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Friday, September 5, 2014

DOCTOR WHO's Introspective Trip "Into the Dalek"

Article first published as 'Doctor Who' Review - 'Into the Dalek' on Blogcritics.

Episode two of Doctor Who‘s eighth season is markedly better than the first. Now that The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has settled into his new body, he can start to figure out who he is. This week, in “Into the Dalek,” The Doctor struggles with the question of whether he is a good man, after he encounters his most hated foe (a Dalek of course), who seems to be nice. Shrinking himself, he heads into the Dalek’s body to figure out the malfunction, and in the course of the story, there’s as much self-examination as external investigation.

It makes sense that The Doctor has chosen now to ponder whether he is good or not. He’s recently faced his greatest challenge, his various incarnations teaming up to commit genocide and possibly save trillions of lives. He’s also in a new form, head flooding with memories from the previous versions, some good, some bad. The Doctor is trying to process all of this to determine his way forward.

In the season premiere of Doctor Who, Clara (Jenna Coleman) wonders if something has gone wrong when the new Doctor appears old and wrinkled. Combined with the reflection in “Into the Dalek,” it seems he agrees with her. This Doctor regrets some of what he has done and wants to make up for it. He is just having trouble finding the way to do so. This turmoil is illustrated in his appearance.

It’s a good thing he has Clara, then, his ‘carer,’ as he calls her, so he doesn’t have to care. The Doctor can be quite cold, especially when traveling by himself, which we’ve seen in past personalities. The Twelfth Doctor spends only a few weeks alone before picking up Clara in “Into the Dalek,” but his emotional level is low in this installment, especially where the Daleks and human soldiers are concerned, having much trouble finding empathy, even for death. It takes Clara to make him think of others and do the right thing, thereby proving her importance.
 
Unfortunately, there is a setback when the Dalek looks into The Doctor’s soul and sees hate. No matter how much The Doctor tries to do good, which Clara says is the point, he can’t overcome his baser instincts. The result is that The Doctor unleashes a Dalek back among their race that will systematically kill his own people. This may be good news for the Daleks’ would-be victims, but it also is another thing for The Doctor to feel bad about.

He also refuses to take Journey Blue (Zaw Ashton, Fresh Meat) with him, away from the fighting, although she’s probably a good person, because she is a soldier. The Doctor is letting his petty hangups get in the way of someone else’s happiness. For every step forward, there’s another one back. But, oh, what a compelling journey!

The episode also explores the character of Clara. We see her as a teacher both in the classroom and out, helping The Doctor reach his own conclusions, rather than giving him the answers. This part of her personality is one that has not previously been played up to a huge extent, but now we see exactly the type of person she must be in her normal life, and it’s one that The Doctor needs right now. I still may not like Clara, but she is well used here, and the right woman for the moment.

We get glimpses of her flirting with a new teacher, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson, Emmerdale, The History Boys). He is a soldier, which means The Doctor wouldn’t approve of him, but he is similar to The Doctor in that he regrets the violence he has done, making him worthy, perhaps even more so because he is in touch with his feelings. He’s sort of a simpler version of the title character in a younger, more attractive body, which makes him pretty much perfect for Clara, likely still missing her ‘hunky’ Eleventh.

I’m intrigued by the brief scene featuring Missy (Michelle Gomez) in “Into the Dalek.” Why did she only rescue one of the soldiers that died? What is her plan? How is she saving these people? ‘Heaven’ has to be code for something, but I can’t imagine what. I look forward to how Doctor Who unravels her mystery.

There are a few problems with “Into the Dalek.” I can’t believe Colonel Blue (Michael Smiley, Luther) would let The Doctor go get Clara before going into the Dalek when he is so concerned about security just moments before. The body itself is a bit cheesy, like in other movies that have a similar premise. But overall, there is so much great character stuff that I really enjoyed it. I love the way the Daleks are brought back, fresh yet again, and the peek at Clara’s ‘real’ life.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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