Thoughts on: Into the Dalek

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Series 8 is making a very distinctive tonal shift from the Matt Smith era. I didn’t notice it the first time round, perhaps because, aesthetically, it’s all still very similar. But the first two episodes of Series 8 have been heavily thematic in a way Matt Smith episodes generally weren’t. And now that I think about it, the remainder of Series 8 was much the same. In the era of Capaldi, it seems, there’s to be less (gratuitous) explosions and chasing monsters, and more moral debates and journeys of self-discovery; a show that’s more philosophical and contemplative than adrenaline-fuelled (although doubtless there’ll still be more than enough of the latter). I like that. This episode in particular couldn’t have made the point more clearly that it was trying to be philosophical if Peter Capaldi had shown up wearing a cheesy novelty Socrates t-shirt: apart from the fact that it was set on a spaceship called Aristotle, the title, Into the Dalek, was a pretty good indication that it wanted us to prepare ourselves to be philosophised (that’s a word… well, it is now).

The thing is that, although the themes themselves were not uninteresting, it’s all been done before. To be sure, the idea of a “good” Dalek was intriguing, and the writing of Rusty’s exposition of how his mind was expanded by witnessing the birth of a star was really compelling. The ideas behind this episode, at least, were the seed of a potentially great story. And, on balance, the script was successful: it was involving, stimulating, intelligent, gripping, even funny. It’s just that its ideas are mostly not its own, they’ve been recycled from previous stories, which generally deployed them more successfully. It’s hard not to see this script as a less impressive remake of Dalek, for example. Resuscitating old ideas like this really isn’t what a “brave new era” of the show should be doing, and it gives the impression the show has run out of ideas before it’s even got started (anyone who’s seen the Series 9 trailer will know that’s rubbish, though).

And the questioning of the Doctor’s morality (Rusty’s being inspired by the Doctor’s hatred) isn’t as potent a theme as it might be, given that the show was doing precisely the same thing at this point in the previous series. Again, Series 7 questioned the Doctor’s morality more effectively than here because it did it by showing, not telling. We saw the Doctor deliberately leave Solomon to die a horrible, fiery death in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship as revenge for his crimes, we saw the Doctor actually kill several Daleks in Asylum of the Daleks, and come very close to sending Jex to his death in A Town Called Mercy. The Doctor’s hand-wringing in this episode is less effective in comparison, and not even Capaldi’s valiant acting made it totally convincing. The exception was the Doctor’s momentarily shocking sacrifice of Ross, which was notable for the comparison it raised with the Doctor’s previous selves: Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors would at least have said “I’m sorry” with a genuinely agonised expression before committing the deed.

There was equally a lot in this episode to like, though. The episode felt energetic and exciting. Brimming with recycled ideas as it was, it was at least excited about those ideas, and I will concede that it showed. I didn’t care much for Danny Pink the first time I watched these episodes, but this time I actually thought the scenes between Danny and Clara were some of the episode’s best. The dialogue sparkled, and there’s instant chemistry between Jenna and Samuel Anderson. I’m even becoming somewhat interested in Danny Pink as a character, a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing, after watching him shed a tear over the evidently unpleasant memory of his wartime exploits. I didn’t particularly like Journey Blue as a character (and I’m glad the Doctor didn’t take her on as a companion — one po-faced miser per Tardis, I think), but Zawe Ashton is a very talented actress. Also, even though I know what it’s all about now, I still find Missy and her “Promised Land”, which keep popping up, really intriguing (maybe because Michelle Gomez is a bewitching presence, even in only ten seconds of screen time).

One more thing. I found, and I’m still finding, the Doctor’s aversion to soldiers introduced in this episode to be baffling. I kind of understand it more after watching this episode again — I realised that the Doctor’s anti-soldier prejudice is related to his prejudice or hatred of the Daleks. But it still really confuses me, given that some of the Doctor’s greatest friends have been soldiers, like Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the other UNIT soldiers. It seems to have come out of nowhere. In any case, the Doctor should be intelligent enough to understand that being a soldier doesn’t make a person the same as a Dalek. It’s not like the Doctor to take such a cynical view of certain members of his favourite species, to write off a whole category of humans as totally flawed and beyond redemption because of their occupation. It’s just clumsy writing, I think, to set up a contrived conflict with Danny Pink.

Rating: 7/10.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on: Into the Dalek

  1. “I found, and I’m still finding, the Doctor’s aversion to soldiers introduced in this episode to be baffling. I kind of understand it more after watching this episode again — I realised that the Doctor’s anti-soldier prejudice is related to his prejudice or hatred of the Daleks. But it still really confuses me, given that some of the Doctor’s greatest friends have been soldiers, like Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the other UNIT soldiers. It seems to have come out of nowhere……”

    Initially, when I saw this episode, I was just as baffled as you, but I just watched this episode yesterday, and I think I understand what was going on. The Doctor was informed that he was a good Dalek (this can be taken to mean a lot of things, including being a good soldier, being cold and calculating, and as we saw with Ross: less “human” – a theme they have been heavily pushing so far in the series; a theme that makes Clara defend the Doctor on more than one occasion). The Doctor is not the same as he used to be in previous versions — he’s colder, more aloof, more calculating, more *alien* than Ten or Eleven were. It’s not that he’s writing off all soldiers forever, or even forgetting that some of his closest friends were soldiers; rather, I think he recognizes in himself the need for a HUMAN companion; a school teacher, a girl who works in a shop, the average everyday person. This can counter him and keep him from going too far. A soldier would be too similar to him, and that would make a series that has very little humanity in it. Does that make sense?

