Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Doctor Who Review: “Into the Dalek”

Lots of spoilers this time, and I assume you’ve seen the episode, so minimal recap.

I loved “Deep Breath” for its characterization and themes, while others couldn’t get past the plot problems. For “Into the Dalek,” it’s the reverse… I loved its plot, but I’m having trouble getting past its theme and character problems. I’ve watched it twice now (and I’ll admit I greatly enjoyed it both times), so I’m able to go a little more in depth with this review. (Ended up pretty long, sorry!)

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review

“Into the Dalek” gives us a badly-damaged Dalek prisoner who wants to destroy the Daleks. The Doctor and company shrink themselves to go inside the Dalek and repair it. Shout-out to “The Invisible Enemy,” the Fourth Doctor episode where the miniaturized Doctor goes inside his own body to kill an infection! We’ve also got shades of “Dalek,” with the Doctor facing down a single Dalek prisoner, “Genesis of the Daleks,” with the Fourth Doctor having the power to change Dalek history (via two cables he may or may not plunge together!), and “Asylum of the Daleks,” with the one good Dalek. (I must spoil all your hopes and dreams… There’s no reference to Oswin. The Dalek isn’t Oswin and nobody mentions it.)

All of those are episodes I enjoyed, and “Into the Dalek” just lifts some inspiration and Easter eggs from them to enrich the story. The acting was great and the different elements played together beautifully. The basic theme, of the Doctor being just like a Dalek, has been brought up in basically every New Who episode featuring Daleks, but I actually believed it in this one. I believed that look the Doctor gives Rusty at the end, when the Doctor knows he’s failed.

But here’s my first problem with the theme. According to the definitions of the episode, the Doctor didn’t fail. From the very beginning, everyone’s amazed that there’s a “good” Dalek. What’s their evidence that Rusty is good? He wants to destroy the Daleks. At the end, the Doctor has “failed” by making him want to destroy all the Daleks. Why is it good at the beginning but bad at the end? That’s not all Rusty wants, he feels a desire for beauty and life in the universe and I do believe there was a potential to be good because of that, but the episode’s logic is broken.

Moving on. The episode asks several times, “Is the Doctor a good man?” and we’re supposed to wonder. This Doctor is cold. He doesn’t stop to worry about one man’s death, he doesn’t console the survivors. But are we supposed to worry because of that? I don’t want to be told he’s not a good man just because he makes hard decisions and keeps on going after a death, or because he’s not “nice.” I don’t want to be told he’s bad because he has no social graces. I don’t have those either. Plenty of wonderful people don’t, whether they’re neurodivergent or socially awkward or what-have-you. (Also it’s another example of the Doctor and Sherlock becoming more and more the same badly-written character.) This may just be worry-mongering on my part, because we do see the Doctor’s hatred and we wonder, after the events of “Deep Breath,” how far he’s willing to go. It’s not just his coldness that’s supposed to make us wonder, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with how it’s being done. I love the Doctor for the fact that he cares so much about people, even though he really kind of dislikes most individual humans, because I’m exactly the same way.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Journey Blue

Next problem. This episode gives us a badass woman of color, a soldier named Journey Blue. She is SO AWESOME. She’s angry, we can see her anger spilling out all over the place, but she’s angry because she cares so much. She’s just seen her brother die, and in a war against the Daleks, I’m guessing he’s not the first casualty. She’s young and explosive, but she’s smart and strong and capable. There’s a hope in her, as evidenced by her wanting to go with the Doctor. I love her SO MUCH.

The problem is this: I don’t generally feel qualified to talk about racism because I haven’t been discriminated against, so I try to just support those who know what they’re talking about. But I felt really uncomfortable with what happened to Journey, particularly in her opening scene. She rightly demanding to be returned to her ship, but the Doctor forces her to be submissive to him before he’ll do it. I don’t know if “racist!” is really the right word because the Doctor has a history of disliking soldiers, and he probably would’ve acted like that toward any soldier pointing a gun at him, but the scene itself was almost squicky to me because Moffat has a bad history with all kinds of representation. He makes it kind of look like he’s giving us what we asked for, but then he plays it for a laugh and/or a (possibly inadvertent) dig, like the time he had the Doctor make a joke comparing Mickey to a horse.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Danny PinkI’m venturing onto hypothetical ground here, but it’s even worse because of the new companion, Danny Pink. I love him too! However, I do not love Danny/Clara, simply because he’s being introduced just like every other male subcompanion — he’s sweet on the “real” companion. Seriously? Again? We’re doing this again? And why is everybody always flirting on this show? I guess maybe since Capaldi said he wouldn’t flirt with the companion, they wanted to bring in a separate flirting interest, which I guess is okay. It still annoys me that it’s the same thing over and over. But anyway, I really like him, and I like that he’s an ex-soldier, and I like that he’s so sweet and funny and awkward and yet has such a magnetic presence. Despite his method of arrival being the same, he himself is different from every other companion we’ve had, and he’s going to add something important to the dynamic.

The reason THAT bothers me is that, at this point, it looks like the basic difference between him and Journey Blue is that Clara likes him. So, he gets to be “elevated” to companion via Clara’s approval, but Journey doesn’t. That’s entirely conjecture, of course! I have no idea how this is going to play out, and I have every reason to hope that it’ll be a complex and nuanced story. And I didn’t miss how often they said Journey Blue’s name or how much attention she got or both “Pink” and “Blue” — I’m betting she appears again, and I’m hoping she gets another chance. If Clara does leave at the end of this season, I’d love to see Journey and Danny as Capaldi’s Tardis crew.

