‘Doctor Who’ Series 8 Episode 2: ‘Into the Dalek’ review

It was with a mixture of feelings that we approached Into the Dalek.

On the one hand, the presence of Phil ‘The Waters of Mars’ Ford on the credits was enough to pique the interest. On the other – well, stories about miniaturisation are always a little shlocky, aren’t they?

Whether it’s in TV and movies in general – and there won’t be a review of ‘Into the Dalek’ that doesn’t mention Fantastic Voyage – or in Doctor Who (in particular ‘Planet of Giants’, ‘The Invisible Enemy’, ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’), the minute you miniaturise your main characters is the minute you enter B movie territory.

In the event, ‘Into the Dalek’ doesn’t eschew many of the clichés of the genre; but it has enough spikiness in the telling to deliver something painted in shades of gunmetal grey rather than technicolour. Essentially a tale that puts the Doctor’s pacifism under the microscope – and literally cuts him down to size – what powers the action, whether at Coal Hill School, on board the TARDIS or on Command Ship Aristotle, is the question of whether there is such a thing as a ‘good’ soldier.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Zawe Ashton Michael Smiley

On the side of the defence is, ironically, Rusty The Dalek – with those initials, let’s just call him RTD – who professes a very unDaleky belief in beauty and creation. On the side of the prosecution is the Doctor: still struggling to intuit if he is, or isn’t, a good man. (Answer: yes. Mostly. Probably.)

It’s a morality play couched as an enemy invasion thriller, and it saves its snarkiest swipes for the people who march around with guns. Identifying himself – perhaps wrongly, given how the episode ends – with civilians, the Doctor observes that crying is ‘how we communicate’ with the military. Ouch.

There’s no room for empty reassurances here. Even the protein-harvested Ross is dismissed as just a surface layer of gunk. Almost everyone is broken: the Dalek, most obviously, but also newcomer Danny Pink – haunted, it is suggested, by an act of unlawful killing – and Journey Blue, forcing herself back into action after having witnessed her brother’s death.

Doctor Who Samuel Anderson Danny Pink

If so much of this is sounding like 2005’s ‘Dalek’, then, certainly, the shadow of the former story looms large over ‘Into the Dalek’, even bequeathing it its best line: ‘You are a good Dalek’.

Ford and Moffat may be embracing Terrance Dicks’s mantra that the best ideas are honestly stolen. But in an age of moral relativism, and in a series which believes wholeheartedly in the power of redemption, it makes sense that the programme should return to the idea that even the embodiment of evil might have a soul.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek Doctor 2

There’s a grittiness and a deliberate moral ambiguity at the heart of ‘Into the Dalek’ which makes it rather more than shlock, which is not to say that it succeeds on every level. For this reviewer at least, if there’s one thing that can spoil a perfectly decent Doctor Who story, it’s a bit of gratuitous gunking.

Phil Ford presumably feels the same because, once the platoon have bathed in essence of Ross, there’s one sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it mention of a decontamination tube and they are pristine again. Such moments jar – so does the sudden cut, at the end of the episode, when the team are revealed returned to full size.

There will be viewers – Christopher H Bidmead certainly, possibly anyone with a Science GCSE – who cringe at the idea that synaptic connections can be restored by jamming together a few tubes. The Doctor says it is evil refined as engineering, but really it’s neuroscience as basic plumbing.

However, in an episode that’s willing to see the work of antibodies as a bit of household hovering, what matters is the metaphor – the big picture – and, where the big pictures are concerned, director Ben Wheatley succeeds admirably.

Doctor Who Into the Dalek 1

The action sequences are as visceral as you’d expect, but it is the little things that impress too: managing to make sets full of concertina tubing look convincing, or building the school stock cupboard outside the TARDIS set to allow a continuous shot from the cupboard into the TARDIS.

