Unpopular Opinion: Into the Dalek
Guest contributor Harry O’Driscoll shares his view on the Series 8 story.
I remember really liking Into the Dalek on initial broadcast, but in hindsight it lost its appeal fast. At first glance it was a very compelling story; much like Deep Breath it felt like the show had rediscovered the importance of a sense of jeopardy. The initial scenes inside the Daleks have a good sense of claustrophobia – entering via the Dalek eyestalk is also a very trippy moment. Almost all of what made it good came from Ben Wheatley’s direction. When Rusty turned evil again there was a real sense that things had drastically gone wrong. For the first time in ages the Daleks were gunning people down again, there was a sense of pace and danger that looked very good.
Capaldi’s Doctor certainly seemed equally compelling, especially where he appears to be saving Ross only to declare “He was dead already. I was saving us”. The Doctor suddenly seems unpredictable again for the first time since Eccelston.
Of course at this point the Daleks have become overused and should be given a rest, but it seemed the production team figured out that if you’re going to do a Dalek story it should be “about” them. Just having the Daleks isn’t enough; you need to actually do something with that. So this story is all about drawing parallels between the Doctor and his oldest enemy, as if this hadn’t already been done in Dalek. The problem is that its reasoning is flawed.
First off, the whole “you are a good Dalek” line and suggesting the Doctor has become so twisted with hatred to be as bad as them does not wash for me. A Dalek by its very nature is something that has been bred to be evil; all conscience removed and filled with hatred of all other life. A good Dalek is a bit like dry water, given the Doctor knows the Daleks a lot better than Clara does, his scepticism that Rusty could have really turned good feels justified. The suggestion that the Doctor is a “good Dalek” does not stand up for the same reason.
The new anti-soldier philosophy of Series 8 does not work for me either. A lot of people have already pointed out the obvious, that the Doctor has a long list of soldier friends: the Brigadier, Jamie, and Leela to name a few. But the wider point is: the Doctor condemns the soldiers of the Aristotle, but what is he suggesting they do? Not put up a fight against the Daleks and get killed? Since when has the Doctor started opposing people fighting to stay alive?
The Doctor opposes authority figures, dictators and following rules for their own sake. The suggestion that he has a particular aversion to soldiers doesn’t hold water and seems to be based on misremembering the Doctor’s love-hate relationship with the Brigadier and UNIT. It’s especially inconsistent given the Doctor apparently being in love with the gun totting River Song. Danny Pink is right that there’s more to being a soldier then just killing people, it can teach people discipline, courage and quick thinking, but the Doctor and Clara are just too scornful to think of that. This story thinks it’s making some sort of profound point about soldiers, but all it’s doing is making snarky jibes at them.
It does not help further that the soldiers are presented as two-dimensional ciphers complete with clichéd dialogue, “That door is never going to hold, but I’m damned if I’m going to make it easy for them.”.
The scenes with Clara and Danny are awful; I sense this was where Moffat made his contribution. Clara’s digs at Danny make her seem downright nasty and I wonder what exactly Danny sees in her after that. No one in real life would really say “Oh, you shoot people and then cry about it afterwards” to a former soldier they’d just met, and if they did they’d probably earn a slap. Why does Danny deserve such vitriol? And if Clara feels that way why does she decide on even going out with him?
In retrospect, the action goes a bit stale in the second half and watching it back it was actually a little boring. Although it is bolstered by the confrontation between the Doctor and Rusty which is brilliantly filmed and acted.
As a whole Into the Dalek all feels subject to diminishing returns. There are better stories further ahead. It has its moments but overall feels a bit too insubstantial to maintain interest.