There’s something strange about Doctor Who; no matter how bad the story or execution, if it features the iconic pepper pots everyone seems to be happy. Sadly though, “Into the Dalek” had a lot of missed potential.
Having The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) exploring the innards of his long standing nemesis was a strong concept, potentially showing the audience how these machines of war function. Unfortunately, we saw very little of what the Doctor called “the most dangerous place in the universe” and it turns out that if you choose against firing a harpoon at a wall while there, you’re pretty safe.
There is something every writer should ask themselves when drafting a story, “Is this the most interesting moment of this character’s life? And if not, why aren’t I writing about it?”.
Imagine if this episode had began with a normal drone Dalek becoming damaged while fighting a war and floating through space, unable to move or look away as a star explodes into existence before it’s singular glowing eye, changing the Dalek’s whole view on reality allowing it to realize the resilience of life! The rest of the episode could then follow the Dalek working along side the Doctor and Clara to infiltrate Dalek systems with the aim to make them good. This idea is hinted at in this episode… but never actually done, despite how original and promising such a story would be.
Another interesting concept that was quickly glossed over was the Dalek’s nutrition system. How they eat has never been address before, and now we know: not only do these things heartlessly kill other species simply for being different, but they then liquefy the bodies and feed off them. The Daleks EAT people! This is a whole new dimension to these horrifying creatures that makes them even more monstrous and it’s a shame very little was made of this.
Something this episode got perfectly right, however, was seeing Daleks kill people. This is the first time in four years we’ve seen a Dalek ray fire, hit a person, and kill them. FOUR YEARS! Not even in the 50th Anniversary’s Time War – which engulfed all of creation butchering thousands of innocents – did we see a single death. There’s something very satisfying about dozens of Daleks slaughtering their enemies with the cry of “EXTERMINATE!” and it is a sight many Whovians have missed.
On a more human side of the equation, in this episode Clara (Jenna Coleman), and in turn the audience, are introduced to former soldier Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) who has a haunted past from his time at war; a past we will hopefully hear more about through the rest of the series. The scenes in the school between him and Clara were some of the strongest of the episode and really warmed us to this new character in the short time he was on screen. Seeing Clara and his relationship develop from this awkward beginning should be very enjoyable.
Observing Clara’s every day human life before The Doctor drags her away on an adventure was very welcome and something we haven’t seen much of since Steven Moffat became show runner; a welcome addition to the episode which helps to add depth to Clara’s previously one dimensional character.
Now that Capaldi’s Doctor has recovered from his post regeneration hangover, we get our first proper look at him, and he is very good. His Doctor has a very ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude, unlike the previous three Doctors who cared very much about the people around them. His line “She [Clara] cares so I don’t have to” perfectly summarizes this new Doctor. Capaldi still feels like he’s finding his Doctor’s distinctive style in some areas but he is bound to find that very quickly.
“Into the Dalek” had some good ideas being thrown around. The issue is they were thrown around so much they splattered all over the walls and made a bit of a mess. It was a very interesting mess that entertained me for 45 minutes, but was still a mess and a waste of its ingredients. Its main issue was it tried to say that deep down The Doctor is an angry man full of hatred. This is an angle taken by many Dalek stories, most notably the episode “Dalek” (S1E06) which featured the line “You would make a good Dalek.”. Rusty’s final line “You are a good Dalek,” just retreads old ground when a new story could have been told from the ideas at play.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays on BBC One and BBC America. Next week’s episode: “Robot of Sherwood”