[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 2, "Into The Dalek"

Courtesy of the BBC
So, second episode into a new series, and we're over introductions now. Well, mostly. Point is, we can get beyond the "ooh ooh isn't it all new and wonderful" sort of stuff that always limits regeneration episodes, and get back to the meat and potatoes of the show: science fiction human drama, with a touch of philosophical examination.

And it was a cracker. Setting aside the very episode specific aspects, this was a Dalek story for the ages. I mean that. I feel that Into The Dalek will rank among the best of the genocidal teapot stories. It did all the things that a Dalek story should, without being all of the things that a Dalek story usually is. Add to that the fact that the Doctor faced a real challenge, and that his companion served a functioning role, and this could also prove to be one of the highlights of the series (we'll see about that when it's all said and done).

Hit the jump for the review, which includes spoilers that care so I don't have to.

Before we get Into The Dalek, a few words on the tone of the series thus far, and some lingering thoughts that carry over from last week, that I forgot to mention then because I was having an off day. Much was made going into the series that the show would be less flirty and more dark. I questioned the logic of going full dark, as the recent tendency to rebrand things as "gritty" hasn't actually proven to be an effective plan. Now, it appears that those allusions towards darkness might have been over sold. Two episodes in, yes there has been a darker edge to things, though part of me wonders how much of that was the consequence of having Ben Wheatley behind the camera. His direction has brought a significantly thicker atmosphere to the programme. But, for all the robots with human faces being peeled off them and vats of undigested human ooze, these episodes haven't been any darker in tone than in series past. The initial series of the relaunch, with Eccelston, was at times very dark, especially towards the end and when it wasn't dealing with farting aliens.

And I think that's where it's come in: the childishness has done out of the show, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Moffat recently stated that "by the end of those credits, we're all children." Which means, there doesn't need to be a specific effort to cater to multiple audiences. Children and adults will go on the same journey, and don't need to each be coddled in their own way. I think, this series, it's less a tendency towards going darker, and more a general maturity, across the board. The Doctor is still cracking jokes, just better ones. His bits of madness (I'm growing very fond of his "one or the other" bit) cut out the rambling and get to the point of the absurdity. It's a streamlined insanity that is working very well. Compare, for instance, Matt Smith's first Dalek episode. As he and Amy cantor into Churchill's war room, there is frivolity, niceties, some slight of hand, and then some business. Now look at Capaldi. There is still jokes, still the inherent alieness of the Doctor, but business is got to quickly, and Capaldi's Doctor isn't going to waste time making the extra joke.

This isn't the eighties, and Capaldi isn't the Seventh Doctor. There is not a full scale reevaluation and expulsion of everything that made the series endearing. They've learnt their lesson that way, I expect. The series today is the series that has been on the past seven series, it's just better. It's constantly getting better (from a technical perspective), learning from it's mistakes and making adjustments. It's growing into itself again, and shrugging off what it no longer needs. And what it no longer needs is to talk down to the audience. It's practically Victorian in how it is now judging the maturity of it's audience, and that is a good thing. Because Daleks aren't meant to be cuddly. They are meant to send the smallest viewers running behind the sofa while the Doctor does what needs to be done.

I like that Twelve isn't certain of himself yet, and that he's constantly looking to have that questioned answered by those that know him. It is too easy to have the man be dashing about for an episode, and then suddenly conform to a set way of doing things. Which has been the legacy of regenerations thus far. Tennant had it figured out by the time his hand got hacked off. Smith pretty much had it down by the time he got to the fish fingers and custard. Capaldi looks to be inclined towards spending more time determining the kind of man he wants, or needs, to be. Having only recently spent time with his most dour and most jovial selves, he's caught in an internal and eternal confrontation with himself. He's been so many things over the years, worn so many faces, and keeps being defined by that past. A new regeneration offers the ability to start over, to become something that isn't just a copy of the past (which, by the end, Smiths Eleven had become to Ten). It's a drama that I expect will last the series, and I'm looking forward to it.  

