Into the Dalek Spoiler-Free Review
Note: While this review refrains from mentioning many plot specifics, read on at your discretion.
Into the Dalek does what it says on the tin. It’s an intriguing premise that sees the Doctor, Clara and a galactic resistance squad miniaturised and venturing into a ‘defective’ Dalek. Penned by Phil Ford, the co-writer of fan favourite The Waters of Mars, and Steven Moffat, the episode has all the makings of a classic. It doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, but it nevertheless is a very good attempt.
The Daleks have come in for lot of criticism of late, one of the arguments being that they are no longer scary. The Daleks in this episode do exterminate. Lots. And you get to see it in all its x-ray glory. The problem is, does endless killing actually make them scary? On the evidence here, no. It at least makes them a little bit more threatening than they have been of late, even if nameless grunts are the main ones being offed.
Really though the episode isn’t about the Daleks and their grand schemes to take over the world once again. It’s more an exploration of one specific pepperpot and the Doctor, both physically and mentally. Early on in the episode Capaldi asks Clara “Am I a good man?” It’s the scene we’ve been bombarded with during promotion and this sets the overall theme for the episode. But perhaps the more appropriate question is, what separates the Doctor from a Dalek? The difference might not be as pronounced as you would think.
Peter Capaldi continues to shape his Doctor’s performance here with great effect. If you thought he might suddenly mellow out after fetching the coffee at the conclusion of Deep Breath, then you’d be very wrong. In fact he is arguably more cold-hearted here than in the opener. His brash and unsympathetic ways often causing conflict with Clara and the squad he’s stuck with. It leads to some very witty moments, and even a slap. There is also one particularly dubious action from the Doctor in terms of morals. Capaldi might not be cuddly, but it’s fascinating to see your notions of the Doctor turned on their head.
Clara’s life outside of the TARDIS is further glimpsed and the episode introduces new recurring character Danny Pink played by Samuel Anderson. Like Clara, Danny is a teacher at Coal Hill School. He only gets a couple of scenes bookending the story so it’s hard to know exactly what to make of him yet. His scenes with Clara are largely a bit of flirtatious fun, even if they feel out of place with the rest of the episode. Danny does seem to have something of an interesting past, though it is only hinted at.
The guest cast is made up by a couple of notables. Michael Smiley puts in a reliable, if unremarkable, performance for the small screen time he is afforded as Colonel Blue. Far better served is Zawe Ashton who plays Journey Blue, a character who is given more emotionally challenging material to explore.
Deep Breath’s director Ben Wheatley returns and again delivers some sumptuous shots. This is a more visually charged episode than Deep Breath, with more action, plenty of special effects, CGI, space battles, explosions (lots of explosions). Generally it looks gorgeous but perhaps some of the ship and Dalek interiors could have been better realised.
The biggest criticism you could level at the episode is that it can at times feels a bit familiar. Let’s Kill Hitler more recently comes to mind with the concept of miniaturisation and a similar threat inside, but the biggest influence of all must surely be Rob Shearman’s superb Dalek from 2005. It can feel like trodden ground.
Ultimately though it’s a solid Dalek episode, but perhaps not quite the one many fans will be expecting.