“Asylum of the Daleks” promised a Dalek asylum full of insane, exiled Daleks. I had hoped that an insane Dalek might be one who was actually “good,” or at least Daleks who didn’t obey orders. What we got in that episode was more like asylum of the broken-down Daleks. Quite unexpectedly, however, in “Into the Dalek” I got what I wished for at the start of season seven; the Doctor has to confront the idea of a good Dalek.
Basically, in “Into the Dalek” the Doctor and Clara literally go into a Dalek. They (and a few soldiers) go through a miniaturization process and sent inside the casing of a Dalek who may actually be a “good” Dalek who has been wounded. The Dalek needs medical attention, and the suspicious Doctor is there to give it. Is there really such a thing as a good Dalek? The Doctor doesn’t believe it, but he needs to find out.
“Into the Dalek” has a great premise, and is one of the best Dalek stories of new Who (although there really isn’t too much competition for that title). Instead of having the Doctor fend off yet another Dalek invasion, the episode explores what is means to be a Dalek and if it is possible for a Dalek to become good. The radiation leak in Rusty has made it malfunction; thanks to witnessing the birth of a star during an attack, the broken Dalek can now see how futile the Daleks’ quest for extermination of all other life is. Of course, when the Doctor repairs the radiation leak, the Dalek immediately goes back to its old ways of thinking (why does the Doctor seem confused at first? I thought it was pretty clear what was going to happen). It was great to see the episode explore the idea of the nature of a Dalek. Could a fully functional Dalek be made to see the light, or can that only happen as a malfunction which cannot last?
Of course, “The Evil of the Daleks” explored this idea as well, with Troughton’s Doctor placing the “human factor” in three Daleks, which made them playful (I still wish that I could see the Doctor playing “train” with his newly humanized Daleks) and made them start to question their orders. Technically, the Doctor should know because of that experience that it is possible to make a Dalek turn good, but I can see why that experience (from an almost entirely lost episode) would be ignored. Plus continuity in Doctor Who is always a bit flexible. Whether or not they believe a good Dalek is possible goes with the personalities of their Doctors: it’s appropriate that the more optimistic Doctor of Troughton would believe that it was possible to change a Dalek’s way, while the more cynical Doctor played by Capaldi would see them as incapable of change.
I wasn’t completely sold on the whole miniaturization process, but I did manage to get over that once they were inside the Dalek. This isn’t the first miniaturization of the TARDIS crew that we’ve seen; the first Doctor and his companions were accidentally miniaturized in “Planet of Giants, ” and more recently, in the tesseract during the second half of season six. However, this episode was a rather knowing wink to the film Fantastic Voyage, with the Doctor even remarking that the medical application of miniaturization would make a great movie. I, however, kept waiting to see Elizabeth Shue show up to examine a splinter (okay, so I went to EPCOT a lot as a child). All the knowing winks to the movie actually took me a bit out of the story at first, which is why I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at first.
This episode also marks the second time that a Dalek has told the Doctor that he would make or is a good Dalek; both times it was due to his hatred. The first time was in “Dalek” when the ninth Doctor wants the Dalek to destroy itself so that there will be no more Daleks in the universe. This time, it occurred when Rusty could see inside of the Doctor’s mind. At first, it saw the beauty of the universe, but then all it could see was the Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks. Since Daleks are programmed to hate, this was what Rusty saw as good; instead of completely transforming, Rusty simply switches hatred of everything that is not Dalek to hatred of Daleks. This was the second time in the episode that the Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks prevented him from transforming the Dalek. After he fixed the radiation leak, and Rusty reset, the Doctor’s hatred blinded him to the possibility of redeeming Rusty. Instead of seeing that it was possible to make a Dalek question orders and see something other than hatred, he simply saw failure and a Dalek incapable of change. His unwillingness to see the hope that should have come from the experience almost caused the death of everyone on the ship.
The ship, by the way, is named the Aristotle. This struck me as an interesting name for the ship. It seemed appropriate to me because Aristotle was the father of logic, and it seems as though Rusty is using a syllogism to see the Doctor as a good Dalek. Hatred is the defining quality of all good Daleks; hatred of the Daleks defines the Doctor (he even mentions how shaped he was by his first encounter with them); therefore, the Doctor is a good Dalek.
I also wonder if we will see Rusty again. It leaves the Aristotle to rejoin the Dalek fleet, and plans to continue sabotaging the Daleks. It could be interesting to see the Daleks have to counter an enemy from within. There are possibilities for the Doctor and Rusty to work together; it would definitely be interesting to see the Doctor have to work with a Dalek for a change.
There is also a large part of this episode set at the Coal Hill School, where we meet Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson). He is a former soldier who is now a math teacher, and he clearly has some kind of tragedy in his past, involving the killing of civilians. It could be interesting to have a companion with a darkness in his past, since we haven’t seen much of that in the new series. He also seems to have a good chemistry with Clara, who is very clearly the more forward one, asking him to have a drink. I’m not completely sure it was necessary to give Clara a boyfriend at this time, but the character does have potential. My only complaint is that we’ve seen the current dynamic in their relationship before from just about every woman Moffat has created (Amy, River…), so I hope their relationship is able to cover some new ground.
I also am enjoying the way that Clara’s character continues to develop. I think she and Peter Capaldi are a great pair. It was interesting that she called herself his “carer.” She cares so that he doesn’t have to. While this relationship is not completely unheard of, it’s a bit more like the relationship between the first Doctor and his companions, or the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. The tenth and eleventh Doctors may have occasionally needed their companions to remind them to have compassion, but they definitely didn’t need “carers.” This Doctor, so far, seems to need one to remind him of what’s important. If anyone can stand up to the Doctor, it is Clara. She continues to be a capable, independent individual; the Doctor even trusts her to come up with clever solutions without his help.
Speaking of the Doctor, this episode continues to make the Doctor a darker figure, one who really does need a carer because he just doesn’t seem to care. He is a Doctor controlled much more by logic than his emotions, which he seem to keep pretty well hidden. This Doctor had no reaction to the death of Ross and Gretchen. Unlike the tenth Doctor, there’s no “I’m so sorry” for Ross when the antibodies come for him. He just rather coolly accepted that Ross was going to die and used his death to try to save the rest of them. He is also rather unpredictable; instead of picking up Clara at the times she set up, like Matt Smith’s Doctor, he shows up when he feels like it. We even learn that he left her in Glasgow, where he mistakenly brought her at the end of “Deep Breath” (which has to be another fourth Doctor/Sarah Jane reference).
This episode also brings up the Doctor’s dislike of soldiers. I didn’t think that it made a lot of sense for the Doctor to not even consider taking Journey Blue with him, just because she was a soldier. The Doctor has had a rather complicated relationship with soldiers, using them when necessary, while not always agreeing with their tactics. Journey certainly showed herself capable of growth and not just a mindless soldier following orders. It seemed to me that the Doctor only made that comment to set up some kind of conflict between him and Danny Pink. My suspicion was further supported by the comment that Danny made about how he didn’t know if Clara had anything against soldiers. It seemed like we were getting hit over the head with this foreshadowing of a future clash.
I was, however, left a bit curious by the prevalence of religion in the recent episodes. The Doctor has always been pretty staunchly nonreligious, but this season has several religious references already. Missy welcoming people who have died around the Doctor to “heaven” is the most obvious one, but this episode had a few other, subtle references. Rusty could see divinity in the Doctor’s mind and the Doctor even makes reference to saving Rusty’s soul. Is that significant? Or is it just a coincidence? I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.