A behemoth of metal hangs in the speckled and cluttered cloud of an asteroid field, ploughing against the grain of meteorites that ping harmlessly off its shell. Lasers sing through the vacuum of space aiming for a small snub fighter that weaves through the cosmic debris, barely holding on against the onslaught of its imposing hunter. Inside the tiny, expiring vessel a soldier bellows her situation in the hope that her transmission reaches her comrades. As her ship disintegrates in a fiery explosion she appears inside a certain time machine in the presence of a certain lord of time brandishing a brace of coffee-shop-style coffees. Hmm. Well, that’s one way to start an episode.
This second adventure for our new, none-more-Scottish Time Lord is on one hand a rollicking adventure, on another an exploration into the limitations of our man from Galifrey and on a third, peculiar, flabby and vestigial hand, overburdened with certain ancillary aspects that drag it down and make everyone bummed out when you mention them. Some people would say that’s exactly the structural pattern that ‘Doctor Who’ takes: it has solid moments, some might say even great moments, that are ultimately undermined by either something dumb, something unnecessary, something annoying or something that somehow combines all three into some kind of David Cronenburg-esque horror. Which the Doctor then has a lovely chat with. Anyway, let’s see how this pattern holds for episode two: Into the Dalek.
Following the very space-tastic, a-typically ‘Doctor Who’-y rescue mentioned above we find ourselves in the company of some of the universes’ most irate rebel soldiers who, upon learning The Doctor is… well… sort of a doctor, lead him to a most peculiar patient: a dying Dalek with an unexplained moral compass/desire to kill other Daleks. Mesmerised by such a discovery, The Doctor volunteers his services (and that of somehow-back-to-the-schoolhouse-grind companion, Clara). What follows is a story that feels like it should have been done in an earlier Doctor Who serial from the ’70’s, but now that we have shiny whizz-bang special effects it wouldn’t look quite as ropey as it could have. In order to understand, and hopefully save, this moral Dalek, The Doctor must go… INSIDE A DALEK * cue spooky and intense music, you know the kind I mean *.
The beef of this story follows The Doctor, Clara, and a trio of soldiers (including the one he saved from the start, Journey Blue) as they go all ‘Fantastic Voyage’ on a Dalek under the watchful eye of Michael Smiley’s commanding officer. This naturally includes an impressive portrayal of what the inside of a Dalek looks like, which personally meets all expectations: it’s unforgiving, terrifying, alien, and full of Dalek antibodies. Now unlike normal antibodies that resemble gooey clouds that eat anything Donald-Pleasence-shaped, Dalek antibodies are tiny spherical robots that painfully disintegrate you with lasers. And by ‘you’ I mean ‘soldiers who accompany The Doctor wherever he goes, seriously you should probably just stay at home and do a jigsaw or something’.
I can’t stress enough just how good the whole going-inside-a-Dalek thing is shown, with particular highlights including passing through the Dalek’s eye stalk, landing in its protein banks and the Doctor’s final confrontation with the beastie, which he calls Rusty (which we’ll delve into a bit later). It also helps to further this whole self-reflective perspective Doctor Who’ seems to be taking recently; what better way to explore the inner workings between The Doctor and his greatest adversary than to have the former go inside the latter?
Anyway, after a good jaunt through Rusty the Dalek, The Doctor finds the internal radiation-leaking damage and fixes it up lickety split. Which backfires spectacularly. Now repaired, Rusty goes Dalek-bananas and sets upon the rebels in their base with The Doctor, Clara and two of the soldiers still trapped inside him. Rusty then contacts the Dalek ship which in turn sends its full force after the rebels. In a word: bugger.
The Doctor is naturally devastated by his bumbling, but thanks to spunky schoolma’am Clara he is reminded of what he learned today. He learned that a Dalek can be good. So off pops a plan to reactivate the Dalek’s memory banks to show it all the good it has repressed and hopefully mark a turn in the ability to combat the Daleks. In order for the plan to work one of the soldiers snuffs it but somehow ends up having tea (and a frig-load of cakes) in Paradise with Sue White from ‘Green Wing’.
Anyway, the plan potters on and is on the verge of working, all it needs is a push from The Doctor to show the Dalek of all the good there is. Oh sunshine. Oh rainbows. Oh the birth of a star. But then we remember that The Doctor really, really, REALLY doesn’t like Daleks. Like, at all. Instead of instilling ol’ Rusty with the good of the universe, he is instilled with a hate of all Daleks. So Rusty starts flipping out on his former cohorts and oh dear, oh dear. Oh. Dear. Well at least all the evil Daleks are dead.
All this internal ongoing going-on is curtained by the Dalek attack on the rebel base, which, truth be told, is kind of meh. Action isn’t ‘Doctor Who’s strong point, so whilst I’m glad it isn’t central stage whenever it does pop up you sort of make a noise not too disimilar to ‘eeeeeeeeeh’. It’s not the greatest use of Michael Smiley either. Eeeeeeeeeeeh.
The ultimate push of this story is The Doctor’s dislike of soldiers: being near them, having to deal with them, getting put inside the universes’ most-effective-and-yet-most-evil version of them. It doesn’t half repeat it’s point, but it’s a decent enough parallel to Clara and her new maybe-beau and ex-soldier Danny Pink (who bookends the episode with his extra-awkward attempts to be less shy in front of Clara, attempts that twang a bit too close to a bad episode of Steven Moffat’s old sitcom ‘Coupling’ if you ask me. Which I’m assuming you did.) It also begins to harp on about the moral nature of The Doctor, and how he could be a good version of what he hates due to his very hate for them, but we’ve been down that road before (see, well, any Dalek appearance in the previous series since 2005).
Ultimately, Into the Dalek was as solid an episode as you could have hoped for. Like I said near the start of this word tangle, for every great segment of a great episode of Doctor Who, there’ll be something somewhat-sucktacular to balance it out. Fantastic Voyage in a Dalek? Yay! Action sequences flatter than an Andy Capp comic strip? Boo. Capaldi cementing his new role with industrial-grade aplomb? Yay! Sudden and lazy ending to an otherwise sound episode? Boo. You’d never catch me doing that last one.