Monday, September 01, 2014

Into the Dalek - the Dark Doctor

It’d be easy to look at 'Into The Dalek' and think “Oh, a new Doctor, radically different to any since the restart, let’s keep them watching by bringing out the Daleks. Everyone loves the Daleks.” Yet it’s decidedly cleverer than that. We’ve already seen that this is a new Doctor trying to figure out exactly who he is. Who better to find that out against, than his greatest enemy?

This is the enemy who Davison picked up a gun against without even thinking. That Tom Baker nearly wiped out as they were created. That Sylvester McCoy did something massive about, like maybe blowing up their planet, I think, I still haven’t watched Revelation of the Daleks.

The Daleks bring out the worst in the Doctor, so who better than Twelve to have his identity crisis with than the one enemy who will show him how bad he can be? And for a Doctor who is struggling to figure out just who he is, we do see his terrible decision-making when it comes to Daleks. While he doubted it would work, he really hoped that he could save Rusty, but on learning that the only thing that had made Rusty ‘good’ was radiation poisoning, he gave up at the fact all Daleks are evil, and he was right all along. It takes Clara to knock him back on course, just like she did at the Moment, to get on with things and actually think of another way.

And he does try. He comes up with another plan that sounds like it’d work brilliantly. The act of trying to turn the Dalek good again, by showing him the same memory, now repressed, that did the trick when he was poisoned, with a little extra. The Doctor's memories, and all the great stuff he's seen in the universe. Only without the poisoning it doesn’t work. Instead, as always, the Dalek finds beauty in hate. He gets to see the entirety of the Doctor’s experience and the only thing it can take from it, is relishing in the hatred that the Doctor has for the Daleks. This is a hell of a knock for a man trying to figure himself out, and if he’s a good man. Especially as Rusty then tells him he’s a “good Dalek”, something the Ninth Doctor heard in ‘Dalek’ as he was told he "would make a good Dalek."

From an outside perspective, he might have saved the day but that it’s not a win for the Doctor is the important message. The Daleks might have been stopped, some humans might have survived, but all he did by exposing a Dalek to his inner being was make the Dalek want to wipe out his own race. What does that say about himself? Yet Clara tries to tell him with the “I don’t know if you’re a good man, but you’re trying”. And again this is another great episode for Clara, and I have to wonder where the writing was for her in the back half of Matt Smith’s last season was.

The other thing is, God Damn this Doctor is pragmatic as hell. That moment when Ross is about to die, the Doctor throws him a tracking device because “he was dead already” but this way the Doctor had a chance to save the rest of them. A lot of the previews were calling Capaldi ‘The Sixth Doctor done right’ and I can see where they’re coming from. I’m immediately reminded of the finale of Big Finish’s ‘The Sirens of Time’, and I'll rant on here about Big Finish being the saviour of the Sixth Doctor until my face turns the colour of the TARDIS.

One final point on the Doctor's identity, was that I loved the mention of 'The Daleks' as a defining point of the Doctor. It's an important one. That the name “The Doctor” was just a name until he met the Daleks, then it meant not being them. But it's not just that. 'The Daleks' was also the second story for Hartnell, and it's also the one that pretty much defined the show and turned it into a juggernaut that’s ran for fifty years. That's a damn brave statement for this new era.

As for the rest of the episode, it was a very nice opening. That was some lovely CGI. I’m a sucker for a good space battle, and the shots of the Aristotle hiding in a crevice of an asteroid while the giant Dalek spaceship hunted them was fantastic. But the whole setup was missing context for me. We know the Daleks have marauded their way across the galaxy, but have we ever seen a human conflict like this? I’d have loved a bit of clue, at the very least a year.

There was some more of Missy in Heaven, but nothing that really reveals anything more about her. Just another shot to remind us of the ongoing plot that’ll rear it’s head later on, probably in the finale.

But the other big thing this episode does is introduce Danny Pink. Thanks to pre-season promo material he rises to companion status, at least to early Mickey levels anyway. However, we’re getting a slow build on a companion which is very different. It’s a really nice debut too. The training of the kids is immediate soldier territory, then showing when a kid asks about him killing someone - the reaction of the other kids was great too. He’s clearly a soldier, but one who has a history he’d rather forget.

It was also another great thematic choice of having the Doctor work alongside soldiers just as we and Clara meet Danny Pink is good choice, if an obvious one.
First of all it gives Clara a better understanding, after all she jokes about killing then crying, but after spending time with Blue she’d never think to make that joke again. Oh yes, the naming of the two main soldiers in the story Pink and Blue, and having it being the opposite of the gender divide is a nice flip. Or it’s bit too blatant. I can’t quite decide.

Another important thing with Blue is that the Doctor rejected her on the pure basis of her being a soldier, this is a bit deeper too. It also isn’t exactly a surprise. New Who has a lot of examples of people wanting to use guns and the Doctor getting annoyed. Especially Tennant. I seem to remember it coming up a lot with him.

I’m sure a lot of people will immediately point to the Brigadier, who was one of the Doctor’s closest friends, to the point that every Doctor between Two and Seven had an adventure with him on television, and the spin-offs have managed to add adventures for the others. Even One turned up to his funeral. Yet look back at how Three and him initially got on. Three was constantly at odds because the Brig’s answer was usually to start firing while he wanted to try something else. Which is exactly how Blue spent most of the episode doing. Her answer was always to blow things up, and had to be talked out of it. So even after she realised there was a better way, it was too late. The Doctor was always going to say no. If the Brig has asked to come aboard the TARDIS back in The Web of Fear he’d have said no. Hell, entire time during Pertwee’s first season he most certainly would have done as well.

If anything this refusal is more setting up the problem once Clara and Danny are seeing each other properly and The Doctor meets him. He’s a soldier, the Doctor’s probably going to have a problem with Mr Pink. However, Pink has already moved on from being the soldier in the field. He came back from wherever and has moved onto civilian life quite successfully, but has a heavy burden to carry. Obviously he still is a soldier, that becomes a part of you. But I doubt he’ll be a shoot first, ask questions later type, which is what will win him over to The Doctor.

Hopefully, the two of them coming together means that we can finally have a companion in New Who that has a happy departure. With Danny she’s found something so she doesn’t need to travel everywhere. So far Martha’s the only one that’s managed it.

Back when I reviewed ‘The Apocalypse Element’ I identified the fact that Big Finish actually made the Daleks scary. A force to be reckoned with. Something New Who has failed at, with only Eccleston’s episodes showing them to be worthy of the fear and anger that comes with them. Every other instance they’re defeated too easily. ‘Into The Dalek’ is a very good step in the right direction. The army is wiping out the human contingent and it’s a rogue Dalek that actually puts a stop to them. For this, and what it does for Twelve’s Doctor, I think ‘Into the Dalek’ was a hell of a success.
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