    Basically, The Doctor, when left to his own devices, as we’ve seen throughout NuHu, goes a little nuts. He NEEDS his companions. Think DT in “Water’s of Mars” when he goes on his rant, “Yes, because there are laws. There are laws of time. And once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws. But they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to finally realize—the laws of time are mine. And they will obey me!” He pushed too far, Adelade ended up committing suicide because there was no one there to really stop him. In “A Good Man Goes To War”, the exchange is as follows:
    The Doctor: Those words. “Run away.” I want you to be famous for those exact words. I want people to call you Colonel Runaway. I want children laughing outside your door, ’cause they’ve found the house of Colonel Runaway. And when people come to you and ask if trying to get to me through the people I love! {he composes himself}… is in any way a good idea, I want you to tell them your name. Look, I’m angry, that’s new. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.
    Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
    The Doctor: Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
    His companions are in distress and not there to pull him back. He goes too far. That’s his problem — he tends to go too far when his companions are not there to pull him back.

    Back to point: previously, The Doctor would go too far because he didn’t have companions with him (every companion told him not to travel alone because he needs somebody). Now, with PC, he goes too far as a basic personality trait — even with a companion trying to stop him. He doesn’t know when he’s going too far. His refusal to take her with him, to me, meant that he realizes his limitations, and knows that the person he needs to pull him back can’t be so similar to him or he will always go too far, and will never be able to strike up that balance. It’s part of being the new him. David Tennant gave no second chances, Matt Smith is the Mad-Man in A Box. Capaldi is cold, aloof, and appears to have (based on this ep alone) the emotional range of a Dalek: no emotion, just hatred. Based on that, a soldier would be the least positive companion because they are trained to be the way he already is. Yes, soldiers have hearts and compassion (Danny Pink and the tear, and well, every military person I know), but when danger strikes, they will revert to their training, and they will not make the Doctor be passive or try to find the compassionate solution — they will burn worlds, as would he.

    Does that make sense?

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    1. I see your point, but, respectfully, I don’t think that’s it. It would imply that the Doctor understands his new self well enough to know that he should stay clear of soldiers, which, it’s pretty clear, the Doctor doesn’t at this stage.

      I think it was fairly clear from the episode that the Doctor harbours a prejudice against soldiers for similar reasons he hates the Daleks. He sees in them very similar characteristics: they both take orders and kill on order, they both deny their own compassion, they both have violence as their raison d’être. I suppose the Doctor sees the essence of a soldier as almost anti-human in that (he considers that) soldiers are mindless drones whose only purpose is to kill on command, which militates against what he celebrates in humanity — free will, love, compassion, life, and which reminds him uncomfortably of the Daleks.

      As for why the Doctor’s anti-soldier sentiments have emerged all of a sudden, don’t try to rationalise it. The truth is that this is something Moffat has cooked up and awkwardly shoe-horned on to set up the coming conflict with Danny Pink. Doubtless Moffat would say it’s always been there, and admittedly there’s some truth there in that the Doctor has never been totally pally with the soldiers he’s met (with the notable exception of the UNIT soldiers), but it’s never been as intense and earnest as this.

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      1. Quotes from the Episode which may help you see my point:

        Dry your eyes, Journey Blue. Crying’s for civilians. It’s how we communicate with you lot.

        Journey Blue: You don’t like soldiers much, do you?
        The Doctor: You don’t need to be liked. You’ve got all the guns.
        (we all know how the Doctor feels about guns)

        The Doctor: The answer to my next question. Which must be honest, cold and considered without kindness or restraint. Clara, be my pal. Tell me. Am I a good man?
        Clara: I… don’t know.
        The Doctor: Neither do I.

        The Doctor: This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word.
        Clara: I’m his carer.
        The Doctor: Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.

        Journey Blue: Because this is a dangerous mission and you look like a school teacher.
        Clara: I am a school teacher.
        (to flip the switch, the soldier is equally disdainful for non-soldiers as the Doctor is for soldier)

        Dalek: I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty. I see divinity. I see… hatred!
        The Doctor: Hatred?
        Dalek: I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good!

        Dalek: Victory is yours. But it does not please you.
        The Doctor: You looked inside me and you saw hatred. That’s not victory. Victory would have been a good Dalek.
        Dalek: I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.

        Now add in the history of the NuHu incarnations, and they’ve all, at some point, mentioned their dislike of military-folk, just not quite as openly and honestly as this Doctor. The only time it really shined was in the 50th when you realized that Ten and Eleven hated the War Doctor. He was a fighter, military man, and they despised him (themselves for it). In the same episode, they finally came to realize that he was the Doctor on the one day it was impossible to get it right; but even that came across as them still not accepting him or appreciating his role, just acknowledgement that sometimes things happen that require people to step into a role they otherwise would avoid.

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  2. Good review as always. Just found your work and I am enjoying it.

    “The exception was the Doctor’s momentarily shocking sacrifice of Ross, which was notable for the comparison it raised with the Doctor’s previous selves: Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors would at least have said “I’m sorry” with a genuinely agonised expression before committing the deed.”

    Very true but remember the 4th Doctors callous reaction to a characters death in Pyramids of Mars. I don’t know if you have seen that story yet? Sorry if you haven’t LOL, but that scene in Into the Dalek reminded me of that moment.

    I didn’t think 12 sacrificed Ross more just didn’t waste time crying about it like 11 did in The Angels two parter.

    Also I like Journey Blue. IMO she and Osgood should be the companions together after Clara leaves.

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