REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Into the Dalek"


I have small confession to make. As much as I like watching the Doctor and Clara knock around Victorian London with Vastra, Jenny and Strax, a series of Doctor Who doesn’t feel like it’s really begun until we get a proper adventure in outer space. Phil Ford, who co-wrote “Into the Dalek” with Steven Moffat, seems to share this view, as he launches us into a full-on Dalek episode for Series 8’s second outing. While the episode sometimes feels like it’s still filling in the gaps left over from last week’s “Deep Breath”, it still makes for an engaging spin through some wild new territory.

The episode opens with a small fighter craft vainly trying to escape a Dalek saucer. Just as the ship is about to be destroyed, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) pulls the surviving pilot aboard the TARDIS. When they return to the pilot’s mothership, the Doctor finds the soldiers are keeping a damaged Dalek alive in the sick bay. The Dalek is so compromised that it claims to have turned on its own kind, and so the Doctor asks Clara (Jenna Coleman) to accompany him to a place he’s never ventured before – a microscopic mission into the Dalek’s casing to find out if they’ve discovered the secret to making the Daleks give up their quest to “Exterminate!!”.

One of the inspirations for the episode is clearly the 1966 classic sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage, which also featured a team of people shrinking themselves to carry out a medical procedure. In fact, there’s already been a Who episode to use the idea: the 1977 story “The Invisible Enemy” set the journey inside the Doctor himself, who needed to be cured from a deadly virus.

Source material aside, any opportunity to expand what we know about the Doctor’s greatest enemy is worthwhile. The fact that we can learn anything new about the hate-filled Daleks and feel even the slightest twinge of sympathy for them says a lot: here, we meet a Dalek in obvious pain, a creature that has been given the chance to see and appreciate the beauty of the universe for the first time. The Doctor may know that the Daleks are an incurable blight, but it’s hard not to hope for Twelve to discover some way to reform our favourite eyestalk-equipped villains.

The writers work a few more story threads into the show by way of “Into the Dalek”. The Doctor continues to worry over whether he’s a good man or not, and there’s nothing like an encounter with the Daleks to make him waver on the subject.

Zawe Ashton as rebel soldier Journey Blue in "Into the Dalek"

At the same time, Clara has the good fortune to meet a dashing fellow teacher (Samuel Anderson), who will likely be a recurring face on the show. And we even get another brief appearance from the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez), who seems to be collecting a roster of the Twelfth Doctor’s acquaintances in a place she calls “Heaven”.

On top of that, the writers also try to tackle the internal conflicts of being a soldier. The journey into the Dalek, after all, is to protect an army of rebels, and it turns out that Clara’s new love interest also used to be a soldier in the British Army (presumably in the Middle East), and appears to still be wrestling with what happened during his mission.

It’s admirable that the episode would try to take on a heavy topic like this, but I felt that the Series 7 episode “A Nightmare in Silver” did a better job of handling the subject – there’s simply too much going on in “Into the Dalek”. Maybe if Anderson’s Danny Pink returns in later episodes, we’ll get a better sense of what the show’s trying to say about the stresses of being a warrior, and it may end up pairing nicely with the soul-searching the Doctor’s been preoccupied with recently.

Like many one-shot episodes from the first halves of Doctor Who series, “Into the Dalek” doesn’t really stand out from the rest in a huge way, but it also doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. Though based on the teaser for next week’s Robin Hood-themed episode, it looks like there’s definitely some fun in our future. “Into the Dalek” gets three stars out of four.

Three Stars

What did you think of the second episode of Series 8? Do you like what you’ve seen from Capaldi so far? Did you expect more from a Dalek episode? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!