“Into the Dalek” presents one of the more ridiculous premises in Doctor Who history. I was seriously dreading this episode, figuring it would be one of those high concept stories where everything is cobbled together, making little to no sense. (Think last series’ “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis”.) Fortunately, I was wrong. It really shouldn’t work and I’m sure plot holes will be found once I get a chance to properly think it through, but “Into the Dalek” gets pretty much everything right. It’s nicely paced, offers some fun, gives us a solid supporting cast and gets to heart of what makes The Doctor tick.
It’s nice to have Phil Ford back penning his second episode for Doctor Who. His first episode, “The Waters of Mars”, was by far one of the best episodes of the Tennant era, and while “Into the Dalek” isn’t as gripping, it explores much of the same territory, establishing where this Doctor is in relation to his predecessors. Ford may share a writing credit with Moffat, but the episode is decidedly free from the complicated clutter that Moffat has become so fond of. It’s a simple premise: A group of soldiers fighting the Daleks have found one that is so damaged, it has become good. For reasons that are murky at best, The Doctor, Clara and a group of soldiers are miniaturized and enter the Dalek to try and repair it. Yes it’s silly, but Ford takes this concept and turn it into an examination of The Doctor’s past as a soldier and force him to examine this past which he has previously avoided. Not only does this episode signify that we are going to get a darker Doctor, but it also begins to blur the line that delineates good and evil. The Doctor has always been a pacifist, but with Capaldi, it’s believable that he might just pick up a weapon.
This is clearly a theme that is going to carry throughout the series as it appears that The Doctor is finally going to properly deal with his actions during The Time War. The introduction of Danny Pink is clearly central to this, and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with The Doctor, given his past as a soldier. These are two men who have fought in wars and are trying to come to terms with their actions. Not sure when they are supposed to meet, but I look forward to it.
The Daleks are such a massive presence in The Doctor’s past that it makes sense to use them to to start The Doctor dealing with his past. His hatred for the Daleks has driven him just as much as the Daleks’ hatred of “the other” has driven them. This has been explored before in Doctor Who, but never in such a hard-hitting manner. The idea to remind the Dalek of what made it good through The Doctor’s mind is a stroke of brilliance. It’s no longer just an idea that The Doctor and the Daleks are similar; the Dalek is driven to destroy his own by The Doctor’s own thoughts, making them one in the same. This is just adding to the baggage carried by the 12th Doctor, giving our new Doctor more weight right from the start.
Also a step in the right direction is the character of Clara. She is smart, resourceful and most importantly knows and understands The Doctor. She brings out the best in him. A high school teacher by profession, she also teaches The Doctor how to function and interact with others. She is his equal and in some cases his better, creating a teacher-student relationship that is two-sided. This is the Clara that should have been from the start and I hope that it continues through. (Although the trailers for next week have not left me hopeful.)