I bet you never thought Doctor Who would remake The Invisible Enemy, did you? Actually, that does the episode a disservice. It’s a remake of Dalek as well. And The Evil of the Daleks.
Placing a Dalek story second in the run feels like an odd choice. They tend to get saved for mid-season stories or finales to get a secondary publicity boost and give some shape to the season. Sometimes the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels fall into the same category. Maybe this was an attempt to retain more of the first episode viewers (if it was then it didn’t work), or maybe it showed a lack of confidence in the new Doctor. Maybe not. Whatever the case may be, it seems odd and unfamiliar to go straight into a Dalek episode, and a fairly low-key one at that. But odd is good. Odd done with style is even better, and the journey through the inside of the Dalek is successful in a way that The Invisible Enemy couldn’t possibly hope to achieve with the journey into the Doctor’s brain.
The idea of a good Dalek is starting to feel like a well-worn concept. Although it has not been done very often, it is such a radical idea that repetition stands out in a way that reusing other ideas wouldn’t. Most recently Big Finish have had another stab at it with Across the Darkened City, from the second volume of the First Doctor Adventures Companion Chronicles, but writer David Bartlett put some meat on the bones by having Steven and a damaged Dalek forced into an alliance for their mutual survival, and explored that dynamic much more fully. Into the Dalek is more simplistic, but what it does, it does well.
The main thrust of the story is clearly a comparison between the Dalek and the Doctor, which plays into this season’s theme of the Doctor questioning his own morality. It is the episode that features the heavily-trailed “am I a good man?” question. Again, the episode’s placement within the season is problematical here, because it feels like an attempt to resolve something that has not actually been explored very much within the narrative of Doctor Who. It is more like a resolution to something that exists within hype and trailers and behind-the-scenes interviews. Call it metatextual if you like. I call it half-baked. It also feels like an ongoing theme that belongs before The Day of the Doctor, rather than a couple of episodes after. The Doctor has just had a huge weight lifted from his shoulders, so why is he suddenly behaving like he was the destroyer of his own planet like he always thought, rather than their saviour? Why has he gone all mean and mopey when he should have a new lease of life? In a way I suppose we could look at the character of the War Doctor and explain it as a move back towards that, with the subsequent manic youthfulness just a sticking plaster for the Doctor’s grief, which he no longer needs. But that’s thin, and it ignores everything pre-Tennant.
The comparison between the Dalek and the Doctor is an interesting one though. Unoriginal, like everything about this episode, but still interesting. The best interpretation of the “you are a good Dalek” line is not to view it as a simple (mis)quote from Dalek but to take it much more literally than that. If you look at the way the Doctor normally functions within a story, he tends to turn up in a society running along lines that conflict with his view of morality, destroy it all, and then head off to do the same again somewhere else. The Earth-based stories don’t always work like this because they tend to be invasion based, but the non-Earth ones almost invariably do. So the Doctor superficially (and Daleks rarely look at things in any other way) does exactly what a Dalek does, but for different reasons. His morality makes him a “good Dalek” because he destroys things to make them “good”.
With the Doctor identified as too much of a “good Dalek” to go off on a vendetta to destroy his oldest enemies, Rusty goes off to do that for him. But wait, is that “Rusty” or “Russ T.”? After Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies went on to adapt John Preston’s A Very English Scandal for the BBC, a book which explores the moment the British public had their eyes opened to how far political corruption could go. Fighting corruption within the heart of the establishment is of course firmly within the Doctor’s modus operandi.
So farewell Rusty, off on his own adventures, fighting the Doctor’s battles for him in a way that he simply cannot do himself. Because he’s too much of a “good Dalek”. RP
(By the way, the introduction of Danny Pink and the Doctor’s opinion of soldiers is absolutely fascinating in light of his years of basically working for the military himself, but that’s a topic for another day.)
The view from across the pond:
A plane goes down in the desert and only three survivors emerge. They being walking in search of help.
I don’t mind when a joke is told over the course of a story. A good punchline means the story is almost ancillary; you’re in it for the payoff. The problem with Into the Dalek, is not that the payoff isn’t good but that the rest story leaves so much to be desired that it ruins the punch!
