Seeing as this past week was Labor Day here in the U.S., I was out of town for the long weekend and I barely caught "Into the Dalek" just enough so I could get on Facebook without fear of spoilers. As such, I've had a bit more time to let this episode simmer in my mind (as well as catch a few other opinions and thoughts on this, which I rarely let happen). As with any Doctor Who episode, there are people who love it, people who loathe it, people who are indifferent. Some say that this is a mediocre Dalek episode - and that opinion is something I'm going to cover in my own analysis. Because as much as this episode featured Daleks, it was not in a strict sense a Dalek episode. It did not add to the mythos or character of the Daleks. But it did add to the mythos and character of the Twelfth Doctor.
Look, it's officially the second episode with the Twelfth Doctor - ostensibly the first episode where the Twelfth Doctor is in full possession of his faculties and functions ("Deep Breath" being a regeneration story). This is where we get to know the Doctor that we're going to have for the foreseeable future. And he's even a little nervous about it. He asks Clara if he's a good man, admitting that he's terrified of the answer. And, perhaps he should be. Using a man's death to the fullest advantage without even a word of comfort or concern before the guy is killed by Dalek antibodies? Joking about saying a few words when they fall into tank full of goop that's made of the Dalek's victims? The soldiers of the Aristotle are rightfully appalled and dismayed at the Doctor's flippant attitude about the whole thing. Even Clara slaps the Doctor in anger - because he is acting like a cold-hearted bastard and she knows he's capable of being better (at least, she suspects he is. Why else would she chew him out like that?)
Yet, the Doctor continues in his quest to find a "good" Dalek. This is almost like an obsession with him - he even says "How can I resist?" when he learns that "Rusty" has malfunctioned to the point that he's gained a sense of morality. Which begs the question - why fix the damn thing at all? If what's broken Rusty is what's made him good, why go in there at all? Why not just let whatever "problem" it has run its course and create more good Daleks?
Luckily, the episode answers that question (that I spent twenty minutes stewing over while they were going about their Fantastic Journey - or whatever the name of that movie is that I've never seen but everyone talk about)... After the Doctor fixes the radiation leak and Rusty reverts back to good old-fashioned Dalek hatred, Journey Blue and Gretchen Carlisle wonder why they even bothered. The Doctor even wonders, even though he is pleased that he was proven right - the Daleks didn't disappoint. Every Dalek is evil and out to kill everything different from itself and that's just how the universe works. But Clara - who the Doctor still doesn't pay enough - points out the crux of this story: "If it's so impossible, why even try?"
Which is something I ask myself a lot. You know, there are all kinds of do-gooders in the world (some doing more good than others, but we can quibble about those details some other time). People who believe that they can fix the world and all its ills, if only everyone would listen and set aside the things they disagree about and go right along with whatever version of morality Group A or Group B thinks is right and proper. Even though the world continues to fight and abuse and kill each other over the most ridiculous things - all in the name of Being Right About The Other Side. Sometimes I see this stuff happening and think "Why even bother? They're all just going to go back to the same old BS anyway. I could go do something much more fun and ignore all these idiots trying to fight each other - they're all probably going to blow each other up. I should just sit back and enjoy the fireworks and keep out of the crossfire."
Strangely enough, the Doctor must have that same quandary, but he can't resist. He even has the arrogance to believe that plugging Rusty into his (the Doctor's) consciousness would show Rusty how wrong the Dalek mentality is. Problem is, the Doctor has many of the same prejudices and hatreds as the Dalek does - they just manifest themselves in different ways. And even though Rusty was moved by the sight of the birth of a new star, he still doesn't have a lot of context for life and hope. All he sees is something winning - in this case, it's life winning out over death and destruction. And even this version of life - the birth of a new star - has it's over destruction and violence associated with it. Rusty can understand destruction and violence - that's what Daleks do. And if this kind of life comes from destroying something else and the Daleks (as seen by the Doctor) are evil, then the Daleks must be destroyed to give way to new life.
In many ways, Rusty becomes a reflection of the Twelfth Doctor. Cold, logical, spiky - but with a sense of hope lying underneath all of that. And the Doctor isn't sure he likes what he sees.
I hesitate to use this word because it's been used and overused to pieces, but there is a darkness to this aspect of the Doctor. But it's a fascinating sort of darkness. It's a darkness that has great beauty in it, but also great danger (to borrow a phrase from Frozen) - and the Doctor must learn to control it. Which is why Clara is so vital. I love that we're seeing her exert her influence over the Doctor, even if it doesn't look like he's very receptive to it. At least, not at first. But he is receptive to her influence over time. He even expresses gratitude (in his own way) for her help and her presence in his life. I love the dynamic between Clara and Twelve - I really do. More than any other New Series Doctor/Companion relationship (well, with the exception of Ten and Donna - but that's a special case in my eyes). Clara has really taken Eleven's request to help Twelve to heart and it's wonderful to see that play out, even so early on in their adventures together. I hope it continues and only gets better from here on out.
Other Things I Liked -
- Danny Pink - It's too early to fully tell what I like about him, but I just know that I do. He obviously has a story of his own and I'm sure we'll get it at some point. He and Clara are great together and I'm eager to see how their relationship progresses.
(Question - What kind of snot-nosed twerpy kid asks his teacher in the freaking middle of class if he's ever killed a man? Maybe I just underestimate the absolutely shittiness of some teenagers, but I thought that was way out of line. I am glad that his classmates groaned at this kid's comments - maybe this particular student has an underdeveloped sense of appropriateness and his peers recognize it and think "Oh, here we go again with this imbecile.")
- Missy - I mentioned this on my feedback for Traveling the Vortex this week, but I have the feeling that Missy is some kind of personification of Death. Some version of a galactic Grim Reaper, at least. And she scoops up people who've died because of the Doctor's action, so she feels she has a special connection to the Doctor, which is why she calls him her boyfriend. Like, when Gretchen dies, she goes to Missy's tea parlor where Missy is there to greet her and make her feel at home. I dunno - something to think about.
To Sum Up: "Into the Dalek" is less about the Daleks and more of a character study of the Twelfth Doctor. They use the Daleks because they're the best-known villains in Doctor Who and that makes it easy to do a compare/contrast kind of story. I appreciated this take on it and this story made me appreciate what kind of Doctor Twelve is going to be. I like it and I'm ready for more! (and I'm excited about a Robin Hood story next week!)