If the story ever evokes a feeling of déjà vu, the visuals don’t. The episode may look back into the programme’s recent past, but it does so to do something different: to clear the decks for the future. The Doctor talks of his first encounter with the Daleks on Skaro, and suddenly history is re-born in front of us. It was this encounter, we learn, that gave the Doctor the mission statement inherent in his name. The Doctor and the Daleks. The Daleks and the Doctor.

We may have gone into the Dalek, but it is in the revelation of the Doctor that the episode will earn our fondest remembrance.

images_Stars_4star

Aired at 7.30pm on Saturday 30 August 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Series 8 on DVD on Amazon.

> Order Series 8 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…

> Follow Malcolm Stewart on Twitter.

  • Paul Lenkic

    “or that doesn;t hlocky, aren’ in Doctor Who”

    Huh?

    • CultBox

      Fixed! Not sure what happened there!

  • Bandit Keith

    a decent dalek episode for a change 🙂

  • Marik Ishtar

    really highlights the doctors inner darkness

  • guest123

    I miss Matt Smith – I love the that the new eps are up – but seriously I really miss the previous doctor’s energy and that positive seemingly chaotic insanity in his behaviours.

  • Bdbshsv

    When the doctor didn’t save that man but instead gave his death meaning I thought that was a great scene, and something Who has been missing from at latestt when Eccelston was in the role… so happy they’re making it darker and just a better and more enjoyable show!! So far this us my favourite Moffat series – second favourite New Who serious, and potentially top 10 all time

  • Muckylittleme

    I loved it.
    Yes the plot was contrived and we have a new doctor facing the daleks in only his second episode but as a vehicle that serves its purpose in transporting the viewer toward a darker more uncertain doctor it was very well done.

    It is legitimate to ask if it is too confusing to make both the doctor and Dalek seem amoral, players on life’s stage cast as villain and and hero, because throughout history some of the most evil deeds have been legitimised by promoting the ends over the means. And yes, as a role the model the doctor should be inherently good.
    But, if truth and justice are to be qualified as divine constructs then we must delve into the human soul and try to understand what makes a good man good man good and bad man bad.

    I found this episode to be extremely profound and though the writers were confined to the Who universe and remits of the episode they were also reaching out and asking humanity to make a more considered judgement on good and evil.

    The existence of our is universe is due to a perfect balance of opposing forces – there can be no light without darkness, positive without negative, good without evil etc and humanity encapsulates that. We are a product of divine creation in that sense, we are all those things but what sets us apart is our ability to choose.

    Thus if we are inherently good without knowing evil we are merely players following our script and if we are bad without knowing good then there is nothing to differentiate us.
    We cannot be evil without the knowledge of good and the power of choice no matter our deed just as we cannot be good without the knowledge of evil no matter our deed.

    Good and evil must be a choice to exist otherwise they are simply equal opposite forces within an amoral universe.
    It is human consciousness and the power of choice that defines them and it is human consciousness and the power of choice that is divine.

    The wicked machinations of controllers will subvert this message but if you are truly good you will always see the manipulation for what it is and turn it against itself.

    The BBC is a corrupt, establishment controlled institution but it is full of good and bad people all equally believing they have a handle on what is right but ultimately resistance is futile because just as criminals want to be caught on a subconscious level so evil wants to be exposed on a subliminal level.

    Wonderful episode and one of my all time favourites.

  • reaganjones89

    Second great episode in a row. Best Dalek episode since, well, Dalek. I am a big fan of Eccleston’s Doctor so I am loving that Moffat is referencing that tone so far with Capaldi. If nothing else, this series is likely to direct people back to series 1 of the reboot and increase the appreciation of the 9th Doctor. In fact I would wager that when the usual Favourite Doctor polls come around again after Capaldi’s run, Capaldi will be either top or just after Baker and Smith and Eccleston will have risen as a reflection of how great Capaldi is as the 12th Doctor and how well he has already been received. Quite rightly, Tennant’s awful gurning toyboy interpretation will return to the bottom of the heap and the fact that this was an aberration, rather than a true portrayal of the Doctor as seen in the classic Doctors and 9, 11 and 12, will be clearer. Oh how I wish it were possible to bring 9, 11 and 12 together in some way. Perhaps now that an actor of such calibre as Capaldi is in the role, Eccleston might be tempted back!

