Season: 8 / Episode: 2
It was only a matter of time until the new Doctor would have to face the Daleks, and in the second episode of season eight, “Into the Daleks,” the Doctor does just that, getting up-close and personal with his enemy by diving into its mind.
In the first scene of the episode, we see two soldiers—a female soldier named Journey Blue and her wounded brother—flying through space, trying to escape the Daleks in pursuit. Just as the Daleks are about to blast their ship, the Doctor saves Journey with the Tardis. Of course, a soldier who finds herself suddenly transported inside a time machine with a stranger when she was facing death with her brother just seconds prior to that is going to freak out. In fact, I’d say it’s a given. But the Doctor callously tells her to stop crying (even though she just lost her brother, who the Doctor says he couldn’t save) and refuses to return her to her main ship until she asks nicely and says please.
The Doctor returns her to her ship, which is full of soldiers—not exactly the Doctor’s favorite people, as we all know—who are in the midst of a battle against the Daleks and think they may have an asset in the form of a “good” Dalek—a Dalek who wants to destroy his species. However, the Dalek is wounded, so the soldiers demand that the Doctor cure it.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Clara meets a new teacher at her school, a former soldier named Danny Pink. Danny’s full of awkwardness and angst (when his students ask if he’s ever killed someone, he goes silent and a single emo tear falls down his face, making me momentarily confuse this for a My Chemical Romance video) and a bit of mystery, as his name sounds curiously close to that of soldier Journey. I wouldn’t put it past writer Steven Moffat to make a connection between the two characters and reveal it later in the series—something he loves doing—but for now, Danny’s just Clara’s love interest.
Just as Clara makes plans to meet Danny for drinks, the Doctor shows up and takes Clara back with him to face the good Dalek, who they’ve named Rusty. Before they head out onto the ship, he and Clara have the little conversation that has been in every season eight trailer and preview for the last few months: The Doctor asks Clara if she thinks he’s a good man, and Clara says she doesn’t know.
Back on the ship, the Doctor and Clara, along with Journey and two other soldiers from the crew, are shrunk down and enter Rusty’s body through his eyestalk (which turns out to be super trippy, by the way). One of the soldiers accidentally hurts Rusty, which causes his Dalek antibodies to promptly attack and kill the soldier, which the Doctor does nothing to stop.
The Doctor figures out that Rusty’s problem is the result of a radioactive leak inside his body, but when he fixes it, Rusty reverts to killer Dalek mode and starts exterminating everyone on the ship. The Doctor spends some time being grimly smug and feeling vindicated in his theory that there are no good Daleks, that they are all essentially bad, until Clara slaps him across the face and tells him he has missed the point of their whole mission. The Doctor snaps out of it and thinks up a plan: They’ll access the feelings and memories about the beauty of the universe that Rusty has suppressed in his mind and try to make him good again. During the course of the plan, another soldier dies, sacrificing herself for the mission, and we see her transported to “heaven” with Missy, the woman from last week’s episode who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend and has been collecting the Doctor’s casualties (seriously, who is this lady?).
Back inside Rusty’s mind, the Doctor allows the Dalek access to his own memories, hoping his memories of the beauty of the universe will allow Rusty to become good. However, Rusty also sees the Doctor’s extreme hatred of the Daleks, which causes him to become overcome by hatred again, this time for his own species. Rusty kills his fellow Daleks on the ship and helps call off the rest of the Daleks’ attack.
Just in case you didn’t get the extended metaphor about the good Dalek and the nature of the Doctor that Moffat has been developing throughout the episode, he really drives it home with this line from Rusty, addressed to the Doctor: “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.” (::Moffat throws down a Drama bomb::)
Rusty then goes off to join his fellow Daleks (to do what? Re-assimilate? Plot against them? We have no clue), and the Doctor and Clara leave, but not before Journey follows them to the Tardis and asks the Doctor to take her with him. But the Doctor refuses, just because she’s a soldier. Oh, did I mention that the Doctor hates soldiers? I’m pretty sure I did.
