Doctor Who- Into The Dalek

BBC One 7.30pm Saturday 30th August 2014
written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffatt / starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Zawe Ashton, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Briggs, Samuel Anderson

Reviewed by Sean Alexander

The Doctor and the Daleks.  Fifty years and seemingly countless stories later and still the two seem inseparable, both in the mind-set of the general public and narratively speaking at the core of ‘Doctor Who’s raison d’etre.  In the post Time War universe of the 21st Century show the stakes between Doctor and Dalek have been raised as high as the bar can seemingly go; and the trick of every fresh Dalek story remains the same: how can you keep Time Lord and nemesis at each others’ throats without the risk of apathetic overkill?


The answer perhaps lies inside, which is fortunate as this decades long antagonism has always been most intriguing when stripped down to the core.  The Doctor and the Daleks is one of modern pop culture’s most resonant rivalries: the constant wanderer and champion of the oppressed against the ultimate symbol of dehumanised moral vacuity.  It’s a morality tale of this and any time: the immovable object of technological purity versus the irresistible force of human endeavour.  If ‘Doctor Who’ was ever a metaphor for post-industrial hybridization, then the Doctor and the Daleks have always been its purest expression.

But any great rivalry has at its heart a mutual respect, and even similarity.  Into the Dalek may put the Doctor inside ‘the most dangerous place in the universe’, but the battle within is more about the moral ambiguity of a man who kills in the name of peace and a monster who kills in the name of purity.  Phil Ford’s second script for Who (again with the show’s current head honcho tacked on as joint credit) is a fast-paced action/adventure that for 45 minutes manages to pose the kind of moral and philosophical questions that ‘Doctor Who’ does at its best.  Given the chance to see a Dalek,figuratively, from the inside out Ford asks the kind of questions he first posed in The Waters of Mars: can established facts be rewritten, and what price is to be paid by the success?

And almost as a side event we are introduced to former soldier, now Coal Hill teacher, Danny Pink, a seemingly traumatised veteran whose past you suspect will come back to haunt him.  It’s a nice turn by newcomer Samuel Anderson, largely underplayed if you ignore the single tear, and promising much given the prospect of a burgeoning dalliance with a Clara recently relieved of the pretty young man in her life.  How Danny will fit in as the plus-one in the new TARDIS triumvirate remains to be seen, but his soldier background may well be an interesting vein to be bled given the new Doctor’s already expressed animosity to goons with guns.

But Into the Dalek succeeds most by not recalling the kind of sci-fi tropes that inevitably dogged its premise of shrunken Doctor and co. injected into a radiation ravaged and morally questioned foe.  This may be the one ultimately known as ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Doctor’, but fortunately we are largely relieved of much of the expected homages to the likes of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace and a dozen other examples of miniaturised mayhem.  The episode’s pace helps, as little time is spent on pregnant pauses to allow the viewer to step out of the premise and be reminded of past glories – the show’s own Planet of Giants and The Invisible Enemy no doubt being on the tip of every old school fan’s tongues.  And instead the ‘morality as malfunction’ plot device allows the kind of moral complexity that it seems Series Eight is more than happy to examine given a more morally dubious Doctor and a seemingly steadfast desire to go ‘Into Darkness’, both literally and figuratively.

Whether this all pays off somewhere down the line remains to be seen.  With a Dalek now enlightened by the wonders of the universe, plus a heavy dose of the Doctor’s own dark and occasionally demented hatred of its species, it’s tempting to suggest that some kind of wholesale reappraising of the series’ oldest and most durable monsters is in the pipeline.  But if this was ‘I, Dalek’ in a similar way to ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’s flawed attempt to reboot the Borg with a single, thinking soldier then it’s to be hoped that any diminishing of the Dalek threat is not at the cost of reducing ‘Doctor Who’s most successful example of monster as metaphor to the status of born-again redeemer.  At the end of the day, Daleks work best when single-minded and merciless; if a little moral insightfulness is to be factored in at this stage one hopes that it too comes at a price.

But two weeks in and this ‘new’ ‘Doctor Who’ is showing every sign of living up to its world tour led propaganda mission.  We have a Doctor who is trickier, less predictable and, possibly (when the circumstances demand it), nastier than we’ve seen this century, and a show which seems determined to jettison some of the frothier and less consequential elements of the last few years.  And in Missy, making another cameo welcoming the recently deceased to ‘the promised land’, possibly the most intriguing meme arc since the heady days of Bad Wolf in 2005.  Into the Dalek isn’t restrained when examining the relationship between cause and effect, and it’s to be hoped the rest of the season lives up to this premise.  Dark days lie ahead, it seems…

1 comment:

  1. It was better on rewatch though the tacked in Danny Pink at the start did grate a little. The ending was almost the opposite of RTD which I enjoyed. It would have improved with a cameo by a modern version of Beryl Reid, but you can't have everything :)