Doctor Who, Into The Dalek – Review & Analysis

The Doctor: “Clara, be my pal, tell me… am I a good man?”

*40 minutes later*

Rusty: “You are a good Dalek.”

Well… bugger!itd1

Y’know, it really feels weird knowing that Doctor Who is on every Saturday again… I’m so used to the show being on hiatus, it hasn’t really clicked with me that I’ve got another 10 weeks of awesomeness to look forward to.

Into The Dalek, penned by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat, is the second episode of Capaldi’s first series, and I have to say that it’s really interesting that they’re using the Daleks right off the bat. I actually prefer it this way because it does get quite tiresome when the Daleks are the ‘big bad’ of just about every other series, so I definitely appreciated this episode for following in the footsteps of episodes like Dalek and Victory of the Daleks in order to scale down the threat that they pose a bit and give us an episode that’s able to breathe without being all like “THE WHOLE OF REALITY IS IN DANGER!”. No, this episode is framed with a single rebel ship that’s in jeopardy, and that’s just so wonderfully refreshing because the whole thing is done on a much more intimate scale.

On the subject of intimacy, not only is this episode set inside a Dalek, we are also introduced to Danny Pink (played by the wonderful Samuel Anderson) who we’ll get to talking about in a little while.itd2The first thing that just sort of had me stunned for a bit was the CGI. This show has come a long way, even in just the last 9 years following the revival. This is one of the most visually impressive episodes of the show’s history I think. Now is the perfect time to laugh at the doomsayers who, over the last few years, have been saying that Who’s budget has been receiving massive cuts – that’s evidently not the case because both Deep Breath and Into The Dalek have just looked stunning. I wish I could watch this in a cinema…

As the Dalek vessel descends upon Journey Blue’s fighter, her brother dead in the co-pilot’s seat next to her, the TARDIS materialises just in time to prevent Journey from being killed. After some great back-and-forth between her and the Doctor, he takes her back to her command ship – the Aristotle, a medical vessel converted into a military base. I thought it was really interesting that it’s mentioned that hospitals (and therefore doctors) are not needed against the Daleks because they leave no wounded and the human resistance take no prisoners. This is important because it sets up this very one-dimensional, black and white conflict which the episode then beautifully deconstructs (which we’ll get to later).itd3The Doctor was really quite a terrifying presence in this episode, it has to be said! As Ross is surrounded by the Dalek antibodies, the Doctor throws him something to swallow and says “trust me”, and mere seconds later he is disintegrated. The Doctor then reveals that he made him swallow a tracking device, and it’s just amazing that he has the presence of mind to do this without any second thoughts. Again, continuing with me not labelling Twelve as a “dark” Doctor (because it’s a bland, boring and blanketed expression of character), I’ll say that he’s a much more pragmatic Doctor who uses his intelligence to navigate and overcome the dangers that are presented to him. It’s not that he won’t spare a thought to the damned, but he’s not afraid to use them for his own benefit when they’re compromised.

It’s a far cry from the faux TARDIS self-destruct Jammie Dodger, that’s for sure!itd14Before I get into an analysis of the episode’s themes and all that, I want to talk about Missy and the Heaven arc a bit.

In this episode, we see two people who are with the Doctor die – Ross and Gretchen. Both are incinerated by the Dalek’s antibodies, but the circumstances are different and the result is that one of them ends up in Heaven while the other doesn’t.

Ross is a soldier following orders, so he ends up harming Rusty by shooting it – not paying any mind to what might happen. However, Gretchen was fully aware that she was condemning herself to death and was willingly prepared to sacrifice herself so the rest of the team could go on – even help save the future if their mission worked out. Gretchen ended up in Heaven, sharing tea with the delightfully weird Missy, but this doesn’t seem to have happened with Ross.

Could sacrifice be the key here? In Deep Breath, the question is raised as to whether the Half-Face Man jumped or was pushed by the Doctor to his death. While this would appear to suggest that he jumped, I’m going to be a bit stubborn and pose how this could work if the Doctor pushed him. The Half-Face Man sounded like he was resigned to his fate, that he’d accepted it (and the Doctor even says that “you don’t really want to go on”), as you hear a flicker of what almost sounds like fear when he affirms that he knows one of them is “lying about our basic programming”. How it would work is that the HFM would accept his death and allow the Doctor to push him out, as actually committing suicide is against his basic programming but if he’s “overpowered” by the Doctor who pushes him out then it still “counts”. Missy may not know the specifics of his programming, which would explain her confusion about whether he jumped or was pushed.

Just a working theory on how sacrifice could be the key to the Heaven arc, I could end up talking utter rubbish!

Anyway, on with the analysis!itd4One thing I definitely have to praise is Danny Pink’s characterisation – more than that, the way that military veterans are presented in general by Steven Moffat in Sherlock and Doctor Who. Danny feels a bit like John Watson in how there’s no real sense of patriotism or pride about the war they’ve fought in, while at the same time not condemning the soldiers as well. It’s something that’s presented as a very grey area, which is how it should be treated to be honest. We see the pain that the various traumatic experiences they’ve had causes them and we are sympathetic towards their grief, we want to see them as good people and that’s one of the great questions of this episode – “am I a good man?”

