Into The Dalek
Review by Eddie McGuigan
CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
A Doctor isn’t a Doctor until he’s met his most dreaded adversaries, and Steven Moffat always throws a new Doctor at them pretty early on.
Series 8 is no exception as before the coffee is even cold the Twelfth Doctor comes face to face with the Daleks.
Now, most of the plot of this episode is embargoed, so beyond the blurb there’s little I can add in way of story details.
The blurb, incidentally goes like this:
A Dalek fleet surrounds a lone rebel ship, and only the Doctor can help them now… with the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side.
Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question, am I a good man?
This story, as a companion to Deep Breath, explores perception and desire. It’s an action character piece that looks at what it is to be the Doctor and what it is to be a Dalek. Whilst it has the Jubilee/Dalek conceit of one injured Dalek held prisoner, it also has shiny big space battles and a full on Dalek assault against Space Marines. The war they fight is non specific, to be sure, and the Daleks in general seem a little unphased by the Doctor or the TARDIS, which is a big change from all recent Dalek stories, but it doesn’t shirk spectacle whilst dealing, quite literally, with the minutae of what it means to be Dalek.
The whole thing revolves around, quite rightly, the Twelfth Doctor, and Peter Capaldi rocks it. Working with (and without) Clara, he is already fully formed, if in doubt of himself, and he pulls off the distant/rude Doctor as well as Tom Baker did and much better than Colin was allowed to. His prejudice of the Daleks isn’t surprising given the questions he’s had to ask himself about his behaviour around them since the series returned, and it’s a nice thread back to Eccleston’s Dalek episode with many of the same beats coming up here, along with almost copied scenes and lines.
Like the Half Faced Man’s death in Deep Breath, things are left to perception and opinion as to how good the Doctor is. Of course, if you trust him, you know it’s all a conceit, of course he’s a good man, but he may have to do bad things. It’s a surprising moral conundrum for a Doctor who doesn’t have the weight of the destruction of Gallifrey on his shoulders. The Doctor, it seems, works best when he’s torturing himself.
Peter Capaldi is immediately the Doctor, you’ll never doubt it, and he does the turn of direction, change of gear stuff with aplomb, and his acting chops are stretched enough to see him, like Tom Baker, take charge of a room in the flicker of a heartbeat. It’s a thing to behold.
Jenna Coleman is served well again with this episode and has some soul searching questions asked of her. Her relationship with the Doctor has evolved a little (it’s three weeks since Glasgow) and she seems a lot more comfortable with him. Her quips and dry humour work best with Capaldi, and she seems much more suited to Doctor who can be openly vulnerable around her. He immediately gave into her and this is what makes Clara and the Doctor’s relationship much more sympathetic and less abrasive to the similar Peri and Doctor’s relationship. It’s very much a much more “traditional” set up. Personally though, I don’t like the Doctor dropping her off and picking her up again… “You’re not my boss,” she says, “You’re one of my hobbies!” I think it should be a lot more serious than that.
Downsides to this episode… well, there ARE a lot of Dalek conceits in it. A broken Dalek, humanity as a malfunction, the Doctor as the yin to a Dalek yan, but to be fair, these aren’t just conceits played in Dalek, but all over the new series.
Danny Pink too makes an appearance, but the Coalhill stuff is a distraction. There you are listening to Clara flirt and you know an electric Doctor is taking command of an under siege Dalek surrounded base! Get up there already! I know there will be a pay off though, and Moff tends to write seasons rather than single episodes, so it’s worth bearing with. The metaphors and similes aren’t particularly hidden.
Once again, like Deep Breath, particularly in the first two acts, the scenes are longer, more wordy, and allow the characters, particularly the Doctor, to breath and grow. I could personally watch Capaldi all day, he’s superb. I’m still slightly hearing echoes of Matt in his dialogue, but that’s only to be expected both literally and dramatically.
The music is suitably creepy, the direction taught and clever, and allows Act 3 to speed up to something akin to a Matt soliloquy, so as things get quicker, Peter gets more intense.
There’s lots and lots of nods to previous adventures in here though… from Dalek to The Invisible Enemy to The Ark In Space (ach yiv got the build of a man!) to Let’s Kill Hitler to Night of the Doctor, and Peter takes his Malcolm Tucker In Space approach and makes it pure and blessed Doctor.
If I was to complain, a little, is that I don’t think there’s been a proper, classic Dalek story in many a year, and this isn’t one either. The Daleks are used a lot, but never particularly well, and I think the problem is that they’re being over thought. Nicholas Briggs is, as always, superb, though. Give him a go at writing them too!
This is a solid, steady, clever story, if more than a little derivative, but it doesn’t really matter. You’ll enjoy the ride, and realise how far you’re into it, with some nice, natural guest stars and some wonderfully witty dialogue (“That’s right, she’s my carer. She cares so I don’t have to!”), before thinking “I’ve seen this before”, and that’s a bonus. Some of the worst episodes in the series history are saved by some wonderful Doctor and Companion performances and, in this case Peter and Jenna succeed with aplomb!