Doctor Who: Into the Dalek (Wired UK)

A militarised hospital ship, a desperate crew on the verge of
destruction, and a mission seeing the Doctor and Clara shrunk down
and injected into the shell of the one good Dalek in the universe
— this week’s Who  throws a ton of exciting ideas at
the viewers, while continuing to establish Peter Capaldi’s presence
as the irascible Time Lord.

Yet in other ways, it feels to be a bit of a rush job. Not
within the episode itself — Into the Dalek  is a
well-paced, action-driven counterpoint to last week’s lengthy and
padded introduction to the Twelfth Doctor. Yet in throwing the
newest incarnation into a Dalek-centric episode almost straight off
the bat, it feels like almost an exercise in checklisting.
“Introduce Doctor to Daleks, check. Follow up with whimsical
episode focussed on historical figure, check.” Given next week’s
sees the Doctor and Clara meeting up with Robin Hood, that pattern
seems firmly in place.

Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat, and directed by Ben
Wheatley, the episode is inspired by the film Fantastic
Voyage
— openly so, with the Doctor commenting “Fantastic
idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist.” After
materialising the TARDIS several centuries in the future,
mid-coffee run (a nice call back to the end of the previous
episode, with Clara’s off-hand comment that he would fetch the
coffee), the Doctor is forcibly conscripted to help salvage the
human forces’ last-ditch weapon — a damaged Dalek that hates its
own kind.

It’s a tight ethical dilemma for a Doctor who is already
regretting the choices of some of his past incarnations. Save the
life of his most hated enemy, or leave it to die? Dare to hope a
species responsible for incalculable death and destruction can be
redeemed (or perhaps not incalculable — Twelve does day he’s been
keeping count), or give in to his own prejudices?

Meanwhile, Clara (Jenna Coleman) is back in present-day London,
settling into a new term at Coal Hill
School
where she meets new teacher, and former soldier, Danny
Pink (Samuel
Anderson
). Although we know he’s set to join the TARDIS as a
companion this season, here he just gets an introduction, and is
shown to be clearly tormented by his military past. How tormented?
A single tear rolls down his face when a pupil asks if he’s killed
anyone who wasn’t a soldier. He’s sensitive, see?

Pink is deliberately contrasted against Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), a
future soldier rescued by the Doctor just as her ship is blown up.
Driven, angry, and committed to the cause, despite a warmer
sensitivity of her own that she’s had to bury, she’s the emotional
centre of the episode. After Twelve agrees to perform surgery on
the Dalek, which he nicknames Rusty, he grabs Clara to serve as his
detached conscience, and along with Journey and her fellow soldiers
Gretchen (Laura Dos
Santos
) and Ross (Ben Crompton) gets
shrunk down to enter “the most dangerous place in the
Universe.”

The actual journey through Rusty’s innards is fairly
by-the-numbers — well, as by-the-numbers as you can get when
running around the biomechanical guts of a mutated space racist.
The mission continues the parallels with Fantastic
Voyage 
almost without surprise, other than some creative
approaches to the specifics of Dalek biology. A jaunt through the
digestive system after an escape from anti-bodies (saying goodbye
to a nano-exterminated Ross in the process, largely as a result of
a very bleak move on the Doctor’s part) feels almost predictable,
as does the procedure to save Rusty inevitably restoring his (its?)
murderlust for all things non-Dalek. Turns out, a radiation leak
had allowed Rusty to acknowledge the beauty and inevitability of
life in the Universe, despite the Daleks’ best efforts, and realise
the error of his ways. With the leak sealed, it’s back to the
prescribed ideology of EX-TER-MIN-ATE, breaking free of his
contraints on the hospital ship and signalling the rest of his
murderous fleet.

It’s here where the real conflict of Into the Dalek
comes into effect, with the Doctor all too willing to give up,
almost happy that his expectations of his enemy’s nature is
re-confirmed, and damn the soldiers being reduced to atoms by Rust.
That doesn’t sit too well with Clara though, who literally slaps
some sense (and perhaps a speck of compassion) into the Doctor, her
humanity reminding him that he himself has become as single-minded
as he accuses the Daleks of being. The problem with this is that it
thematically feels like a repeat of the Christopher Ecclestone
episode, Dalek,
where then-companion Rose Tyler made the Ninth Doctor realise he
was making things worse.

Along the way, Gretchen sacrifices her life so the others can
try to restore the warm and fuzzy, literally pro-life memories
Rusty experienced, while Journey wrestles with her own internal
conflict of training and duty versus morals and hope. It proves a
small but imporant moment for both her and the Doctor.
Unfortunately, after entering into a psychic link with the patient,
it’s not the joy of endless life in the universe that turns Rusty
away from his kill streak, but Twelve’s own hatred for Daleks.
Instead of redeeming one of his oldest enemies, the Doctor’s
darkness turns it into yet another weapon. Again, it’s similar to
the outcome of Dalek, in message if not exactly event.

If Moffat and Ford were going for a pyrrhic victory vibe, they
broadly succeed. Rusty’s rampage is quelled, the ship survives, and
the Dalek fleet is driven off. The cost is the Doctor realising
(once more) that he’s part of the problem, just as responsible for
the cycle of intergalactic violence, and unsure of his own
righteousness. Gretchen’s death comes almost out of nowhere and
seems cheap and meaningless, but she’s snatched up by the eccentric
Missy and materialises in her “Heaven”, much like the Half-Face Man
did. Missy is clearly building a collection of those whose lives
are lost around the Doctor, a plot thread we expect will build
weekly until the season finale.

One likely controversial plot point is Journey’s request that
the Doctor take her with him, only to be denied because she’s a
soldier. Considering one of the Doctor’s best pals for years was
the Brigadier, it’s a little inconsistent, but it’s a stance that’s
clearly being set up to create conflict when Danny Pink comes
onboard. While she has all the makings of a one-shot wonder, one of
many guest characters in Whohistory, we’d like to see more
of Journey Blue though — she shows considerable character growth
in just a single episode, and Ashton is great in the role.

Visual effects were significantly better than last week, at
least compared to the sight of a ropey CGI T-rex in Victorian
London, with the opening space battle being particularly epic.
Physical effects left a bit to be desired though, notably with what
looked to be air conditioning tubing standing in for Dalek veins.
We get they’re part-mechanised but come on, prop department!

Overall, despite essentially serving as yet another reminder of
the lead character’s own shady morals and personal dark streak,
Into the Dalek was ultimately a much stronger episode than
Deep Breath, and Capaldi’s performance felt as though he
was given room to breathe in the role for the first time. He’s
shaping up to be thoroughly entertaining as the Doctor. Snappier
pacing, sharp dialogue with some genuinely comedic zingers, and a
growing sense of chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman helped make
for a far more enjoyable viewing experience.

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31 August 2014 | 6:42 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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