One question lingers during this week’s episode of Doctor Who: what kind of man is The Doctor? In ‘Into the Dalek’ we start to get some idea but the answer isn’t necessarily the one we expect.
A strong opening five minutes sees Peter Capaldi’s Doctor rescue a soldier, Journey Blue (played with steely determination by Zawe Ashton), from certain death and then treat her with disdain when she is distraught her brother was not saved as well, rather than being overjoyed at being alive. He returns her to Aristotle, a hospital turned Command Ship hiding from a Dalek fleet in a asteroid field. Soon sucked into their predicament, The Doctor is thrown when he is shown their military asset: a broken Dalek which appears to be on their side.
At this point, the pace vanishes while we visit Clara on Earth. Long since given up on The Doctor returning with the coffee he promised at the end of the first episode, she has returned to teaching and finds herself drawn to the attractive Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a soldier turned teacher. Although Anderson and Jenna Coleman’s awkward exchanges are beguiling, we wait for the episode to start up again and, twenty minutes in, we find ourselves back on Aristotle repeating ourselves as The Doctor brings Clara up to speed.
Miniturised and inserted – via some very cool effects – through the eyestalk, The Doctor, Clara, Blue and two soldiers (who aren’t quite wearing red but might as well be) literally get inside the Dalek’s head to try and fix it. Finally, we reach the heart of what this episode is about. It’s not subtle stuff from writers Phil Ford and Steven Moffat but ‘Into the Dalek’ provides an interesting and at times brutal exploration of The Doctor, albeit through the veil of an ostensibly moral Dalek.
At times, ‘Into the Dalek’ suffers from this lack of subtlety. The hurried ending, the inevitable reverting to type of the Dalek that The Doctor is unfathomably unable to predict, and the clunky discussions about the morality of soldiers; these all create small bumps in the overall enjoyment of the episode. Thankfully, the notion of being inside a Dalek is cool enough to sustain the tension whilst the addition of the ‘antibodies’ followed by a genuinely threatening Dalek invasion force help to maintain a real sense of jeopardy.
There’s also a lot to dwell on in terms of this new Doctor’s character development and this is certainly the strongest element of the episode: Capaldi’s haunting combination of desperation and horrified acknowledgement at the Dalek’s final revelation is spot on. As in previous episodes, we learn that The Doctor isn’t as far removed from his exterminating nemeses as he would like to be. It is a refrain we’ve heard before yet this episode succeeds in its answer feeling more sinister and definitive.
It is this growing sense of a darker Doctor, particularly in his reaction to the death of the two soldiers, that sets this episode aside from its predecessors and prevents it from being simply a redux. And perhaps, with the mysterious Missy making another appearance this week, we are not the only ones noticing the body count around The Doctor rise…
Doctor Who Continues 7.30pm on Saturday on BBC ONE.
Contributed by Jane Harrison