Into the Dalek

Story No. 264
Production Code Series 8, Episode 2
Dates August 30, 2014

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat Directed by Ben Wheatley
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: To understand what's happening, the Doctor needs to get into a Dalek's head. Literally.


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 20/3/15

I remember really liking this story on first broadcast. But in hindsight it lost its appeal fast, almost all of what made it good came from Ben Wheatley's direction.

At first glance, this was very compelling; much like Deep Breath, it felt like the show had rediscovered the importance of a sense of jeopardy. The initial scenes inside the Daleks have a good sense of claustrophobia - entering via the Dalek eyestalk is also a very trippy moment - and when Rusty turned evil again there was a real sense of oh s**t. For the first time in ages, the Daleks were gunning people down again and there was a sense of pace and danger that looked very good.

Capaldi's Doctor certainly seemed compelling, especially where he appears to be saving Ross only to declare "he was already dead; I was saving us". The Doctor suddenly seems unpredictable again for the first time since Eccelston.

Of course, at this point the Daleks have become overused and should be given a rest. But it seemed the production team have figured out that if you're going to do a Dalek story it should be "about" them. Just having the Daleks isn't enough; you need to actually do something with that. So this story is all about drawing parallels between the Doctor and his oldest enemy, as if this hadn't already been done in Dalek. The problem is that its reasoning is flawed.

First of the whole "you are a good Dalek" and suggesting the Doctor has become so twisted with hatred to be as bad as them does not wash for me. A Dalek by its very nature is something that has been breed to be evil; all conscience removed and filled with hatred of all other life. A good Dalek is a bit like dry water. Given the Doctor knows the Daleks a lot better than Clara does, his scepticism that Rusty could have really turned good feels justified. The suggestion that the Doctor is a good Dalek does not stand up for the same reason.

And the new anti-soldier philosophy of Series 8 does not work for me either. A lot of people have already pointed out the obvious, that the Doctor has a long list of soldier friends: the Brigadier, Jamie, and Leela. But the wider point is: the Doctor condemns the soldiers of the Aristotle, but what is he suggesting they do? Not put up a fight against the Daleks and get killed? Since when has the Doctor started opposing people fighting to stay alive?

The Doctor opposes authority figures, dictators and following rules for their own sake. The suggestion that he has a particular aversion to soldiers doesn't hold water and seems to be based on misremembering the Doctor's love-hate relationship with the Brigadier and UNIT.

It's especially inconsistent given the Doctor apparently being in love with the gun-toting River Song. Danny Pink is right that there's more to being a soldier than just killing people; it can teach people discipline, courage and quick thinking. But the Doctor and Clara are just too scornful to think of that. This story thinks it's making some sort of profound point about soldiers, but all it's doing is making snarky jibs at them.

The scenes with Clara and Danny are awful; I sense this was where Moffatt made his contribution. Clara's digs at Danny make her seem downright nasty and I wonder what exactly Danny sees in her after that. No one in real life would really say "ah, you shoot them and then cry about it afterwards" to a former soldier they'd just met and if they did they'd probably earn a slap. Why does Danny deserve such vitriol? And if Clara feels that way, why does she decide on going out with him?

And it does not help that the soldiers are presented as two-dimensional ciphers complete with cliched dialogue, "That door's not going to hold, but I'm damned if I'm going to make it easy for them".

In retrospect, the action goes a bit stale in the second half and watching it back it was actually a little boring. Although it is bolstered by the confrontation between the Doctor and Rusty which is brilliantly filmed and acted. But as a whole it all feels subject to diminishing returns.

Looking back on Series 8, this feels a bit boring; there are better stories further ahead. It has its moments but feels a bit too insubstantial to maintain interest.

The Most Dangerous Place in the Universe by Donna Bratley 23/7/17

The title of this review doesn't refer to a Dalek's gizzard but to Doctor Who fandom, which can be a pretty scary beast in the internet age. Every single episode, it seems, must be a flawless classic or an unmitigated disaster. The middle ground all too often disappears.