  • EvilPhil

    That last sentence … I see what you did there

  • GiveMe TheMike

    I think this episode would have be better later in the series, as the last one for Clara. She could have grabbed the Dalek connection from the Doctor, and her consciousness merged with the Dalek. That would have set up the episode where the Doctor first met Clara. That’s not to say their couldn’t be another episode with Clara in it with her Dalek causing all sorts of chaos (that Dalek was “insane”).

  • thedoctor

    We also have to go into watching it on the tv with the realization that things may have bin cut to save time. In the online versions such as Netflix or project free tv will have more to the episode and fill in some of the missing links in the story.

  • Jonwayne Stricker

    In the episode “the Dalek” the Dalek tells the Doctor he would make a good Dalek. In the episode “asylum of the Daleks” The prime minister tells the Doctor that they have a concept of beauty and that is HATRED. He adds “maybe that is why we never could kill you” And now it is starting to make sense. The Doctor first makes Rusty relive the moment when he felt a sense of wonder and actually liked life. this showed Rusty he was not a “good dalek” That is to say by Dalek Standards Rusty had failed to live up to their expectations, because Daleks are suppose to be motivated by PURE HATE. The Doctor then melds his mind with Rusty letting Rusty see every thing he has seen feel every thing he has felt. And Rusty sees that the Doctor’s hate of the Daleks IS PURE. “I see Beauty” he was not talking about the universe. he was talking about hate… the Daleks think hate is beauty. The Doctor hates the Daleks more than even the Daleks are capable of hating “I see Divinity” the Doctor’s hate is pure and divine, the Doctor claims he is a pacifist but his on going war with the daleks have made him a killer. His hatred of the Daleks is greater than even his desire to save lives and never take them. SO their you have it. Rusty having seen perfection in hate does what a Dalek is born to do, embrace it. The Doctor’s hate of the Daleks is PURER than the Daleks hatred of every thing else. The Dalek follows its basic genetic design.. HATE. Since the Doctor’s hate of the Daleks is superior hate to the Daleks hatred of all others…. RUSTY emulates that hate and embraces it. And the doctor realizes it…. he sees… he sees the thing he hates most about the daleks.. blind intolerance and hatred… is what he has in his heart at the core of his being. Eveyr thing he hates about the Daleks… HE IS. When rusty says “I am not a good DALEK, YOU are a good dalek” what he means is Rusty has failed to live up to purity of hate. he was ready to embrace life instead but the Doctor… he has transcended hate and hates Daleks more than any other Hatred that has ever existed. When he says to the Doctor “you are a good dalek” he means literally from the Dalek perspective the Doctor is good… in other words the Doctor is more Dalek than rusty ever was.

  • Evil Lynn

    Nope still not convinced. Two eps in and still MEH!!!! Nothing to do with Capaldi, he is perfect. The stories are so lacking. Totally underwhelmed with the baddie in the first ep, and not tension or drama to speak of, plus it was far to long. Disappointed with the predictability of the second ep. There is dark and there is boring predictability and this so far this series is sliding towards the latter.

    I think Moffat needs to take a break. Season 3 of Sherlock with the exception of the excellent final ep was lacking as well. All the Emmys of note went to the final ep.

  • amclarney

    This whole episode should have been shelved and shredded. I still can’t tell whether it’s just Moffatt’s writing that’s at fault or Capaldi’s inability to embrace The Doctor. They need to go back to basic’s and simply write one good show at a time and let the Big Picture get there when it gets there. There’s way too much CONFUSION in both the writing and the acting the Doctor is getting dumber in each episode something which he’s never done before. Clara is smarter and more clever than the Doctor now. Three strikes is an out for me I pray the next show is better than this one. The first wasn’t a bad start but this one is a pure loser for me.