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Doctor Who: Cult Fix Writers on “Into the Dalek”

Cult Fix writers give their verdict on the second episode of Doctor Who Series 8.


James Amos: Over the years, Doctor Who has had many brilliant ideas that were executed poorly. For instance episodes like ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, ‘Hide’ or even ‘The Wedding of River Song’. Phil Ford’s ‘Into the Dalek’ is the exact opposite; this is a rubbish idea that has been executed perfectly.

If Steven Moffat said to me the new Dalek episode sees the Doctor being miniaturised and running around inside a Dalek fighting antibodies, I would have thrown my soft drink over him. However I would have been wrong to do that, in fact I’d even go as far as paying for a new shirt, because this episode was actually rather good. There are small details which make the downright silliness of it all seem relatively plausible. For instance, the dialogue of not holding your breath while being miniaturised, it made the whole miniaturisation scene far more exciting and not as silly as it could have been. It’s like having to repetitively swallow whilst a plane takes off, although if you hold your breath here you explode. It built up the tension; it made it seem more realistic. In fact, I would have liked Clara to be a bit more frightened by the scenario. She could have perhaps held the Doctor’s hand as it was happening; this would have made her feel more real as a character and added to the relationship between her and the Doctor. She’s still getting to know this new man, yet she still holds his hand when she’s scared.

I’m beginning to really get a feel for Capaldi’s Doctor in this episode too, although I do feel at times the writers are trying just a tad too hard to make him feel dark and different. I think we should let Capaldi bring that out by himself at the moment, and then the writing can come into play, offering him up as a more sour and dark character. Moffat has said himself that, when it came to Matt’s first few episodes, he essentially wrote as if he were writing for David. The eleventh Doctor’s kookiness and silliness came out through Matt’s acting, and as his era continued the writing developed along with how Matt was playing the part. Here it’s almost too stark a change; let’s see Capaldi mould this Doctor the way he wants to. Then, when he’s comfortable with who his Doctor is, the writing of the character can change drastically.

As for the episode itself, I liked it. The directing was excellent, as we can only expect from Wheatley, and the plot was enjoyable. I do think, however, the ending was a tad rushed. On top of that, I don’t feel we really got anywhere. Some will argue that this is the whole point of the episode, the Daleks cannot be changed completely, but I like to have a sense of at least a little accomplishment at the end of Doctor Who episodes. Although I guess he did save the rebel ship, but then I had little to no care of any characters on board the ship anyway. Morgan was there, Journey was there, and the extras were there. I didn’t feel any sort of emotional connection with them though, I should have been sad when the Doctor rejected Journey at the end; but I felt nothing.

Overall, for me, this is a ‘The Beast Below’ of second episodes. Some people will gasp at that, some will probably throw their soft drink over me. But please, buy me a new shirt, because that’s a compliment coming from me. I liked ‘The Beast Below’, it wasn’t groundbreaking memorable television, but then second episodes aren’t meant to be. They’re meant to keep the ball rolling, continue the good quality on from the opener, and this is what this episode did perfectly. It’s a good Dalek episode; it’s a good second episode. This episode is good. That is all.

doctor-mind-into-the-dalekMark McCullough: Into the Dalek is one of those dangerous titles; it is ambitious, simple and gives its narrative a lot to live up. I am delighted to say that I found it more than exceeded my expectations. The story was quite simple, but the short and sweet style worked wonders allowing the narrative to express its message to the viewer. At face value it is a mission to enter a Dalek to fix a fault within, naturally there is an exploration into what makes a Dalek tick and a question to the possibility of a good Dalek.

However, running parallel to the Dalek aspect of the story is the Doctor’s question of “Am I a good man?” A theme which is explored within the subtext of the narrative, everything we learn about the Dalek could equally apply to the Doctor. It is for this reason I suspect this episode will get better with re-watch as more layers to the story will become apparent. Whilst the Daleks nature is controlled by the cortex, the Doctor is influenced by Clara. This becomes particularly apparent in the scene where Clara is able to change the Doctor’s perspective on the situation within the Dalek.

The relationship between Clara and the Doctor has developed significantly since we last saw them. The former has become a lot more accepting of the new man placed before her, whereas the latter has mellowed slightly towards her and it is obvious he still cares greatly for her. It is nice to see the Doctor and a Companion share a relationship with no romantic undertones. The episode also featured the introduction of the enigmatic Danny Pink. For what we have seen of him so far, his character looks surprisingly well rounded and comes across as quite realistic and grounded. We are also teased that he has done something in his past which he is not proud of. Already the seeds are being sown for his inevitable meeting with the Doctor and it certainly looks like it will be exciting.

A huge part of the success of this episode is due to work of director Ben Wheatley. Numerous scenes have been made so much better because of the way in which they were presented, take for example the Daleks. It is the first time in a long while that have been properly scary. Into the Dalek is an episode which just works, it is a culmination of many fantastic part coming together to produce a truly great Doctor Who episode.

capaldi-eye-view-into-the-dalekJames Wynne: The thematic crux of “Into the Dalek” is how it draws parallels between the hateful pepperpots of Skaro and the Doctor. It’s precisely this that elevates it beyond your typical Dalek yarn, because it has something quite profound to say about our favourite Time Lord and his nemeses. The subtlest of these is in the Doctor’s summation that a Dalek’s inherently evil nature cannot be eradicated and that only through some sort of malfunction could it ever appear to be the case that it had.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has thus far been depicted as being, outwardly, quite unsympathetic, abrasive, and aloof. It’s a stark contrast to his boundlessly energetic, affable (99.9% of the time) predecessor, and even the two that went before him, but harks back to Doctors of old somewhat; incarnations that pre-dated the events of the Time War. The reason for this could also be that the Doctor, himself, is no longer “broken” by the events of the Time War and how he believed he had been forced to end it.