Into the Dalek fits onto it quite comfortably for me though. It's far from perfect, but it's more than adequate: a brilliant concept that is (generally) well executed. A solid slice of adventure with some cracking lines and lots of stuff blowing up. I like it a lot.

What I don't like - let's get this out of the way, it's a recurring Series 8 theme - is Clara's Big Romance. I'm not sure whether it's the writing, a lack of chemistry between the actors or a bit of both, but it never sits right with me, and that starts from the very beginning.

Clara is an independent woman. She's confident; she doesn't sit fluttering her eyelashes waiting to be swept off her feet. Great. Good on her, but does it mean she has to throw herself at the first half-decent-looking colleague she meets? She's practically volunteering to check the inside labels on Mr Pink's underwear within five minutes.

Sorry. It makes me cringe, and it's a recurring issue with Moffat females. Sexually assured doesn't actually mean being a voracious predator!

Danny seems a nice enough chap - Samuel Anderson does his best with a thankless task - but he comes across mostly as a setup for the Doctor's sudden, irrational loathing of soldiers. And that's another character beat I don't understand, because, for all the talk about the Doctor's pacifism, when has he not been willing to fight?

He doesn't like it. It's a last resort - as it should be. But some things, as the Second Doctor made plain, are undiluted evil. Some beings only understand the language of the pointy stick's business end, and the Doctor encounters them all the time. To suddenly claim he dislikes soldiers... the best I can say is, this is a Doctor who doesn't much like himself.

Maybe that's the point.

The Twelfth Doctor's first set-to with his old enemy is another indication of why casting Peter Capaldi was a master-stroke. Horror, revulsion, fear... he doesn't need a long, involved speech: he simply lives it. His brusque disinterest in the Aristotle's crew (having intervened unasked to save one of them - show not tell, it's a subtle theme throughout) might jar with a 21st-century audience, but it harks back to the glory days of the show for an old-timer like me. The Doctor has bigger things to worry about that not offending the local wildlife.

Things like his own basic nature. I'm glad Clara is honest enough to admit she doesn't know if he's a good man; and that the Doctor trusts her enough to accept the verdict. The conflict between the basic honesty of a relationship between two exceptional liars is a clever subplot through Series 8, and it's given an early airing here.

I love the humour on display, whether it's the Doctor's blithe indifference to his companion's youthful bloom (he shouldn't notice if his friend is pretty or not - he's not as shallow as a human) or something darker. Perhaps it's just me, but I found Ross being "top layer, if you want to say a few words" funnier than anything Series 7 had to offer, and the relish behind the Doctor's "bolt hole" pun still makes me smile. The Doctor just can't resist, even when - especially when - he's somewhere potentially lethal he's never been before.

There's a contentious moment early on that I remember caused comment on broadcast: namely the Doctor's apparent indifference to Ross's death. I saw it as expressing the fundamental honesty of this incarnation. He sees, he accepts, and he cracks on.

Eccleston's Doctor might have raged against the stupidity of a species that harpoons the innards of a living being - then berated himself for not saving the man until Rose reminded him there are some things even he can't do. Tennant's would have been sorry, so, so achingly sorry that the focus of the scene would shift from a shocking death to his compassionate agonisings. Smith's - well, I didn't like the tenor of his era. I imagine him making a grandiose speech accompanied by much wringing of hands... at which point the Dalek antibodies would dissolve into showery puffs of glitter.

Capaldi's Doctor is a step ahead. Ross is dead already - time to save the others. Brutal, but honest. That's how I like my Doctor.

A good Dalek? Perhaps!

Rusty of course is no such thing - just a damaged one, and Clara's right: the Doctor is a bit pleased to have his basic prejudices justified. The slap feels wrong; maybe it's the control-freak feeling out of control, but it reflects poorly on a dedicated teacher that she can't begin her valuable lesson in a more constructive way. "She cares so I don't have to" is a blatant exaggeration - watch his reaction when Gretchen makes her sacrifice, that's not a man who doesn't care - but the Doctor does need his moral centre recalibrating now and then. That's Clara's job, but no child ever learned by slaps alone.

