After a padded but thoroughly enjoyable debut, Doctor Who is faced with two challenges: the dreaded second episode lull and the return of its most iconic but lauded villains in the Daleks.
While “Into the Dalek” doesn’t succeed in breaking down those road blocks, it delivers some fun concepts that are well-executed thanks to some solid performances and well-paced directing. The heart of “Into the Dalek” is defining how one discovers whether they are good or not. The Doctor states that basically the countless victories won and lives saved in the universe were the result of dealing with the ultimate evil in these infernal pepper pots. This Doctor is a minimalist, one who doesn’t hide his shades of darkness. But, much of this episode relies on the obvious rather than being progressive in style and intent — which is its biggest fault.
It’s obvious that the Doctor has settled into himself more — delivering one liners with a blunt and rather wry sense of humor. Yet, he still comes off mean-spirited which looks to be more of a common trait rather than something that will weaken over time…and that’s fine. There are many moments of stubbornness that come from the Doctor this week that are almost infuriating and once again Clara acts as the surrogate for our frustration going as far as slapping him across the face when he delivers a careless declaration about the outcome of helping a “good dalek.”
In comparison to “Deep Breath” the Doctor’s actions and words speak greater volumes of discomfort to the audience here and minus any slapstick it sinks in more. Much like last week, Clara shows how her teaching capabilities helping infuse levels of rationale and challenge into a person lacking maturity and true strength. She’s strong and quick-thinking when the Doctor tries to downplay a level of care. She ultimately tells The Doctor that he tries to be a good man even if either one is unsure if he is, this is the kind of answer he needs and one that will hopefully reverberate in the weeks to come.
All of this is great advancement for those worried about this unstable incarnation but it doesn’t quite make up for a unique but not fully realized plot. The reason is quite simple; the daleks aren’t menacing anymore. The classic fan in me can tell you why they are so fascinating as an allegory for Nazism but in the new series it’s hard to sell these pepper pots when we have seen far scarier things not just on television but in the world. The Daleks only hope of interest has been in rebranding them with a new idea and exploring the inside of one is a great idea with some interesting little footnotes such as the antibodies and the protein consumption from their victims but it doesn’t provide real menace beyond the psychological and atmospheric implications of this risky mission.
The Doctor’s hatred for his mortal enemies has long been established so we don’t learn anything new from his fear and disdain for them but in trying to do that we learn a lot about him. He tries to rationalize with them and the scene between the Doctor and “Rusty” is great because we get to see Capaldi deliver one of the grand speeches about the wonders of the universe that proves to backfire. The Doctor’s attempt to be a good man ultimately results in the wrong outcome against the Daleks. He tries to be a good man, which as Clara points out is the point, but his internal hatred for the Daleks points out a lack of purity i.e. the Doctor is flawed, can be wrong, and can lose. The Doctor needs to lose because if you wish to keep the Daleks desirable to come back they must be given a pass at the end of the day every once in a while.
As history has shown the Doctor has always despised authority and has shown dislike for military personnel as a former solider himself but it almost comes off cold despite coming from a place of morality. Soldiers in Doctor Who have always been portrayed as brave with good intent (as they should be) but are often subject to a lack of understanding that ultimately results in the simple quick response that plagues science versus military in science fiction. So the Doctor has always played the science part of that dynamic well whether it is archaic or not. This Doctor with his ill temper and weariness would show a cold shoulder but this has long term effects with the introduction of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).
The moments between Coleman and Anderson work fine, offering the romance angle that a section of the audience clamors for. But, his military background sets up obvious levels of tension when he finally meets her “hobby.” Subsequent weeks will show if this relationship feels true to itself and not something tacked on for appeal. Oh, and while it will obviously be fleshed out at some point, I am already over the possible regular appearance of Missy. Who she chooses to have pop up into “Heaven” brings about a small level of interest but if this is a weekly occurrence it’s going to become quite dull and annoying. At least this week in didn’t act as a cliffhanger.
So “Into the Dalek” suffers the second episode curse but not without trying and being as mad in tone and intent as the plot or lack thereof. It’s an enjoyable and action riddled adventure but it doesn’t write home with any new dynamics. As far as second episodes go it falls pretty much in line with its predecessors in lacking substantial weight other than to blast a new incarnation off into interstellar adventures. It’s not subtle and often draws more than obvious parallels between the Doctor and the enemy but it paces well, looks brilliant, and offers some stability and positivity to this new Timelord. “Into the Dalek” has gotten both the second episode hurtle and an inevitable visit from the Daleks out of the way and while it has moments of brilliance it is left to remain on the shelf with the likes of “The Beast Below” and “Tooth and Claw.” Let’s move on shall we?
Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.