It was a distinctly unsubtle case of another week, another call back in last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who. ‘Into The Dalek’, episode two of this brand new series, with its brand new Doctor, saw The Time Lord (Peter Capaldi) and companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) visit a Dalek prisoner stranded on an enemy warship.
Reminiscent of Christopher Eccleston’s trip to a Utah alien museum in series one, the Dalek in question is alone, ill - possibly dying- and trapped. This particular egg-whisker is a Dalek with a difference, however. Its illness has changed it. No longer perma-angry and murderous, Rusty, as The Doctor cheerfully dubs him, is even quite chatty. He (I’m sticking with he- I have no idea if Daleks actually do have genders) is, it seems, essentially a good Dalek. With Rusty’s health failing and the un-named war between the future-humans and his kind raging on, the soldiers need information. Operating a dangerous new technology, they shrink the crew down small enough to, you guessed it, the clue was in the title, go into the Dalek.
The episode proved surprisingly imaginative. Despite choosing to focus on Daleks, them being the most infamous Doctor Who villain since The Time War, and despite having the most obvious title since ‘Snakes on a Plane’ was released into the world, its subject matter was actually rather bold new territory for the show. We’ve seen inside a Dalek before, sure, but only because it decided to throw its doors open and reveal the goop within of its own accord. This showed us the intricate workings of a killing machine, step by step as The Doctor et al walked its veins. It was also a thoughtful, thought provoking look into war, its casualties and how we deal with them. As one of the soldiers sombrely announced early on in the show ‘We don’t need hospitals any more. Daleks don’t leave any wounded. And we don’t take any prisoners’.
All this context of conflict sat very well, both literally and symbolically, alongside new character soldier-turned-teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). Writing fully-fleshed non-irritating side characters is not exactly Moffat’s strong suit (perhaps no surprise then that this episode was actually co-written by Bill Ford) but, so far at least, this character comes across as a companion who might actually have that quality, so elusive in the show of late: likeability. Shown struggling to pluck up the courage even to ask Clara out for a drink, conflicted by his feelings and berating himself for his ineptitude afterwards, whilst also showing very visible distress when questioned about his past by his new pupils, it’s clear the man has layers.
In fact, it was character in general which shone in this episode. Jenna Coleman goes from strength to strength as Impossible Girl Clara, juggling her day to day life as an ordinary English teacher and her time-travelling ‘hobby’ with good judgement. Capaldi, meanwhile, has settled into the TARDIS as if was born in it. Whilst he doesn’t quite seem to have found his Doctor’s own personal energy just yet, he’s incredibly likeable in the role, bringing wit, intelligence and a sort of calm passion to what had become a distinctly giddy Doctor. You do begin to feel ever so slightly beaten over the head with their ‘I’m not attracted to you. Nobody is attracted to anyone anymore. This is platonic. Platonic!’ (delivered with the syntax of a Dalek) banter, amusing though it is, it just feels a little try-hard. And it just isn't needed.
Finally, I simply cannot let this review go by without a good hearty mention for another new character. There was a second appearance here for the mysterious Missy. Played by the ever-fantastic Michelle Gomez in a spark of utter genius casting, this enigmatic lady/alien/ghost-woman appears to pluck those who have died a death in some way caused by The Doctor right out of their scenes, seemingly re-materialising them in a place she calls Heaven.
Naturally, various theories abound on the internet, with ideas on her identity ranging from a female Master, to the TARDIS, to Clara, to River Song and back again. For now at least, this is a refreshingly new series arc, with the tiny cameo clips at the end of each episode filled with just enough intrigue and a sense of impending doom to keep us all once again clearing the diary and booking the remote for the following Saturday night.
Becky will be looking after you all next week.
In the meantime, here’s a link to her review of last week’s Deep Breath.