rub. The Doctor has had so many encounters and endured so many traumas at the hands of the Daleks that he can't comprehend his enemy as anything other than a monster to be destroyed. In the past this has worked in his favor--specifically in "Victory of the Daleks," when his inability to accept a Dalek as good during Churchill-era World War II revealed that the obedient act was just that. And so when he agrees to be miniaturized with Clara, Journey Blue, Gretchen and Ross, it may seem to be in order to fix the creature in an act of mercy but the truth is different. He's going through the motions in order to prove a point to himself and to the others: that a Dalek is inherently evil and cannot be changed.
In some ways, this could be considered a new low for the Doctor. He's done a lot of morally questionable things during his time, but rarely does he so blatantly risk the lives of others solely in order to prove that he's right. Ross and Gretchen are both lost--not to mention those soldiers who died in battle when the Daleks invaded--because he didn't bother to warn anyone that he considered it a futile act. It's more than a little chilling when he tells Clara, "You see?" because he's more than a little triumphant about it. The only thing that mitigates this is that he seems to have deceived himself into believing that he was going down there in order to actually do some good. For all his skepticism, he is legitimately distressed when the Dalek opens fire on those in the normal-sized world. It's as if he decided "Well, we'll give it a try and if it works, great. And if not...well, I showed them!"
It's Clara who brings the Doctor back around, proving that as Vastra said last episode, the Doctor needs her more than ever. This is an important step in Clara's development. In series seven she was the impossible girl, just another quest for the Doctor to undertake; a riddle for him to figure out. Thus far in series eight she's been on far more equal footing and is starting to grow into her own. The banter from last week's episode is toned down a little into a more friendly set of barbs, but when she really needs to let him have it she doesn't hold back. And it's from Clara that the Doctor learns the most important part of the lesson: that even a Dalek can be made good. This is especially important because it's the Doctor's hatred that the Dalek holds onto at the end. The Doctor and Daleks have always been a reflection of each other and with the Doctor suffering through a morality crisis, it's interesting to see him juxtaposed against a Dalek with the same. These two characters in this episode are more alike than either of them would care to admit and it provides the Doctor an important lesson: if a momentary experience can push a Dalek toward goodness, than that moment of hatred could push the Doctor to the other side. Hopefully in turn this will drive the Doctor further down his road of trying to right his wrongs.
Ben Wheatley is back to direct this episode after doing a good job with the premiere, and his work as a director is well-done. Wheatley does some good work handling the darker, Cronenberg-esque parts of the story with his strong visual aesthetics and ability to handle themes that approach horror. It isn't quite as far down that road as "Deep Breath's" body-harvesting cyborgs were but there are a couple creepy moments and Wheatley ramps up the tension nicely in scenes like those involving the antibodies.
The major problem that this episode has is the execution of the story. Steven Moffat worked with Phil Ford (of the previously-mentioned "Waters of Mars") on the script and handles the thematic elements well, but the plot and characterization of most of the supporting characters are lacking. None of the Combined Galactic Resistance members register anything approaching audience engagement outside of Journey Blue; when Gretchen has her noble sacrifice, we've almost forgotten that she was even there. Colonel Morgan is a one-note character as well; the army characters seem to be there only to remind us that the Doctor doesn't like militaries and as much as Journey resonates, in the end she's left behind simply because she's a soldier. I wonder what the Brigadier would have thought of that. There's a lot of action and excitement in the story and it plays well, but it feels like the filler it is so that we can get to the important parts exploring the Doctor's soul-searching. Moffat's done this better, and in fact Ford did it better in his previous episode. These moments certainly don't sink the episode, but they do make it a wee bit of a letdown in terms of the plot compared to last week.
Some Final Thoughts:
• Line of the episode goes to the Doctor for his Fantastic Voyage/Innerspace reference. "Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist."
• Another good exchange: "Clara Oswald, do I really not pay you?" "You couldn't afford me."
• Missy welcomes another fallen supporting character to "Heaven," this time preventing Gretchen's noble sacrifice. It kind of feels like she's building an inverted version of the Doctor's army from "A Good Man Goes to War," with the immortal man (Half-Face/Rory) and the soldier (Gretchen/Lorna Bucket).
• We briefly meet new recurring character Danny Pink in this episode, and I can tell I'm going to take a while to warm to him. Not because of Samuel Anderson's performance (which is strong), but because the just-starting relationship between Clara and him already feels forced and shoe-horned.
• Next week: Robin Hood! Trips to the past are a bit dicier sometimes, so we'll see how that goes.
The 411: "Into the Dalek" has a somewhat clumsier plot than the previous episode and shortchanges its supporting characters a touch, but it mostly makes up for that with further exploration of the Doctor's psyche and moral compass. Capaldi continues to show that he's very much the right choice for the Doctor and Jenna Coleman makes more strides as Clara to keep the episode going. While this isn't one of the great Dalek episodes, it's at least a solid step forward in the increasingly interesting Twelfth Doctor's early run.