As they travel, the talk about their lives. They are each businessmen. One has a wife he loves and children he adores. He misses them terribly and wants to go home more than anything.
Right from the word “go”, we get a powerful opening where the Doctor seems to use Star Trek Transporter tech to save Journey Blue from death by Dalek. She’s a soldier and as we know, the Doctor has a thing about soldiers.
The other man has a mansion, yacht, all-night parties, the works. He misses them and can’t wait to go back to his party lifestyle.
The Doctor then picks up Clara, but from the moment they interact, it’s sickening. She asks “Where the hell have you been?” First, it’s a kids show. But it’s minor. It’s everything that follows that exacerbates it. Where has he been? Has she not been traveling with him? Has she perhaps missed that his life is dangerous? Sarah Jane had the wherewithal to say she thought he died. Narcissus however is just annoyed that he’s been missing! Clara is taking a real plummet as companions go! And it shows how little Stephen Moffat “gets” people. Russell T. Davies did understand human nature. His stories may not have been complex, but they understood people!
The third was traveling to start up a new business that had a lot of promise but he’s put everything into this. He has nothing waiting for him at home.
There are some fun lines like when the Doctor learns they will get miniaturized: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.” But lines alone can’t sustain an episode. I do like that the Doctor holds his ground when Journey Blue is threatening him; the whole “say please” mentality is far better than accepting brute force. But the whole episode hinges on the Doctor’s confrontation with the Dalek. It’s clear that it’s designed to mirror his coming to terms with his new persona as well as give us context for why he has a problem with Clara dating Danny Pink.
As they continue they find a bottle in the sand. While they clean the bottle, a Genie pops out. The Genie says he will grant one wish to each of the three men.
While inside the Dalek, nicknamed Rusty, the Doctor discusses the beauty of the universe. Rusty is in awe. But it doesn’t last! He begins to see all the times the Doctor defeated the Daleks and revels in the hatred that is in the Doctor’s heart towards the Daleks and becomes the only good Dalek, obliterating all other Daleks.
The first thinks of his wife and kids. “I wish to be home with my family”. Poof, he’s gone.
But here’s the thing: source matters. The Doctor is being told by his mortal enemy that he’s full of hate; that’s understandable. And frankly, who cares? If it were his companion saying that, sure, be morose. The only companion that would even need to debate about it is one who wants to be the center of attention anyway! But when your enemy says that to you, accept it and move on. It shouldn’t have weight and after 2000 years traveling the universe, I have a hard time accepting that the Doctor doesn’t get that! Clara eventually answers the Doctor saying she’s not sure if he’s a good man – this also makes anti-sense. She’s supposedly experienced ALL of his incarnations. How does she not know the answer to this! She says it’s that he tries and that’s what matters. He’s trying??? He saves the universe – she knows this. Is she confused? Deranged? And she’s a teacher! Moffat did it… he “jumped the shark”.
The second thinks of his mansion, his parties… “I wish to be home with all my stuff.” Poof, he’s gone.
And then there’s Journey – she wants to be more; she wants to see more of the universe and experience the Doctor’s world. In short, she’s willing to grow! The Doctor sees that but turns her down as a companion because she’s a soldier? She was serving and protecting! The Doctor may not like the idea of war, but he’s going to shun someone for taking on the noble profession? Again, I don’t buy it! 2000 years of age and the Doctor knows that one can’t ignore a war. He experienced it himself, first hand! Journey might represent something he does not want to be, but he must be aware of the necessity of soldiers. In a perfect world, perhaps we wouldn’t need them, but then, we wouldn’t need him either!
Into the Dalek is an unfortunate second episode for Capaldi. It fails on what could have made it a standout episode. The scene with the Doctor and Dalek talking aimed for a punch, but gets the “swing and a miss” only. Good attempt, but it all falls back on itself by the end. And, to my dismay, I blame Clara.
The third man realizes that he really liked his recent traveling companions, “Gee, I really miss my friends. I wish they were still with me!” ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Robot of Sherwood