Series 8, Episode 2
Into the Dalek
Maybe the episode’s theatrical release is to blame for this, but “Deep Breath” didn’t feel as much like a series premiere as it did a Doctor Who movie, the sequel to which we would get in a few years. And so throughout this past week, I had to periodically remind myself that we are truly in the midst of a brand new season of Doctor adventures and that Saturday night would bring another spanking new story.
Episode 2 took us “Into the Dalek” and further into the state of our latest regeneration’s psyche. Moffat sees no point on holding out on us anymore, re: the fascist children of Skaro. They figured memorably into the series 7 premiere (perhaps most so when precious flower Rory Williams tried shushing one) and here they are again – only the second villain that Twelve has faced.
Their run-in happens after the Doctor rescues Journey Blue, a pilot whose craft lost contact with its command ship in the middle of a firefight. The Doctor is concerned enough to make a pit stop on the way to delivering Clara the coffee he promised back in “Deep Breath” to materialize the TARDIS around Journey, saving her life, but incapable (or unwilling) to show her much compassion about the death of her brother Kai, who was strapped in next to her. Understandably rankled by the imperious gentleman in front of her, Journey keeps her weapon raised and demands that he deliver her back to command. Silver fox or drunken giraffe, the Doctor’s stance on guns is never going to change. (“Not like that, not like that. Get it right!” or, in other terms, “Drop the gun and say the magic word.”)
The Aristotle is parked in an asteroid belt, shored up against a Dalek invasion. Colonel Blue (Hey, it’s Tyres from Spaced!) is taking no chances and wants to shoot and dump the stranger, but it’s the Doctor’s name that saves his life. There’s a patient in need…and on wheels. His services are needed. There’s just one problem: Twelve’s bedside manor is already questionable. Now he’s going to Patch Adams a Dalek? This’ll go well.
He may not be the warmest life form on the Aristotle, but the Doctor is smart enough to know when to call in reinforcements. Before tackling the problem before him, he swings over to Coal Hill to pick up his “some other word.” Not because she’s an expert in Dalek anatomy, but because Clara might have the answer to the question that’s plaguing him. “Clara, be my pal. Tell me: am I a good man?” And if there was ever a time to be sure of his righteousness, it’s right before the Doctor willingly dives straight into the heart of his greatest enemy. Okay, so there’s another problem: Clara isn’t sure either.
That’s the essence of Clara though. She’s sticking around to find out. She doesn’t seem troubled by her inability to reassure him. It’s enough for her that he’s even asking the question. Like Kim said last week, this series is finally introducing us to the true Clara Oswald. And she’s magnificent. Last season never made a convincing case for why Clara wouldn’t move right into the TARDIS, especially when she was unfortunately saddled with an afterthought of a Doctor crush in the wretched Christmas special. Now we know. “Control freak” is the blunt term for a person who wants to maintain control of her life and takes comfort in being the decider. Rose Tyler was bored and ran away. Martha Jones was smitten and didn’t want to miss a thing. Donna Noble was escaping the life she saw so clearly laid out in front of her. Amy Pond was alone and confused until traveling the galaxy helped her to know her own heart. Clara Oswald wants to see “something awesome,” but she also wants to go from being an okay teacher to a great one and to have a few at Cathy’s going away thing and to flirt with the new guy in the hallway. Maybe our eventual goodbye to Clara will come once she’s seen enough, but that day won’t be coming anytime soon. How do I know? From the look on her face when the Doctor shows her the malfunctioning creature. “A Dalek so damaged it turned good. How do I resist?” That face says, “that’s my guy.”
Clara, the Doctor, Journey, and two soldier-babysitters strap into the Aristotle’s molecular nanoscaler, not to be lasagna but to be miniaturized so that they can be inserted directly into the ailing Dalek to see what’s what. “A fantastic idea for a movie,” the Doctor says (1966’s Fantastic Voyage), and also good enough for a Tom Baker episode and a pretty decent Wizards of Waverly Place. “Slide, slide, slippedly slide,” Coolio might say, wherever he is.
There’s a run-in with the Dalek’s antibodies, a security force discovered by ill-fated military man Ross, who clearly hadn’t seen Fantastic Voyage or even Osmosis Jones for that matter. The rest of the group meet “Ross” again in the Dalek’s feeding tube; the Doctor takes this opportunity to make a rather crass joke about his death. The Doctor is never in his most personable mode when the Daleks are nearby. They bring out a single-mindedness in him that threatens to mow down everything in its path. (Though he still finds the time to name the Dalek – adorably – Rusty.)
The Dalek’s single-mindedness meanwhile? Nowhere to be found. A trionic radiation leak has been slowly poisoning poor Rusty, expanding its consciousness and giving it new perspective on the universe. “I saw beauty,” it tells the Doctor. “The silence and the cold. I saw worlds burning…I saw more. The birth of a star.” Okay, fine. How exactly does that experience translate to giving up the life of a brutal killing machine? “Resistance is futile,” Rusty declares. “Resistance to what?” “Life returns. Life prevails.” In other words: life, uh, finds a way.
Strap in for the epiphany of a lifetime: wider experience makes people (and Daleks, apparently) more tolerant. You all understand the metaphor – because you’re smart and because that Doctor Who symbolism has never been accused of being subtle.
Unfortunately for our heroes, Rusty’s breech is easily mended with a sonic (“An anticlimax once in a while, it’s good for my hearts.”), leaving the adventurers inside a Dalek who just remembered its true nature and the rest crew of the Aristotle standing guard over the same. What’s worse? Rusty reopens communications with the rest of the Dalek fleet who, if you’ll remember, are surrounding them. Guys, I’m not sure we really thought this through.
