Doctor Who S8E2: "Into the Dalek"

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"Is he mad or is he right?"

"Hand on my heart...most days, he's both!"

[Caution: may contain spoilers]

TL;DR: 6/10. An enjoyable rehash of several different old story premises in a somewhat coherent whole, but one that doesn't really provide any new insights.

I feel like I should briefly explain how I rate things, first. It's not that complicated, really, and not very scientific. If I enjoyed it, despite its flaws, it will get at least a 6. Anything below that was too flawed to even enjoy emotionally. This distinction is especially necessary in the Moffat era, where many stories feel good but don't stand up to any real scrutiny.

And so it is here. To some degree, we can shorten this review by reference to my post the other day, Boredom of the Daleks. Nothing in this story changed my mind about Dalek stories in general. No new ground was covered here--just a slight re-arrangement of the deck chairs.

Let me get some of my real issues with this story out of the way right from the top:

  • Totally derivative story. Dalek turning against Dalek actually makes up the plot of several classic stories going back to the Troughton era. Miniturization for quasi-medical purposes? The Invisibile Enemy (1978). The Doctor facing off against an injured Dalek? Dalek (2005). The Doctor dropping his companion off somewhere in Scotland and buggering off? The Hand of Evil (1976).
  • Sexism is getting absurd. The Doctor should not be making comments about his companion's hips, or age, or...anything. What the hell?
  • The Doctor's sudden disdain for soldiers seems wildly out of character. Two of his best friends were Brigadier Alasdair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (aka Kate's dad), British Army seconded to UNIT; and Leela, a warrior and huntress. He didn't always agree with their thought processes or methods, but he didn't reject them as friends for being what they were. Furthermore, he's finally reconciled himself to his own period as a soldier. Why is he suddenly rejecting a possible companion on that ground?!
  • Some of the technobabble surrounding the Dalek's cerebral center was kind of absurd. Why would there be visible-light indicators of memory cells being suppressed in an area where there would be no reasonable expectation of anyone ever seeing them? Why would there be hatches, come to that? It's not like maintenance personnel are shrunk down to wander around inside a Dalek as a matter of course.

Now, of course, being pre-disposed to dislike this story as a Dalek story in the first place, the bar was set very low, which made it easy for me to find aspects of it I actually enjoyed.

Peter Capaldi, for example, is absolutely owning the role. The complaints I have above with the Doctor's characterization owe nothing to how Capaldi is playing the part and everything to the words being put in his mouth by the writers.

Jenna Coleman's performance was rather uneven, I felt. Clara, however, continues to be a much more interesting character paired with Capaldi's Doctor than she ever was with Smith's. One thing hasn't changed, though: the Doctor really does need a companion around to slap sense into him (sometimes not metaphorically).

Samuel Anderson's new character, Danny Pink, may turn out to be a welcome addition after all. I was sort-of dreading the introduction of an actual romantic interest for Clara, but so far, I kinda like this guy.

The guest cast, though...well, some of them had moments, but for the most part I thought they were pretty much bog standard guest characters. There was not enough story here to give characters real dimension. When Doctor Who is being brilliant, they can build an entire scenario with truly believable characters you care about in 45 minutes. This is not that story.

Redeeming the story somewhat is a bit of monologue, where the Doctor is explaining to Rusty the Dalek how he became who he is today. It's a bit disingenuous--Terry Nation didn't really think of The Daleks as a story that would be a turning point for this strange new character that had graced Britain's screens. Rather, it was recognized that The Doctor, as presented in late 1963 and early 1964, was kind of a bastard and needed to be made more sympathetic.

However it came about, though, it's very much true that the Doctor starts to become more interested in the fates of others with that story. He would still have a long way to go before anyone would really think of him as an active hero in a story, but from about midway through The Daleks, there's a general trend toward...well, humanizing the character.

Into the Dalek, while showing us all the ways the Doctor has kind-of reverted to that acerbic personality of his oldest days, also humanizes him in a different way: the Doctor has a personal failure, caused by his tragic flaw. Oh, he succeeds in his basic mission, and people are saved and hooray...but his success tastes like ashes and leaves him feeling like crap. I've said I'm a bit tired of deconstructing the Doctor, and I am, but there's also nothing interesting about knowing the hero will succeed, both objectively and subjectively, every time.

All in all, despite the promise that this season would slow things down, this episode felt once again like a jumble of too many ideas and not enough time to explore them. It feels rushed on every level--not tense, just rushed, like if they move along fast enough, we won't notice the problems. There's been an awful lot of that in the Moffat Era of Doctor Who...but that's a separate rant I shall rant another day.