Doctor Who Review: Into the Dalek

doctor who into the dalek review phil ford steven moffat rusty ben wheatley zawe ashton peter capaldi jenna coleman nick briggs

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. But then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

Daleks are pretty amazing really, aren’t they?

They’re one of the most enduring concepts in fiction of the 20th Century – there aren’t a great many things which could claim to have had such an impact upon the zeitgeist, or such an impact to their presence. They started out as Nazi metaphors, but they’ve outlived that. They have a new relevance. Daleks are creatures of hatred; they’re twisted mirrors which show our own propensity for cruelty and evil. Daleks are far more than just another Doctor Who monster. They’re the perennial threat, there since the start, all those years ago, when it began. To use them simply as monsters shooting and killing, whilst a lot of fun, is something of a waste. They can be a lot more – they are a lot more.

Into the Dalek is a lot more.

At its heart, Into the Dalek has a fascinating, complex moral dimension to it. It’s the question of whether or not you can have a good Dalek; whether it can overcome what is it’s basic nature. The Doctor is, of course, dubious. Why wouldn’t he be? Same goes for the audience. Everyone knows how a Dalek works, everyone knows what a Dalek is. And it’s not like we haven’t seen the idea of a good Dalek before; similar ground has been covered, though not quite dealing with the same aspects.

The episode deliberately plays off parts of the Dalek iconography from across fifty years, to really cement the idea that we don’t have a good Dalek. There’s some subtle symbolism, like the parallels to Dalekand there’s proper, classic scenes – “This door won’t hold forever, but I’ll be damned if I make it easy for them!”. It’s Daleks 101, all serving to reinforce the idea that there isn’t a good Dalek. Everyone expects the inevitable turn around – and there it was. It was even earlier than I expected actually, by a good 5 minutes or so – there isn’t a good Dalek.

But Into the Dalek is smarter than that. “Good” isn’t a matter of what side you’re on, it’s who you are. A Dalek isn’t something that kills and hates the good guys, it’s a thing that kills and hates. The big point of the Dalek is hatred. And they couldn’t take that away. They tried so hard but they couldn’t. The Dalek was still full of hatred – it was pointed in a different direction, sure, but it was still a Dalek. Everything else? It’s as Dalek as they come.

It’s the hatred that makes a Dalek, it’s the hatred that makes something evil. And it’s whether you rise above it that counts.

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Which brings us quite neatly onto the Doctor. Is he a good man? I don’t know. But I do know that Peter Capaldi is one hell of a Doctor.

I’m on the record as having said that my favourite Doctor is the Sixth. He’s still the Doctor, he’s still compassionate, he’s still a hero – but he’s an alien hero. He’s different, and he’s not all that easy to understand. Sometimes it won’t be clear what he’s doing or why, but he will always come through. Yes, he might be abrasive, but he’s saving your life. If your feelings get a little hurt, well, better sad than dead. And that applies very much to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. (6 x 2 = 12, after all.)

Peter Capaldi acts this fantastically. He is very, very good. I’d give a standout scene, but frankly I’d just end up listing them. The opening, where he forces Journey Blue to put down her gun, stop threatening him, and say please. All the brilliant one liners, the pithy humour, the sarcasm.

But he’s more than just that. There’s some real poignant and introspective moments here, which really make the story worth its salt.

“You are a good Dalek.”

Peter Capaldi really, really sells this part of the plot. The sheer contempt in his voice when talking about the “Good Dalek”, which begins hope and wonder when he thinks it’s possible… and the quiet, introspective sadness and revulsion when a Dalek looks into his soul and sees hatred.

That’s how you do a new and interesting take on the Daleks. By looking at them, and looking at what they mean. That’s when you find ways to make them continually relevant. And that gives us brilliant, brilliant stories like Into the Dalek.

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Clara is continuing to soar to new heights as well. When I first watched Jenna Coleman in the role (in another Dalek episode, no less) I thought that she might eventually become my favourite companion of the new series. In series 7B, however, Clara didn’t really get the focus she deserved, for one reason or another, which was something of a shame.

But that’s very clearly changing now. The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.

Plus, Clara is a lot more fun to watch now. That sequence at the start with Danny Pink? Wonderful stuff, and very funny too. Samuel Anderson played the part really well, and there’s a lot of promise to the character, I’m interested to see where it goes. Loved his lines about the reading. I feel a kindred spirit.

Finally, the direction. It was really wonderful here. I loved the way they’d intercut scenes with flashbacks – it made Clara and Danny’s conversation a lot funnier, and gave quite a bit of impact to the Doctor meeting the Dalek by holding it off a little longer. The whole thing looked amazing throughout. Spaceship battles at the start? Fantastic. Inside of a Dalek? Brilliant. Exploding Daleks? Wonderful. It was probably the best set of Dalek fight scenes across the past ten years.

As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Bar the 50th, it’s probably the best Doctor Who episode since 2012. Now, it wasn’t perfect, no – the scene with Missy in the middle jars a little, for example – but it’s pretty bloody good.

