The trouble with writing a review immediately after an episode airs is there is no time to reflect. There is no time to see the episode from a historical sense; you can’t put it into the perspective of an entire season or even better, an era. No, the only thing you have after an initial viewing is your gut reaction. And sometimes that gut reaction is negative. Into the Dalek left me cold.
And it’s not as if it’s a bad episode. It looks good, the action sequences are rather nice and the battles on the ship were mostly practical effects so there was lots of a fire and explodey bits. The story was fine for what it was and it was well acted and the writing was okay. I was just a little underwhelmed. And the reason for that is, I’m sad to say, it had Daleks in it.
Now I realize that the Daleks are the iconic villain of Doctor Who, they are the classic baddie the every incarnation needs to an encounter with. It’s just that Dalek episodes are usually pretty crap.
The idea of the Daleks is great. Pure evil, fascist drones intent on wiping out all other races for the sake of racial purity. The WWII analogy is still pretty powerful. The execution of the Daleks is another thing entirely. We are told time and again that they are the “most dangerous creatures in the universe” without ever being shown that. The show takes it on faith that we will believe this because…they’re Daleks! And yet how many times have we heard a writer or a producer say, “This time the Daleks are scary again!” If you have to say that then they aren’t scary anymore.
For me there are few Dalek episodes not written by David Whitaker or Robert Shearman that actually use the Daleks to their potential or provide a sense of a threat. (I can think of two, maybe) The Robert Shearman episode “Dalek” from Eccleston’s tenure is probably the most effective. And it is that episode that this one will be compared to because of a few lines and imagery. There are, I guess, a few similarities. They both have damaged Daleks chained and seemingly good, or at least sympathetic. Both have the Dalek go on a rampage before being stopped by the power of love. And both Daleks compare themselves to the Doctor. Simply add a Fantastic Voyage aspect and you have Into the Dalek.
The interesting difference is the inversion of the Doctor/Dalek comparison. In Dalek the Doctor is told he “would make a good Dalek” whereas in Into the Dalek he is told he “is a good Dalek”. The first implying that he is full of rage and hate which makes a good Dalek; while in the second it is implied he is full rage and hate but tries not to be which makes a Dalek good. It is a moral inversion that is basically restated by Clara at the end.
But the fact remains that Daleks as the “ultimate threat” simply doesn’t play well. I can’t help feeling the story would be better served with a different villain.
Take Asylum of the Daleks for instance. It was a good episode but not because it had Daleks in it. If you took the Daleks out and inserted a different monster would it have made the episode better or worse? If they had used something like the Cybermen the episode might actually have been enhanced.
The first Dalek episode I ever saw was Genesis of the Daleks; I was eight years old and the Daleks were cool tank monsters and Davros was a crazy demon-man. They made an impression and I can see their appeal, I can. It’s just that when I saw my second Dalek episode, Destiny of the Daleks, they were easily defeated toys and Davros was just silly. And that’s the thing that sticks with me; the Daleks have become simply a prop that every incarnation must use at some point. Their importance has been diminished.
I guess that’s what left me cold with this episode. It seems, rather cynically I admit, that this was the let’s-get-the-dalek-story-out-of-the-way episode. This gets back to the problem of immediate reviews, there is a chance that this may seem better in the larger arc of the season. But for now I was left with my gut reaction which was a resounding, meh. It was okay.
All that being said there were some stand out things:
Capaldi’s performance is still growing and knowing this is only the second episode he filmed (because I’m that kind of fan who looks up production notes and such) I feel it will only get stronger as the season progresses. And the bits where he is on he is really on. The opening scene with him and Journey Blue was quite good.
The Danny Pink scenes were amusing. He has charm and charisma and can hold his own in a banter-filled conversation. This bodes well for a new companion.
And finally there theme of identity was taken up again, even if the “am I a good man” question at the beginning did feel a bit unearned. Hopefully this theme will continue and be expanded upon.
Next week: Robin Hood and Mark Gatiss. Cross your fingers everyone, this could get ugly.