TV Blimey, I mean yeah, ok. Yes. I mean, well … Frankly I’m flummoxed and although it’s not the first time that’s been the case with the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, it’s quite some time since I’ve watched the credits role and really not known what to make of it. Even though Into The Dalek (thought I’d get the title in early this week) is doing everything you’d expect from an episode of the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, at a certain point it dislodged itself from my attention and just sort of seemed to be happening without my involvement because I was spending so much time trying to work out the implications of this, that and the other for the programme.
Such things are a natural reaction when elements have been re-engineered to this degree and so many elements in so many ways. It’s rather like when you move house or change jobs. You’re discombobulated because although there are some familiar elements like everything that is you, you have to discover everything else all over again from where to get the best coffee, where to have lunch and how the photocopier works, not mention who amongst the dozens of fresh colleagues which ones you don’t think are unspeakable. My insta-reaction to tonight’s episode will be the viewer or let’s face it fan equivalent of that. So for the purposes of the next twelve paragraphs its best to stick to a single inevitable question. Was it good episode?
Despite being the first “ordinary” episode in over eighteen months and only the second featuring a new Doctor it had much to do which is presumably why it fell back on a few old standards and greatest hits as a way of showing how the new Doctor’s reaction differs to his predecessors. Moffat’s strategy here is to mesh together the central ideas of Eleventh’s first two “ordinary” episodes, an “anatomy” tour including digestive gunge scene (ala The Beast Below) and Daleks, or more specifically the Doctor turning a Dalek which seems to have become essentially benevolent evil in order to prove the point that Daleks are essentially evil (Cf, Victory of the Daleks. Frankly it’s amazing that the soldiers here aren't clerics.
My guess is there’s no great scheme to it, no, even given Moffat’s own dislike of The Beast Below, attempt to re-engineer the thing and do it properly ala John Hughes and Some Kind of Wonderful. The original version of this paragraph attempted to construct some comparison but I couldn’t make it work because, in fact, they probably didn’t even notice. Which is fine. Miniaturising people and having them climbing around the interior of a Dalek hasn’t been done, as far as I can remember and is just the sort of thing to fire children’s imaginations, the production design the stuff of the cross section from The Dalek Book amongst other sources, the biology of the mutant itself still in keeping with that established in Dalek.
It’s nine years since Rose gave a Dalek compassion and eleven since the release of Jubilee, so giving a pepperpot compassion has a newness. Interesting that it was also the Doctor’s companion’s touch then, which opened up the Dalek to new possibilities, to begin to hate its own existence. Then it committed suicide. On this occasion it rejoined its fleet in order to do who knows what. But like I said I don’t think there’s a scheme to it, unless there is to be discovered later. What is notable is how joyfully ruthless the Daleks are allowed to be again here and the complete lack of the new paradigm in any sense, doomed almost as soon as Mark Gatiss voiced his concerns about the hump on his Victory of the Daleks commentary.
Except the notable difference between both those episodes and this is that love doesn’t conquer all. Like Ford Prefect that time he attempted to convince a Vogon not to throw them out of an airlock by singing him a few bars of Beethoven’s 5th and was thrown out of the airlock anyway, the Dalek stares into the Doctor’s soul, a Doctor who thinks he’ll find just as Grandfather did in The Rings of Thingy some exciting grand narrative about hope, instead finds himself glaring contemptuously at him. Which is also pretty depressing for the viewer because at the end of The Day of the Doctor, the Time Lord seemed to have found some inner piece and a sense of purpose and a couple of episode later, albeit with a thousand years of Christmas in between, that’s all been forgotten.
The Doctor. In this month’s magazine, you know the one, the authors on the first three TDAs, 12DAs or NDAs or whatever we’re calling them notes how they were watching or reading this episode and there was a line which made them think, “Oh that’s new.” That’ll be the one about the dead soldier’s remains then. That’s dark, the darkest thing I think we’ve heard a Doctor say in relation to the death of a human, certainly since the series returned. Gone is the man who apologised to the deceased for not saving them. Not that he isn’t challenged about it. He just doesn’t seem to understand compassion himself (which foreshadows the end of the episode but nevertheless).
