This season’s Doctor Who premiere was rather hum drum. A fine debut from the newly minted Twelfth Doctor, but otherwise “Deep Breath” was of a bit of a fizzle as premieres go. Series 8’s second offering, “Into the Dalek” is anything but hum drum.
As should come as absolutely no surprise the Daleks are featured in this episode. But it’s smartly done in a way that’s reminiscent of their first appearance in new Who – the Ninth Doctor adventure, “Dalek” – rather than as an invading armada of unstoppable killing machines. Though, to be fair, there is a little of that, too.
This time however, The Doctor is faced with a Dalek who is… good? And for The Doctor, a Dalek discovering its own morality is a case he simply cannot refuse.
Having been captured by the military of some nondescript, future humans who are fleeing the Daleks, Rusty – as the Doctor nicknames this odd Dalek – is sick and in need of medical attention. Thanks to The Doctor’s obviously confusing designation, the humans assume he’s there to help and shrink him and Clara along with a squad of soldiers down to a tiny size and inject them inside the Dalek.
“Into the Dalek” is to the film Fantastic Voyage, as last season’s “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” was to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. There’s something about the novelty of shrinking your characters and sticking them inside a Dalek which is now massive by comparison that’s a lot of fun. The sets used were cleverly designed in way that you knew where inside the Dalek there were at a given moment, but it was never so obvious as to pull you out of the scene. And how trippy was their entering through the eyestalk!?
Coming face to face – literally – with a Dalek proves to be a troubling encounter for The Doctor, and it also happens to be our first chance to really see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in action. Having been intrigued by the concept of a “good” Dalek he willingly enters what he considers to be one of the most dangerous places in the universe, only to discover that Rusty wasn’t really turning a new leaf but suffering from a radiation leak. With that repaired he’s just like any other Dalek, ready to destroy whatever’s nearby.
I don’t believe I’m blowing anyone’s mind here when I say that The Doctor and the Daleks are often used as foils for to one another, and that is very obviously what’s going on in “Into the Dalek.” For as much as we’re exploring the insides of a Dalek we’re also getting a glimpse inside the mind of The Doctor, specifically the Twelfth.
There’s definitely one point which will surely shock a lot of viewers where The Doctor uses a man’s death to his advantage. It’s quite a calculated and cold decision and one that is meant to give us pause. Capaldi’s Doctor is colder, there’s no doubt, but it’s not as if he’s ever cruel for the sake of it.
And this is where Clara comes in, “his carer” as The Doctor puts it. “She cares, so I don’t have to.” Clara was still reeling from a shocking regeneration last week, so this episode we get more of that spunky, go-getter Clara from before. Jenna Coleman is proving to be fantastic match for Capaldi, and this episode we begin to see how their companionship is going to function. Plus, we can note that she isn’t necessarily traveling with The Doctor, but instead he’s popping in when he realizes he needs a conscious.
Which is exactly the role she’s playing for him, even outright asking her, “Am I good man?”It’s not something Clara is able to answer right away. Rusty does however, and it’s not a answer The Doctor is especially pleased to hear.
Through a rather typical deux ex machina, Clara is able to restore Rusty’s suppressed memories and make him “good” again, allowing The Doctor to let Rusty peak inside his mind in hopes of further nurturing that good. But things don’t go as planned and once Rusty sees the hatred The Doctor holds for the Daleks, it’s all he can focus on. He even calls The Doctor the better Dalek – to his face no less! aw snap! – and Capaldi appears visibly hurt by such a scathing retort.
There’s a blackness in The Doctor’s soul and and he’s guilty about it. Obviously, this season will be about exploring that, and it’s very, very likely that the mysterious Missy is connected to it. Yes, that strange Mary Poppins-esque woman who comes off as sinister yet cheery, and welcomed last episode’s clockwork robot villain into the after life. Y’know, what with her sudden appearance and offering of tea to everyone who dies while in the presence of The Doctor. She’s got a story, but one they’ll like drag out for weeks to come.
“Into the Dalek” was written by Phil Ford (“Waters of Mars”) and it’s a large improvement over Doctor Who‘s sluggish premiere. Not only that, but it’s an unique spin on the Daleks and one that’s surely opened up new avenues for future writers to explore with the ‘ole pepper pots.
Oh! And how can we skip new Coal Hill school teacher and [SPOILER] soon to be companion , Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. Clearly a potential love interest for Clara now that she and The Doctor have ceased flirtations, their interactions were predictably rom-com, but cute nonetheless. There will also most definitely be something made of the fact he’s a former soldier. Most likely by The Doctor, who – as this episode only further emphasized – has a real problem with soldiers and guns.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 9pm on BBC America.
Watch a preview of next week’s episode – “Robot of Sherwood”: