Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 2 review: Into the Dalek

Posted: 13 September 2014 in entertainment, television
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It’s time for Doctor Who to go “Into Dalekness” in an exploration of the alien hearts of darkness beating within the Doctor and the Daleks.

Clara, be my pal. Tell me… am I a good man?

When Doctor Who previously lifted inspiration from Fantastic Voyage the life form that the Fourth Doctor found himself inside of in The Invisible Enemy was himself. Now, in the second adventure for the Twelfth Doctor, the Time Lord and Clara found themselves miniaturised and sent Into the Dalek. A Dalek so badly damaged by internal radiation leakage that it’s core programming had been overridden to place it on the side of the angels. As their original “birth” as instruments of ethic cleansing was due to radiation there’s a certain irony in radiation taking “Rusty”, as the Doctor dubbed the damaged Dalek, to a new level of evolution.

Doctor Who S8 E2 Into the Dalek

It’s an intriguing concept and one explored to the full by co-writers Phil Ford and Steven Moffat. It’s the first time that Moffat has taken a co-writing credit on Doctor Who. Given the amount of uncredited rewriting he must do to other scripts as showrunner his work with Ford must have been significant. Ford’s previous contribution to Nu-Who was another collaboration, The Waters of Mars with then-showrunner Russell T Davies.

The examination of the Doctor’s morality vs. the hatred of a species bent on racial purity has been a key theme of Dalek stories in Nu-Who. But is the Doctor’s loathing of the Daleks tainting his soul? Is his view of the Daleks no better than their genocidal view of all other races in existence? Is it possible that his crusade to rid all of history of the influence of the Daleks has made the Doctor no better than his archenemies?

In Genesis of the Daleks the Fourth Doctor demurred when presented with the opportunity to avert the creation of the Daleks. In one of the greatest moral moments in the history of Doctor Who he asked, “Do I have the right?”. The Fourth Doctor feared becoming no better than the Daleks themselves if he wiped out an entire intelligent life form for all time.

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running, I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. And then, I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot and I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

Into the Dalek was filmed in the same production block as Deep Breath, which meant the directing duties were once again handled by Ben Wheatley. With his masterful handling of both this Dalek adventure and Capaldi’s debut, Wheatley has shown himself to be one of the best directors to grace Nu-Who to date – if not the best. The director painted a tapestry that felt as though months of time and millions of pounds were expended to bring Moffat and Ford’s script to life. Credit must also be heaped upon behind the scenes team who, whatever the ropiness of the script they’ve been handed, have consistently delivered polished and sumptuous productions. A long road of arduous toil has been travelled since Rose and Aliens of London/World War Three. That chaotic first production block of the Eccleston era taught all involved how hard making Doctor Who was, especially for a 21st century audience used to filmic quality television.

Since the Daleks arrived in Nu-Who their voices have been provided by Nicholas Briggs (responsible for so much of the success enjoyed by Big Finish). Time after time this self-professed fan of all things Dalek has imbued the premier Doctor Who monster with nuanced and powerful performances. From the lone cyborg of Dalek, to the insane Dalek Cann of the Cult of Skaro, and now to “Rusty”, Briggs has provided subtle, entertaining and chilling individuality to a race of conformity.

Jenna Coleman’s development as Clara continued apace after a virtual reset of her character in Deep Breath. Whereas her relationship with the Eleventh Doctor was mostly scripted as a badly written screwball comedy she’s come into her own in association with the Twelfth Doctor. No longer a lightweight and goofy partner in crime, she’s now the Doctor’s strong moral compass. An audience surrogate to draw attention to the darker aspects of the new Doctor.

Doctor Who S8 E2 Into the Dalek - Twelfth Doctor

I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty. I see divinity. I see hatred.

After spending centuries as a self-professed pacifist, always seeking the peaceful solutions to conflict, the Doctor succumbed to being a soldier when his eighth incarnation (Paul McGann) “died” in The Night of the Doctor. His regeneration into the hidden incarnation of the War Doctor (John Hurt) was a conscious choice to be a warrior rather than a healer. With the Twelfth Doctor the morally questionable aspects of the War Doctor are rising to the surface.

The last time a Doctor was made this darkly humoured, prickly, and unapproachable, the whole thing blew up in the production team’s face and Colin Baker unfairly made the scapegoat. The Twelfth Doctor’s persona is a big risk for Moffat but it’s unimaginable that Capaldi could have played a flirty incarnation in the style of his two immediate predecessors. Accounts vary on how much the decision to eliminate the flirting was a demand on Capaldi’s part before accepting the role. Whatever the truth of the matter it’s brought Doctor Who home. It’s once again a series about a mysterious alien who’s an enigma to those around him.

Once upon a time the Doctor’s best friend was a soldier: Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – a man “steeped in blood” as Morgaine declared in Battlefield. The Doctor’s rejection of as Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) as a potential companion is a clear indicator that he no longer wishes to associate himself with those versed in death. The introduction of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara’s fellow Coal Hill School teacher, and future boyfriend, seems set to highlight the Doctor’s hanging-by-a-thread morality. As a veteran of the Afghanistan war Danny has obviously killed and one can’t imagine the Doctor being happy about Clara associating herself with such a man.

Overcoming a potentially hokey science fiction concept, Into the Dalek delivered a strong examination of the Daleks and their morality held up in comparison to the Doctor’s. The episode is for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor what Dalek was for Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. A bold look into the Doctor’s normally suppressed heart of darkness. An examination of the latent fury that is unleashed as pure hatred when he’s confronted with the Daleks.

Into the Dalek continues the fundamental shift of Doctor Who towards a more adult-orientated format and the series is all the better, and more entertaining, for doing so.

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