Into the Dalek
The Doctor: This is Clara, not my assistant. She’s, er, some other word.
Clara: I’m his carer.
The Doctor: Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep2).
Story Number: 243.
A fantastic voyage…
When you want to define your new Doctor, you have him face his greatest foe, the Daleks. This definition is partly about assuring the audience it’s the same character with a different face (who else could defeat the Daleks?), partly ensuring that people tune in even if they’re not quite enamoured yet with the new lead actor.
The Third Doctor had to wait a while as Terry Nation took “his” Daleks away for a while to try and interest America – but what are the Daleks without Doctor Who? There was no such barrier for the Second Doctor and The Power of the Daleks was his debut. The Fourth Doctor included a Dalek story in his first season, then the next three Doctors all had their own Dalek story.
For the new century of television, with its new Doctors, Dalek gave the first Doctor of the new century a mid-season boost. With its prisoner-Dalek on a base, a Dalek that eventually runs amok once it’s no longer broken – at first glance these stories seem heavily similar, but that would be to misread these two stories of different decades.
It’s much more than a remix of Fantastic Voyage/The Invisible Enemy/Dalek.
The most recent use of the Daleks to define the Doctor before this episode was Victory of the Daleks: “I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks!” The recently-regenerated Doctor was keen for his foes to assume their regular roles and seemed almost at a loss when their villainy wasn’t presented clearly to Churchill. His own personal understanding of the universe was all askew.
It’s this theme of that 2010 story – of what it means to the Doctor himself to define himself against the Daleks – that’s greatly expanded upon, rather than it being a thematic sequel of some sort to 2005’s Dalek. Yes there’s the line of both 2005 and 2014 of the Doctor having the potential to be a good (good meaning effective) Dalek, but this new story (unlike 2005) really has a focus on that idea and makes it central to the episode.
Into the Dalek begins exhilaratingly, with some marvellous spiraling synth-lines from Murray Gold to soundtrack the desperate Wasp craft trying to evade the Dalek saucer. (The whole episode is full of pleasingly electronic sounds, and the Daleks get a brass motif that’s unlike their choral theme of previous recent years.)
The Doctor acts exhilaratingly differently from his most recent versions, as shown by him exhorting Journey Blue to “get it right” and say please instead of waving a gun around.
The panic and confusion of the previous “newly regenerated” episode have gone, and it’s cool calm captain of the TARDIS that begins this episode, confident in his superior abilities to take command of a situation.
Once Clara is literally on-board, the way he introduces her – “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to” – is an amusing line but also literally so.
This Doctor is very neatly dressed. Black, white clothing with just a splash of red sometimes. His world is ordered. He knows best, soldiers are not to be trusted. He considers himself a civilian.
“Dry your eyes, Journey Blue. Crying’s for civilians. It’s how we communicate with you lot”.
This doesn’t care much for sugar-coating his communication. His almost gleeful gallows humour after the death of Ross – “Top layer if you want to say a few words” – has a precedent in the Fourth Doctor’s quip after the passing of Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars for which he was admonished by Sarah. Rose also used a similar seeming indifference over the apparent death of Mickey but this 2014 episode has an extra callousness to it when the Doctor oversaw Ross’s last moments insisting he was “dead already” and how best to use his hoovered remains. It can be read that this Doctor simply does not like soldiers and his extra-callous indifference is part of that – or simply that this Doctor is the most socially abrasive yet, (with only 2 eps broadcast it’s difficult to know which but the former seems likely).
The interior all this drama is happening within is absolutely spectacular – director Ben Wheatley has composed the storytelling in such a fashion that what could have been a bewildering alien environment for the audience is clearly understood, with a top-level supplementary electronic brain, to the lowest-level engine-room (and the blob-of-hate mutant in the middle, seen from above and below at various times).
This basic order of the innards of Dalek is actually straight out of the book Terry Nation’s Dalek Special (a book Terrance Dicks probably had much more to do with beyond Nation’s novella, as editor).
Once the engine-room leak is repaired by the Doctor, the Dalek resorts to type, that is, a typically evil Dalek, intent on the base’s destruction. The Doctor’s personal universe is no longer askew, he seems almost pleased at the situation – and for that Clara gives him slap, and he’s jolted out of his complacency to become the curious-about-new-possibilities Doctor that’s a better man than the narrow-minded and cynical Doctor of the first half.
“No, there must be more than that. There must be more than that. Please” – what the Doctor understands about himself though, is a shock to him.