I’m going to give it a 9/10. In part, that’s because I’m saving the 10 – I’m confident that this series is going to keep getting better…


Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Deep Breath

doctor who review deep breath peter capaldi twelfth doctor jenna coleman clara oswald vastra strax jenny steven moffat

You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again. There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.

Regeneration is a tricky old thing, isn’t it? It’s all well and good to say that life depends upon change and renewal, but it can be pretty weird to see a new Doctor in the role.

When Christopher Eccleston regenerated, I had only been watching the show for about two episodes, so I didn’t really get what was going on. When David Tennant regenerated, I was generally okay with it; I got the concept, and I thought he’d had a good run. With Matt Smith, it’d been quite a surprise, and I thought it was a bit of a shame – I think his last year wasn’t really as good as it could have been.

I like the fact that the show changes. I like that every few years, Doctor Who completely reinvents itself, and you end up with something new. I think it’s brilliant – it’s how it’s lasted 50 years, after all. So I’m never going to begrudge the show a change, though I might be a bit trepidant about it.

But there was no need for any trepidance here, was there? It was fantastic.

The most important thing about this episode was, obviously, to introduce Peter Capaldi. That’s the real job of it. And I think, on the whole, it did pretty well. The opening with the addled, confused Doctor was quite funny; I think maybe it was extended for a little too long (it’s about 25 minutes before he starts to settle down) but as a sort of tradition, it’s quite nice. And then after that, you’ve just got so many quality scenes with Capaldi – there’s the one with the tramp (it’s the next pigbin Josh!), his bantering with Clara in the restaurant, and the moment where they meet the robots (“Dormant. Hopefully.”) Loved that.

I think he really comes into his own though towards the end, especially where he offers the robot a drink. That moment I loved, and I felt like the new Doctor was really here. There he is; calm, collected, and with a cold, steely ruthlessness to him. And then the ambiguity surrounding the robots death, and just how involved the Doctor was with it. Did he intimidate the robot into committing suicide, or actually push him out himself?

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Companions! Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Clara was excellent here. Generally, I liked her over the last year, but I would certainly concede that she wasn’t the most well used or characterised. It’s really nice to see that changing here, and letting her come into her own a bit more. I’ve already said how I enjoyed her scene with the Doctor in the restaurant, but I think if I had to choose her best moment of the episode, it was where she was talking to the robot. Clara really held her own there; it was a well-written scene, with some pretty good acting to hold it up.

And Vastra and Jenny! Wow. I must admit, I am not normally a fan. I’m on the record as being totally bewildered by why they’re so popular, but I really, really liked them here. They were fantastic, as was the relationship between them. This was the first time, to me, it actually felt like a real relationship, as opposed to just the subject of a joke. In fact, this was their first appearance without a joke about their relationship – it’s finally grown beyond that. I’d be a lot more open to a spin off with them now. (With regards to the kiss, I did like it, but it might have been nicer if it wasn’t under those circumstances. Or better yet, they did that, and then again afterwards to celebrate or somesuch similar.)

Strax, still not such a fan. A lot of his humour just doesn’t wash with me. Bits of it were funny, but I think the comedy Sontaran is being pushed far too much now. It’d be better if he were played absolutely straight, and the jokes around him came from how serious he was. That’d be better I think. The bit where he was about to kill himself, to stop breathing – that’s the Strax I want to see more of. (Mind you, that was pretty dark, wasn’t it? Quite shocking even.)

The plot held up quite well too I think. In episodes like this, where you’re introducing the new Doctor, you don’t want to overdo it with something particularly complex. It’s best to just let the Doctor deal with something simple, and use the time to focus on characterisation. Still, it was pretty good, wasn’t it? Loved the return of the robots from The Girl in the Fireplace. It’s things like that that make me smile when I’m watching the episodes. Nice little callback.

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It wasn’t perfect though, to be fair. There were some jokes that just weren’t funny – some of the Strax jokes grated, like I already mentioned. The scenes with Clara and Vastra at the beginning, all of that veil stuff… it was just nonsense, wasn’t it? Trying to imply that Clara was an impostor, but really it’s about how much they trust her, and… nah, load of old nonsense really. I just don’t get how that’s meant to fit into things at all. Well acted though, from all involved.

But, on the topic of perfect, there was one thing in the episode which damn near was. That phone call, at the end. I knew it was coming – I’d read about it months ago, and I remembered about it half way through. When I first found out about it, I was ready to come along and whinge about it on tumblr, but I’m glad I didn’t. I hate being wrong in public, after all. It was really nice, and lovely to see Matt there. It felt like a passing of the baton in a way his regeneration didn’t exactly. It’s the same sort of thing as in The Eleventh Hour, when the Atraxi roll through holograms of the different incarnations. Except this goes one better. It really emphasises he’s the same man. And it was really sweet, too.

So overall, that’s a really good episode. It did brilliantly setting up Peter Capaldi, though it did have some faults. I think I’ll give it an 8/10 – it gets better with rewatches.

Note: Despite being very specific about leaving these old reviews mostly unedited, in terms of their content at least, there were a couple of lines in here that really grated with me when re-reading this piece in 2018 that I removed. 


Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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