Only two episodes into his run, Peter Capaldi already has a classic episode under his belt with “Into the Dalek,” a truly ripping yarn! Yes, that may sound like too much praise, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I really think this story stands among the best Dalek tales ever.
Viewers also saw more of this new 12th Doctor – and the view is not entirely reassuring. This is a much (much) more gruff and short-tempered Doctor. He’s very (very) funny. And, most surprisingly, I really do not know if this incarnation likes Clara (Jenna Coleman). He acts like he can barely stand her one second, but relies on her the next. The Doctor/assistant relationship has been deftly and completely reimagined, and that has introduced a palpable sense of uncertainty.
Lt. Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) is just about to be killed by Daleks when she awakens inside the TARDIS and asks the Doctor to return her to her command vessel, The Aristotle. There, the Doctor is taken to a fellow prisoner-cum-patient: a Dalek so badly damaged it has turned good! Col. Morgan Blue (Michael Smiley) aims to shrink the Doctor and send him inside the Dalek to repair it. On Earth, New Coal Hill School math teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) is asked about his background as a soldier and whether he’s ever killed anyone who wasn’t a soldier. This makes Danny cry. Later, he is introduced to Clara (Jenna Coleman), who cracks a joke about killing someone and then crying. Clara tries to invite him on a date, but he shyly declines. The Doctor pops round to collect Clara and she joins the mission along with Journey, Gretchen (Laura Dos Santos) and Ross (Ben Crompton).
Inside the Dalek, nicknamed Rusty, the Doctor recognizes the memory cortex, which keeps evil Daleks evil. Ross’ climbing gear hurts the Dalek and its antibodies attack, killing him. The Doctor is able to track where Ross’ molecules were sent and the team dives into the Dalek’s feeding tube. In Rusty’s core, the Doctor realizes trionic radiation has poisoned the Dalek and asks Rusty what happened. Rusty says he saw beauty – he saw the birth of a star and realized that no matter how many stars the Daleks destroy, another one is always born and Rusty realized that resisting Life is futile. The Doctor locates a breach in Rusty’s power core and seals it with the sonic. Its brain no longer addled by radiation, Rusty reverts to form – he rampages aboard Aristotle and summons his fellow Daleks. “Spare no humans! Exterminate them all! Exterminate!”
The Doctor is convinced that Daleks are irreversibly evil, but Clara literally tries to slap some sense into him, pointing out what they really just learned: a good Dalek is possible. The Doctor sends Clara and Journey to the cortex to restore the Dalek’s memory of seeing the star born, while he persuades Rusty that he can be better than evil. Gretchen sacrifices herself to the antibodies to give the girls climbing gear to the cortex – and Missy (Michelle Gomez) welcomes Gretchen to “heaven.” In the cortex, Clara reconnects Rusty’s repressed memories of the star, and the Doctor guides Rusty back toward appreciating beauty. But as the Doctor can see into the Dalek’s mind, Rusty can see into the Doctor’s – and there he sees the Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks! Rusty absorbs that enmity and channels his own hate against his fellow Daleks. He destroys the Daleks aboard Aristotle and orders the others to retreat. Journey asks to go with the Doctor, but he refuses because she’s a soldier. As Clara exits the TARDIS, she acknowledges that she doesn’t know if the Doctor is a good man, “but I think you try to be, and I think that’s probably the point.” Back at Coal Hill, Clara renews her flirtation with Danny; she doesn’t have a rule against soldiers.
So, what did we learn? We learned that Danny is not the only new man in Clara’s life – the Doctor is a stranger she’s just met as well. We know as viewers that the Doctor is going to do the right thing in the end – but is he going to reach that conclusion by noble means? Not always, it would seem. He treats Clara so cavalierly that it’s as if he doesn’t care about her at all; she’s just there, and he makes use of her skills. What’s more, he seems to go out of his way to insult her by accident; think of all the offhand cracks about her appearance and age and hips. He’s clearly not being intentionally cruel; he appears to simply not care. The 12th Doctor is all about not being about Clara.
He also has more of a Ninth Doctor take on humans – not quite “stupid apes,” but he views cannon fodder dispassionately. When Ross was disintegrated, the Doctor coldly announced, “He was dead already; I was saving us.”
We also learned that while this Doctor announced that he intends to make up for some of the mistakes he’s made over the past 2,000 years, he is not above making more of them. Hence, Rusty the Dalek taking the wrong lesson from the Doctor’s mind. But it’s probably not the pepperpot’s fault. The Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks is so old and so ingrained that it’s hardly surprising that it subsumed all his other thoughts and feelings. (There’s a healthy helping of guilt there, too; his Fourth incarnation had a chance to wipe out the Daleks before they were born and punted in “Genesis of the Daleks,” and he remembers the War Doctor exterminating the Time Lords but failing to eliminate the Daleks at the end of the Time War.) Nevertheless, the Doctor retains his tendency to see good in everyone. Witness how wounded the Doctor looked as Rusty glommed on to the hatred and processed it, using it to blot out the birth of the star. The Doctor was genuinely disappointed in Rusty. But I also think he was secretly pleased to have his worldview validated, just as Clara suggested: the Doctor is right – the Daleks are irredeemable.
