Season 8, Episode 2—“Into the Dalek”
Before we get into the business of dissecting our heroes’ newest adventure, let’s be honest: did anyone else confuse this title for “Into the Darkness?” Was I the only one that was hoping for a Star Trek crossover involving Peter Capaldi, Chris Pine, and Benedict Cumberbatch sipping brandy in a room full of leather furniture and wistfulness? Oh so it was just me. Okay then…
Similar to last week’s premiere, this second entry into the new series had a heavy burden: it needed to show us what a Capaldi led Who episode would be like in a setting free of fan-favourite characters with a penchant for slapstick humour. Fans expected this episode to be a well-crafted adventure that was more than just “good… for an introduction”. As well, while “Deep Breath” told us Twelve needs a companion, “Into the Dalek” needed to show us why a partner, and Clara in particular, is so important. So how did the show do in these respects?
To the recap!
We begin this week’s episode in the future, much like we did in other post-introductory adventures. As you may remember, Matt Smith’s first stand-alone episode, “The Beast Below” involved the Doctor taking Amy off to a floating city that just happened to be the last remnants of the United Kingdom. That destination, however, was chosen specifically to impress the young redhead; this time the Doctor is drawn into an otherworldly location due to distress.
In a distant pocket of space, a ship is being attacked by the Daleks. The last remaining pilot, Journey Blue, is transported into the TARDIS just before she gets blown to smithereens. When the woman asks about the status of her co-pilot brother, the Doctor somberly replies that she is all that’s left. Although brief, Twelve’s conversation with the pilot helps contrast Capaldi’s delivery as the Doctor with Smith’s; gone is the titular character’s franticness and child-like apprehension when visiting heavy topics such as this.
When Blue is brought back to her army base, the Doctor is coaxed into helping the soldiers treat a patient that just happens to be a Dalek.
Back on Earth in the year 2014 we’re introduced to Clara’s new love interest, Danny Pink. When Sam Anderson was initially announced as a new addition to the cast, I was very skeptical of how well he would fit into the series and how he would affect the companion’s storyline. As I said in my “Deep Breath” recap, one of the main problems with Clara has been the fact that she was relegated to role of “flirty woman.” Although she had the bantering abilities of a Gilmore Girl, that aspect wasn’t enough to make up for her lack of substance. My main worry about adding Anderson to the series was that Clara’s main plot development would be “well she’s flirty… but LOOK—it’s with a different dude who isn’t a magical space wizard! Best companion EVAAAAR… question mark?”
After some more thought, however, I am no longer president of the “DANNY PINK SUCKS CYBERMEN BALLS” club (I stepped down for the title of secretary). The main reason I softened to the idea of Danny’s inclusion is because I realized that Steven Moffat was able to use Amy and Rory’s relationship to successfully tell us about Amy herself. While it’s true that Amy was a much more realized character than Clara, her relationship with Rory still added depth to her story that wouldn’t have been achievable if she had just been a single woman travelling with the Doctor. Through her interactions with Rory, we learned that Amy could be grounded, loving, and even fierce. It’s easy to see why Moffat would want to replicate the relationship effect with Clara. After all, if your character is a flirty piece of toast, a shortcut to development would be to plop her down in circumstances where she’d have to display an extreme range of emotion. Since falling in love is one of the most intense experiences humans share, Danny Pink’s inclusion becomes less about giving Clara another beau to fawn over, and more about allowing her to grow in a quick time span.
And let me say that Danny’s introduction this episode was incredibly charming. I mean, how can you not love a tough guy who isn’t afraid to display emotion? I’d like to commend Ben Wheatley’s direction of the Danny and Clara’s meet-cute specifically; the scene was endearingly awkward and had the right amount of sweetness. Despite understanding that the scene was meant to make us like the new guy, I do wish Clara had been the one who was less than perfect since she’s the one battling against an ever-present air of unrelatable perfection.
Soon after meeting Danny, Clara is swept away by the Doctor into the TARDIS, where she’s asked to answer the question: is the Doctor a good man? Tentatively, Clara responds that she doesn’t know.
After that quick stop in Depressing Questionville (10km away from Breakup by Text Message Town), the Doctor and Clara arrive at Journey Blue’s army base to deal with a broken Dalek nicknamed Rusty who hates his own race. The hope seems to be that Rusty will help the humans battle the Daleks once the Doctor heals him. To this end, the Dalek can’t be opened up like any other patient. Oh no. Apparently the Doctor, Clara, and three other soldiers must be miniaturized by a nanoscaler and put inside of the Dalek. Sure. Why not? Maybe in the future my inevitable heart disease (I love bacon so it’s bound to happen) will be taken care of a medical team that will treat me by dancing interpretively in my arteries.
Once inside the creature, the group travels towards the Dalek’s brain. There, the Doctor explains that Daleks’ engineering extinguishes any compassion, refining evil as a matter of engineering. When a soldier’s weapon hits the Dalek, mechanical antibodies are released as a self-defense mechanism. Knowing the soldier is as good as dead, the Doctor tricks him into swallowing a tracking device. The crew then tracks the man’s remains to the digestive tract, which is deemed a safe haven since antibodies aren’t likely to guard a place that merely holds the dead. While hanging out in the digestive goo, the Doctor makes an ill-timed joke to counter Blue’s anger about tricking her fellow soldier into thinking he could be saved from the antibody attack. Would Matt Smith’s Doctor have joked about the recently dead being part of the goo he was standing in? Probably not. That being said, I can’t imagine Eleven passing off an opportunity to be pragmatic in a dire situation—Twelve and his predecessor may vary in the nuances of how they act, but their core sensibilities are consistent.
