Last time, we met The Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi, but as with most regeneration episodes of “Doctor Who,” they’re all about getting back on their feet. You usually don’t see what the new Doctor is all about until his second episode – and this one is a doozy! Right out of the box, The Doctor and Clara run up against his archenemies – The Daleks! Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “Into the Dalek.”
Old business first however. Over the past week, completely inexplicably to me, there’s been a hubbub over the kiss between Madam Vastra and her wife Jenny Flint. That’s right, a kiss. An interspecies lesbian kiss between two married people, married to each other, mind you. Somehow I don’t think it’s the Silurian/human part that bothers the critics however.
This is 2014, right? Why are we even talking about this? I can’t believe there are still so many backward thinking people around. What boggles my mind is that Vastra and Jenny have been together since they first appeared on the show three years ago, why is this a big deal now? And isn’t “Doctor Who” the show that featured pansexual Captain Jack Harkness nearly a decade ago? Have these bigots been asleep for ten years?
Baptism by Fire
There is certainly no better way to see what a new Doctor is made of than to send him immediately up against his deadliest enemies, the Daleks. Could there be a more cataclysmic christening? I will tell you true. I had my reservations about Peter Capaldi after last week’s first episode. We really didn’t get a good look at him, but we rarely do in first episodes and especially regeneration episodes, but that said, “Deep Breath” was only a good episode. It wasn’t a great episode as we’ve come to expect of both season premieres and regenerations. It was adequate, but it seriously lacked.
Maybe throwing Daleks into the mix will remedy this. We open on a spaceship under attack by the Daleks followed by a dramatic rescue by the Clara-less Doctor. We’re introduced to soldier Journey Blue (played by Zawe Ashton), who in other circumstances might have made an intriguing companion. Shame. She and her ship the Aristotle are at war with the Daleks, a war that has made them rough and brutal, just the kind of folks The Doctor likes to change the minds of. Capaldi strikes me as very Tom Baker in these early moments – a pacifist, but very my-way-or-the-highway. Capaldi also has a subtle comedic brilliance. I like it. And honestly, in these early moments, I like this new Doctor Clara-less.
It’s Smaller on the Outside
“It’s smaller on the outside.” Those are Journey’s words as she walks out of the TARDIS onto the Aristotle having never seen the outside of the TARDIS before. It’s a clever twist on what companions usually say when entering The Doctor’s vessel, but here, in this episode it’s got double meaning. The exact second they introduce the miniaturizer, I know where this episode is going, and what the title actually means – shades of Ant-Man, we’re going to go inside a Dalek! Not even five minutes in, and I already love this episode.
Here’s the thing, the Aristotle isn’t a warship, it’s a hospital. But the Daleks don’t take prisoners so who needs a hospital, right? The miniaturizer is for a special kind of doctor, one that shrinks down and goes inside a patient to fix them, kinda like Fantastic Voyage, a flick The Doctor even references vaguely. The folks on the Aristotle have a very specific patient for their new Doctor to go inside – a Dalek. Unlike Clara, the Dalek seems to (but really doesn’t) recognize The Doctor immediately. Roll opening credits. Okay, I’m sold.
Introducing Danny Pink
One of the more anticipated things about season eight has been the pending introduction of a new companion, especially for folks who have grown tired of Clara Oswin. Samuel Anderson, previous of The History Boys, will play teacher Danny Pink who works at the same school where Clara teaches, and five decades ago, The Doctor’s granddaughter attended. Apparently Samuel and Clara’s Jenna-Louise Coleman are old buds as they both appeared in the UK soap “Emmerdale.”
Danny Pink is new at the Coal Hill School, a good-looking former soldier and bachelor bait for all the intrigued single women there. When asked by a student if he’d ever killed anyone, he got a bit weird and shed a tear, probably some PTSD there. He’s also nervous around Clara. Aw crap. Too bad that’s all we get. One promising thing is that he has more chemistry with Clara than The Doctor, or is that the other way around? Although it’s worth mentioning that Clara and The Doctor have a bit more of a repartee this time around. And I love Clara’s eye shirt.
