8 Thoughts on “Into the Dalek”

Into_The_Dalek_Poster

Airdate: August 30, 2014
Written by: Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
The Story So Far: The Doctor is asked to heal a Dalek by a couple of soldiers named Blue; Clara has an awkward meet-cute with a soldier-turned-schoolteacher named Pink.

Before, and during, the Series 8 premiere, Deep Breath, the big question was, how much of Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor would be drawn from Jon Pertwee’s characterization of the 3rd.  Quite a bit, as it turns out.

This week, however, there were no callbacks to the 3rd Doctor’s style or stories.  Instead, it was all about reliving Tom Baker’s years as the 4th Doctor.  With one exception.  One very prominent exception.

Death to the Daleks

… which, from now on, shall be known only  as “Death to the Daleks, death to the Daleks, DEATH TO THE DALEKS!”

As is typical with the New Series, the plot of Into the Dalek was slight (a Dalek force assaults a human hospital ship), serving primarily as a springboard for philosophical conversations and emotional exploration.  This is not a review, as such, and all spoilers are discussed, so proceed with caution!

1. “Sometimes you don’t seem — ” “Human?”

The week I was introduced to Tom Baker’s Doctor on PBS was also the week I had the flu. For some reason, I’d had the foresight to tape the final 12 minutes of Robot Part One on VHS on Monday night.  Tuesday, I had a 101-degree fever, didn’t go to school, and spent most of that afternoon in a semi-conscious stupor in front of the TV, watching those same 12 minutes over and over again.  I fell in love with Tom Baker’s high comic, oddball-yet-lovable take on the Doctor.  Parts Two through Four, shown Tuesday through Thursday nights, were more of the same, and I couldn’t wait for the next story, with more over-the-top but genial clowning from Tom Baker.  Friday morning, I was all better and back to school.  Friday night began The Ark in Space.

Whoa.

Baker’s first line in that story is “You’re a clumsy ham-fisted idiot!”  Robot was a Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks production, filmed during Season 11, a Jon Pertwee-era story with Tom Baker happening to star.  The Ark in Space, however, is all Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes; the Doctor could be funny at times, but was more starkly alien.  I loved Robot — still do — because of the comedy — but it’s The Ark in Space that defines Tom Baker for me.  Smiling broadly, while verbally cutting poor Harry Sullivan to shreds.

The Doctor cuts Harry off at the knees, with a grin: "Your mind is beginning to work.  It's entirely due to my influence, of course."

“Your mind is beginning to work. It’s entirely due to my influence, of course.  You mustn’t take any credit.”

It remained like that for the rest of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era.  Baker’s Doctor was still prone to reciting Shakespeare over a Cyberman’s corpse, or quoting “The House that Jack Built”, or doing magic tricks.  But he also advised Professor Sorenson to kill himself in Planet of Evil, showed a seeming lack of empathy when his allies were killed off in Pyramids of Mars or The Seeds of Doom, and didn’t exactly comfort a blinded Sarah Jane Smith in The Brain of Morbius.  Then, he’d wax rhapsodic about the indomitable nature of humanity, and you loved him all over again.

Which is where we join Peter Capaldi.  The Doctor in Into the Dalek has recaptured this seemingly cold, callous streak.  I’ve already seen comparisons of Capaldi to Colin Baker’s Doctor — a Doctor you were supposed to loathe at first, before realizing how noble he was underneath.  I don’t see that.  Colin’s Doctor in his first two stories was scripted to engage in physical violence that was completely at odds with what we thought we knew of the character.  Capaldi’s Doctor will mask himself with a frosty facade — he’s callous when Ross is killed, casually insults Clara… but then promises the doomed Gretchen that he’ll do something “amazing” in her honor.  Capaldi strikes me more  of Tom Baker’s early take on the Doctor — callous, harsh, and then wonderfully empathic — and it’s glorious.

One of these four characters is about to die horribly, and the Doctor hardly blinks.

One of these four characters is about to die horribly, and the Doctor doesn’t blink.  Doesn’t even blink.

2. “You’re not my boss.  You’re just one of my hobbies.”

Speaking of a seemingly intentional similarity to the early Tom Baker era, Clara has gone from the Impossible Girl to Sarah Jane Smith.  Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen had an electric chemistry that, if harnessed, could have powered the city of Cleveland for years. It was almost flirtatious.  Sarah Jane could call the Doctor out on his bad behavior, he’s say something curtly dismissive to her, and neither was ever really offended.  He even called her his “best friend” in The Seeds of Doom, and we nodded vigorously.

