2nd Opinion: Into the Dalek
David Selby and John Hussey both give their own verdict on the 2nd episode.
Into the Dalek does what it says on the tin, both literally and figuratively. It’s reminiscent of 2013’s ‘blockbuster’ ideas but actually manages to, for the most part, deliver. Many critics have highlighted resemblances between the episode and 2005’s Dalek, and whilst they are undoubtedly similar, they’re obviously trying to achieve a different outcome. The line “You would make a good Dalek” is saying that the Doctor’s growing fury and animosity is comparable to the Dalek psyche, whilst the line “You are a good Dalek” is, conversely, comparing the ‘good’ Dalek’s calm and philosophical kind of hatred to the Doctor’s attitude towards the Daleks. Fundamentally, Dalek is about a twofold-change; the Dalek develops human qualities and consequently loathes itself, whilst the Doctor realises the error of his ways and experiences a liberating catharsis. In Into the Dalek, the Dalek starts off good but the Doctor’s ‘biased’ hatred leads to him ‘corrupting’ its ideas of the Daleks.
Into the Dalek is a poor reflection on the Doctor as a man whose negative mentality has a detrimental effect on other beings and a positive depiction of the Daleks as creatures who are by nature bad and denied the ability to grow through nurture by the cruel system of the cortex vault. The Daleks are a statement of repression in a culture where cold uniformity and unquestioning allegiance is the norm (drawing on the original Dalek analogy of Nazi Germany), rather than the beings of pure evil which they were portrayed as before.
It’s somewhat effective as a sequel to 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks – the aforementioned narrative chose to look at the Dalek perception of the Doctor, whilst Into the Dalek reverses the themes and takes on how the Doctor sees the Daleks. Unfortunately, beyond leitmotifs, Into the Daleks comes across as a bit ill-timed in a number of ways. Asylum sets up for the future: we’re familiarised with the concept of a Dalek Parliament, suggesting that the Daleks have taken on a more systematic approach to universal destruction; we’re introduced to the Dalek puppets who will later return in the 2013 Christmas Special The Time of the Doctor and in a game-changing moment, all memory of the Doctor is erased from the Dalek Pathweb. Crudely, for the sake of a plot device, The Time of the Doctor chooses to restore the memories of the Doctor into the Dalek mind (and you ask – what was the point in Asylum’s cliff-hanger if it was only to be retconned?). Now we’re left wondering – what do the Daleks know of the Doctor? Do they still fear him? It would seem in places that the Daleks don’t remember the Doctor, but that appears to go at least slightly against what was established in the Christmas Special.
With Asylum as the most recent Dalek-centric story, there are noticeable parallels with the ‘good’ Daleks with Oswin as a human who was converted into a Dalek but fought the inner evil of the Daleks. Does Clara have any recollections of her time as a Dalek? How does she feel about the Doctor and the Daleks, as she’s responsible for wiping their minds of him in the first place? Surely she’d have a stronger opinion on the matter that Daleks have the potential to be good? Clara’s early arcs are beginning to feel pointless. Of course I prefer the new Clara, but it’s yet another affirmation of the fact that most of the events of Series Seven weren’t really necessary for anything.
Continuing to look at series-wide structure, there’s obvious dubiousness and disinclination in the planning of Into the Dalek. It’s my understanding that it came upon Capaldi’s request to fight the Daleks as one of his first adventures, and that seems to be the only reason it’s there. The Daleks do come across as threatening in some terrifically-directed massacre scenes but that seems to be the point: look – the Daleks are killing people! There’s something worryingly self-indulgent about aspects of Into the Dalek, which differs with some actually self-ashamed parts, too. Putting the Dalek episode second was, in my eyes, an instant mistake: it gives the impression that the show-runner wants to get it out of the way. The series seems to be saying “Look – here are the Daleks, here they are killing people, now let’s start the series properly”. Dalek was so successful, basically, because the series needed it. Into the Dalek feels like a reluctant addition to please fans and casual viewers, not something which was truly thought about from day one of planning.
The ‘Dalek run-around’ episode has always been a difficult slot to fill, and Phil Ford copes with the premise marvellously. Unfortunately, a less desirable result is that the episode does seem sadly rather awkward in a wider context.
After just one story in the role, Peter Capaldi has already been pitted against the Daleks. But the question is, was it a good idea or just for the sake of it?