A Good Dalek?
The Dalek on board the Aristotle is a little bit off, its rant is not all “Exterminate! Exterminate!” but more in line with “Daleks must die! Daleks must die!” Yep, as The Doctor himself says, it’s got a malfunction with its morality. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary throwback to the pacifist Thals, or worse than that, a free-thinking Dalek who has decided to rebel against its programming. Of course, it could always be a trap. After all, what better trap could there be for The Doctor, than being trapped inside a Dalek?
The good Dalek, nicknamed Rusty by The Doctor, seems friendly and considers The Doctor to be his (its?) doctor. And Rusty does need help. It’s been changed, altered by what it’s seen. It is a free thinking Dalek, and it’s learned something. Beauty, it knows beauty, and even in the wake of the Daleks destroying everything in their path, it has seen that life still persists. Resistance is futile. Yeah, poor broken Dalek.
Journey to the Center of the Dalek
The resemblance is far more Fantastic Voyage or Innerspace than that classic Avengers story where Ant-Man journeyed inside the Vision during the Kree-Skrull War. The Doctor, Clara, Journey, and a couple redshirts get shrunk in a capsule and inserted into the eye stalk of Rusty the good Dalek. Very acid trippy weirdness here, for who knows what goes on inside a Dalek?
What’s interesting is that once inside, The Doctor takes on the role of tour guide. He knows his way around Rusty pretty well. Much like Fantastic Voyage, the crew are attacked fairly quickly by ‘antibodies.’ Our new Doctor shows his mean streak a bit in letting the first redshirt perish in order to find out more about his patient/foe. After travelling through its stomach, a tomb very much like the garbage compacter in Star Wars, The Doctor does what doctors do – he fixes the patient. This is not a good thing.
What Have We Learned?
Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Yeah, you guessed it. Now The Doctor and company are inside a fully functioning Dalek that not only hates The Doctor but also wants to exterminate humanity. And outside, Rusty is going on a rampage against everyone on the Aristotle. And it’s leading its buddies to the ship. Remember what I said about a trap?
This Dalek was altered, and gained free-thinking because of a radiation leak, a fluke. So what do you do? You re-create the accident that affected it, you re-infect it and then show it something amazing to change its mind. Let it know that resistance is futile. A little chatter, and some rewiring synapses, and its memories are restored, but The Doctor goes it one better and connects his mind to Rusty’s a la Vulcan mind meld. Welcome to bad idea theater… Rusty sees The Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks.
A Good Man?
Earlier in the episode, in a scene we all saw briefly in the one of the trailers circulated for weeks before last week’s premiere, The Doctor asks Clara if he’s a good man. It’s something he struggles with throughout “Into the Dalek.” Her answer is “I don’t know.” but she thinks he’s trying to be. It might be a question best left up to us viewers.
In the end, in trying to create a good Dalek, The Doctor merely creates a new creature of hate. It’s just that this gun is aimed in the right direction. Rusty delivers the coldest the coldest line of the episode, one that will haunt the Peter Capaldi Doctor just as the Time War haunted Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. In his hatred, in his path of destruction, The Doctor himself would make a good Dalek.
In the chaos of the good Dalek turning bad, or more accurately, reasserting its original programming, the other redshirt, Gretchen by name, sacrifices herself so Clara can get deeper inside Rusty and save the day. It’s a brave death, it’s an upsetting death, and apparently it’s not a death at all. The screen goes white and suddenly Gretchen is in the English garden we saw at the end of the last episode. And there’s Missy welcoming Gretchen to Heaven, and offering her some tea, no sign of the Half-Face Man.
Last time I suggested it might be The Rani. Over the week it occurred to me it might actually be someone associated with the clockwork robots from last week and “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Another possibility is that this is The Wire from the new series Season Two adventure “The Idiot’s Lantern.” Fan theories include Romana, Clara, River Song, the TARDIS, The Master, even The Valeyard, and yes, I’m not the only one saying The Rani. She could also be a completely new threat… Who do you think Missy is?
Next time: The Doctor meets Robin Hood…