This is dangerous, solidly, properly dangerous and perhaps that’s one of the elements which threw me at the end of the episode. I’ve always said that one of the reasons the television version of the Sixth Doctor doesn’t work and one of the reasons I largely have issues with the Third is that they’re not nice for pretty much of the time. Twelfth isn’t quite full on Mindwipe, but there are moments here when I just simply, flat out, didn’t like him and I wonder how that’s going to play with families. I think of the kids running around screenings and conventions in their fezzes with their sonics and wonder how they’ll react to someone purporting to be the same man letting a man die and not seeming to give too shits afterwards.
As an adult it’s thrilling. There’s nothing better than an unpredictable Doctor because it creates unpredictable stories and like I said last week, The Waters of Mars is sinister as is the Eleventh Doctor’s manipulation of Amy in The Almost People but they were exceptional moments for what were essentially benevolent figures. Twelfth it seems is forever looking at the big picture even to the point of not being able to see the wood for the trees or as was the case here the cranium for the Dalekanium (with Clara on hand to smack him around the face) (the post-nuWho equivalent of a kiss presumably) or to complete my original point that there are individuals involved that may be worth saving. He doesn’t give a shit even if you are having chops for tea.
Welcome Danny Blue. Structurally the episode’s fascinating, with a slightly tricksy editing configuration at the beginning in which the temporal and narrative order attempting to create the same sensation as the soldiers in dealing with how the Doctor appears to them, by mixing his encounter with the Dalek and, as about ten or so people have joked on Twitter chunks of Waterloo Road-style mayhem. Part of me wonders if this might not have benefited from something rather more straightforward given the introduction of what seems like is going to be an important Chesterton, I mean John Watson, I mean character but that’s the part of me which gets up at 6:50 every morning even when he’s not working because he prefers the routine so he doesn’t deserve an opinion.
The choice of colour in this new character seems significant too, not least because Clara noticed Zawe Ashton’s Journey Blue shared the commonality. We’re also clearly supposed to find his tear significant given the close-up (cf, The End of the World) (not that I’m reading that much into it) (unless it is that war he’s referring to) (keep an eye out for pocket watches). Samuel Anderson’s an instantly likeable presence which is somewhat helped by the way he’s given some narrative agency from the off in a way that Rory had to wait whole episodes for and Mickey didn’t really enjoy for a season and a half. So far he seems to exist purely as a cantilever against the new Doctor’s cantankerousness.
His existence also has the odd effect of sapping Clara of a bunch of her own agency. After last week in which she became the viewpoint character for much of the time, here she seems reduced to being the Doctor’s taste arbiter and Danny’s potential object of affection. Indeed there are scenes played from the point of view of the brilliant Zawe's Journey. Jenna Coleman’s performance is as superb as its ever been and of course, we’re still in the business of defining the new Doctor which needs time and these things oscillate. But it is interesting that it wasn’t about her being introduced to the new person. Not that we didn't learn something new about her. She's a Guardian reader. Quite right too.
One bit of business not covered here last week is the new title sequence and music. Well, I like it and have done since it was originally uploaded to Youtube. The imagery is stranger than the usual time vortex, more literally demonstrating the TARDIS's passage through time whilst retaining the moment when she hangs in space. The music's another fun interpretation too, less EPIC than Murray's mixes for earlier series, more consciously evoking the classic era by doing for the Delaware arrangement what his series one orchestration did for the TV Movie. Notice how the font is oh so similar to the one used by the unified merchandising plan from the late 90s and appeared on cds, videos and novels.
All of the elements are there and thanks to Ben's direction it is certainly very chilling especially with some of the old school Troughton period visual surrealism as the characters passes through the eye stork and the Doctor mentally connected with the Dalek (and far more successfully so in terms of visuals than the still accurately named Nightmare in Silver). Like reticence, like Clara to the Doctor in places, is because, like I said I’m still trying to get used to things which is why these post episode reviews can be dangerous, in a way. My guess is that just like last week, when I watch it again, my appreciation will increase. So in the end, to answer my original question is it a good episode? I don’t know. But I think it tries to be and I think that’s probably the point.