Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, the story, the pace... impressive!
Very rarely it felt as though the central concept was taken for granted
New Doctor Peter Capaldi takes us on a journey into the most dangerous place in the universe… inside a Dalek!
If Deep Breath, last week’s exhilarating season premiere, was the new Doctor’s birth, Into the Dalek is the Doctor’s Christening. No Doctor has been properly tested until he’s beaten the ultimate monsters: the Daleks. And now he has!
There was a lot riding on episode 1, for obvious reasons, so you might think that in episode 2, the pressure’s off a bit. Episode 1 was good TV – but that doesn’t mean episode 2 can just sit back and relax. This had to build on the work of episode 1, to show us the Doctor what he’s really like (which Into the Dalek enjoys playing with), and tell a strong adventure story as well.
Into the Dalek, is, in lots of ways, even better than last week’s episode. The new tone and slower pace works far better in the forty-five minute framework than in the movie-sized Deep Breath. I advise anyone not convinced by the premiere last week to watch this episode. This might just win them back.
This is a story that’s never been done before: there’s a Dalek malfunctioning, and now it’s “good”, so the Doctor and Clara are miniaturized and venture deep into the belly of the beast, whilst a big space war rages in the stars. It’s thrilling, epic storytelling.
The Doctor versus the Daleks!
This is a four-handed story really, although the guest actors (Zawe Ashton and Michael Smiley) give good performances. But what we’re here to watch is: the amazing new Doctor – his oldest and scariest enemies – the fantastic companion – and the brand new companion!
It’s unsurprising that Peter Capaldi is as electrifying when faced with the Daleks as he was last week. He didn’t need to prove himself again, but he absolutely has. He is a difficult but bold presence in this story, drawing your eye and not always in a comforting way. It is so interesting watching a new man in the role, and he plays with the dialogue well. And yes, he is a dark Doctor. Not too dark, but dark in a good way.
“Where are we going?” ~ Clara “Into darkness” ~ The Doctor
The Daleks are back in all their glory! This story restores them to their electrifying presence in earlier stories, which is always necessary: to remind us of how terrifying a foe they are. It’s actually very sinister when the Dalek starts killing fellow Daleks and the good/bad theme comes into fruition.
And then we have a complete narrative flip, and we’re back in Coal Hill School and love is in the air! Showrunner Steven Moffat called Samuel Anderson as love interest Danny Pink his “secret weapon” this season. He’s right. I’ve thought Anderson was a brilliant talent since The History Boys but he surpasses himself here. In about three scenes, his and Jenna Coleman’s performances do enough to make the Entire Internet want their characters to get together. It’s sweet but not overly so, and Clara, meanwhile, also goes from strength-to-strength. I loved Jenna Coleman last year but any critics of hers will definitely be fans by now. Something about her just zings off Peter Capaldi brilliantly, and Anderson too. What an amazing trio.
Into The Dalek
Phil Ford and Steven Moffat deliver a confident script, with a great premise at its heart. Into the Dalek is, with the exception of its school romantic-comedy, a strong adventure story with some depth. And the juxtaposition of those sort disparate elements, the mundane and the far-flung, is precisely what Doctor Who always does well.
The climax to this is very effective. In perhaps a meta-reference to previous episode’s criticisms, the Doctor says “An anti-climax once in a while is good for my hearts” as he seemingly ends the plot by fixing the Dalek too early. Is it stretching belief that the Doctor doesn’t realise that fixing the malfunctioning-to-good Dalek will send it back to evil again? Maybe, but then he says, he’s never been there before. Another slight criticism is the lack of exploration after the initial ‘let’s go inside it!’ moment. We did see hints of Clara’s trepidation and the Doctor’s fear but the fuller, richer way to tell the story would be to have them discuss the momentousness of what they were about to embark upon. This is a small criticism in a strong episode though.
“This is the most dangerous place in the universe…” ~ The Doctor
And thanks to the efforts of the production team, it really feels it. The genius comes in the fact that the set-pieces and the twists keep on coming once the impact of the concept has died down. A risk of this sort of story would be the lack of threat inside a good Dalek that invites you in… The antibodies combat this, a great idea, and provide the story a shot in the arm when it needs it.
War! What is it good for?
This story depicts out-and-out war which no show should ever glorify, especially not Doctor Who. The episode might open with a zippy space opera, all impressive effects work etc, but the script quickly ditches that in favor of where the real story lies. That’s absolutely right because, fun though it may be, that’s not Star Wars – not Doctor Who. It’s kept firmly in the background whilst there is other stuff to occupy us, and so when the Daleks do storm in en masse it feels suitably grand.
Director Ben Wheatley continues to show himself to be a top quality director, especially in those combat scenes. Any TV viewer knows that battle scenes can either look very amazing or very poor, and even worse they can not accurately portray the horror of the consequences: death. Wheatley uses slow motion, practical effects and long-shots through fire and flying rays to make it all come together spectacularly.
“Clara, be my pal, tell me… am I a good man?”
Danny Pink is an ex-soldier. Is the Doctor a soldier? Is that Dalek good, or is it still a soldier.. or can you be both? These are sophisticated themes that the story rightly grapples with, although it must be said that some of that it was heavy-handed at times. But then maybe there is no room for subtlety when the Daleks are concerned. The scene in which the Doctor asked Clara, “am I a good man?” was incredible, though, and cut straight to the heart of the issue. That’s bold stuff so early in the show, and the season. And I love the new Doctor’s use of the clumsy word “pal”, like he’s never really had a pal. Plus it draws slight attention to the fact that this is all very new for the new Doctor. He’s still finding out who exactly he is.
It’s a low-key end to an action-packed story, but it works well. Both rejecting the soldier and rejecting the soldier in himself, Capaldi’s pitch-perfect dark Doctor sails away again to the next adventure. On the basis of these first two episodes, Season 8 is shaping up to be an excellent season… but don’t let that number put you off. It’s not really Season 8, because this is a new Doctor and a new show again: it’s Season 1.
Questions, Comments, Concerns…
- ‘I am the Doctor… and I’ve just been the Starbucks!’ is definitely one of the more inventive Doctor entrances we’ve ever had!
- Who is Missy?? Is she in the real Heaven? I can’t wait for the spiritual season finale we’re heading towards…
- This was the first Doctor Who episode in a long time where I didn’t keep glancing at the clock to see how far through we were. You know what that means? It was well-paced!
- But the most important question, as ever, is… where are we heading in the TARDIS next???
Next Episode of Doctor Who airs SAT, SEPT 06 at 9|8c on BBC America
Season 8 | Episode 3 | Robot Of SherwoodIn a sun dappled Sherwood forest, the Doctor discovers an evil plan from beyond the stars, and strikes up an unlikely alliance with Robin Hood. With all of Nottingham at stake, the Doctor must decide who is real and who is fake. Can impossible heroes actually exist?
Written by Mark Gatiss. Directed by Paul Murphy. Guest starring Tom Riley & Ben Miller.
Doctor Who 8×02 – “Into the Dalek” Review