Sunday, 31 August 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Into the Dalek

Is the new Doctor a good man? We find out as the Doctor and Clara travel into the most dangerous place in the universe. Into Darkness. Into the Dalek...

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

The new Doctor is never really properly the Doctor until he has tested his mettle against the metal of the Daleks, his oldest, deadliest and most reliably-defeated foe. Except this time, as Peter Capaldi goes eyebrow-to-eyestalk with his nemesis, there's a difference...

Let's jump right into that proverbial Dalek and get to the meat of this episode. Firstly, the decision to include a 'good Dalek' was a canny choice as a means to highlight the new Doctor's shifting moral code, an angle that gives the story a philosophical bent amongst the lots of lovely shots of Daleks blowing up. Speaking of which, a word must be given to director Ben Wheatley who has directed these past two episodes with a real flair and certainly delivered here with some superb shots (particularly the 'Dalek explosion porn' as it was christened by writer Clayton Hickman). Both of these elements conspired to give the episode weighty themes and a visual finesse to boot.
On the other hand, despite these pluses what prevents 'Into the Dalek' from being a fantastic episode is the fact that the plot feels a little familiar. Featuring narrative devices reminiscent of 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' and 'Let's Kill Hitler', it also has a similar tone and set-up to 'Dalek' (also, as we're on the subject, the Doctor really should be more open to the notion of a good Dalek by now - he's met quite a few, not least the tragic yet heroic pepper-pot version of his companion).

However, as with 'Deep Breath', this episode's biggest strength is not the plot but the character interaction. Once again, the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman is sublime, with the audience siding with Clara more and more thanks to the Doctor's morally dubious actions. He's certainly still the same man underneath but he now has a more pragmatic attitude to death and survival. Although that's something he may regret after the Dalek Rusty's damning words.

The Doctor wasn't the only person Clara had on-screen chemistry with this week, though, as new love interest, fellow teacher Danny Pink, was introduced. Though they sat a little disjointedly with the rest of the story, the scenes at the school were some of the most confident of the episode. Overall, the show is still working out the kinks of its new persona (much like the Doctor) but it seemed to handle itself with more assurance while set at Coal Hill School. Well, it is the show's ancestral home, after all.

On the whole, then, 'Into the Dalek' is an enjoyable, lofty adventure if one that lacked that special spark of greatness due to the familiarity of the plot. The new direction of the series and the cast continue to impress, however, so - contrary to the Doctor's claim in this episode - the TARDIS looks set not to travel into darkness but into a bright future for Doctor Who.

In the Pink - Clara's new love interest Danny is introduced.

Next Week: Two age-old heroes collide when the Doctor meets Robin Hood in 'Robot of Sherwood'!


  1. Great review! I definitely noticed the parallels with "Dalek" and "Let's Kill Hitler" and "Journey to the Centre of the Tardis" here. The plot itself didn't really grab me much but the episode served well to establish the Doctor's place on the moral spectrum. I wasn't sure how this Dalek was so readily established as "good" so much as "enemy of the enemy," but then I guess that mirrored the Doctor's dismay that the only thing that the Dalek could find in him that could be called "good" was his hatred of the bad guys. Hmm.

    Danny Pink is already a very interesting character - I'm sorry to say that I find him more interesting in the few minutes he was on screen than Clara in the past year. I like Clara but... she doesn't have any traits that mark her out as more than "Doctor Who Girl" to me.

  2. Thanks, Katie! Yeah, the most striking parts of the main plot were definitely the Doctor's uncertainty of his own character. I think calling the Dalek good was just done to hold a mirror up to the Doctor's own story in the episode.

    Very much agree about Danny. From the little we've seen of him so far he already feels different from Mickey and Rory through having his own story rather than simply being the companion's love interest i.e. his tragic past as a solider. In that he reminds me of Martin Freeman's Watson. Maybe he'll find solace in adventure like John did...

    Clara is a bit of a difficult one. I always thought last year that Jenna Coleman is a really promising actress but she deserved a more rounded character than she got. This year, though, I think they're trying hard to fill Clara in a bit. It'll be interesting to see how this arc with Danny plays out.

    1. Yes, I was thinking of Watson too. Interesting.

      I think my problem with Clara as a character is that her character has come as an afterthought. We only discovered she was a teacher in the 50th aniversary special, before that she was a nanny/governess/babysitter (no doubt a holiday job, but it wasn't made clear.) Maybe this was something to do with her being so many different people, and I ought to rewatch the last season to get that sorted out in my mind. I'm not a subscriber to the "Moffat can't write females" school of thought, but I have noticed that both of their lives outside of being a Doctor's companion were only secondary. Amy was a kissogram, briefly, then a model, then a travel writer, then a novelist - although I think this fits her character as being a bit flighty, unwilling to settle down to one thing. But I think it feels like in this season they're feeling like they're having to start again from scratch with Clara, and it's a bit too late for that. I do like her, but...

      I heard rumours about Jenna Coleman leaving soon, although I don't know if that's been confirmed, and the big question is: "Who's next?" I wonder if Danny Pink might not stay on as companion for a while, although if he's being written as Clara's potential love interest, probably not. After all, not all the companions have to be young, pretty girls. But I think there would be outrage if there were no women in the TARDIS. Until TV in general becomes more balanced with gender roles, (or we get a lady Doctor) I think the primary companion will always be female.

      I for one would like a shy companion, actually: someone with a quiet strength and courage. "Feisty" is only one character trait.

      Sorry about the essay!

    2. I do know what you mean. Clara's first character was as someone who had an adventurous spirit but was too kind to leave some family friends after their mother had died, as she had lost her own mother. Since Day of the Doctor it is sort of like Moffat's gone 'oh, hang on, I have a better idea!' and changed her character to make his new ideas fit.

      No, me neither. The changing jobs did suit Amy's character (though, of course, it was also a result of all those darn alternate/rebooted/parallel timelines!) and I think you can forgive the secondary nature of her homelife to being the Doctor's companion because she was someone who had never really grown up and just wished to run away from the humdrum all her life, at least until her later years.
      In all, I really can't argue that Clara's had some bumpy characterisation. I think I'm just enjoying that she's a bit more fleshed out now and am pretending that she's always been like that.

      Yes, I can't see their being a sole male companion any time soon. One of them has to be a woman, really, and I don't know how soon a female Doctor is... I've heard some say they want an alien companion but I'm not sure I'd go for that myself. Certainly not as the primary one. I personally like two companions so I would love to see, say, a historical companion alongside the Doctor and his, most likely female, best pal.

      Very much agree with you there. Perhaps a companion with a different central character trait would allow the modern-day female companion trend to continue but reduce the risk of it feeling like the same type of character again.

      That's OK - I've given you one back!


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