“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.
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.
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.
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.