31 August 2014

Doctor Who S8E2 "Into the Dalek" rejuvinates an old enemy

Daleks. Easily the most overused, least surprising enemy that the Doctor has to face whenever they show up (and they always show up). The look of dismay on my face as the Next Time section of "Deep Breath" showed us these now cheesy, boring villains expressed my feelings about these enemies perfectly - they are simply no longer interesting, having been over exposed to audiences for the past 7 series, and I actively dreaded their inevitable return in this series.

It turns out I'm wrong.

"Into the Dalek" breathes new life into these tired old tubs, making them feel both genuinely threatening and more complicated than the obviously evil, hate-filled, genocidal maniacs (that are coincidentally useless when confronted by The Doctor) that we have seen in the past. Rusty, as the Doctor calls him, is a broken Dalek. Barely functional, but also radically different from his kin, this is a Dalek unlike any other - this is a Dalek that hates Daleks, instantly intriguing the Doctor. Shrunk down to microscopic size, The Doctor, Clara, and the soldiers who found Rusty agree to enter is body and repair what is broken.

"Into the Dalek" bears more than a passing resemblance to the Christopher Eccleston episode "Dalek", which coincidentally was the last time that the Daleks felt menacing. There is even a (perhaps accidental) throwback to "Dalek" in this episode, with Rusty telling The Doctor that he is a good Dalek, paraphrasing the Dalek from "Dalek" telling The Doctor that he would make a good Dalek. It seems obvious now that the best way to make the Daleks feel as lethal as they are meant to be is by not having The Doctor undermine them at every turn, and allowing the Daleks to succeed, if only at first. Scenes of a lone Dalek slaughtering trained soldiers litter the running time, and it is this lethality, the danger that the Daleks once again pose that make this episode as entertaining as it is, helped along by the episodes fast pace and great supporting cast in well written roles.

But it is Capaldis continuing performance of the Doctor that is really making these episodes work at the moment. He has one of the best quips I think Doctor Who has ever had - "She cares so I don't have to" -  and brings so much energy and life to the role it's hard to not get caught up in it all. The darker side of The Doctor stands out here episode too - using a soon-to-be-dead man to his advantage and his general dismissive nature, we really see how cold he can be, making his query to Clara - Am I good man? - seem much more meaningful and natural. And when Clara says that she doesn't know it leaves him understandably shaken, an answer made no easier by the hate that Rusty finds within him.

We learn more about Clara's other life in this episode as well, introduced to a new teacher where she works that is clearly being set up for later use, but it isn't particularly entertaining, feeling like a segment we have to sit through to understand greater relevance later on. In truth, this part of the episode felt like wasted time - the screentime would have been better used in the meat of the episode, fleshing out this new Doctor some more or spending more time with the interactions between Rusty and The Doctor. But it's hard to fault this short segment when the rest of the episode was so good in comparison.

People have been claiming that "Into the Dalek" is an 'instant classic', an episode of Doctor Who that will make the lists of best episodes since the series was modernised, and although I wouldn't go quite that far (we are a long way from hitting the quality of episodes like "Blink", "The Waters of Mars", "Silence in the Library" or even "Dalek"), it's fair to say that this may be one of the best episodes since Stephen Moffat took over as showrunner from Russel T. Davis, and if it is a sign of quality to come leaves me very hopeful for the future of Capaldi's run.

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