A few little asides from my notes:

  • I love the shot of the Doctor and Clara walking into the Tardis at the beginning. Don’t really know why, except it really felt like walking into the Tardis, being in a tiny cupboard and then going into this tinier box and then being in a huge spaceship.
  • For once it doesn’t look like Clara’s crammed into a little girl’s clothes! Are those UFOs on her shirt? Would wear.
  • Everyone’s accents were hard to understand, but easier on the second watch.
  • I’ve got my money on Missy being a crazy Tardis from the future. Not explicating that here for space reasons, but after a few more episodes, if I’m still convinced, I’ll lay out the theory. 😉

So, what did you think of “Into the Dalek”? Where are we headed, and am I overreacting?

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11 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: “Into the Dalek”

  1. Are the Daleks monsters or really , really bad ( not to say evil) people? The episode flip flops between depicting them as either. If Rusty is a person , the Doctor brainwashing him to think like the Doctor is a pretty despicable act. It’s only excuse in show, is as you have pointed out, to agree with Doctor equals good. In other science fiction television massive brain wipes of that order are usually performed by the villains or as a punishment equivalent to death sentence.

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    1. Wow, good observation! It seemed to me like Rusty would be one way, the “stars are beautiful” way, except for the Dalek programming box keeping him from remembering and feeling that stuff. So, the Doctor was trying to help remove brainwashing, rather than vice versa. It was radiation allowing Rusty to fee it, though, so maybe that was the imposition and the Doctor really did brainwash him. Either way, it is on a high order of horror in most shows/books to do a brainwipe like that, and I hadn’t thought about the mixed messages here between being monsters or bad people, about where exactly the evil is coming from. That’s really interesting, thanks for commenting!

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        1. It seams to me it is the Doctor’s direct download of his emotions into Rustys brain that changes Rusty. The change makes Rusty take up the Doctors personality. That is why the change at the end is shown as dissapointing – if the Doctor was not deep down destructive, Rusty would not have been either as Rusty is now just another echo of the Doctor.
          Perhaps the Doctors self perseption as a killler is why he rejected the soldier as a companion.

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          1. Yes — the thought that mind-melding with Rusty would turn him good shows remarkable hubris on the Doctor’s part. I’m actually kind of glad it didn’t work, although I still don’t understand the difference between “good” wanting to kill the Daleks at the beginning and “bad” wanting to do it at the end.

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  2. Very interesting review. I had the same complaint about the Dalek being “good” at the beginning and “bad” at the end. I like the Missy speculation. I think it’s part of being a Whovian that we see a woman in a garden and the next thought is: “Insane transmogrified Tardis.” I’ve got my own crazy theories about this series.

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  3. Missy as crazy TARDIS from the future! I like it! Most of the rumors I’ve heard so far are that Missy is the Mistress, a regeneration of the Master or something to that effect. I am also liking Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and I don’t mind that he’s turned a little colder. I wonder if perhaps that will soften as his character is developed. I do think it’s a shame that Moffat thinks the show needs a romance to be interesting. Saving all of space and time isn’t interesting enough? I look forward to hearing your Missy theory in full! Cheers!

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    1. Yep, I’ve heard the Master a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was it… So I kinda hope they don’t do that. Surprise me! 🙂 My friend Gene’O is also blogging through the season and suggests she could actually be an ally, not a villain, and I think that would be pretty interesting too; (http://parttimemonster.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/doctor-who-review-series-8-episode-2-into-the-dalek/)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. First off, I think Peter Capaldi is doing a great job of taking over Matt Smith’s take on the Doctor.

    He’s different and yet relatable to the 11th Doctor.

    As to the first two episodes, I enjoyed “Deep Breath” – as it was a great introduction (though I still felt it under-performed as a first episode in introducing a new doctor. “The Eleventh Hour” was much better in my opinion.)

    “Into the Dalek” was okay, I guess. Just a normal Doctor Who episode – fascinating as a story but I’m still expecting more out of Moffat. There were some really mind-twisting episodes from the Matt Smith era, so I’m really hopeful this series will reach that status.

    Regarding the “racism” issue, I honestly didn’t find anything wrong with the portrayal of Journey Blue or Danny Pink. And I think that if we stop to ponder whether an aspect of a character’s attitude or why certain actions appear submissive towards coloured people, we’ll be losing the essence of the whole series.

    In my opinion, one shouldn’t intricately scrutinize all the suspected subtle hints. Unless something screams out as being racist or politically incorrect, then you’d spend more time trying to prove something that -probably – doesn’t even exist 🙂

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    1. Yep, I’m loving Capaldi too. 🙂

      That’s the thing, though… I’m not going to be peering at every scene from now on to find hidden racism, but this DID scream “problematic” to me. There’s a time when it wouldn’t have… I didn’t bat an eyelash at the Mickey joke, had no idea it was problematic, because Mickey was such a dumb character. But it was explained to me how they were treating him basically as a pet, and even though I think Mickey was dumb, the situation as a whole was really problematic for some people and that joke was hurtful. So, now I’m more aware of the kinds of things that bother people.

      Anyway, it is pretty minor. I hope it’s nothing (and that no one else was uncomfortable!), I just really don’t trust Moffat at all. I do think both these characters are a step in the right direction and I’m hopeful. I just feel like a lot of times Moffat starts off well, thinking he’s “fixed” something about representation, and then crashes and burns with how it’s actually done.

      Thanks for weighing in, and here’s hoping for those mindbending episodes! 🙂

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