Disclaimer: In 2013 I reviewed the second half of Series 7 for The Hairy Housewife and fully intended to do the same for Series 8 last year. Unfortunately, it proved impossible. Life and work and caring responsibilities called and at my lowest point, I was about five episodes behind everyone else. After speaking recently with Gemma, she thought it would be cool for me to do a re-tread of Series 8 to tide blog readers over until Series 9 airs. So that’s what’s happening. Every week I’ll re-watch and review an episode for this blog. Feel free to join me! Oh, and there will be spoilers.
Into The Dalek tells the story of soldiers who ask The Doctor to go inside a Dalek to find out what is making it malfunction and become ‘a good Dalek.’ (Aside: Was the Dalek called Rusty as an in-joke reference to RTD’s fandom nickname? Inquiring minds want to know.) We are also treated to a bonus companion who never was, Journey Blue, and the deepening of Clara’s relationship with Danny and with The Doctor. Now that Twelve has been established, the second episode also serves to deepen his characterization as a grumpy old man reminiscent of One. The Doctor is rude to Journey Blue, even in the face of her brother’s death (And his sister isn’t [dead]. You’re welcome), is callous when people die inside the Dalek, and (in one of the few bum notes of series 8 and this particular episode) tells Clara that she looks old and ugly. It is a change from the young magic man Eleven. However, there is continuity too. Namely, that The Doctor always cares about being a good man, and always feels conflicted about soldiers and warring.
It’s interesting that this episode contains so many important themes which resurface in a big way in the finale. Though the episodes are nothing alike, I was reminded of The Beast Below. The Beast Below established Series 5’s fairy story vibe, the importance of dreams and belief to Amy and her relationship with The Doctor and Eleven’s true character – he doesn’t interfere in people or planets unless there’s children crying. Similarly, Into the Dalek establishes the soldier theme, including The Doctor as soldier, and the importance of trying to be something rather than worrying about if you are or are not that thing all of which is addressed in Death in Heaven. As a fun aside, the scene where Clara and The Doctor slide down the Dalek’s feeding tube and land in digested bodies has a lot in common with The Beast Below when Amy and The Doctor fall into the beast’s stomach.
Anyway, for every good Dalek-centric episode (Dalek, Asylum of the Daleks, Day of the Doctor etc) there are rubbish ones (Victory of the Daleks, Evolution of the Daleks/Daleks in Manhatten etc). Though Into the Dalek is by no means perfect, it is at least an interesting Dalek episode. The main reason for this is its exploration of the soldier theme which is to become so important in the finale. Danny Pink is introduced as a Maths teacher with a background in soldiery (Is it coincidence that both Journey Blue and Danny Pink are soldiers with color last names?). We see Danny teach PE military style and then teach Maths to questions of, ‘Have you ever killed anyone who wasn’t a soldier?’ (this comes back to bite Danny in Dark Water). Danny is a different kind of soldier. Clara says as a joke in response to his assertions of morality, ‘Ah, you shoot people and then cry about it later.’ There is a moral dimension to being Danny’s kind of soldier, and presumably Journey Blue’s too (though The Doctor doesn’t learn this until Death in Heaven). He mistakenly says ‘crying is for civilians… we cry so you don’t have to,’ except we know that this isn’t true, because Danny the soldier man does cry, even if only on the inside, and we see it happen as he is questioned in his classroom.
This Doctor is a contradiction and an enigma. He doesn’t like soldiers, to the point of telling Journey Blue, ‘I think you’re probably nice. Underneath it all I think you’re kind. You’re definitely brave. I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier,’ but at the same time he needs confirmation from a flummoxed Clara that he is indeed a good man, and not, as the Dalek tells him, a good Dalek, a good hater, a good soldier, a believer of beauty in hate. Moffat reminds us again why The Doctor needs humans. The Doctor needs his humans to remind him why he isn’t like a Dalek.
Clara: I’m his carer.
The Doctor: Yeah, she cares so I don’t have to.
The Doctor says he does one better and saves souls as well as lives, but he is only able to do this because of human companions like Clara. It is for this reason that I agree with Moffat and think that the companion story is so vital to Doctor Who. Clara reminds The Doctor that the point isn’t that there was a Dalek and it malfunctioned so appeared good. The point was that for a single moment in time, The Doctor believed that there was a good Dalek. Or to put it another way, it doesn’t matter if you are or are not a good person, what matters is that you believe in becoming a good person. There is so much awesome in Clara being a teacher. Not only does she teach an English classroom in the show, she is the audience’s teacher too:
Clara: I don’t know.
The Doctor: I’m sorry?
Clara: You asked me if you were a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point.
The Doctor: I think you’re probably an amazing teacher.
Clara: I think I’d better be.
This episode shows us that The Doctor has changed. He is old and grumpy and acerbic and irritable and touchy on the subject of soldiers, but he is still trying to be a good man. Ultimately, he is still a mad man with a box gallivanting around space and time trying to do his best. Gretchen reminds us of this, even as her sacrifice also reminds us of why The Doctor comes back for humans every single time:
Gretchen: Is he mad or is he right?
Clara: Hand on my heart – most days he’s both.
Gretchen: Gretchen Alison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me.
The Doctor: I will do something amazing. I promise.
Gretchen: Damn well better.
Into The Dalek is a surprisingly complex and interesting Who adventure which firmly sets up themes for the rest of series 8.
Into The Dalek: 8/10 inky stars