Once further inside the Dalek, the Doctor asks their host why he changed his destructive mindset. Rusty responds that the beauty of a newborn star made him realize that no matter how many planets his kind destroy, more will be continue to be born. Simply put, resistance to life is futile—life always find a way. Understanding that his race’s ultimate mission is pointless, Rusty took on the desire to eradicate them.
Although skeptical of a Dalek somehow turning “good,” the Doctor fixes a radiation leak that was destroying the creature from the inside. Unfortunately for our ragtag team, the corrected malfunction causes Rusty to charge his weapons and coordinate an attack on the base.
Pictured: The Doctor
Faced with a destructive Dalek once more, the Doctor allows himself a moment of indulgence, shouting at his team like a schoolmarm that he was correct in thinking that Daleks are innately evil when their brain chemistry is unaffected. When the Doctor shrugs and says he did the best he could for them to avoid death, Clara strikes him in anger and chastises him for choosing to believe the theory that challenges his worldview the least. Much like Amy in “The Beast Below,” Clara proves her importance by challenging her friend in a distinctly human (and professorial) way.
Shaken, the Doctor realizes that Clara is right—if Daleks were purely evil, the radiation would have transformed their host into an even bigger lunatic, not into someone who values life in the universe. The Doctor reasons that the radiation must have allowed Rusty to expand his consciousness beyond its natural terms of reference and accept a viewpoint other than it was programmed to adopt. With the possibility of a good Dalek seemingly a reality, the Doctor formulates a new plan: if they can reawaken the memories that go against Rusty’s engineered “evil” world-view, then maybe he will become suggestible to new ideas once again. If the plan were to work, the effects would be monumental, as all Daleks could be potentially changed.
With a soldier sacrificing herself to the antibodies as a distraction, Clara sets off to the Dalek’s cortex in order to (somehow) reawaken the suppressed memories. Meanwhile, the Doctor is off to the brain to converse with Rusty’s consciousness (and his eye?). There, the Doctor references events on Skaro that gives us insight into his behaviour over the course of the episode.
In the first season ever of Doctor Who, the Doctor started off being a mere runaway from Gallifrey. It wasn’t until the Dalek storyline in episodes 5-11 than the Doctor took on his mantle as moral hero after being faced with creatures who were basically alien Nazis. The Doctor’s view of himself as hero is thus wholly dependent upon the Daleks, which he uses as his morality markers. There are many problems with this way of thinking. Firstly, good being equated with “not alien Hitler” is a very low bar to set for one’s self. Secondly, this type of spectrum assumes that Daleks are hateful constants. It’s unsurprising then that the Doctor undergoes a moral panic when he is forced, much like Rusty, to alter his worldview—if one Dalek is good, what does that make the Doctor?
After Clara successfully reawakens the Dalek’s suppressed star memories, the Doctor connects his own mind to Rusty’s. Rusty then seemingly goes on a schroom-infused speech that references the universe’s divine perfection, beauty, divinity, and how incredibly big his hands feel right now (one of those didn’t happen). Things take an odd little turn, however, once Rusty probes deeper recesses of the Doctor’s brain and latches onto his hatred for the Daleks.
With the new “anti-Dalek” viewpoint acquired, Rusty kills the Daleks that invaded the base and sends a signal to the others that the ship has been set to “self-destruct” mode. In addition, Rusty departs the base with the intention of destroying more members of his race.
Despite saving the humans, the Doctor remarks that there was no victory achieved in the mission, as victory would have meant creating a “good Dalek”. Upon departing, Clara remarks that while she doesn’t know whether the Doctor is a good man, the very fact that he is trying to be one is the entire point of the exercise.
We leave the episode with even more unanswered questions: where did Gretchen the self-sacrificing soldier go to if she’s in “Heaven” with Missy? Is “Heaven” the same library that River Song’s consciousness is in? Why didn’t Rusty turn “good”?
With reference to the last question, I’d love to hear readers’ input! Do you think Rusty simply latched on to the Doctor’s simplified view of Daleks as extreme creatures who can only hate those which are different than they are? Do you think Rusty himself wasn’t capable of being benevolent? Do you think there’s a possibility of being a “good Dalek”? What does being a “good Dalek” even mean if we’re using the Doctor’s points of reference?
Let me know in the comments (or on the Twitters!).
Overall opinion: This second bout of new Who was much more successful than “Deep Breath”. While the plot was still a bit ridiculous, I cared less about its inconsistencies because the episode challenged aspects of the show’s lore and asked thought-provoking questions.
As well, I loved that Clara is becoming a more valued member of the Who universe. Her unique experiences as a schoolteacher are proving her worth beyond just being human, which gives me hope that her relationship with Danny will enrich her character instead of weighing her down.
Doctor: “You need to get up there, find that moment and reawaken it.” / Clara: “Me?” / Doctor: “Yes, you. Good idea!”
Doctor: “Do I pay you? I should give you a raise.” / Clara: “You’re not my boss. You’re one of my hobbies.”
Doctor: “Do you use it to shrink the surgeons so they can climb inside the patients?” / Soldier: “Exactly.” / Doctor: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”