I love “Doctor Who.” Ever since discovering it in my Netflix queue years ago (Christopher Eccleston is still my Doctor) this silly, sentimental show about a mad man in a box has enthralled me. But I — like many fans — worried that lately the wheels had been coming off. Too many cliches and consequence-free actions and terrible treatment of women. Not to mention an infinite number of reset buttons. But from the looks of tonight’s episode, “Into The Dalek,” it truly feels like writers heard the fans…and they’re beginning to patch up the holes this season.
We begin where we’ve begun before. The Daleks are in pursuit of a spaceship, intent on exterminating all those inside. Flying through an asteroid field, the human pilot desperately tries to keep the ship from crashing while also trying to keep her co-pilot conscious. In the end she fails, and the ship goes up in a blossoming fireball.
The pilot’s screams turn into confusion as she is very much not dead. Instead she is on the bridge of the TARDIS, with a very alien looking Doctor staring at her. I don’t know what it is about Capaldi but with his head turned just so, he looks more like a bird of prey examining a potential meal than the savior of the galaxy.
Our pilot’s name is Lt. Journey Blue and she is not amused. Gun in hand she demands to be taken back to her ship. That co-pilot was her brother and he is dead. The Doctor is heartless, tells her to stop crying because at least she’s alive. He then pretty much refuses to return her to her people unless she asks nicely. They are really hammering home that Twelve is a dick.
Upon returning Lt. Blue to her platoon, it seems they’ve caught themselves a Dalek. No one here knows the Doctor, seeming to think he is talking about his profession and not his status as most infamous of the Time Lords*. Not even the captured Dalek realizes who it is in the presence of. It’s too busy malfunctioning, believing in truth and and love and beauty
and absinthe and destroying all other Daleks.
*So at least Eleven erasing himself from history seems to have stuck.
What the humans do know is that they want to shrink Capaldi down using a molecular scanner and send him in to see what exactly has turned this Dalek to the side of morality. Because when Daleks stop wanting to kill everything, obviously they’re very sick. This episode is literally going to pay homage to sci-fi classic “The Fantastic Voyage” and I for one, (and Twelve for two) couldn’t be more pleased.
As the “Whovian” music rolls, I wonder why this super science-y and tonally bleak episode feels familiar. A quick Google search turns up the answer. The writer of “Into the Dalek” is Phil Ford, who’s only other “Doctor Who” writing credit (for the show) is “The Waters of Mars.” That episode deals with an invasion of the body snatcher and the inevitability of fixed points in time despite good intentions. My hopes for this episode suddenly became much higher.
Back from the opening credits, we’re introduced to the newest character, Mr. Danny Pink. I’m starting to pick up on some “Reservoir Dog” undertones in this episode, but not one person makes the obvious joke. C’est la vie. From first glance, Mr. Pink is good with kids, bad with ladies, and just trying to make it in the civilian world as a math teacher. If only everyone from the students to Clara would stop making light of the fact that he killed people. It’s flaring up his PTSD.
Bringing on Mr. Pink — Danny from here on out — has the delightful side effect of continuing to morph Clara Oswald from living MacGuffin to human being. She’s an English teacher who has a well-meaning co-worker who is keen to set her up with Danny. There’s even the secretary who is really bad at innuendo. I hope shows up again.
It takes a minute for me to realize this is actually Danny and Clara’s meet cute, but once I do, I instantly ship it. He is endearing but awkward and she is charming yet abrasive. The show even lets Clara take the lead, prompting Danny not once, but twice, until he overcomes whatever fears he as about dating and accepts her offer for drinks. Watching Clara have a life outside traveling in a blue box as the Doctor’s Impossible Girl is truly fun to witness.
So of course, this is the exact moment the Doctor chooses to pick Clara up for an adventure.
For some reason, the Doctor immediately cuts Clara down because we really need to understand he is not a nice person, I guess? He condescendingly tells Clara to keep her spirits up, she’s not that young anymore but maybe she’ll still find love. After shading the living hell out of her, he proceeds to ask if she thinks he’s a good person. Clara is the soul of discretion because she merely says “I don’t know” instead of “No, you’re a misogynistic jerk face who is way too cavalier with the lives of everyone around you.”
Yet the Doctor hears what she’s not saying and — bless him — actually seems to realize how hard it can be to put up with him sometimes. Then shock of all shocks, he introduces Clara to Lt. Blue and the rest of the platoon…as his boss. In one exchange, the dynamic is upended as the term ‘companion’ is shunted off stage and into the trash.
Once introductions are out of the way, it’s time to get small and get inside this Dalek. We get some fantastic science mumbo-jumbo about remembering to breathe during the shrinking process or you’ll explode. They do away with the trope of an enforced time table before they return to normal size though. As the Doctor, Clara, and three soldiers are inserted into the eyestalk of the Dalek (a sentence I never thought I’d type), we’re treated to a full body scan of said Dalek…which might be our most complete look at their biology to date?
Safely inside, our team moves forward. I’m just gonna assume they don’t need suits for oxygen because Daleks are inherently more porous than humans. A short jaunt later and they’re standing in front of the brain. The Doctor explains the thing in front of them is an augmented memory storage. This feat of engineering filters out anything good and fuels the Daleks hate. So basically they’re Psychlos from “Battlefield Earth.”
But now this particular Dalek is malfunctioning. And they need to find out why. To do that, they need to get down to the bottom of this mystery…literally. The soldiers being soldiers, immediately start shoving grappling hooks into whatever crevice is available. Which brings out the Daleks antibodies in droves…droves of mini-Wheatleys from “Portal 2.” Man this episode is just overflowing with shout-outs to other sci-fi!
In another display of “I’m definitely not Matt Smith,” the Doctor pragmatically let’s the antibodies kill one of the soldiers so the immune system will think the threat is over. He sacrifices the only male soldier. Wait, what? He just had to pick someone to let die and it was the only other dude which means there are two lady soldiers, Clara, and the Doctor to save the day. And this is the moment when I realize that maybe, just maybe, this season is going to be different.