The name-calling between the Doctor and Clara recaptures that dynamic while taking it to a whole new level.  Last week, the Doctor called Clara an “egomaniac, needy, game-player sort of person” (ouch!); this week, we get a sharper update on an exchange from Pyramids of Mars:

Clara: How do I look?
The Doctor: Sort of short and round-ish, but with a good personality, which is the main thing.
Clara: I mean my clothes.  I just changed.
The Doctor: Oh, good for you.  Still making an effort.

But then the Doctor gets sweet again: “I think you’re probably an amazing teacher,” he admits.  This is how best friends actually talk to each other, at least where I come from (Brooklyn, which is not representative of anywhere else, I freely admit).  We’re back to the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane’s on-screen chemistry, but with sharper, 21st-century-appropriate barbs.  Awesome.

"You asked me if you were a good, and and the answer is, I don't know.  But I think you try to be, and I think that's probably the point."

“You asked me if you were a good man, and and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be, and I think that’s probably the point.”

3.  “I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier.”

This will cause a lot of debate among Internet fandom for months to come.  One of this week’s guest characters, Journey Blue, is a soldier from the future, from the Combined Galactic Resistance.  The Doctor rescues her from her fighter ship, seconds before it’s blown up (along with her brother) by the Daleks.  She tries to commandeer the TARDIS at gunpoint, but he won’t cooperate until she says “please” (which is eerily reminiscent of my parenting strategy vis-a-vis my four-year-old daughter, minus the guns).  There a running theme through the rest of the episode where Journey, clearly a good, kind person before she got caught up in the fight against the Daleks, is being led by the Doctor to overcome her soldiering instincts and rediscover her best qualities.

Then, at the end, she asks him if she can come along with him in the TARDIS, and he refuses, because she’s a soldier.  This is an interesting point because, back on Earth, Clara is cultivating a relationship with Danny Pink, a former soldier, who seems destined to wind up on-board the TARDIS.  Why does the Doctor really turn Journey away?  Is he wrong?  And why all the characters named Blue and Pink?  Those are not real names!

Unless you were one of the most dominating left-handed starting pitchers of your generation, that is.

Unless you were one of the most dominating left-handed starting pitchers of your generation, that is.

4. Pink.  It’s like red, but not quite.

After the cold open, a furious bit of business, and the new opening titles (which are still fabulous — love love love), we get a sharply different sequence introducing us to Danny Pink , who, depending on what hints Steven Moffat drops in any given interview, may or may not be a future companion, and is clearly of major importance to the rest of Season 8. Danny, a math teacher at Coal Hill School, is a former solider who leads military drills (the “Coal Hill Cadets”, who logic would dictate will see some action before this season is out).  He hints that he’s killed before, and cries when talking about it.  Clara kind-of sort-of asks him out on a date (45 seconds after they’ve just been introduced) and he flakes out, running back into his classroom to bang his head against his desk.  This is one of the most unique introductions we’ve been given to a new character.  Danny Pink is played by Sam Anderson, who the camera loves.  He’ll be a fine addition to the TARDIS crew, if that’s what Moffat has in store for us.

First Alex Kingston, and now Sam Anderson.  Steven Moffat really enjoys casting actors who formerly played doctors on "E.R." ... oh, wait.  Wrong Sam Anderson.

First Alex Kingston, and now Sam Anderson: Steven Moffat prefers to cast actors who formerly played doctors on “E.R.” … oh, wait. Wrong Sam Anderson.

5. “The Doctor was not the Daleks”

In between the character moments, there was a plot in Into the Dalek:  Colonel Blue (Journey’s uncle) has salvaged a Dalek, which comes to life and expresses a wish to destroy the other Daleks.  The Doctor is enlisted to go into the Dalek to investigate — quite literally, to be miniaturized and to go into the Dalek casing, via a nano-something device that shrinks him down, Fantastic Voyage-style (“Great idea for a movie.  Terrible idea for a proctologist,” sneers Capaldi).  This device, by the way, is not the one from the Tom Baker story The Invisible Enemy, although the plots of the two stories share some basic similarities.

Once inside the Dalek, the Doctor quickly learns that this is not a “good” Dalek who can be trained to join the Combined Galactic Resistance.  Rather, it was brain-damaged by a radiation leak inside its shell; once the leak is plugged, it turns back into the rampaging evil monster that we all know and love.  The Doctor is proven right, and the Resistance is put in jeopardy when the Dalek escapes captivity and exterminates most of Colonel Blue’s soldiers.  Whoops.

