Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 2: Into the Dalek

So...it's a Dalek episode.

As a general rule, Dalek episodes might get more fanfare in the press, but are no better or worse than any other type of Doctor Who story. Some are great, some are terrible, and most fall right in the middle.

There are three Dalek stories I consider to be really good. Genesis of the Daleks, from the original series, Dalek, the first appearance of the Daleks in the new show (Jubilee, the audio play on which it was based, was even better) and Parting of the Ways, which built on what was established in Dalek. 

And then there are all the other Dalek stories, of which there are approximately eleventy billion. This isn't an instant classic, but it is surely a solid outing. It hits a lot of the same notes as Dalek, which is simultaneously its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. I went back and watched Dalek after finishing Into the Dalek, and thought "That was like Dalek, just not quite as good."

Not that I didn't like it. I thought the cold open was probably the best I've seen in the new series.

Journey Blue, a space pilot, is racing away from a Dalek saucer ship. Her co-pilot has already been killed. The ship takes a direct hit, and right before the ship blows up, she apologizes to him and the screen fades to white.

She awakens in the TARDIS, with the Doctor looking down on her. I like Capaldi's expression. The Doctor is not a human being. The cock of his head conveys something of the "alien" to his demeanor.

She pulls her gun and demands to know where her co-pilot, her brother, is.

The Doctor replies, "I materialized the time capsule exactly around you and saved your life one second before your ship exploded, but do, please, keep crying."

"My brother just died!"

"His sister didn't. Please, put the gun down."

"Or what?"

"Or then you might shoot me, and then, where would you be?"

"In charge of your vessel."

"You'd starve to death trying to find the light bulb switch."

He waves his hand at her in disapproval, and tells her "Not like that."

He's holding two cups of coffee in a cardboard carrier throughout the conversation, and if anything, this serves to accentuate his alien nature. I liked this whole scene tremendously.I was talking with my friend Corey about Clara's scene from the last episode, where she tells him that if he kills her, he'll never get what he wants. The Doctor essentially doesn't the same thing here, but he pulls it off with considerably more panache.

I really enjoyed the little details that went into it, like referring to his vehicle as a "time capsule" rather than the familiar "TARDIS". The only thing that could have made it better is if they cut in a scene from Adric from Earthshock.

"I materialized the time capsule exactly around you and saved your life one second before your ship exploded."
 "Wait, why didn't you do that for me?

Ahem. Journey puts down the gun, and stops demanding and starts requesting, and the Doctor agrees to return her to her ship once she says "please". They materialize on board, the Doctor gets all snarky about soldiers. I don't know much about Russell Davies' politics other than what I can infer from the his writing on the show, but he seems to be pretty anti-military, and consequently, so was the Doctor. This always struck me as a bit strange. Yeah, attitudes change between regenerations, but the Doctor was the scientific adviser to a paramilitary organization for a good number of years. More on this aspect a bit later.

The Doctor's contempt seems justified, because the commanding officer, 

I think his name was Beardo
orders him executed, in order to maintain the security of the base. Journey steps up and intervenes, mentioning that they have a patient, and the Doctor can probably assist. They all go to the infirmary, where the Doctor comments on a Fantastic Voyage shrink ray, and then notices the Dalek all chained up.

He declares that they won't put him in there, and credits. We return to Cole Hill school, where a teacher is leading some students in early morning exercises out in the yard. He speaks briefly with a receptionist, and then we see him in front of his class, where a student asks him if he ever killed anyone, and he admits that he was a soldier, and there were other soldiers, and some of them were on the other side.

Unlike some Misters Pink, I tip my waitress. 
This is Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. I'm going to call him Mister Pink, so we can get some Reservoir Dogs mileage out of it. I'm pretty certain that he's here to rehabilitate the role of soldiers in Doctor Who. (And I'm using "soldier" here as a catch-all term for a member of an organized military, so for the purposes of this discussion, it's encompassing all branches of the Armed Forces.)

The reactions to Mister Pink are pretty weird. It seems like he's the first soldier anyone has ever encountered. There are a lot of soldiers and former soldiers out there. I've had family members, bosses, colleagues and friends who are or were soldiers, and I think that's probably pretty representative. Other than generally being more disciplined than the population at large, I don't think service members have any traits that differentiate themselves from their civilian cohorts, simply because they're drawn from that pool. I don't think every service member is a hero (though some of them are), and nor do I think every one is an asshole (though some of them are, too). Stereotypes exist, but they tend to die quickly once you're exposed to a real live member of that group. It seems strange that the Cole Hill group has apparently never met a soldier. I think we're going to learn along with them that soldiers are people, just like you and me.

Clara chats with him, but she's a bit of an ass, ([In reference to the morning calisthenics:] Mr. Pink: Oh, the Cole Hill Cadets? That's just a bit of fun. Clara: "What, teaching them how to shoot people?" Mr. Pink: "There's a bit more to modern soldiering than just shooting people. I like to think there's a moral dimension. Clara: "Ah, so you shoot people and cry about it afterwards?")   Holy shit, that's an asshole thing to say to anybody. The scene awkwardly transitions into flirting, and it's awful.

The Doctor shows up with her coffee, and they take off. Apparently, the soldiers on the space station who were obsessed about security, and were willing to shoot a stranger who just did them a good turn were willing to let him go as long he promised really, really hard that he'd be right back after he delivered his coffee.

It's worth noting that Clara is wearing a shirt covered with eyeballs, and it's just very disturbing.

The Doctor was unwilling to help the Dalek, until he realizes that the Dalek wants to kill other Daleks. A couple of the soldiers shrink down with him, including Journey, whose brother just burned to death a couple hours ago, which struck me as a rather questionable decision.

"Yup, here's your problem, someone set this thing to evil."
The scenes inside the Dalek have some nice visuals, but they struck me as so obviously a gimmick that it took me out of the story. I did like the part where a soldier has been targeted by antibodies, and the Doctor gives him something to swallow that leads him to believe that will save him, but really just allows the Doctor to track where his remains are dumped. Some more stuff happens, and the Doctor realizes that the Dalek is suffering from a malfunction, which he corrects, which turns the Dalek's morality switch back to evil.

The Dalek summons other Daleks, and they start exterminating the population of the space station. One of the soldiers sacrifices herself, and winds up with Missy from the earlier episode. The Doctor flips the Dalek's switch back to good.

It exterminates a bunch of Daleks, and we get what I can only assume is a callback to Dalek where it, tells the Doctor that the Doctor is a good Dalek. That's kind of odd decision. Journey asks to come along, but the Doctor refuses, because she's a soldier. This is contrasted at the end where Clara accepts Mister Pink's past as a soldier.

They make a good looking couple

I liked the episode, but, well, I said it earlier in the post. It's too much like Dalek, which is eight years old at this point, but hardly forgotten. The scenes inside the Dalek went on a bit too long, but the bits with Capaldi were again outstanding. Coleman and Anderson have a nice chemistry too, and I look forward to seeing more of Mister Pink.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this all felt familiar!

    Capaldi is still getting his feet wet (as is the plot), but I'm an episode away from the "Can't wait till Clara dies at Christmas" fanclub.