Speaking of needing redemption, we have to mention Danny Pink, the sensitive soldier. It’s obvious that Danny is idol of all the (straight) women at Coal Hill, even though he’s new enough that Clara has not met him. He’s also so sensitive that cries at the mention of killing someone who isn’t a soldier. Obviously his manly tear betrays a past trauma that will be played out in future episodes, but how did that rumor get around the school? Lucky guess? It’s all a bit heavy-handed and on-the-nose, but it works to introduce Danny and sketch in a back story in short order. I did really enjoy the suggestion that despite his good looks he’s socially awkward and tongue-tied around attractive women like Clara. For a moment there, I almost believed that Danny prefers to stay home and… er, polish his gun.
Despite that potential misstep, Ben Wheatley’s direction was crisp and propulsive throughout. His visual panache was most apparent during the wonky transition from the nanocraft into the Dalek, when the characters were distended and warped. This was a visual triumph; the Doctor’s chat with Rusty’s poorly green-screened eye was a lowlight for the season so far. (Seriously, I thought I was seeing old-school Chroma key compositing effects!) On the other hand, the destruction of the Daleks was magnificently realized – they exploded in sparks and flames and blood.
This episode was adorned with Easter eggs harkening back to previous adventures:
- The Doctor has always had a close relationship with the staff of Coal Hill (see “An Unearthly Child”) as well as the school itself (“Resurrection of the Daleks”).
- This wasn’t the first time the Doctor was miniaturized to perform surgery from inside a patient; the Fourth Doctor did it in “The Invisible Enemy.” (Who could forget The Nucleus, a.k.a. the Prawn?)
- The 11th Doctor was shrunken by the crew of The Teselecta and encountered the ship’s artificial antibodies in “Let’s Kill Hitler.” He was tiny in “Planet of the Giants” and “The Armageddon Factor.”
- In “The Beast Below,” the 11th Doctor and his companion were unceremoniously dumped into the digestive tract of a huge creature.
- The Tenth Doctor expressed a stern dislike for soldiers in “The Sontaran Strategem.”
- “Victory of the Daleks” featured a “good Dalek” but it was a ruse.
- The Dalek in “Dalek” suggested that the Ninth Doctor would make “a good Dalek.”
- Journey describes the TARDIS as “smaller on the outside,” just as Clara did in “The Snowmen.”
- The nano bracelets were reminiscent of the Time Ring that the Fourth Doctor and his companions needed in order to return from Skaro’s past in “Genesis of the Daleks.”
- Trionic radiation was employed by Magnus Greel in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.”
- Rusty’s cry of “Death to the Daleks” was the title of a Third Doctor story.
- Journey becomes one of the few characters that the Doctor refuses to take with him after she asks. He acknowledges her goodness and bravery, but cannot accept her being a soldier.
- What’s to stop the Doctor from taking the TARDIS inside the next Dalek he meets and trying to turn it? Perhaps the fact that the hypothetical Dalek would not have had Rusty’s own epiphany about the relentlessness of life?
- What will Rusty make of the New Paradigm Daleks? (If they still exist out there somewhere.)
- The Doctor referenced Fantastic Voyage (1966), in which a team of doctors are miniaturized and injected into patient to operate from the inside.
- Missy appears to be collecting people who might harbor a grudge against the Doctor. Or is she gathering people, like Gretchen, who sacrificed themselves for the Doctor? (This would suggest that Half-Face Man jumped from the TARDIS.) If so, why? There’s no way Missy is welcoming people to the real “heaven,” because not only does the supernatural not exist in the Whoniverse, we know her title is “Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere,” and the Nethersphere may be many things, but it ain’t heaven.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“[Miniaturization:] fantastic idea for a movie; terrible idea for a proctologist.” – the Doctor
“I’m terrified [of] the answer to my next question, which must be honest, cold considered and delivered without kindness or restraint. Clara, be my pal and tell me: Am I a good man?” – the Dalek
“Do I pay you? I should give you a raise.” – the Doctor
“You’re not my boss; you’re one of my hobbies.” – Clara
“Don’t be lasagna.” – the Doctor
“Imagine the evilest thing in the universe and then forget about it, because this is it. Evil refined.” – the Doctor
“Mortuaries and larders: always the easiest to break out of.” – the Doctor
“The Daleks are evil; irreversibly so. That’s what we just learned.” – the Doctor
“If I can turn one Dalek, I can turn them all. I can save the future.” – the Doctor
“I see beauty. I see endless, divine perfection. I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty. I see divinity. I see hatred. I see your hatred of the Daleks, and it is good. Death to the Daleks! Death to the Daleks! Death to the Daleks! Daleks are evil. Daleks must be exterminated!” – Rusty
“You looked inside me and saw hatred. That’s not victory. Victory would have been a good Dalek.” – the Doctor
“You are a good Dalek.” – Rusty, to the Doctor