Doctor Who S8.02 - Into the Dalek Review

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Early new Doctor stories often use a reliable old monster to prop up the fresh starter, and that’s what we get here. And while a fiercely charismatic chap like Peter Capaldi hardly requires any sort of back-up, maybe the kids watching need some solace, because this is a Doctor who’s as cuddly as a cactus – never mind youngsters hiding behind the sofa because of the monsters, here they might be behind the sofa because of the Time Lord himself!

This Doctor doesn’t compromise, he’s ice and fire combined, and someone who’ll sometimes, in Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm style, say things that are essentially true but inappropriate in the given situation. “I gave it a shot. It was a Dalek. What did you expect?” he barks, in a sense not unreasonably, but it earns him a slap from Clara. The Twelfth Doctor is ultra practical, ultra rational and he lacks social etiquette, to put it mildly. A refreshing change? Could be. He’s looking like a grower, to be sure.

Capaldi’s second Who effort takes place in a very different environment to his first one, and thankfully over a much shorter running time. It’s a dark (both literally and figuratively), angry and claustrophobic tale with strong echoes of previous stories, notably “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, “Dalek” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” (those antibodies are a lot like the Teselecta’s security system). There’s some irony that a grim yarn, heavy with the scent of death, is fashioned from the faintly ridiculous notion of people being shrunk down to Lilliputian size to be sent on a mission. This time the programme makers just about get away with the shrinking scene, eclipsing memories of 1977 Who panto “The Invisible Enemy” and Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 film in which Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasence are shot inside an injured diplomat’s body.

There’s not much pleasance here, though. Ben Wheatley once again underlines his aptitude for horror and under-the-ocean visuals as the bizarre undertaking develops. But a valid complaint could be that while most of the action takes place, we’re told, inside one of Skaro’s finest, to us it could be anywhere – a factory, a spaceship, a storage facility… That’s not to belittle the production design – the Doctor standing in front of the giant eye is a terrific image – but the initial novelty of the high-concept does fray a little when it’s been boiled down to a “get in/get out of this place” tale.

Perhaps the main fault that could be levelled at “Into The Dalek” is that it does feel a little too familiar; they could have called it “Journey To The Centre Of The Dalek” but that would have further flagged up the similarities to Steve Thompson’s series seven contribution. Then we get the probing of the Dalek’s mind, the notion that a “good” Dalek might be a thing, and our minds go back to a youthful Billie Piper eyeball to eyestalk with a pepperpot in Rob Shearman’s great series one story. Do we really want a good Dalek, though? Do we really care about what goes on in their heads? Don’t we prefer them cackling “exterminate!” and then doing exactly that? We do get that too, though, and the action scenes are as vibrant and slickly shot as you’d expect from a director used to operating on the silver screen.

So, those Daleks. These may be the grumblings of a jaded critic who’s seen every Doctor Who episode that exists, but aren’t Davros’s creations getting a bit boring? Remember the shivers they sent down your spine in “Dalek”, “Bad Wolf”, “Army Of Ghosts” and more? Did you get that this evening? This reviewer certainly didn’t. They’ve been done to death in recent times and the novelty has worn off. It’s almost becoming a cliché, but surely it’s time to give them a rest for a good few years.

But this episode is more about the Doctor, and wow, some of the things he says and does… From low-level abuse of Clara (“You’re not a young woman any more”, “You’re built like a man”) to sealing the fate of one of the soldiers to assist the rest of them – and after telling him “Trust me” – well, it’s extraordinary stuff. His use of cold logic in the latter incident is further than any of his previous incarnations have gone (and don’t forget his brutal “He’s on the top layer if you want to say a few words” when they’re in the Star Wars trash compactor-like pit). In a way, it’s exciting, it’s an almost guilty thrill, a daring decision by the showrunners. Capaldi’s Doctor is being seeded as potentially one of the most interesting of the baker’s dozen. His aged appearance is at one with this. We’re fascinated to see how far they’re going to push this and in what situations – so don’t touch that dial, even if this episode isn’t a classic example of the show’s repertoire.

Doctor Who is on Saturdays on BBC One.

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WritersPhil Ford, Steven Moffat
DirectorBen Wheatley
The One Where: The Doctor and Clara take a fantastic voyage into the most dangerous place in the universeinside a Dalek.

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Available platformsTV