There were a lot of really interesting themes in this episode. It continues on from Deep Breath’s question of identity, but branches off from that into new themes.

Good and bad, life and death, war and peace, violence and restraint, the virtues of teaching. This series of binary opposites is presented through the lens of a series of questions in the episode.

1) Is there such a thing as a good Dalek?

2) Am I a good man?

3) Did you ever kill someone who wasn’t a soldier?

4) What have we learned today?

The way that these branch off from Deep Breath shows that these are not just ideas, they are interconnected themes which are really making Series 8 shape up to be one of the best of the bunch. With longer scenes and a greater emphasis on subject matter, the narrative is really flourishing more than ever. This isn’t to knock any of the other series at all, but there have been times where some of the focus has been lost in the mix and that has had negative consequences on the episode. So far, Series 8 has yet to fall prey to that – it’s early days, but I am certain that it’s going to keep the momentum going.itd15To address the questions then.

The big one for this episode is: “Is there such a thing as a ‘good’ Dalek?”

What did we learn as the answer to that question?

“A ‘good’ Dalek is possible.”

This is interweaved with the question that the Doctor asks Clara at the beginning of the episode: “Am I a good man?”

What did we learn as the answer to that question?

“You are a good Dalek.”

In an effort to turn the Dalek good, the Doctor tries to show the Dalek the beauty of the universe – the birth of the star that changed Rusty’s perception. However, he ends up showing Rusty his own hatred for the Daleks which convinces Rusty that all Daleks must be destroyed. So we are presented with the idea that either you are a Dalek, or you are against them, and there can be no in-between.

However! This is punctuated rather beautifully by the last thing Clara says to the Doctor.

Clara: “I don’t know…”

The Doctor: “I’m sorry?”

Clara: “You asked me if you were a good man. And the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be. And I think that’s probably the point.”

What we learn is that it’s not a black and white presentation of good and bad at all. It’s about trying to do better. The Doctor has all the beauty of the universe within him, but he’s got the capacity for hatred as well – as do we all. It took the birth of a star to turn Rusty ‘good’, but the memory of the Daleks to fill it with hatred against them.itd16Continuing on with this, let’s talk a bit about soldiers.

Danny Pink is an ex-soldier-turned-teacher who asserts that there are many soldiers in war, but some are just on the other side. We see him break down when asked if he ever killed somebody who wasn’t a soldier.

Journey Blue is an active serving soldier who loses her brother, Kai, in battle. She asserts on multiple occasions that she is a soldier who follows orders.

The Doctor: “No. I’m inside a Dalek, I’m standing where I’ve never been – we cannot waste this chance, it won’t come again.”

Journey: “What chance? I have my orders!”

The Doctor: “Soldiers take orders.”

Journey: “I am a soldier.”

Later on, when she asks the Doctor to take her with him, he tells her:

The Doctor: “I think you’re probably nice. Underneath it all, I think you’re kind and you’re definitely brave. I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier.”

This really sets up an interesting inevitability of conflict between the Doctor and Danny in a future episode. But the point is that it follows directly on from a Dalek praising the Doctor as a “good Dalek”, before it leaves to wage its own war against the rest of its species with the Doctor as its inspiration. Journey, a soldier, asks him to take her with him – to follow him into battle…

Not only does this highlight the memory that the Doctor’s most controversial incarnation, the War Doctor, being a soldier, but it also scares the Doctor a bit. He knows that a Dalek saw hatred within him, but more importantly he he knows exactly what soldiers have seen in him in the past.lb1Lorna Bucket, the companion-that-never-was, referred to the Doctor as a “dark legend” among her people. As River later points out, the word Doctor has come to mean “mighty warrior” to many people, perverting its meaning from “healer” and “wise man”.

It’s no wonder that the Doctor turned Journey down. She looks at him with such hope, perhaps he will lead her into battles greater than any she could have imagined? But the Doctor can’t allow himself to fall back to being who he was in Series 6, and in other points of the show’s history.

But why is this so important? Well, there are people who look at the Doctor as the ultimate paragon of goodness, who act like he’s got this infallible morality and this episode just beautifully shows that that’s really not the case. The Doctor is selfish, he’s vain, he’s arrogant (to the point where he can be vengeful), and he’s acquired many names throughout his years of travelling through time and space. But he’s not always like this, because he strives to be a good man. He asks Clara if he is, but she can’t give him an answer because that’s not the point – you don’t ‘achieve’ goodness, it’s something that you have to constantly work at being with each new obstacle that comes to confront you.

What this does is highlight the very point of the show. It not only inspires the Doctor, but it inspires us to compassionately look at the most famous monster of the show and consider not whether it can be ‘good’, but whether it has more than one dimension. This has been explored in the past, but never in this way. We are made to ask: can a Dalek experience growth and change? Can this creature, that has for so long been regarded by both the show and as a pop culture icon for over 50 years, exceed its parameters and become something better?

What did we learn?

We learned that the answer is yes.

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
This entry was posted in Analysis, Review, TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Doctor Who, Into The Dalek – Review & Analysis

  1. Devaansh says:

    Reblogged this on Tropified and commented:
    Very thought provoking analysis that shows there’s more to Daleks than their croaky “Exterminate” cries.

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