Steven Moffat welcomed back Phil Ford onto the writing panel for his second episode/collaboration and once again delivered the goods. Phil Ford has certainly got a reputation for writing great stories, spanning from his work on The Sarah Jane Adventures, Tennant’s animated adventure ‘Dreamland’ and most recently his work on The Adventure Games series. ‘Into the Dalek’ was based on a held-back idea on Moffat’s part and was utilised within this fantastic story. It might not be the most original idea, i.e. having our heroes shrunk down and placed within someone else’s body (cough-cough ‘The Invisible Enemy’), but within the context of a Dalek story we certainly entered all new grounds.
What I’ve liked about the Dalek stories within Moffat’s era is that they’ve all take on a new approach in order to expand the Daleks mythology. We’ve had them win, we’ve had them join an alliance, we’ve had them dump their insane within an asylum and now we have a Dalek turning good and killing its own kind. Not to take any unnecessary jabs at Russell T Davies but this was where he fell flat in storytelling. I found that just using the Daleks over and over again for the sake of it just didn’t cut it and made them bland and predictable. Also it didn’t help that each of their respective stories under his reign was the same rehashed story over and over.
Whovians can finally rejoice over the fact that the Daleks actually got to kill someone in this episode. And not just one or two, but pretty much nearly an entire ship’s worth of crew. They really came across as the brutal and merciless creatures that I grew to love as a kid. This has been another of Moffat’s goals over the course of his era: make the Daleks deadly again. Now that they are a fully fledged empire once more they roam the universe to conquer and destroy. Since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ we’ve had some nice subtle references to their expanded empire and the cruelty they’ve caused. The whole idea of Colonel Blue taking no chances with unauthorised personal just shows how paranoid the Daleks have made the Resistance along with the idea that the creatures don’t leave anyone alive after their battles.
In terms of the Twelfth Doctor’s relationship with them, it was somewhat different to his last few predecessors. He was quite calm around them. The anger had been lowered and was replaced with a simple idea that he just sees them as nothing more than killing machines. Over and over again throughout the plot the Twelfth Doctor stated his internal opinion that there is no such thing as a good Dalek to the point where that thought blinded his judgement. Though it was an interesting moment to see the Doctor actually nearly convince himself wrong. But unfortunately the Daleks’ new take on life was a mere fault caused by a radiation leakage.
The whole ‘am I a good man’ theme was played out well and constantly challenged the Twelfth Doctor’s characteristics and made you wonder whether he was or not. Twice in the story he allowed someone to die and wasn’t fazed at all. Ross’s death in particular was just cold and calculative. The Twelfth Doctor caused his death to allow everyone else’s escape. This is a Doctor who doesn’t take prisoners nor risks himself to save other’s that are clearly beyond help. His humanity has been phased out by his alien nature and has become a non-caring person, driven by blind curiosity. He’s a hero who isn’t necessarily the hero, nor is he a hero who wants your approval. That’s what makes Peter Capaldi’s darker approach all the more exciting and intriguing because it makes you think about whether you truly like and trust his character. As to whether he’s a good man or not, that has yet to be fully determined. But as Clara stated at the end, at least he’s trying to prove himself.
I really loved the Daleks action scenes as they were really portrayed in an epic way. The explosions, the shot types and the fact there was so much action and carnage going on. It delivered the raw power of the Daleks and showcased their superiority. As well as getting a multiple Dalek attack, fans were also treated to the whole ‘Dalek’ vibe of a one-man Dalek onslaught. So you got both kinds of approaches merging in together to really demonstrate that within the right writing hands and right directing hands the Daleks can be shown to still be a force to be reckoned with.
The resolution was truly inventive. We had the Twelfth Doctor so close to showing a Dalek the beauty of the universe only to be taken back to hatred. This new kind of hatred from the Doctor’s mind made the Dalek turn on its own kind and destroy them without mercy. It showcased that the Doctor is sometimes no better than the Daleks in terms of having such raw emotions such as hatred. What makes him better than them however is the fact that he can channel hatred into something good. The whole idea that the Doctor’s name gained its meaning after his first trip to Skaro allows his long connection with the Daleks all the more meaningful which made for an interesting addition to the show’s mythology.
‘Into the Dalek’ was a great story that utilised the Daleks in an inventive way that gave them meaning to be within the story. They definitely weren’t used for the sake of it and their characteristics were expanded. Above all they helped greatly with developing the Twelfth Doctor’s character, pushing him forward in his journey of discovery.