Doctor Who Season 35 – 02

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“Into the Dalek”

The first two episodes of Doctor Who’s 35th season (8th, if you’re a revisionist) have been a bit of a strange experience for me.  I’m completely sold on Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and that should, in theory, be the most important thing.  But the rest of the package isn’t quite clicking for me, and that includes Capaldi’s on-screen chemistry with Jenna Coleman’s Clara (though honesty compels me to point out that I didn’t see much chemistry between Coleman and Matt Smith either) – though I am enjoying his constant offhand remarks about how awful she looks.

I would rank “Into the Dalek” a hair higher than the season premiere “Deep Breath”, though it’s a near thing.  I think the revelation of this season is the sense of frailty that Peter Capaldi is bringing to the character of the Doctor – rather than a formidable and intimidating figure (which I think it what most people expected) Capaldi is projecting a deeply troubled soul unsure about both his past and his future.  Capaldi is no codger to be sure – he’s a strong and vital physical presence.  But the story told in his more weathered face gives the Doctor’s painful introspection a greater urgency that it held with man-child Smith, or even David Tennant.

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In spite of that, though, the writing in these first two episodes (this one was penned by Steven Moffat and Phil Ford) has a bit of falseness to it.  Each has been marred by a really irritating misstep – in “Deep Breath” it was Clara’s self-pity, which forced her to be lectured by Vastra (which is bad enough) about what should have been obvious.  Here it’s the Doctor’s self-pity and defeatist attitude, which forces him to be lectured by Clara in order to save the day, and his leaving her to “think of something clever” in order to do it.  I like seeing the Doctor’s vulnerable side, but that whole development just didn’t ring true.

Another issue with “Into the Dalek” is how little of it is truly original, though at least it openly acknowledges the miniaturization premise as being ripped off from Fantastic Voyage.  The rest of it owes a very strong debt to the extended Picard/Borg sequence from Star Trek: The Next Generation, culminating in the “I, Borg” episode (though to be fair, the Borg are a bit of a Dalek ripoff to begin with).  That too featured a main character struggling with his own hatred and prejudice – born from direct and terrible pain – and a member of a collective race who’d developed individuality sent back to do potential damage among his people.

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I never really bought into the whole notion of “Rusty” awakening to the beauty of the universe from seeing the birth of a star, but the end sequence where the Doctor loops his own consciousness in with the Dalek’s is quite fascinating and easily the best part of the episode.  The Doctor imagines he’s going to “turn” Rusty back from the dark side by showing him the beauty he’s beheld, but instead Rusty’s takeaway is the hatred he sees inside the Doctor’s soul – a hatred that burns most brightly for the Daleks.  With Hugh from “I, Borg” there was a sense that he was returning to the Collective as a revolutionary, but with Rusty it feels more like an agent of genocide.

There’s much talk in this episode about the notion of a “good Dalek”, and whether such a thing is possible.  Whether Rusty as we meet him is simply broken or has experienced genuine enlightenment is debatable, but what happens after he sees what the Doctor sees isn’t.  “I am not a good Dalek” Rusty says to the Doctor at the end, with some haughtiness.  “You are a good Dalek.”  That’s such a great, significant and memorable line that it goes a long way towards redeeming the entire episode on its own (Eccelston’s Doctor was told he’d make a good Dalek, but the meaning was quite different).  Capaldi’s Doctor is genuinely struggling with the notion of whether or not he’s a good man – it’s believable coming from him in the same way it was with John Hurt’s “War Doctor”, and not so much with Smith and Tennant.

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Separate from the main plot, we have another appearance by Missy, who once again plucks a bystander who’s about to die after meeting the Doctor away at the last moment of their life (or the first of their afterlife).  This whole Missy thing has debacle written all over it, but I’ll hope for the best.  We also meet the man who seems destined to be a returning character, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara’s fellow teacher teacher at Coal Hill School (and possible love interest) and seemingly an ex-soldier with a lot of bad memories.  He doesn’t have much to do here, but I thought Danny made a good first impression – there seems to be some potential with the character and his inevitable clash with the Doctor’s “no soldiers” rule (which isn’t actually a rule given the history of the series, but that’s another matter).  I generally like the two-companion dynamic and frankly, the current chemistry in the TARDIS can probably benefit from someone new giving the beaker a good shake.

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  1. K

    "which isn't actually a rule given the history of the series, but that's another matter"

    Yeah that line bothered me. Because a good number of his friends and companions just happened to be soldiers. It does really feel they added that line because of the upcoming storyline with Pink not because it makes sense in any other context.

  2. s

    As a newcomer to the Doctor who franchise, i gotta say what is keeping me hooked particularly to this new season is the strong performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. The chemistry between the two is slowly building up and these two actors clearly have the talent necessary in delivering the certain nuances needed out of their characters. In terms of story-telling, i have been satisfied with what these first two eps have been able to do, but ive been left with the feeling that the writing in these eps havent really capitalized on the darker elements they have tried to explore. In this ep, the narrative flirted with the idea of a good Dalek and the existentialist crisis the doctor seemed to be having, but it didnt effectively play with the viewers expectations; it kind of just took the idea and played it straight, without necessarily throwing doubt and conflict within the viewer effectively (It tried in certain areas of the ep, but i felt like it played it too safe mostly). There was a sense of dynamism that was missing. But yea, Intro time is over; here's where i expect this season to go to some intriguing areas. Overall, i like were where the season is going, it just needs a bit more oomph because i like the performances from our main stars and so far, they are carrying the season.

  3. M

    I believe a part of the strength in what Mr. Capaldi brings to the show is that he doesn't have chemistry with younger female sidekicks. He seems to resonate on a different frequency, and with Coleman being technically an artifact of Matt Smith's era, it makes sense that they don't fit together.

    Someone like Catherine Tate's Donna Noble would probably be more favorable if you're hoping for on-screen chemistry – someone with a little more sass and sensibility to counterbalance his cynicism and frailty. (Some might disagree, but a lot of people, including myself, believe that Donna was the most engaging and interesting companion.)

    Personally, I think Clara's departure (and reveal of a new companion) would fit better than the introduction of a second companion. But that's if we're considering a shift in the companion dynamic.

    PERSONALLY personally, I think any discomfort is luring grief regarding the shift from a flirty duo to more of a grandfather-granddaughter duo. It's like eating pizza in Chicago all your childhood, then moving to New York and thinking the pizza tastes lousy. The chemistry isn't worse, you're just used to a specific formula.

  4. M

    typo: …any discomfort is lingering** grief…

  5. As those who watched the old series could tell you, the issue of chemistry between an older Doctor and a young female companion wasn't always this kind of pseudo-romantic nonsense that Davies and Moffat have cultivated. There was wonderful chemistry between many of the older Doctors and young companions – it just wasn't romantic. To suggest that because Capaldi isn't a pretty man-child he can't have on-screen chemistry with someone like Coleman (who's hardly a teenager herself) quite misses the point for me.

    I certainly liked Donna a lot, and irrespective of who the Doctor is I'd like to see more companions who don't fit the usual mold – older women, guys, etc. But the reason for me that Coleman and Capaldi don't click is mostly that Coleman herself doesn't click for me.

  6. G

    Danny Pink = Micky #2.

  7. K

    What gives you that impression? He doesn't come off like Mikey to me at all.

  8. S

    And now his watch has ended. We will miss you Dolorous Edd. :(

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