TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Into the Dalek” (08.02, 2014)

Written by Phil Ford & Steven Moffat

Directed by Ben Wheatley

“So you shoot people and then you cry about it after?”
. . .
“Am I a good man?”

It’s often been the central contradiction of the Doctor that, for all that he is infinitely generous and kind, he is also capable of hatred and viciousness, in addition to which he actually carried out a genocide against his own people. (Though that genocide has been wiped away, he still experienced having done it and still suffers from guilt–survivor’s and otherwise–that the experience gave him. This is why I hated that Moffat changed the fall of Gallifrey.)

His vicious, hating side is most visible when he meets the Daleks. The Eleventh Doctor once screamed at a Dalek, “You are my enemy! And I am yours! You are everything that I despise!” It’s a sentiment that the Doctor would not express toward anyone or anything else, but it gives us some idea why the Daleks call him “The Oncoming Storm.” As Moffat’s run on the series has continued, he has repeatedly told us how the Daleks view the Doctor: as a genocidal maniac bent on their destruction. And it’s not inaccurate on their part. It’s part of who he is. And it’s part of what leads to the Doctor’s inability to accept himself as a hero, an idea that the previews of the Twelfth Doctor suggested would be at the center of this version of the character.

This episode, a journey both literally and figuratively into a Dalek that explores the nature of the Dalek’s ability to suppress positive emotions via the magic of repression, is an exploration of the contradiction at the heart of the Doctor that would make Sigmund Freud proud. The Doctor can contain this contradiction because he sees and remembers everything. He recognizes beauty but also sees destruction and he does not forget either. The Daleks are able to be so single-mindedly focused on the basis of their repression of all that is positive.

And after his journey through the Dalek, the Doctor is no more certain about himself than he was before. When Rusty says, “You are a good Dalek,” he almost nods in agreement. Yes, it’s a moment the show has essentially done before (“You would make a good Dalek”), but the repetition does not make it any less powerful.

“No offense, but I’ve got plans!”
“I need you.”

The Doctor’s arrogance is always a charming contrast with his generosity, a kind egotist. Here, his arrogance is what leads him to decide that the lesson of the Dalek’s change after fixing the radiation leak is that a good Dalek is impossible. But it’s also what allows him to say that he can change the universe by changing a Dalek when he really has no clue whether he even has the capability of changing one. And for all of his arrogance, he is too kind and generous not to listen to Clara’s reproach.

“I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier.”

The Doctor wishes he hadn’t been forced into being a soldier, something that has happened repeatedly over the years. He tries not to be a soldier, but there are times when even the Doctor recognizes a soldier’s usefulness, loathe though he may be do admit it.

So far, Peter Capaldi’s performance is really the best part of this season. He plays a complex version of the Doctor, one who is as aware of his own darkness as the Ninth Doctor but as resistant to giving into it as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. And the complexity in that characterization is often written on Capaldi’s face. Unfortunately, where Russell T. Davies once trusted David Tennant to inject that depth into the Doctor, Moffat has opted for the approach Davies used with Eccleston, writing all of the internal conflict into the dialogue as well instead of trusting his actor. Davies surely felt it was necessary to set up the rest of the series, and it certainly made the Ninth Doctor more accessible than he would have been otherwise, but with the Twelfth Doctor it feels unnecessary.

Jenna Coleman, meanwhile, continues to be saddled with a character who makes little sense. Clara is a control freak who is willing to abandon her plans and jump in with the Doctor in whatever he’s doing without a second thought. She’s an egotist who isn’t willing to answer whether the Doctor is a good man but is willing to follow him just because he says, “I need you.” She’s often mugging for the camera, flashing her smile every time that Clara can get a laugh or look pretty, but it’s difficult to blame her when Moffat & co. seem so uninterested in giving her an actual character to play. There’s only so far that the “Impossible Girl” idea can go. Karen Gillan may not have been able to do much as an actor when her time on the show began, but Amy at least had some definition–Moffat isn’t doing Coleman the same favor.

