Aired 30 August 2014
The Daleks are without a doubt the most iconic creatures in the universe of Doctor Who and so the stories featuring them by necessity carry a larger weight than most others. The end results are often a bit mixed, however, as the Daleks’ full evil and intelligence are rarely fully realised. There have been some standout exceptions through the years like ‘The Power of the Daleks,’ ‘Remembrance of the Daleks,’ and ‘Dalek,’ but oftentimes it is difficult to accept them as the Doctor’s most lethal foes. In a testament to the quality of ideas and the bravery to do something new with the Twelfth Doctor’s first encounter, writers Phil Ford and Steven Moffat discard the traditional Dalek storyline and instead explore a less obvious scripting tactic, excellently realised by director Ben Wheatley and the production team.
In a strong move, ‘Into the Dalek’ focuses solely on the exploration of the inside of a Dalek, bypassing any prolonged explanation of how the Doctor, Clara, and a small investigative crew enter or exit this environment. What is presented as the most dangerous place in the universe is brought to life exceedingly well, from the more overt action sequences with offensive antibodies to the more subdued atmospheric choices like the lighting reflecting the presence of the Daleks’ outer casing grill. This is a setting that could very easily have gone wrong, but the production team clearly spent a lot of time getting it right and making it believable.
The most compelling aspect of this story, and the reason it works so very well, is the obvious parallel being drawn between this new, harsher incarnation of the Doctor and the malfunctioning Dalek suffering from a radiation leak that makes it quite amenable. This is a Doctor still trying to find himself, searching himself and questioning others to find out if he is a good man. The Dalek realises the hatred burning inside the Doctor, and comes to the conclusion that the Doctor is the better Dalek between the two of them. Clara also is unable to given him the answer he wants to hear, and Capaldi portrays the resulting combination of anguish, sorrow, and anger superbly. It’s quite fascinating to see the early days of the Twelfth Doctor as, even when he wrestles with inner emotions, he is quite harsh and rigorous with his actions, even using someone’s imminent death to his advantage. This is still the Doctor with an overwhelming sense of justice, but Clara has become his voice of humanity and compassion, an interesting dynamic that hopefully gets further exploration.
The other new dynamic in play now is that Clara no longer seems to be traveling permanently with the Doctor. She is now working at the Coal Hill School as a teacher and continues to cross paths with fellow teacher Danny Pink, a potential love interest, played by Samuel Anderson. It is revealed that he was once a soldier and that he has killed, but otherwise information about this new character is kept to a minimum, still managing to set a strong foundation for further characterization going forward.
In actuality, it’s quite impressive what ‘Into the Dalek’ manages to accomplish. Even if the setup and resolution are a bit rushed and convenient, the story told is quite moving and efficient, allowing a new exploration both of the new Doctor and of his age-old foe, a new introduction to the intriguing Danny Pink, and a quick return of the mysterious Missy in ‘Heaven.’