So, to the episode then. We start off getting to know Danny Pink, and frankly in the sparse few minutes of screen time he got, he got a better introduction then most companions. Certainly better than poor Clara, who continues her journey into a companion worthy of the Doctor's attentions rather than just being a plot device in a skirt (though, the weird jokes about her various bodily proportions continue, which I'm not exactly sold on as a running gag). But Pink seems an interesting bloke, and I'm looking forward to getting to know him better. Last week, I mentioned that some scenes, those focusing on the relationships between various characters (Vastra and Jenny, Clara and the Doctor) seemed like they had fallen out of old disused Coupling scripts, and I ask you if Pink's little episode of post-flirting regret might have seemed any more out of place had those words been coming from Jeff?

Then we are off, and inside a Dalek, in a nice homage to The Fantastic Voyage, which given last series' Interceptor must have been a young Moffat's favourite film (clearly as much as the young Moffat was terrified by statutes, shadows and clockworks). This Dalek has had the audacity to have turned coat and come over to the side of the light, which offends the Doctor's preconceptions to such an extent that he insists on going inside and seeing what is wrong. It's a brilliant plot device, if only because it's something that has never been done with a Dalek before. Generally, Dalek stories fall into war stories (Planet of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks), Daleks being destroyed utterly (Evil of the Daleks, Parting of the Ways, Joureny's End) or Daleks coming back (Power of the Daleks, Resurrection of the Daleks, Victory of the Daleks). There are very few (Genesis of the Daleks and Dalek among them) that choose to focus on the nature of Daleks themselves, and how that is reflected on their oldest adversary. And that is what this episode is all about. Last week made such a big deal about holding up a mirror to the Doctor so he could see his reflection, and he keeps asking Clara what she thinks of him, but how better to get to know yourself then by asking the honest advice from the people that hate you most in the universe.

That scene at the end, as the Dalek is confronted by all the majesty of the universe and what it takes away from it is that the Doctor's hate for his old foe is the most powerful thing there is, was wonderfully done. I'd maybe have had less Capaldi in front of the green screen looking at the camera, but that's only because that sort of stuff rarely works. But that the Doctor offers the Dalek the same thing he offers all his companions, and all the Dalek can see is the venomous rage built up over years of war between them is a powerful statement about who the Doctor really is when he isn't lying to himself. He even says, after meeting the Daleks in his second every adventure, he judges his actions against those of the Daleks. And as Clara correctly points out, the Doctor isn't wrong. The Daleks are creatures bred of pure hate and destruction. In the face of that level of evil, the Doctor's ambivalent neutrality is a powerful counter balance. But the fact remains that the Doctor hates Daleks with the same single-minded ferocity that the Daleks hate everything.

I noted that the special effects in this episode looked top notch, finally matching a level one would expect a show of this popularity and success. When the series came back, I was offended sightly by the idea that the effects were purposefully kept "campy" to match the recognized campiness of the original series. If the audience were truly expecting the show not to look it's best, why then has the Restoration Team been improving the special effects in the old episodes for DVD release? While I don't necessarily approve of that either, I do feel that the show has a responsibility to be the best that it can be in all regards, and finally the effects seem to be living up to that expectation.

Finally this week, I'll make greater mention of the new credit sequence. As expected, it was altered because Moffat was so impressed with the work of a fan. I applaud this new sequence, and hope that it sticks around for some time. Moffat has said that what impressed him the most was that it was so unlike anything that had been done before. It's all been TARDIS and vortex and faces in space, and this is honestly wonderfully different. In fact, I'd say the only thing that comes close is back during the day of the seventh Doctor when the series used CGI for the first time, with asteroids winging across the screen. Even the tune is similar to the highly synthesized theme of the late eighties.

Where I take issue is whether this is endemic of something larger, something more fundamentally uncertain about the foundations of the show's leadership. Change is good, and turn over is to be expected. But this is the third new title sequence in four series, with the last one lasting all of one episode before being discarded. I will give the possibility that Moffat was so completely blown over by this new design that he binned the last before the new title sequence smell had even begun to fade, but that level of disregard might say something too. It is the frequency of the changes that gives me pause, not the result, and even then I'm not entirely certain how I feel about this, just that I do feel something.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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