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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