There's one thing I ought to have hated, but didn't: the Doctor's monologue as he tries to awaken Rusty's suppressed morality. I should have cringed. It's too long, too emotional, everything I came to dread during Eleven's time. And yet - with a little help from the payoff of "I see... hatred!" - Capaldi pulls it off. It's not overblown; it doesn't descend into mawkishness. That takes some doing.

Overall, Into the Dalek consolidates the new TARDIS crew's odd, slightly tetchy but sincere partnership nicely, and the one member of the supporting cast who matters (Zawe Ashton's oddly named but admirable Journey Blue) is superb. It's hardly an all-time classic of an episode, but I love it all the same.

"Like last night's embers..." by Thomas Cookson 13/2/19

Moffat's concentration on story arcs concerning the Silence, Clara, Missy, has rather left the Daleks to the wayside. Moffat seemingly doesn't know what to do with the obligatory Daleks. The Paradigm Daleks, nanogene converts, Skaro's revival. All could've shaped a greater Dalek masterplan arc about their expanding empire and future conquest plans. But Moffat seems to discard these ideas once introduced.

Back in 2011, Moffat talked of resting them. His given reasons seemed to assume audiences were in on the joke of Daleks being rubbish villains who predictably always get beat. Forgetting that, as showrunner, he should be promoting the show's strengths and maintaining its magic, not vocally belittling its selling points. However, here he has help from co-writer Phil Ford, of the kid-friendly, twee SJAs, who's perhaps ill-matched for an apocalyptic Dalek war story.

Whenever I rewatch the opening - where Capaldi's unsatisfied with compelling a panicked Journey Blue to down her weapon for his co-operation, and gratuitously makes her mind her Ps and Qs too, and jump through his hoops - the tackier it gets. The Doctor's supposedly the calm, rational, understanding one, dealing with a distressed, vulnerable passenger. But instead of being reassuring or demonstrating good psychology, he's just being monumentally petty. Patronizing her with crass children's TV morality about keeping good manners amidst a warzone.

This is very consciously a remake of 2005's Dalek, trying to tailor Capaldi into Eccleston's role, despite the Time War experiences that shaped Eccleston having been erased. Moffat's erased the parts of the Doctor he disliked, taking away that which enriched him beyond being an agreeable lily-white hero. It's a comparison that unfortunately exposes Capaldi's deficiencies in unexpected ways. I didn't expect his Doctor to come off apathetic. The character experiences to make this dynamic work no longer match up, let alone do they violently, cathartically ignite anymore. This Dalek doesn't even remember who the Doctor is.

I somewhat liked cutting to Clara's Coal Hill life, contrasting our present day with our militarized future where Daleks have made death a constant fact of life, reducing us to an endangered species. But it carried on too long. Danny's presence could've been removed without affecting the plot. The handling of his PTSD was irresponsibly crass, playing his self-harming behavior as kid-friendly slapstick. The single tear was a clunky, lazy, cliched, artificial way of conveying Danny's inner turmoil. It doesn't ring true. Danny seems more likely to bottle his emotions. Only letting things out in a full throttle onslaught of completely falling to bits.

Clara's insensitive quips about killing and crying to former soldier Danny within seconds of meeting him, like a complete sociopath, demonstrate Moffat doesn't understand the difference between being clever and smart-arsed. Seemingly it's telling young viewers 'don't join the army because war is bad', but through Clara feeling the need to say so to someone who's been through that hell, and doesn't need bloody reminding.

By skipping away to Danny, it neglects how Capaldi came to consider or be persuaded that repairing Rusty's malfunction wouldn't inevitably blow up in their faces or be worth the risk. Instead, he turns up with Clara willing to take Rusty at his word. It made sense Rose pitying the Dalek after seeing it tortured. But Clara thinking Capaldi's somehow guilty of inflexible prejudice against Daleks doesn't add up for a second. Frankly, her suggesting so comes off as slimy. Like she's deliberately trying to push his buttons.

