Another fucking Dalek episode – Doctor Who, Series 8, Episode 2

WHAT happens when you cross Doctor Who with Fantastic Voyage? You get ‘The Invisible Enemy’ from Tom Baker’s stint, and a lot of bad. Unfortunately, the current showrunners decided to do Fantastic Voyage again with ‘Into the Dalek’, achieving rather similar results. Peter Capaldi’s second adventure as the Doctor – another fucking Dalek episode – is a strangely insubstantial affair with lots of corridor scrambling, electronic yelling and a moral dilemma that’s already been resolved, several times, about three series ago.

If you’ve seen the aforementioned Fantastic Voyage – and even if you haven’t – you should probably have a decent idea of the central premise. The Doctor meets up with a crew of motley wallpaper-thin ‘rebels’ in a hospital ship who are all pinned down by a superior Dalek ship. Turns out they’ve managed to capture an adrift-in-space Dalek that, in its damaged state, has “turned good”. Clara briefly flirts with a soldier-turned-teacher named Danny Pink before promptly getting whisked off by the Timelord to get shrunk down into the Dalek to “fix” it.

Any episode that contends with the (a)morality or identity of Daleks usually sounds like a good idea. Trouble is it’s a very volatile recipe – in 2005’s ‘Dalek’, it worked very well; less so in 2007’s ‘Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks’. ‘Into the Dalek’ thankfully takes its cues from the former episode but adds little to the mix; there’s even a twist on a line from that when the Dalek (christened ‘Rusty’) tells the Doctor, “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.” The question the episode centrally poses is: ‘What is a ‘good’ Dalek?’ Despite the wordplay, the answer is ultimately unsurprising (it involves murder). A Dalek’s insides also apparently resemble industrial corridors and are incredibly convenient to run around in.

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Unfortunately, the Daleks are a Doctor Who enemy that have been done to death in nearly every configuration under the sun. Though the production has thankfully nixed the Power Rangers pepper pots of ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and so on, there’s really nothing new on offer here. Rusty’s “I saw the birth of a star” speech is, at its core, similar to Dalek Sec’s gibbering loony speech about the Nightmare Child. The episode feels like an odd amalgamation of good and bad Dalek episodes mushed together into an unseemly disjointed mess. Perhaps it’s impossible at this point to salvage any shred of integrity in the Daleks as villains but, in the writers’ defence, there’s not a whole lot to work with.

Meanwhile, Capaldi’s Doctor still seems uncertain of his identity, both in terms of the performance and the character himself. Capaldi hasn’t quite managed to punch his stamp on the role as we might have expected, despite a few moments of stone-faced coldness. “Am I a good man?” he asks Clara, earnestly. Clara says, “I don’t know.” You don’t, Clara, but we do. This has been a recurring secondary character theme for, essentially, the entire revival. The whole build-up for the retconning nightmare of ‘Day of the Doctor’ was centred squarely on this premise; the only difference being that episode and those like it didn’t have to flat-out tell us what the conflict was. It smacks of manufactured inner turmoil in the absence of actual, involved characterisation. The Doctor openly doubting his ethics does not automatically invest us in his struggle.

Elsewhere, Jenna Coleman is still mildly smirking through all her lines ensuring that we as an audience feel absolutely no peril for the entourage’s predicament. From the supporting cast, Samuel Anderson as Mr. Pink is given next to no screen-time beyond some awkward rom-com flirting; Zawe Ashton as Journey Blue (yes, really) looks intense and little else, while Laura dos Santos is utterly anonymous until making a decisive action near the end, thereby reminding us that she’s still in the episode.

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Ben Wheatley’s direction is unobtrusive and engaging when Phil Ford and Steven Moffat’s script isn’t, giving a sufficient sense of claustrophobia to the Dalek’s metallic insides. Ford and Moffat do come out with a few killer lines and exchanges; one prominent example being the Doctor, scrambling to think of a solution to their quandary, saying he will show Rusty “something that will change its mind forever.” When prompted with a “what?” he replies, without missing a beat, “Not a clue.” It’s that sharpness of writing that recent stories have missed and we need some more.

Overall, ‘Into the Dalek’ isn’t a disastrous sophomore outing for Capaldi. After the meditative pace of ‘Deep Breath’, it was wise to have a more dynamic adventure here. Unfortunately it doesn’t have enough weight in its central foci to stand on its own legs, relying too heavily on past episodes and themes. With another yawnsome cameo from Mysterious Overarching Doctor Who Woman #23, we have to wonder how many – if any – new tricks Moffat and co actually have left. Still, early days.

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