Sunday, 31 August 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

Doctor: 'No, you don't understand. You can't put me in there.'

Since Doctor Who's return in 2005, the second-episode slot has become something of a poisoned chalice for writers. For every 'The Fires of Pompeii' there's been a plethora of lesser monstrosities, ready to stink the place up and put an end to our new-season enthusiasm. How did 'Into the Dalek' fare? Was it another 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' or did it hit the heady heights of 'Day of the Moon'?

For me, it probably fell somewhere between. In terms of Dalek stories, it was no 'Genesis of the Daleks,' but neither was it a 'Victory of the Daleks' (AKA 'Dear Lord, What an Absolute Stinker'). The problem with Dalek episodes is that they always have that faint whiff of the familiar about them. At least tonight's episode tried to do something different—it went inside a Dalek, gave us unprecedented access to its inner workings (which looked suspiciously like the interior of my loft), and attempted to answer the question: is there such a thing as a good Dalek? The answer, it seems, is no... and also yes (with caveats.)

By design, Daleks are unable to experience positive emotions. Even with Rusty's brain chemistry affected by leaking radiation, his cortex vault was still able to eradicate all rogue happy thoughts. With those memories now restored (by Clara pressing some conveniently placed large red buttons), and Rusty able to conceptualise both beauty and divinity again, what will this mean for the Daleks? Will Rusty try to bring them down from within? If so, with Rusty's own path to expanded consciousness seemingly too complex to replicate on a larger scale, what does the crazy pepperpot have in mind?

This seems to be a season of self-examination for the Doctor. Is he a good man? Clara seems to think that he tries, but it was his failures which saved them tonight. His hatred is what fuelled Rusty's characteristically loud and vulgar Dalek rampage. The Doctor practically pleaded with Rusty to see something beyond unbridled animosity, but all Rusty's newly expanded consciousness was able to see was a superior Dalek. Presumably, this is what the Doctor fears. That despite his achievements, his methods both reveal and condemn him.

Sadly, the the supporting cast were rather bland, which resulted in a couple of the emotional beats falling flat. Whether that was because of the quality of the actors, the quality of the script (in places), or both, I'm not altogether sure. A lot of the deaths tonight had no emotional resonance, and Gretchen's was only memorable, not because of her sacrifice, but because she ended up in heaven with Missy. What's actually going on in heaven, I've no idea, but it has cakes and tea, so, whatever is it, I'm all for it.

As for Capaldi, he's settling in just fine. He was faultless tonight. It's amazing how much gravitas Capaldi brings to what could so easily be bright and breezy dialogue. There's something about his delivery which sets him apart. Even when he's joking it's hard to tell: hence him having to explain his 'bolt hole' joke. And I'm loving what they're doing with his character and Clara. Whereas Clara and Eleven had a close, often flirtatious relationship, the vibe between Clara and Twelve feels more like a partnership. Clara gives as good as she gets, and Jenna's getting some great dialogue to riff off this season. I don't know whether having a new Doctor has inspired the writers, but the show's so damned quotable at the moment.

At first, I thought Clara's reaction to Danny Pink seemed a little overly enthusiastic, but then I remembered her locking lips with Eleven back in 'The Snowmen'. I really like Danny. Yes, the single tear was a little cliché, but his social ineptitude made for some adorable exchanges with Clara. I like that he comes with acres of baggage, but why the discrepancy between his public persona and his true character? I want to believe that the civilian he killed will turn out to be somebody we don't know, but this is Doctor Who, so I won't be pinning my hopes on it. If this is Clara's last season, I really hope the two of them end up together. And not trapped at Impossible Girl Bay in some crappy alternate dimension, or stuck in the past with Hitler—let's just have a normal happy ending, okay? OKAY?

Other Thoughts:

—The Doctor's sonic screwdriver really does fix everything.

—Not the most original premise (with inspiration and tips of the hat to Fantastic Voyage, Inner Space, 'The Invisible Enemy', and Honey I Shrunk the Kids), but nicely done, and cleverly enshrouded in a unique Dalek wrap.

—It pains me to say it, but next week's episode looks less than fantastic. I truly hope Gatiss pulls it out of the bag, but his patchy form is worrying.

—Dalek stories are without doubt better when they focus on just one Dalek.

—Will the consequences of Rusty returning to the fleet have repercussions for later in the season, or are they simply setup for a possible future episode?

—Even though I really enjoyed this episode, when Rusty and his pals started screaming 'exterminate!', I felt the sudden need to smash something.

Quotes:

Blue: 'It was smaller on the outside?'
Doctor: 'Yeah, it's a bit more exciting when you go the other way.'

Doctor: 'Clara. Be my pal and tell me... am I a good man?'

Doctor: 'This is Clara, not my assistant, she's... some other word.'
Clara: 'I'm his carer.'
Doctor: 'Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don't have to.'

Doctor: 'Don't be lasagne.'

Blue: 'How close do we have to get?'
Doctor: 'Well, you know, we're never going to insert a thermometer from up here.'

Blue: 'I thought you were saving him!'
Doctor: 'He was dead already. I was saving us.'

Blue: 'Is Ross here?'
Doctor: 'Yeah, top layer if you want to say a few words.'

Doctor: 'Are you all right back there? It's a bit narrow, isn't it?'
Clara: 'Any remarks about my hips will not be appreciated.'
Doctor: 'Oh, your hips are fine. You're built like a man.'
Clara: 'Thanks.'

Doctor: 'An anticlimax once in a while is good for my hearts.'

Doctor: 'Clara Oswald, do I really not pay you?'
Clara: 'You couldn't afford me.'

Doctor: 'You need to go up there, find that moment, and reawaken it.'
Clara: 'Me?'
Doctor: 'Yes, you. Good idea.'

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