Clara's been a Dalek herself. She knows how they think. She witnessed them nearly exterminating Gallifreyan children. She's the last companion who should believe Capaldi's abhorrence of Daleks isn't validated. Clara's moral angle doesn't come from experience or natural compassion, but from simply being written as an insufferably right, morally superior know-it-all Mary Sue.

I personally don't buy that Rusty has become 'good'. He's simply become aware of the universe's perpetually prevailing life-cycle, despite Dalek ambitions to destroy it. He's accepted with cold logic he's not on the winning side and is conceding to his Darwinist victor.

I can't see Capaldi's mature, world-wise, emotionally centered Doctor even considering the accusation that his hatred of Daleks makes him little better than them. It's always been a morally bankrupt suggestion that frankly earns the response "Even my worst nature's better than a Dalek's best". I rather gullibly hoped this might finally see him reach that realization.

Back in 2005, this ambiguity somewhat made sense. Many fans insisted the revived show would need convincing monsters to scare today's kids. But RTD's emphasis was on establishing this being instead a sci-fi show with a vaguely 'loving the alien' ethos. 2005's Dalek served to impart that just because Eccleston looks human, doesn't mean he can't be equally monstrous in nature as the physically monstrous Dalek.

But now, hammering this point feels outdated and out of place, since, from The Eleventh Hour onwards, Doctor Who's become a much more reactionary, monster-centric show.

Into the Dalek represents a clunky left turn that doesn't work as a sucker punch. I think this defines the gulf between story and dialogue. Into the Dalek's a superlative, exciting, beautiful piece of televisual storytelling, but with downright rotten scripting.

Tat Wood often likened the show to Top of the Pops, and this almost plays out like a disorientating voyage into a scary, volatile nightclub of manic, drugged-out psychosis. Capaldi highlights the computer chip wall acting as emotional suppressant, keeping the Dalek pure of all emotions but hate, describing this inanimate hardware as the universe's purest evil incarnate (made more unnerving by actually resembling an amplifier).

I was gobsmacked in a good way by Capaldi's cavalierly allowing a soldier to die to save their necks. Occasionally, Capaldi's run refreshingly reminded me of when Classic Who was a more unsentimental, masochistic series where sometimes the Doctor had to be coldly pragmatic. That in this deadly universe, some doomed people you simply have to abandon as a lost cause or necessary sacrifice. Like Pertwee, coldly cannibalizing Jo's last recorded log into a weapon of escape without thought to desecrating her memory or erasing her seemingly last words.

The sequence where everything goes pear shaped is brilliant, intense stuff, unrelentingly so. I've missed the visceral thrill of onscreen exterminations and humans dying in tragic futility. However, Missy's brief nethersphere cameo provided another gratuitous Moffat safety net, subtly undermining the finality of any deaths here.

I hated Clara slapping Capaldi for supposedly being pleased at being proven right about Rusty. Last week she didn't even know who this new Doctor was. Now she's acting like she can read his every sinful thought. I mean how dare he feel proven right about his anti-Dalek prejudices? I can't see the Clara who was patiently gentle with Hurt's Doctor as someone who'd ever smack an elderly man. It makes Clara come off as an unstable personality trying desperately to deflect and project her issues onto others on utterly tenuous pretexts. There's nothing organic about it, and it's monumentally crass her teasing Capaldi with his failed lesson whilst everyone could benefit from her just telling him.

In hindsight, it seems the same thing that happened with Bill. Moffat seemed so wary of portraying Bill as a frightened damsel when chased by pursuing Daleks in her debut, he made her into another snarky, mouthy, smart-arsed quip generator, relentlessly mocking the idea of being scared of Daleks and even fat-shaming them. Perhaps Jenna Coleman could've sufficiently still conveyed the situation's fear and terror. Maybe delivering the lines frantically, manically trying to raise her own spirits, connect with the Doctor as her protector by over-enthusiastically trying to humour him. As though on the point of her sanity collapsing amidst the panic.