So the Doctor skips happily into his fatalistic slump, giving over to his surety of the unchangeable nature of the Daleks. There was no way to “fix” the Dalek without restoring its blood lust. He tried, he failed, whatcha gonna do? “We’re all gonna die in here,” Clara says. “And there’s a little bit of you that’s pleased.” She schools him like he’s the kid in the back of the classroom who’s too cool to care. And suddenly, he gets it. “We can do better.” Someone get this girl a paycheck and – while you’re at it – some nice, cushy benefits.
While it certainly shines a light on some poor planning on his part, let’s acknowledge that the Doctor is confident that Clara will, in fact, “do a clever thing” and save them all. Clara has been kicking so much ass recently; I’m afraid to get used to it. But this episode in particular is wall-to-wall capable ladies, including Gretchen Alyson Carlisle, who sacrifices herself in the name of the mission and after whom the Doctor is going to name “something amazing.” THAT’S the act of a soldier. And you can’t tell me that the Doctor didn’t soften towards them in general in that moment.
Once Clara has rebooted all of Rusty’s memories, the Doctor goes straight to the center of the Dalek, armed with his greatest weapon: his speeches. “I saved your life, Rusty. Now I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to save your soul.” So, to review: the afterlife isn’t a viable concept in Doctor Who, but the soul still is. The Doctor doesn’t want us to be good and brave and open-minded in a bid to get some kind of reward. He wants us to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And if you need the promise of glory and praise for standing up for the people around you, you’re pretty damn weak. And in this moment, the Doctor believes that even a Dalek can access a part of himself that’s kind. (I should also point out here that Aristotle – the philosopher, not the command ship – believed that a body without a soul wasn’t possible. And that all souls, no matter the body, are created equal. *pushes nerd glasses back up nose*) The spirituality of this universe is immediate. Depending on their choices, anyone can become a god or an angel or a giant or a monster in an instant. So the Doctor opens his own mind to Rusty. Which…well…backfires.
“All those years ago when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor but it was just a name. Then I went to Skaro, and then I met you lot and I understood who I was. The Doctor and not the Daleks.”
So many shades of the Ninth Doctor in “Dalek” here. The Daleks usually show up in Doctor Who to hold up a mirror to our hero. He always learns something about himself when he faces them and he rarely likes it. Rusty sees the beauty of the universe inside the Doctor’s vast experience, but he also sees a staunch hatred of his kind, a hatred that Rusty quickly internalizes and puts into action destroying his own fleet. Good for the humans on board, not so great for our Doctor’s emotional well-being. Whatever else he is, the Doctor defines himself by the one thing that he’s not.
Oop. Okay, well. That’s not good.
Clara can’t possibly understand yet just how devastating this is to him, though her knowing half-smile at Journey tells me that she knows there was a point when he would have considered inviting her aboard. The Dalek’s declaration torpedoed that idea pretty completely. This regeneration barely trusts himself on a good day. And there’s something about having a soldier nearby – and whatever added aggression he (however inaccurately) believes will come with her – that scares him to death. Is he still a good man? “I don’t know,” Clara finally answers. “But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point.” And I suddenly realize that Clara doesn’t teach just because she loves it. She does it because she knows there’s someone else in her life who needs a little guidance.
We’ll see how the Doctor’s anti-military policy holds up when Danny Pink eventually joins Team TARDIS. Clara’s new pal and Coal Hill’s finest maths teacher has been officially announced as a companion, to the delight of nice arm enthusiasts everywhere. And complain if you will about Clara being given a love interest as soon as it’s been made clear that the Doctor won’t be filling that position, but at least recognize her GAME.
Danny’s a bit of a mystery in himself. He’s obviously been through something significant that’s still affecting him. He may even have full-on PTSD. The rest of the staff seem intent on calling him a “ladykiller,” a weirdly specific term that rubs him entirely the wrong way. The Journey Blue/Danny Pink parallel wasn’t even left to stand on its own – Clara explicitly pointed out the coincidence to Journey. And by the way, we never did see her brother’s face.
Even in an episode populated by a full Dalek fleet, there’s a bigger badder bitch. Missy makes her second appearance this year after Gretchen sicks the antibodies on herself. As Kim pointed out to me, Gretchen makes it to “heaven,” but Ross, as far as we know, doesn’t. Is it because she CHOSE death and he did not? If so, then that means that the Half-Face Man definitely jumped last week. Let’s keep a close eye on who else ends up at tea time with Missy as the season goes on. One thing’s for sure: fake, evil heaven has a really nice spread.
- “Well, it’s a rollercoaster with you, isn’t it?”
- Danny has a total Mickey-the-Idiot accent.
- I squealed in delight when the Doctor kicked in the TARDIS door. He’s that kind of man.
- The direction of this episode was much more measured than “Deep Breath.” I especially liked the composition of the “Am I a good man?” conversation with the TARDIS console looming in the background.
- “Gun-girl.” “Sort of boss one.”
- Clara’s eyeball blouse proves she’s in the Illuminati with HOV and Bey. WAKE UP AMERICA.
- The protein tube scene was very A New Hope.
- “Also there’s the puns.” *shakes head, exhausted*
- “That means a good Dalek is possible. That’s what we learned today. Isn’t that right, teach?” “Top of the class!”
- “Tell me the truth – is he mad or is he right?” “Hand on my heart, most days he’s both.”
- When the Dalek left to join the others, I wrote in my notes, “Rusty makes dramatic exit.”
- “How do I look?” “Short and sort of roundish but with a good personality and that’s the main thing.” If Jenna Coleman is “roundish,” I give up.
That’s it for this week, poppets. Kim’s got “Robots of Sherwood” duty next week and I hate her a little bit for it. What did you think of “Into the Dalek”? Let us know in the comments!