Is he unsure of his status as a good man, because he is now free from the guilt that compelled him to act with such rigorous morality and desperation to take responsibility for every life he encountered for all the time that followed? If the Doctor casts aside these qualities, then what’s left is a cold, calculating, efficient genius. Now, who does that sound like? A GOOD Dalek, perhaps?

What this episode brilliantly demonstrates is that the dividing line between the Daleks and the Doctor is not quite so pronounced with this incarnation, both through its depiction of a damaged Dalek expanding its horizons – acknowledging the beauty of life in the universe and the futility of the Daleks’ attempts to extinguish it – as well as the Doctor’s callousness and initial inability to appreciate the phenomenon of a GOOD Dalek. It takes the Doctor’s companion to make him recognise this.

Aside from Clara’s flaws as a person now informing how she is depicted far more, both episodes of this series have also cleverly drawn on what she does – teaching – as a method of conveying how perceptive she can be. Here, she astutely observes that a GOOD Dalek is still possible, regardless of the means through which it is achieved. Her perspective and objectivity is not clouded by loathing as the Doctor’s is, and she brilliantly asserts that the lesson to take away is not how it came about, but rather that it did at all – something previously thought to be impossible.

“Into the Dalek” is not an amazing episode, but rather a very, very good one. Certainly, the theme of parallelism between the Doctor and the Daleks is portrayed extremely well, and the episode doesn’t really fall short significantly in any other regard, but neither does it quite make the leap into the category of extraordinary Dalek stories.

into-the-dalek-pic-batch-a-5David Selby: Soldiers are everywhere in Into the Dalek; they’re penitent teachers in schools of inquisitive children, they’re judgemental veterans of the greatest war in history and they’re the last hope in a devastating but disappointingly imprecise interstellar battle. Even the story’s backdrop flits between a war-torn spaceship and inside one of the greatest soldiers the universe has ever produced.

The second I mentioned is no newcomer – it’s the Doctor, the man we all know, but from a new perspective. Cold, cruel, callous and hypocritical, Capaldi’s Doctor is, I daresay, instantly unlikeable. Whilst he carries with him a certain charisma and a desire to make people ‘good’, his self-doubt, when juxtaposed with his dismissiveness of soldiers, goes to show what a conceited hypocrite he can be. It’s a deliberate contrast from the perfect man who protected the villagers of Trenzalore; with twelve whole lives ahead of him, he’s effectively Hartnell’s Doctor again. He carries, too, Hartnell’s impulsiveness. Capaldi’s Doctor is keeping the viewer on their toes – so, appropriately, an episode which begins asking the question “Am I good man?” provides no definite answer by the final act.

The Dalek story of the season borrows ideas from numerous other Dalek episodes before it, most notably 2005’s Dalek, though in this review I’m going to touch on Victory of the Daleks. As with Into the Dalek, it comes to a dismal end; the Doctor’s emotions bring about a less desirable outcome, but again the differences are apparent – in Victory it was the Doctor’s sentimental affiliation with humanity that allowed the Daleks to escape; in Into the Dalek, it was his hatred towards the Daleks which stopped what could have been a universe-changing liberation.

Though the themes themselves were appreciated, certain areas of the execution were a little unsatisfactory, even laughable; Rusty may have managed to destroy one Dalek off-guard, but its annihilation of the entire fleet, whatever poetic reasons ground it, was more than a bit unlikely. And as is often the case with Dalek stories, the contribution seems to be unwanted in a wider sense. Into the Dalek was inconsiderately posed as the Dalek filler to get out of the way, but we can only thank Phil Ford for turning it into something much more special than that.

into-the-dalek-pic-batch-a-11Tyler Davies: You would think that after such a packed series opener as Deep Breath that the writers would decide to slow things down for the second episode, right? Wrong. Into the Dalek managed to almost be as eventful as the twelfth Doctor’s debut episode and certainly accomplished being as enjoyable.

The concept of travelling into a specimen whilst miniaturized is rather silly, but there’s no denying how well it is cut out for Who. Besides, strong writing from Ford and Moffat ensured that it was executed deftly within the episode. The wisest decision on their part was that there was no fuss made about the exact science of this process and instead the Doctor and co. were rather swiftly miniaturized and placed into the Dalek. In fact, the entire episode moved along at quite a brisk pace, at least compared to the leisurely time last week’s opener took. Despite this though, I never got the sense that the plot was rushed and the expeditious pace merely served to heighten the episode’s dynamism.

Into the Dalek may have seen the Doctor and co. venture into a Dalek, but the story placed a surprisingly stronger emphasis on exploring the Doctor’s psyche instead. However, Capaldi’s Doctor still remains rather ambiguous by the episode’s conclusion, as even he himself couldn’t seem to figure out whether he is a good man or not. It is in this vulnerability, though, that the key to the twelfth Doctor’s success lies. His fear of not being a good man makes him into a fascinatingly intricate character and reassures us that, despite his darker shades, the Doctor’s core essence remains intact. He did perform some questionably pragmatic acts in this episode, but as Clara said; the important thing is that he tries to be a good man. Either way, I’m sure there’s plenty more exploration of the Doctor’s ethics down the line, which is tremendous as Capaldi conveys the deeper conflict of the character prodigiously. In fact the seasoned actor continues to own the part and after these two episodes he is already en route to becoming one of my favourite Doctors.

Despite my enjoyment of it, the episode did have it flaws. I particularly had a problem with how easily things were achieved. For example; Clara restoring the Dalek’s synaptic connections by plugging in some tubes was immensely lazy writing. Also, newly-arrived Danny Pink’s past was hinted at a little too heavy-handedly for my tastes. These minor quibbles aside, Into The Dalek proved to be the strongest Dalek episode in recent times.

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