It’s always interesting to see a new Doctor’s first interaction with the Daleks. The Doctor is inextricably linked with the Daleks and, even though they’re his most hated enemies, they shed light on the Doctor himself. This is pretty obvious in this episode, as Moffat continues to cause us to question the moral compass and overall “goodness” of this Doctor. Moffat clearly wants us to dislike this Doctor. He’s old, he’s cranky, and so far he has lacked the empathy we’ve seen in some of the other incarnations of the Doctor. Sure, the Daleks have always brought out the worst in the Doctor, but when has the Doctor ever been so cold and nonchalant about the deaths of the innocent people around him? How many times did we hear the eleventh, tenth or even ninth Doctors say, “No one else will die today” in the face of mortal danger? This Doctor does not even take the time to consider whether or not he can save the soldiers from the antibodies inside the Dalek. He recognizes the sacrifices needed for the greater good of the mission, but at the same time, when has the Doctor ever taken a life for granted? The Doctor has also always been especially cold toward soldiers, but everything this twelfth Doctor does and says seems tinged with an extra dose of bitterness. Even his banter with Clara can be biting; throughout the episode, the Doctor insults Clara, commenting on her age and hips and even her smile. Lighten up, man.
While the new Doctor’s dickishness produces some humor in what overall looks like a more serious season, I have a few problems with it. First off, it feels a bit overwrought, as though Moffat is trying a bit too hard to prove that this Doctor is an asshole and completely different from his other incarnations. Secondly, I have trouble believing the extent of this Doctor’s dickishness. The whole concept of the Doctor transforming but still being essentially the same person is part of the foundation of the show. You can even argue that the main premise of this episode is rooted in the difference between modernist and postmodernist views of humanity: How different do we really become as we grow and age? Do we really have some immutable, core part of ourselves? So I can believe that this Doctor is an asshole, but I have trouble believing that he is so cold about people dying while with him—something that Journey brings up throughout the episode. Third, we should be able to see in each Doctor an intellectual and emotional development. The beauty of this show is that it contains characters that are not static. The companions grow and change with their travels with the Doctor, and the Doctor himself is granted with a new face and personality every few seasons. However, how does someone who has lived as long as the Doctor change? It’s not so easy to say he just gets smarter and wiser as he gets older, because people are always flawed. But we can imagine that in his recent incarnations, the Doctor started out with the anger and bitterness of his ninth incarnation, which makes sense because if we follow the chronology explained in “The Day of the Doctor” with the introduction of the confusing element of the War Doctor, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is the first one after the Time War. After the ninth Doctor, the subsequent Doctors became lighter in tone, sillier and more quirky, and they seemed to learn more and more from their companions, all of whom significantly developed in their own character arcs. Thus, the fact that this Doctor is such an insensitive jerk does not make as much sense to me from a narrative point of view as it does from an editorial/production one, as this Doctor introduces a tonal shift in the show that keeps it new and interesting.
A list of all of the Doctor’s dick moves for this episode:
-Telling Journey Blue to get over the death of her brother, who had died seconds earlier
-Grumbling about Clara’s smiling
-Calling Clara old
-Being all smug about the Dalek turning bad again
-Nonchalantly letting two soldiers die
-Insulting Clara’s figure as they crawl through a tight tunnel
-Rejecting Journey’s request to accompany him because she’s a soldier
As for the narrative of the episode itself, I didn’t find it as unique or compelling, because it seems that every sci-fi show—and plenty of regular shows as well—has to do a “Fantastic Voyage” episode where characters have to shrink and go inside another character’s body. (I was having ’90s flashbacks to the “Rugrats” episode “The Inside Story,” but that’s another thing entirely.) I was also hoping to see more surprises inside of the Dalek, such as when we saw the inside of the broken Tardis, but I suppose you can’t compare evil genocidal apples to time-traveling oranges. Still, the episode did succeed in what I suspect was its main intention: to have us question the goodness of the Doctor and make us realize, if we hadn’t already, how similar he is to his enemy. Despite all of the Doctor’s good deeds and appreciation of the beauty of the universe, he is still shaped by his regret, doubt, hatred and even his fear. So much of him is molded by his experience with the Daleks that he is, in effect, a “good Dalek.”