I was surprised by reading fan excuses, outright saying Bill's pointing out how silly and laughable Daleks look to a layperson, and why should she be afraid of one, was 'realistic'. It's partly realism that requires the companion to act afraid. They provide a viewpoint for an audience who already understands Daleks' killer instinct. It helps us relate to her if she picks up on that killer instinct, even if she's never seen one before. Not prodding and poking at why she should be afraid of something absurd-looking. The viewer ceases to be scared too, doesn't feel the danger anymore and is just watching something insipid.

Maybe Moffat likewise fears showing Clara as a scared damsel against Daleks would provoke a feminist backlash. So instead he has Clara go the other extreme, immediately taking the Dalek at its word of being harmlessly 'good'. There's the familiar sense this is no longer a human experience for the viewer.

Incidentally, the soldiers are poorly written. Journey Blue immediately deciding not to destroy Rusty on Capaldi's say so, when she's no reason or assurances to trust him was incredibly sloppy. But there have been so many lives lost senselessly, partly by Capaldi's hand, that the better result of a redeemed Dalek fighting for humanity had to seem worth it.

I reminisced here on Mawdryn Undead. The moment when Mawdryn, with Davison's reluctant assistance, finally welcomes and embraces his end.

Likewise, Capaldi here is placed into what seems hopeless certain death, trapped within a rampaging Dalek full of deadly antibodies, forced to decide what he morally stands for in his darkest hour. What his life experiences tell him is the right thing to do. What legacy to leave. Deciding not to destroy his enemy with him, but instead share with it what he's seen and learned. Passing his legacy onto his enemy.

The luminous, explosive action that follows is glorious, but I don't get the downbeat tone it's trying for. Capaldi succeeds in turning Rusty against his comrades, thus saving the humans. Yet he's upset it ended with the Daleks' destruction. Why? It makes no sense, and puts a needless damper on what's been a superb victory from the jaws of defeat.

Capaldi seems more concerned whether his life lesson was learned or what it says about him than by the lives saved. What was the quicker, more desirable solution? Was time better spent waiting for Rusty to somehow teach every Dalek in existence the same lesson about the universe's beauty long after they've wiped out the space station, or getting Rusty to destroy them right now? It's just another example of the show being downbeat for its own sake. There's the uncomfortable sense Capaldi's only sad about this because Clara's taught him to feel utterly shit about himself.

Unlike Eccleston, Capaldi's Doctor here is never as volatile or in danger of going over the edge. In fact, Moffat's erased any sense of his moral instincts. He no longer acts with compassionate heroism by choice, because they're the right instincts to aspire to, but because some mystical past promise demands he forfeit a regeneration otherwise. He's obeying his programming, not his nature. His shame seems all down to ego and reputation. Nothing to do with the actual human tragedy. In the past, that might've been ambiguously either/or, but now that ambiguity's gone.

It's telling Rusty only gets the impression of the Doctor's darker, destructive nature by rewatching flashbacks from the pre-Moffat era.

Capaldi refuses to let Journey Blue onboard because suddenly he has a 'no soldiers' rule. I thought maybe this was because he didn't want a companion conditioned to die on his word or respond to aliens with violence. Fans theorize it's Capaldi still shunning reminders of his War Doctor self, which makes no sense now his guilt's been erased.

Ultimately, it's just nonsense to explain Capaldi and Danny's later antagonism. Moffat's again making some arbitrary, unprecedented nonsense about the Doctor into a truism for his given story's sake. Would Frontier in Space be somehow improved if Pertwee kept telling General Williams to bugger off to his P.E. lessons?

Making the Doctor bigoted against soldiers renders his every past sensible anti-military criticism akin to a broken clock being right twice a day. Given Tennant's weeping over the Master, it worryingly suggests he holds higher opinion of someone who's murdered soldiers than their victims.