Notes

  • Who was surprised by Missy’s appearance this episode? Yeah, I thought not.
  • The Doctor claiming that Clara is getting old is funny but also rather troubling–remember what River Song said about the Doctor seeing Amy aging? “Never let him see the damage.”
  • I do like the way Clara just passes off the Doctor’s comments about her attempting to continue to look good despite her age–the response of a true narcissist.
  • The nature of the Daleks is something that has been rather malleable over the years, isn’t it? They were originally humanoid creatures who had ended up in a severely irradiated base and thus built the metal suits to survive the radiation, though we had no idea what they looked like inside the suits. This version of the series always portrayed them as these odd squid-brain creatures inside the suits. And now the suits are actually part of the Dalek, so much so that any damage to the suit is interpreted as something like an allergy or virus.
  • The Fantastic Voyage reference was awesome.
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TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Deep Breath” (08.01, 2014)

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Ben Wheatley

The Eleventh Doctor was introduced hurtling over London in an uncontrolled TARDIS, trying to recover control but unable to do so and being thrown around its interior and even to hanging off of the door. When he finally hit the ground, he climbed out to talk to a little Scottish girl and went about discovering who he was through food. The uncontrolled zaniness and tomfoolery that defined Matt Smith’s turn in the role was clear from the outset.

The Twelfth Doctor arrives very differently, belched out of a dinosaur that is mysteriously present in 19th-century London. He and Clara exit the TARDIS to discover the Paternoster Gang waiting, having seen the TARDIS and helped to place a perimeter around the dinosaur. He is confusedly panicking about the dinosaur, Clara, his relationships thereto, and everyone’s accents.

Typically, the companion is the audience’s stand-in. The Doctor is alien not just in his actual extraterrestrial origin but in how different from us he is. We get to know him through the eyes of the companion, whether it’s Rose Tyler or Amy Pond. While we do see the companions grow over time and the Doctor remains relatively static, we get to know him again every time through them.

However, we have an unusual situation right now where we’ve already met this companion, the crazed control freak Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl, but the Doctor is new to us. The same thing happened back in season two, when Rose Tyler survived the transition from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant, but it was treated almost as a non-event–the Doctor and Rose were immediately comfortable with one another and it seemed that the history of Rose and the Ninth Doctor stayed in place. This time, Clara, control freak that she is, cannot accept the Doctor changing against her wishes. The odd thing is that it’s not just the changing to which she objects, it’s his age that really seems to offend her. He, for his part, seems to think that she thought of the Eleventh Doctor as her boyfriend and he wants it to be clear that he will never be such a thing.

The new Doctor seems to have little idea of himself to this point, and his attempts to turn to Clara for definition come to naught, so we watch him gaze at himself in confused wonder for a double-length episode.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t much else here. Some of it is funny and it’s an interesting-sounding concept how the Doctor comes to know himself in a new regeneration, but this episode doesn’t really have anything to say about it–it just says, “This is a weird process.” It’s not an actively terrible episode like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” but it just doesn’t have much to it.

Notes

  • Peter Capaldi has a really good confused look.
  • The references to “The Girl in the Fireplace” made me laugh. I had just posted the entry for that episode in my countdown of the best Doctor Who episodes, so it was extra funny.
  • I like Strax, but I’m glad they keep him to a relatively small number of appearances.
  • I’m sad there’s no Neil Gaiman episode this season, though he Tweeted that he’s very excited to write for Capaldi, so we should see some in the future.
  • Jenna Coleman is often teetering between fun and annoying. Scene-to-scene she can switch from one to the other. I don’t know how much of it is Clara and how much of it is her, but it’s an issue.

More Notes (After theatrical showing)

