"I pitched it as ‘Die Hard in a Dalek!" - spoilerific Q&A with Into The Dalek co-writer Phil Ford

"I pitched it as ‘Die Hard in a Dalek!" - spoilerific Q&A with Into The Dalek co-writer Phil Ford

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So, that was Into The Dalek: an episode that saw Peter Capaldi's Doctor venture inside the most dangerous place in the universe, and emerge knowing more about himself than he would like. 

It was co-written between showrunner Steven Moffat and Phil Ford, who wrote 2009 Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars and co-created CBBC series Wizard Vs Aliens. In order to shed some light on the weighty questions and thematics tackled in Into The Dalek, RadioTimes.com sat down with the latter to discuss the evolution of the Daleks, how it was to envision the inside of one, why this episode loops back to a classic serial and whether the twelfth Doctor is "cruel."

Be warned: spoilers obviously follow. 


Hello Phil. So, first of all,  can you explain how Into The Dalek came about? Was it something that you pitched, or did Steven Moffat come to you?

It was the usual thing:  they asked me if I had any ideas, so I had a couple of ideas we kicked around. Then I got this message back saying that Steven had got this idea that he'd like me to do. And I knew that Steven had been kicking this concept around of going inside a Dalek for a while. I'd heard it mentioned. But obviously for whatever reason it had never been done. So basically we then met up, and it was a case of fleshing out a story. The way I pitched it to Steven was that it was ‘Die Hard in a Dalek!’

It must have been a challenge to envision the inside of a Dalek? 

Crazy. That was crazy. What on earth does it look like in a Dalek? You kind of know in the middle of it is the actual organic Dalek, the Kaled. So then you kind of think: 'what kind of functions, or the cybernetic systems would need to be in there to enable to do what he does?' So he's got a head, he's got some kind of feeding system, and there's a power source to make it all drive... So you kind of just plot all that together. But it was, really, erm, it's a bit of a mind bender to think what must be inside a Dalek, and then how you travel through the Dalek as well!

It also had some very nice corridors. 

Ha! They're not corridors! They're channels! Because they're so small they look like corridors! 

OK, OK. In terms of the story, did you take any inspiration from the Christopher Eccleston story Dalek? 


Well, Dalek was, for me, when Doctor Who came up, was, for me, the story that said: “Yes, this is Doctor Who.” So Dalek was always an inspiration that was hanging around at the back of my head because I thought it was a great, great story. But then you get submerged in the story you're writing, to be honest. The thing I loved about Dalek is that it was about 'a Dalek', a Dalek cut off from its own kind. So obviously there are some similarities there. And so it's inevitable that you kind of draw from something like that.

I always find it a lot more interesting when Doctor Who focuses on one Dalek and unpacks it rather than a mass of them. 

Well, yeah, in this one you kind of have both! You have the one Dalek, and then you have hordes of them beating down the doors. So, that's kind of cool. What I always wanted, and what Daleks always should be, is scary. But at the same time you want to see them in a different way and the only way that is worth returning to an old monster - and they don't get much older than the Daleks - is by learning something new about them, and seeing them from a different perspective. And you can't get as much a different perspective than actually being inside it! That's why the opportunity to do this is so cool.

The concept of a ‘good’ Dalek raises a lot of heavy, philosophical questions in this episode. Is that something you wanted to explore from the beginning? 



Yeah. The thing is, the idea in essence was that the Doctor goes inside a Dalek. From what I can remember, I think that was purely the idea. Then you have to have a reason why does the Doctor go inside the Dalek. Effectively the Doctor goes inside the Dalek to save it. Why would the Doctor save it? Why in all the world, in all the universe, would the Doctor go inside the most darkest, most evil place in the universe? Why on earth would he do that apart from curiosity, which isnt a great motivation? So, the possibility that a Dalek could be good and the possibility that this may be some sort of evolutionary tipping point, that something's happening to this Dalek… it kind of becomes a plot point effectively.

Also there is that question: what is evil? And what is good? And the interesting thing for me in terms of the Daleks anyway is because, you know, they came about as a result of the war. In the first instance, they were all about winning the war. They just got power-crazy. But they were designed simply as soldiers to win a war way back in the day. So effectively in the first place, there's an argument that they weren't evil,, that they were just there to do a job. Obviously that gets out of hand... But the best villains of course never believe that they're evil. Which is always an interesting thing – so what's actually going on inside a Dalek's head is an interesting question, I don't think it's something an actual Dalek would ever really examine in the same way before. Equally, it's an interesting question to ask, “what could make a Dalek see its own evil?” And see its place in the universe, and make it realise it's destroying every form of life in the universe. It's interesting stuff. And it all ties in with the Doctor's question: “Am I a good man?”

That theme of ‘what makes someone good’ runs through Into The Dalek. Could you explain the meaning behind, “You are a good Dalek.” 

I have to admit that is a Steven line! So you'd have to ask him about that, but the point of it is that the Dalek is prepared to go to any lengths to do what he has to do, in the Doctor's case this is to defeat the Daleks and save humanity, save the people who are aboard the ship. Whereas a Dalek is made to simply destroy, so I think this is kind of what he means. Also the Dalek has seen inside the Doctor's head by this point and there is this sense that there's a darkness inside the Doctor – and I think it's this darkness that's driving him. In the Dalek's case, it's a darkness that moves it forward. But in the Doctor's case, it’s the Doctor's determination to defeat darkness within him, if indeed there is darkness there. So that powers the Doctor to do good.

