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.
The team follows the antibodies to a slide which spits them out in a slimy Star Wars trash compactor send-up. Only the ‘trash” is made of the sludgy remains of humans. In case you ever wondered what Daleks eat, it”s people. DALEK GREEN IS MADE OF PEOPLE.
All the puny humans are freaking out over the death of one of their own but the Doctor doesn”t care because he”s found the way to the heart of the problem…and the Dalek. Turns out there”s nothing watching the feeding tube because as Twelve so bluntly states, “Nobody guards the dead.” The Doctor”s alienness is showing again. We”re a far cry from the constant refrain of “I”m so, so sorry.”
As the we get closer to whatever is giving the Dalek in existential crisis, the geiger counter on the soldiers” clothes starts going berserk. If the team doesn”t hurry, no on is making it out alive. The Doctor names the Dalek Rusty and asks him what he sees. Rusty waxes poetic about silence and beauty and worlds burning and stars dying…but then stars being born and he had an epiphany. Resistance is futile. Yes, the Dalek quotes the Borg. Bless. Resistance is futile, no matter how much the Daleks destroy, life will always return. So the Daleks must die.
Turns out the geiger counter was going nuts because there”s a radiation leak in the heart and Rusty is about to explode at any moment. But it only takes a flick of the sonic screwdriver to get the nicest Dalek in the galaxy to feel right as rain. “That”s it?” Clara asks. Capaldi quips that hey an anti-climax is good for you once in a while. Which is obviously the cue for Rusty to remember he”s an evil monster that must break free and exterminate every human on the spaceship.
Over the refrain of “No no no no no” by the Doctor, Rusty reboots and begins to massacre everyone not shrunk down inside of him. After making quick work of the Red Shirts™, the Dalek makes his way to the console to call the mothership. Everyone is gonna die.
Inside the heart of the Dalek, Clara slaps the ever-living shit out of the Doctor for a) giving up so easily and b) being a little bit relieved that Daleks are just evil machines and he hasn”t been killing thousands of sentient creatures he could have been saving. Clara doesn”t believe the Daleks are evil, they literally just witnessed one that isn”t. She isn”t holding the Doctor”s hand though, asking what they really learned today. Classic teacher mode. I want to scream at the TV “We learned the Daleks are controlled by their hate engines!” but I have to wait for Twelve to figure it out instead in the most adult version of “Dora the Explorer” ever.
“Where are we going?” To the memory bank! “Where are we going?” TO THE MEMORY BANK! “Where are we going?” TO THE BLOODY MEMORY BANK.
Eventually the Doctor figures it out though and just in time because Lt. Blue was about to blow Rusty sky high.
But what”s this? Once back at the base of the Dalek, there is no way for all of them to climb up to the brain fast enough. Holy hell, we just witnessed the rarest phenomenon of all: Clara is going to save the day AND the Doctor admitted he had no idea what he was going to do.
The only way up to the brain is to use the grappling hooks which will bring back the antibodies. Gretchen Allison Carlyle sacrifices herself for the greater good while Lt. Blue and Clara ride to the top. Gretchen Allison Carlyle is then transported to Heaven, where Missy is waiting in an empty restaurant with tea.
Heaven is creepy.
No time to dwell on it, the anti-climax is turning into an actual climax. Okay maybe there”s time to dwell just a little bit. Is Missy specifically collecting people who have been in contact with the Doctor?
Anyway! The Doctor is eye-to-giant-eye with Rusty, pulling wires out of their neural casings willy-nilly while Clara crawls into the memory cortex and just starts slamming buttons to reopen the neural pathways to happiness. We”re playing it fast and loose with biology now folks, but it”s all worth it when the Twelve literally mind melds with the Dalek.
Then things take a turn for the truly dark. The Doctor implores Rusty to see the beauty in the universe, to look inside the mind of a Time Lord. This is a terrible idea. But Rusty complies and sees so many wonders of the universe…but then he sees hatred. Hatred for the Daleks. The Daleks must be exterminated.
Rusty is on a rampage, killing every single one of his fellows who have made it onto the human ship. It is probably the least satisfying slaughter of “Doctor Who” villains, ever. Twelve sums it up succinctly, “You looked inside me and you saw hatred, that is not victory.” Rusty disagrees and says that the Doctor is a very good Dalek. Twist the knife a little deeper, why don”t you? The last we see of Rusty, he is leaving the human ship, presumedly to continue his mission to exterminate his own kind.
The Doctor is spent. He tried to find the good in his mortal enemy and instead his enemy found the evil in him. It is time to go.
Lt. Blue wants leave with the Doctor but he says no because while she”s kind and brave, she is still a soldier. So that tells us everything we need to know about what he”ll initially think of Mr. Danny Pink.
We end with the Doctor dropping Clara off about thirty seconds after he picked her up. She tells him she”s still not sure if he”s a good man, but he tried to be one and that counts. It seems to help a little bit. He calls her an amazing teacher and please let that be her new defining trait this season. To teach the Doctor.
So what did y”all think? Do you like Danny? How do you think Capaldi”s version of the Doctor is shaping up? And what exactly is Heaven?