8.2 – “Into The Dalek”
After saving a soldier from death at the hands of the Daleks, The Doctor is called upon to help a human resistance force in healing an unusual patient; a good Dalek. For his part, The Doctor is more than a little dubious but agrees to help the rebels find the problem – from the inside. Prepare the shrink ray!!
Quality Dalek stories seem to be in short supply these days. Of all The Doctor’s many villains, the Daleks are probably the most overused and the one enemy we’ve seen too many times to still consider a legitimate threat. No matter what the story, there’s always the feeling that it’s been done before (and probably better), leaving the psychotic metal bastards as little more than a placeholder bad guy for The Doctor and chums to thwart once again.
It gives me no small amount of pleasure then to report that “Into The Dalek” actually manages to offer up something a little different. Not massively different, of course, but certainly a story that feels fresh rather than reheated. Granted, it’s premise wouldn’t feel out of place in a 1950’s/60’s b-movie. Neither will I deny having flashbacks to my childhood and Sunday afternoons spent watching Inner Space on VHS. But in spite of the inherent daftness in shrinking our protagonists and letting them loose inside a Dalek, it’s actually really well done and serves as a fun adventure backdrop for the more serious elements at play, namely the nature of the Daleks and The Doctor’s attitude towards them.
The Doctor saves the life of Journey Blue, a soldier involved in a resistance fight against the Daleks. He’s unable to save her brother but after a quick lesson in manners he agrees to accompany back to her ship. There we meet her uncle, Colonel Blue, who thanks The Doctor one minute and then threatens him the next (“It’s a roller-coaster with you!”) before finally agreeing to let The Doctor help them with their latest discover – a Dalek who has turned good due to a malfunction. One quick pit-stop later to pick up Clara, and The Doctor and company are being shrunk by a fantastic sci-fi gizmo in order to go inside the Dalek (who The Doctor has named Rusty) and try to repair it. The special effects this week are rather good and the atmosphere inside the Dalek is appropriately menacing and foreign, the antibodies are a cool enemy whose appearance brings genuine dread and there are even some moments of moral ambiguity for The Doctor again. He allows one of the soldiers accompanying him to die in order that he and the others can trace the remains of said ex-soldier to the Dalek’s stomach, as it would be a safe place for them to hide out while they get a handle on the situation. It makes sense once you accept the premise that the soldier who died was going to die anyway, as the antibodies had already targeted him as a threat, but the slight cold way in which The Doctor behaves gives Journey reason to scold him and even Clara seems a little taken aback. From his perspective though, The Doctor is simply trying to save those he can whilst getting the job done as quickly as possible. It’s not personal, it doesn’t come from a lack of caring and that’s what makes Capaldi’s take on the character so interesting; you’re never quite sure of his motives but once they’re explained you can kind of see where he’s coming from.
After some running about and adventuring, the problem of the broken radiation vent inside Rusty is fixed but it only has the effect of restoring the Dalek to it’s normal self i.e. it starts to exterminate everyone back on the ship. The Doctor has a moment of weakness where, seeming defeated, he declares the idea of a “good” Dalek to be impossible and says that this only proves his point. Clara’s not having a bit of it though; she encourages The Doctor to look for something more, to try and create a better outcome and this helps him to move forward with a plan to win the Dalek back over to the good side by accessing the memories it had of a star being born (which at the moment have simply been repressed) and he sends Clara and Journey off to try and access Rusty’s memory banks whilst The Doctor himself makes his way up towards the Dalek creature itself.
Using the stored memories like a Powerpoint presentation, The Doctor appeals to Rusty to remember the conclusion it came to upon seeing the star being born. Then he takes it a step further, connecting his own mind to that of the Dalek. Rusty is able to see The Doctor’s mind and his memories and thoughts – The Doctor’s hope being that it will inspire Rusty to change his perception of the universe and his place in it. If a Dalek can be shown new ideas and given the capacity to take them on board, it could mean that the entire race has the potential for change. But when Rusty peers into The Doctor’s mind, it only finds the Time Lord’s hatred for its race, his memories of all the times that they have destroyed and conquered, of the sacrifices The Doctor has had to make to stop them and, from all of this, Rusty reaches the only logical conclusion it can – the Daleks must be destroyed. At first, The Doctor is distraught at the knowledge that only hatred exists for the Daleks in his own mind, that there isn’t the “something more” which he begs Rusty to find. But then he realises that it only makes sense for the Dalek to latch on to the hatred he feels. Hatred is the first thing that a Dalek experiences when it’s born, it is the driving emotion of the entire species. In the end, The Doctor can change the Dalek’s perception, but he cannot change it’s nature. It exists to exterminate; The Doctor has simply given it a different target.
The “good” Dalek turns its hatred on it’s fellow pepper pots and the day is saved. But The Doctor is left feeling crushed by the absence of anything other than hatred inside his own mind for this particular species. Before he departs to presumably wage a one-Dalek war against the rest of his kind, Rusty tells The Doctor “You are a good Dalek”. Sick burn! Back in the TARDIS, Clara once again answers the question that The Doctor had asked her at the beginning of the episode; “Am I a good man?” by telling him that she doesn’t know, but that he evidently tries to be one and perhaps that’s the whole point. This seems to cheer him up a bit and we get our first proper warm smile from the Twelfth Doctor.
The supporting cast this week are excellent; I enjoyed seeing Michael Smiley of Spaced fame as the hard-headed colonel and Zawe Ashton was terrific as Journey Blue, moving effortlessly from tough soldiering to heartfelt belief in The Doctor. Sadly, he’s not a fan of soldiers so Journey Blue won’t be joining the TARDIS crew any time soon. Peter Capaldi cements his take on The Doctor here and adds new layers. Seeing him struggle with his own morality is always good drama but it’s the lighter touches, such as his sarcasm and his inability to screen his thoughts before he speaks, that really put the twinkle in the character’s eye. Jenna Coleman continues to impress this series, taking Clara from the annoying sidekick to the competent companion who can help get the job done in tight situations and who’s being called upon a lot more now to actually do something. So far there’s no indication of where new character Danny Pink is going to come into all of this, but Birmingham-born Samuel Anderson does a good job of introducing the character and even managing to squeeze in a bit of emotional depth despite only having roughly 7 minutes of screen time.
“Into The Dalek” manages not only to give us a unique Dalek story but also reintroduces some of the fear and menace the infamous tin pepper pots have been lacking in recent years. There’s exploration of the nature of the Daleks, the question of The Doctor’s morality and the first steps are taken toward cementing the Twelfth Doctor’s personality. If you can accept the slightly cheesy b-movie plot, there’s fun and intrigue to be had. A well earned 8/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett