Doctor Who Recap: “Into the Dalek”

by Courtney Key

Another season, another contractually-obligated Dalek episode.

However, despite the fact that as villains the Daleks have become about as effective as Voyager-era Borg, the second episode of the eighth season of Doctor Who does work, mostly because it is less about the Daleks as a threat than whether the Doctor is a threat himself. Certainly, “Into the Dalek,” written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley, solidifies the impression that Peter Capaldi’s time as the Doctor will be tinged with a great deal more darkness and uncomfortable moments than his immediate predecessors.

I'm pretty sure there's fanfic about this picture.  I'll just leave it at that.
I’m pretty sure there’s fanfic about this photo.

The episode opens with a rebel spaceship under attack by Daleks, and my very first thought was HOLY CRAP THAT’S ZAWE ASHTON AT THE SHIP’S CONTROLS I LOVE HER SO MUCH SQUEE. Seriously, though, Zawe Ashton, who plays soldier Journey Blue (a reference to the TARDIS?), is an amazing young British actress from whom I am certain we will be hearing much more in the future. If you are an American who hasn’t yet seen the U.K. university comedy Fresh Meat, stop reading this recap and get to Hulu Plus and stream it now. Ashton’s performance as Vod is one of the best things about an already brilliant show. There was even a fan campaign for her to be the twelfth Doctor before the announcement of Capaldi’s casting was made, and it was a wonderful surprise to see her actually turn up in the show.

Journey and her mortally wounded brother seem doomed as their spaceship is about to explode, but after bracing herself for certain death, she wakes up on the floor of the TARDIS to see the Doctor holding a tray with two coffees, presumably from Clara’s order at the end of the last episode. I didn’t know the coffee situation in Glasgow was so dire you had to go to future space to get a good cup.

Understandably upset after just seeing her brother die and being transported by an unknown person to an unknown craft, Journey goes into soldier mode, raising her gun and asking the Doctor where she is and where her brother is. The Doctor himself is very cool to her, reacting tersely to her expressions of pain over her brother’s death and refusing to take her back to the headquarters of the resistance, the spaceship Aristotle, until she says “please.” His distaste for soldiers is made abundantly clear not only in his initial interaction with Journey, but throughout the rest of the episode. It’s an interesting and somewhat baffling turn of character; not that the Doctor has ever been incredibly fond of the military, but he hasn’t seemed so actively hostile to individual members just on the basis of their service before, and indeed has had warm relationships in the past with some military personnel. Maybe it’s a result of his thousand-year battle on Trenzalore, but it definitely seems clear that this will be a theme that will be revisited over the course of the season, particularly given what happens with Clara later.

On the Aristotle, the Doctor is greeted by Tyres from Spaced (this episode is turning into a festival of Actors from Shows Courtney Loves! Exciting!), who orders the Doctor’s death to ensure the security of the base, but upon learning from his niece Journey that the Doctor is, well, a doctor, he belays that order. The Aristotle, it turns out, was a hospital ship before the Daleks got there and wiped the medical staff out, and they have a patient. The ship has some nifty high-tech medical equipment, including a miniaturizing machine to shrink the doctors to nano-size so they can enter their patients. “Fantastic idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist,” the Doctor opines.

His humor quickly leaves him, however, when he is introduced to the patient in question – it’s a Dalek. The Dalek seems to know who the Doctor is at first, saying “Doctor,” but it’s clear that it doesn’t when it asks “Are you my doctor?” The erasure of the Doctor by Oswin from the Daleks’ collective memory has apparently taken. Journey and her uncle explain that the Dalek was found floating in space. The Dalek asks the Doctor to help it, much to his bitter humor, but his interest is piqued when the Dalek declares that “Daleks must be destroyed.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we’re introduced to the newest member of the Coal Hill School staff, Danny Pink, leading a “Cadet Squad” of kids in exercises. Pink is a handsome man, a fact that goes remarked upon by every single female member of the school staff. He’s also – DUM DUM DUM! – a former soldier, and has an awkward moment in class when one of his students asks if he’s killed anyone who wasn’t a soldier. Side note: I actually had a similar experience with my substitute teacher in my eighth grade history class, a rather imposing man named Mr. Serio who was subbing long-term for our ill regular teacher. One of my classmates, jokingly, asked if he’d ever killed anyone, and Mr. Serio just got very quiet. The next year, Mr. Serio popped up during an update on Unsolved Mysteries, having been implicated in a murder-for-hire plot over a decade earlier in Florida. A true and very disturbing story; you can look it up.

Anyway, our Mr. Pink, while hopefully not a literal lady-killer, isn’t a figurative one either. He meets Clara for the first time in the teacher’s lounge and bungles his chance to go with her on a date to another teacher’s leaving party. Fortunately, Clara gives him a second chance, and a date is arranged. I’m sure his being a soldier won’t in any way come up later in the season and cause problems between the Doctor and Clara.

I do like that we’re getting to see more of Clara’s life outside the TARDIS this season. Now that the “Impossible Girl” mystery has been solved, we’re getting more of a sense of who Clara actually is. I know there are complaints about Steven Moffat’s companions having lives that only revolve around the Doctor, but the fact that when Clara runs into the Doctor in a storage closet in the next scene we find out that she hasn’t seen him since she sent him out for coffee three weeks ago and it looks like she hasn’t been pining or searching for him, but has got on with her life and work, shows that she is a well-rounded person on her own. She even describes the Doctor as one of her “hobbies.” Yes, I’m a Clara fan, feel free to fight me in the comments.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor has a heart-to-heart with Clara, asking her if he is “a good man.” She considers the question for a long moment, before finally answering that she doesn’t know. “Neither do I,” the Doctor replies.

The Doctor returns with Clara to the Aristotle, where she introduces herself as his “carer,” an interesting turn of phrase, and one that I think will ultimately come into play a lot this season in a very literal way given the lack of empathy this Doctor has shown so far. “She cares so I don’t have to,” the Doctor explains, as if to underscore the point I just typed. The Doctor and Clara are miniaturized along with Journey and a couple of other soldiers, and sent into the body of the Dalek, which the Doctor has decided to call Rusty. It’s a bit weird once they get there that Clara doesn’t have any sort of reaction to being inside a Dalek – no “Hmmm, this seems familiar,” or “I suddenly have this incredible urge to make a souffle.”

Inside the Dalek, the Doctor shows them panels of rectangular lights, which he explains are Rusty’s memory banks. “But more than that,” he says, “it’s what keeps the Daleks pure.” The memory banks are fires stoking the hatred all Daleks are born with. “This is evil refined,” he says, pointing at the glowing wall. Geez, Doctor, don’t hold back.

Telling the soldiers that they need to get down into the guts of the Dalek to determine what’s wrong with it, one of them shoots grappling hooks into the interior paneling. This triggers Rusty’s antibodies, which are like floating Dalek eyes, to come in search of them. The antibodies surround one of the soldiers, Ross, and the Doctor tosses him something to swallow which seems initially like it’s meant to help protect him from the antibodies’ attack. It doesn’t, though – the antibodies obliterate him, and the Doctor reveals what he gave Ross was a tracking device to find out where the bodies are dumped. “He was dead already,” the Doctor tells the crew, “I was saving us.” This is a far cry from the Doctor who sacrificed himself so Wilf could live in “The End of Time.”

They follow the signal, the antibodies hot on their heels, before leaping into the Dalek’s equivalent of a garbage disposal, ending up in a slurry of Dalek victims. The Doctor explains that the Daleks need protein, and occasionally harvest the people they exterminate. Journey asks if Ross is there, and the Doctor says he’s in the top layer “if you want to say a few words.” Damn, he is cold in this episode.

Escaping into the deep interior of the Dalek, the Doctor asks Rusty what changed him. “I saw beauty,” the Dalek responds, telling a story of seeing a star being born and recognizing both the futility of the Daleks’ mission and the eternal triumph of life. “Life returns, life prevails. Resistance is futile,” Rusty declares, and suddenly I want a fanfic where Rusty and Seven-of-Nine go for a beer.

The Doctor finds a breach in the Dalek’s power cell, which is leaking radiation and causing Rusty’s sickness. The Doctor seals it with his sonic screwdriver, and all seems to be well – until, that is, Rusty starts saying “Exterminate!” and rampaging through the Aristotle. Turns out the radiation leak that was making Rusty sick was also what was making him good. Rusty calls the Dalek fleet, giving them the coordinates of the Aristotle. The Doctor seems weirdly pleased by this turn of events, having been proved right that the Daleks are all intrinsically evil, which earns him a slap from Clara. She goes into teacher mode, asking if Daleks being irreversibly evil is really what they’ve learned from this adventure.

Journey’s uncle gives her the command to destroy the Dalek, but the Doctor, having at last understood Clara, stops her. He sends Clara to reactivate its suppressed memory of the star’s birth, while he goes inside its mind to try to expand its consciousness. To get Clara back up to the memory banks in time to save the Aristotle, Gretchen, the soldier who shot the grappling hooks earlier does so again, sacrificing herself to the antibodies. Just after she’s vaporized, however, she wakes up screaming in Missy’s Heaven, where Missy offers her a cup of tea. Theories on who Missy is? I’ve seen the Master and River Song posited, but I’m hoping she’s more interesting than that.

While Clara works on reconnecting the cables to turn on Rusty’s suppressed memory banks, the Doctor feeds himself into Rusty’s mind, asking Rusty to see what the Doctor sees. He shows Rusty stars, galaxies – all the beauty the universe has to offer, and it seems for a moment that it’s working. But then Rusty access the darker parts of the Doctor’s mind, as images of war flash behind the Doctor. “I see your hatred of the Daleks, and it is good!” Rusty exclaims, to the Doctor’s horror. “Death to the Daleks!” Rusty proclaims, as he goes through the Aristotle taking out the Daleks who have invaded and been fighting the Aristotle‘s crew. I really love the “oh shit!” moment from one of the Daleks as it realizes that they’re being attacked by one of their own.

“Daleks are exterminated!” Rusty happily declares, and inside his mind the Doctor says sadly, “Of course they are. That’s what you do, isn’t it?” Um, Doctor, I think you’re forgetting where he got the idea in the first place.

De-miniaturized, the Doctor, Clara and Journey stand with her uncle and the remaining crew of the Aristotle to learn from Rusty that he has sent a retreat signal to the Dalek fleet, which will fool them into thinking that the humans have initiated the ship’s self-destruct sequence. Clara asks Rusty what its plans are, and Rusty says it will go with the Aristotle, to continue the fight against the Daleks. “Victory is yours,” Rusty tells the Doctor, seeing his somber face. “It does not please you?” The Doctor replies that Rusty looked inside him and saw hate. “That’s not victory,” he says. “Victory would have been a good Dalek.”

“I am not a good Dalek,” Rusty tells him. “You are a good Dalek.” The camera cuts to a shot of the Doctor as seen from inside Rusty’s eye stalk, and wow, who would have thought a Dalek would deliver the sickest burn of the episode without even knowing it?

Journey runs after Clara and the Doctor to the TARDIS, asking the Doctor to take her with him. He smiles sadly and says, “Underneath it all I think you’re probably nice…I just wish you hadn’t been a soldier.” This soldier prejudice the Doctor’s developed is out of control. Also, that’s going to be awkward for Journey considering she just peaced out with her uncle like she was leaving forever. Hopefully we will still see Journey again. There was a moment earlier in the episode where Clara remarked on the coincidence that Journey’s last name is Blue and that she just met a man with the last name of Pink – I can’t think that Moffat would spend time in the episode on that coincidence unless it wasn’t really a coincidence at all.

Back on the TARDIS, Clara’s changed out of her soggy Soylent Green clothing to a more date-appropriate outfit. She asks how she looks, and the Doctor gives one of the weird put-down lines that he’s been giving to Clara about her appearance throughout the episode that I’ve honestly found quite off-putting. There’s teasing, and then there’s whatever this is, and I hope it doesn’t continue much longer. They land in the storage closet thirty seconds after Clara entered it to begin with. Before she goes, she turns back to the Doctor. “I don’t know,” she says. “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 smiles. “I think you’re probably an amazing teacher.”

“I think I’d better be,” Clara replies, closing the door to the TARDIS. It certainly seems after the events of this episode she has a lot of teaching to do with this new Doctor.

We end with Clara meeting Danny for their date. He asks if she’s really going for a drink with him. “I just thought you might have a rule against soldiers,” Danny says. Clara says no, not at all, and then, under her breath, “Not me.”

I bet the Doctor wouldn't have such a problem with soldiers if he saw this one.  Atten-TION, am I right ladies???
I bet the Doctor wouldn’t have such a problem with soldiers if he saw this one. Atten-TION, am I right ladies???

Next time: Sherwood Forest! Robin Hood! Robots? Please rank your cinematic Robin Hoods in the comments. For me, the top Robin Hood will always be the Disney version. What a foxy fox.

Courtney is a returning reader to the world of comic books, drawn back in by the power of Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki in the MCU and her attraction to broken antagonists with questionable hair. Favorite titles she's currently reading…

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