Monday, September 1, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.02: Into The Dalek (Spoilers!)

The problem with the Daleks is that it's hard to do anything new with them these days. Still, Steven Moffat and Phil Ford give it a shot with Into The Dalek. Like last time, this will be a spoilery review of the latest episode, so if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now.

It was a bit harder to get a sense of who the new Doctor is in his debut episode, but we get a bit more of a read on him here. Before they set out on their latest adventure, the Doctor asks Clara a question which proves central to the story: "Am I a good man?" It's a question we're led to wonder about throughout this episode. This new Doctor is brusk, cold, calculating and at times callous. This is most evident when - realising that one of the soldiers is about to die with no hope of escape - he quickly turns the soldier's impending doom to his advantage. The last few, at least, would have tried desperately to save him even knowing it was too late, but not this one. This is Doctor is a very different man, but ultimately his hearts are in the right place. He's still a man who tries to fight the good fight, even if he's more willing to sacrifice a few for the good of the many. But there's also a vulnerability about him, seen when he visibly deflates in front of Clara before asking the aforementioned question. Like previous Doctors he has no great love of soldiers, but this one has even less time for them than Ten or Eleven ever did, turning down Journey's request to join him simply because she is one. We're left to wonder how Danny Pink will manage to make the grade when their paths finally cross.

Speaking of Danny, we get a brief introduction to him after the title sequence, in which we learn that he's the new maths teacher at Coal Hill School (where Clara now works) and is also an ex-soldier. However, despite the 'drill sergeant' act he puts on in front of his 'Coal Hill Cadet Squad', he's not a stereotypical soldier type. Not only is he sensitive and socially awkward, but it's also strongly implied that he killed someone who wasn't a soldier during his tour of duty, and is deeply remorseful for whatever happened. I had concerns that Danny's character would just be an excuse for Moffat to continue his usual relationship comedy routine - since Capaldi put his foot down and said no to any romantic undertones between the Doctor and Clara - but it looks like the character at least has some interesting layers to be explored.

On to the story itself now. Like I said, it's hard to do anything new with the Daleks, but Into The Dalek pulls it off, even if the gimmick used is itself a bit old hat. The Doctor, Clara and a squad of future resistance fighters are miniaturised Fantastic Voyage-style and sent inside an apparently good Dalek (nicknamed 'Rusty' by the Doctor) to repair it so it can aid the rebel cause. But, of course, nothing ever goes that smooth. Besides the Dalek antibodies, fixing the damage turns Rusty evil again. Whoops. But the potential is there, and the Doctor seeks to unlock it once again. He tries to help Rusty find the good within it, by showing it the good within himself. Even as the Doctor's plan becomes clear, we know it's a bad idea. Whatever good the Dalek sees inside the Doctor is overshadowed by his hatred of the Daleks, and it is that hatred - not the good - which turns the Dalek on its own kind, to the Doctor's own horror.

We were promised a darker Doctor and a darker series, and that's definitely what we're getting here. Our protagonist is not a clear cut hero but a damaged man who tries to be, and his victories are bittersweet. Last episode he won by pushing/cajoling a mostly human droid to its death. This episode he wins by infecting a Dalek with his burning hatred for its own species. Not everyone is going to appreciate this new approach to the series, but I have to say I'm intrigued by it. I wasn't entirely sold on Series 8 after Deep Breath, but I have to say I'm looking forward to seeing what else is in store now.

Undecim Rating: +3 (Pretty good / cult classic)

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