  • They keep making a big deal about a Scottish Doctor. David Tennant is Scottish. Is this yet another thinly-veiled shot at David Tennant from Steven Moffat, like his comment about hating young, handsome Doctors?
  • Incidentally, Karen Gillan is also of course Scottish.
  • The Vastra/Jenny kiss was obviously there for other reasons, but I’m still annoyed by Vastra saying she can help because her lungs hold more oxygen. Hold your breath and then pay attention to what happens when you can’t do it anymore. You don’t suck air in, you blow it out. That’s because we need to expel carbon dioxide faster than we need to take in oxygen. So her reasoning betrays a misunderstanding of human biology, something that I would find very unlikely in Vastra.
  • “Just because my pretty face has turned your head.” Um, her wife is better looking than you, Clara. Not that Clara isn’t attractive, but it’s not like she’s Karen Gillan.
  • “It’s times like this when I really miss Amy.” Oh, we all miss Amy. And we definitely know that the directors of Doctor Who most miss Amy’s legs. I looked it up out of curiosity: Karen Gillan is nine inches taller than Jenna Coleman.
  • Murray Gold is an absolute genius. His theme for the new Doctor isn’t as incredible as “I Am the Doctor” (because what is?) but it is fantastic. And the new arrangement of the theme plays much better with the extra depth of sound you get from a theatrical sound setup.
  • Was Missy a somehow different version of Madame Kovarian? Obviously, Michelle Gomez is not Frances Barber and indeed has not appeared on the show ever before, but it doesn’t seem like Moffat’s style for her not to be a character who has already been in his Whovian universe.
  • With the blue eyes, the red hair, and the eyebrows, I just kept thinking that “Missy” looked just enough like Amanda Palmer that it made me laugh, considering her husband’s work on this series.
  • Now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I really feel like Capaldi’s performance is great. He hasn’t had a chance yet to show that he can do what Christopher Eccleston could do, but he seems to be at least as capable as David Tennant. Matt Smith’s cameo, doing the one thing he always had difficulty doing (being earnest and sad) in the part, really made for a strong contrast.

The Best of Doctor Who: No. 1, “Blink” (03.11, 2007)

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Hettie MacDonald

Yeah, I know. This is easy to predict. But it’s easy to predict for a reason. If I did a list of the ten greatest television episodes I’ve ever seen, I think it would have about five episodes of Breaking Bad, a couple of episodes of The Sopranos, a couple of episodes of Frasier, the finale of Twin Peaks, and “Blink.” (If I ever make this list, do not hold me to the current description. This description is just for discussion purposes.)

“What’s good about being sad?”
“It’s happy for deep people.”

Sally Sparrow, a character who only appears in this one episode, is one of the more memorable characters in the Whovian universe. She’s better-defined from her one episode than some companions are after seasons of work. She’s arrogant, confident, obsessive, caring, funny and distrustful. She has depth and dimension that almost no other single-episode character has.

And Carey Mulligan helps with that. She’s so good in the role that every time I see her in something, I call her Sally Sparrow. I seriously have had to edit reviews because I called her that throughout the review as though it was actually her name. Doctor Who doesn’t bring in a ton of well-known guest stars, but Mulligan’s strength in the role is necessary to the episode. We need to care about Sally Sparrow, which is easier to do when the actor is so strong and charismatic. She also needs to be good looking enough that we can believe Billy Shipton is willing to clock out and take her to see the TARDIS and everything else in that storeroom just from seeing her, and it’s tough to get much better looking than Carey Mulligan.

Karen Gillan played a character not at all dissimilar from Sally Sparrow in Oculus (Mike Flanagan, USA 2013), and it’s a tribute to Carey Mulligan that even I didn’t like Kaylie Russell half as much as I like Sally Sparrow, and I think we all know how much I love Karen Gillan.

“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.”

The Weeping Angels, in their original form, are a great villain. You can’t kill them because they’re stone when you’re looking at them. We never see them move, so we have no idea what type of movement they’re capable of, and we can always get horror movie-style jump scares out of their presence. And then the way they cause death is so heartbreaking and so very Doctor Who that they fit even better than they already would have.

In horror, the monster is usually the point. And “Blink” is as purely horror as Doctor Who ever gets, since it is built around slowly defining the evil of the Weeping Angels. We see them creeping around and get little hints about them from the Doctor, slowly adding up to a complete picture of the terror just in time for the final battle between good and evil.

“You’ve only got 17 DVDs?!”

Moffat has always had a great sense of humor, and it is on full display even in this nearly pure horror episode. Larry Nightingale is a silly but hilarious comic relief character. Martha’s bitching about being trapped in 1969 with the Doctor is great. The Doctor’s discussion of the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey nature of time is one of the more memorable bits of Doctor time traveling silliness.

“The angels have the phone box.”

The Doctor’s final resolution is also one of his more clever moments, especially how he sets up his own ability to save Sally by confusedly picking up the folder of information from her, saying, “I’ve got a bit of a complicated life. Things don’t always happen to me in the right order.”

The eighth season of Doctor Who debuted the other night, so I got to see it yesterday and I will put up a review hopefully tonight. Hopefully, some people enjoyed taking a little trip through the show’s first seven seasons in preparation.