But, because the new series is more about exploring emotions and consequences than showing elaborate Dalek schemes of conquest, things take a sharp left turn after the Dalek starts to kill again.  Much of this ground was covered in Rob Shearman’s Dalek 9 years ago, but we learn some interesting things on this revisit.

And, fortunately, we didn't learn any of it from this fine actor.

Here’s one actor we fortunately did NOT revisit.

Basically, Clara shames the Doctor into admitting that he needs to do more to salvage the situation for the Blues and their soldiers (while Journey is about to blow them all up with a suicide grenade, it looks like).  So the Doctor gets to work.  He sends Clara off to retrieve suppressed memories from the Daleks’ brain-computer, while he goes off to try and reason with the Kaled mutant blob.  And, with parallels to one of my favorite exchanges from 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks, makes it quite clear that he’s making his new scheme up purely as he goes along, with no likelihood of success.

Human: We’ve only got a handful of men. How can we stop [the Daleks]?
4th Doctor: [counting the troops] One, two, three, four, five. I’ll go alone. Ask me why.
Human: Why?
4th Doctor: Because they’re unconscious. Also, I’m a very dangerous fellow when I don’t know what I’m doing.

While Clara’s doing her bit, the Doctor starts talking to the Dalek mutant, and takes us right back to 1963.  He says that, when he left home to travel in the TARDIS, he was just running, calling himself “the Doctor” for no particular reason — but that meeting the Daleks for the first time (in The Daleks) made him who he is today: .because “The Doctor was not the Daleks”.  This is a bold admission on the 12th Doctor’s part (and officially explains why the 1st Doctor was so different in his first adventure).

The Doctor picks a most unlikely psychotherapist.

A most unlikely psychotherapist.

Of course, while the Doctor is rooting around in the Dalek’s memories, trying to awaken some shred of humanity and avert it from its destructive course… the Dalek is rooting around the Doctor’s memories.  In another twist, the Dalek finds the will to destroy the rest of the Dalek force — but not from spiritual memories of beautiful stars being born; it instead seizes upon the Doctor’s own hatred of the Daleks, and copies that.  And, as in 2005’s Dalek, tells the Doctor that he’d make “a good Dalek”.

There’s a lot going on here, even if the emotions are spelled out a bit  too explicitly.  The Doctor starts to doubt his own innate goodness, and the Dalek evolves beyond its own programming into something… not quite an ally, but no longer a Dalek either.  I’m not sure all of this is convincing; it may fall apart upon a third or fourth viewing, and seem like painfully juvenile writing.  But, for the moment, I thought it was quite well done.  The Doctor saves the day for the Blues, but still leaves feeling somewhat defeated.

The 4th Doctor, seen here menacing Davros with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, won the day without quite so many reservations.

The 4th Doctor, seen here menacing Davros with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, wins “Destiny of the Daleks” without quite so many reservations.

6. Missy

… is back again.  Gretchen’s noble act of self-sacrifice immediately transitions from her extermination, to her sitting at a table in Heaven, surrounded by approximately 10,000 pastries, being greeted by Missy (who does not perform a soft-shoe number like last week).  There’s still no explanation as to who Missy really is or why she’s collecting people killed in the Doctor’s presence.  Nor do we know where the “promised land” is.  It’s only Episode 2; plenty of time for answers later.

7. Deleted Scene?

According to those who saw the leaked rough cut, there was an extra scene in Into the Dalek with the changed Dalek blowing itself up (taking the Blues’ ship with it) as soon as the TARDIS took off.  This was not in the episode as transmitted.  Thankfully.

8. Next Time

Mark Gatiss appears to be in full-on romp mode, sending the TARDIS to Sherwood Forest. Lots of swashbuckling and explosions, and what appears to be robot knights, while the Doctor tells us that there’s no such thing as Robin Hood.  I suspect that, next week, we’re going right back to the Pertwee era for an update of The Time Warrior.  Can’t wait!

The 3rd Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Boba Fett, fighting robot knights in 1974.

The 3rd Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Boba Fett, fighting robot knights in 1974.

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About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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5 Responses to 8 Thoughts on “Into the Dalek”

  1. Slight correction: it’s not the Blues’ ship that “Rusty” blows up. Rather, it’s the Dalek cruiser once he transmats back to it.

    • drwhonovels says:

      OK, cool, although I’m still not crazy about the concept of the Dalek going suicidal (like the one in “Dalek” 9 years ago). At least the Blues were intended to survive!

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