What do you think the Doctor would have seen as a ‘good Dalek’, one that wants to sit down and talk about it all? 

It's that question of evolution. Because the Dalek was basically saying, “I can take out the other Daleks” - maybe it's kind of like a magic bullet, if you want to get it down to genetics. That one Dalek in some way – whether that's in terms of destroying all the other Daleks, or influencing the other Daleks... I think it's kind of an experiment for the Doctor. This is the first time he's come across a Dalek that in some way is different from the horde. This Dalek is, for the first time, saying, “I want to be a good Dalek.” I think the Doctor sees that as an opportunity, in evolution, I think the Doctor is encouraging that change.

For me, I saw Into The Dalek as a compliment to Tom Baker’s 1975 serial Genesis of the Daleks. In that, the Doctor has an opportunity to destroy the Daleks but doesn’t because of even the slight possibility that they could evolve or change. This felt like the end point of that.

Absolutely. That's entirely possible, because the big dilemma for the Doctor always is that the Doctor's a pacifist. Okay, a pacifist that has taken out so many aliens over the years. Although he's taken these decisions for the greater good. If he had destroyed the Daleks back then, then that's robbing the universe of a species, and there's no telling that that species at some point may evolve into something better, something greater. By killing that species, you rob it of that opportunity.

You also rob the universe of perhaps the alliance between the species as a result of the Daleks existing in that universe. The Daleks may well be evil, but there has, throughout history, throughout Who history, meant that other species have banded together, when they wouldn't have otherwise, in order to try and defeat the Daleks. I think there's an unwritten element of that story in Into the Dalek. The people aboard the ship are the last survivors of the galaxy. This is their last stand to defeat the Daleks. We don't know what kind of wars may have been going on in that galaxy before the Daleks shown up, they may have united. There's an argument perhaps that if the Daleks had been destroyed way back in Tom Baker's era that so much good would have been lost. So that's the process going on in the Doctor's mind. It's kind of like wasps, isn't it? People going ‘what good are wasps?’ But perhaps if you didn't have wasps, you wouldn't have people making wasp swatters as jobs!

In terms of writing , what was it like to write a Doctor you hadn't seen on screen yet?

It was entertaining, but it was really difficult. When I wrote this old Doctor, he wasn't even cast. Then they did know who they were having, but I still wasn't told! No one knew until he walked out on TV. Steven had fed me guides, though. When I did the first draft, I think, we were kind of talking more about Tom Baker's Doctor. So I basically wrote the first draft for Tom Baker! Then we started talking about a raging Billy Connolly, and that was much more of a guide!

I think I'm right in saying that they were the first scripts to be delivered. So Steven was still getting his head around the Doctor. He did warn me that there would be a lot of drafts, but I was fine with that. In the end there was about four drafts. Then Steven came in and did a polish with the Doctor, then I did a small draft after that, and then Steven came back in and put some new scenes in.. So it was a very collaborative thing, and obviously it was only Steven at that point who knew how the Doctor was going to be. But I was just thrilled to be part of the second episode.

I'm guessing that's why your episode is a joint credit?

I would imagine it is. Obviously Steven had a lot of influence in that script, because he's getting the Doctor right at the time. I also believe there's a few scenes relating to the over-arcing storyline.

Ah, the Missy scene?

Yes.

And the Danny Pink stuff?

Yeah. I did some Danny Pink stuff, but Steven did come in. It's the second script, the whole series was in development at that point, so obviously there's stuff that Steven was still developing.

One particular scene that I wanted to talk about was the one where it seems like the Doctor is trying to save a soldier, but is actually only using him. It struck me as brutal.



It is. It's about establishing the Doctor as very pragmatic, even when that pragmatism is kind of cruel. He realises there's no way of saving that guy, but there is a way of saving them all in order to complete the mission. It's the lovely thing about this Doctor. Nothing is comfortable, if you know what I mean. We don't know which way this Doctor might step. So that is quite pivotal, really.

It's very dark...

It is dark! There's no question about that it's dark. But it's really kind of important. This Doctor knows there are some battles you can't win. In those circumstances, you have to do what you have to do in order to win the fight. He doesn't enjoy that that guy dies, but to this Doctor that's kind of the battle of the universe; life and death is a part of the universe and he recognises that, I think.

What are your thoughts on Peter Capaldi in general then?

He's just fantastic. He's such a wonderful actor and he's making such a wonderful Doctor. I'm basing this on the first two episodes, you understand. I haven't even seen my episode properly! But I was in the room for the read-through. I sat next to him in my episode, and he was just wonderful. The room exploded with energy. That's just how good he is. And just to go on about how wonderful he is some more: I was on location one day, at some air force base somewhere... I got there from about 10.30 in the morning and stayed until around 4.30pm. And we hadn't filmed a frame with Peter the whole time I was there – it was all exploding Daleks and people getting exterminated and stuff like that, and Peter was there pretty much the whole time just watching, because he just loves it! It's tremendous to see. You just get that sense of excitement from him, as a man, and in terms of playing this part.

To wrap up, I just wanted to ask about much talked about change of pace this series. Were you ever told to maybe make the dialogue scenes longer or anything like that?

I don't remember that. We wanted it to be the same show but different, a new incarnation. I don't ever remember... Well, no. I would've just written what I was always going to write. If there was ever a question of pace I would've had a note on that. But also, Into the Dalek is more an adrenaline-fuelled story. I'm sure that's the case throughout the series. Stories are different paces, different tones, because at the end of the day – that's what makes an exciting, varied series.

Watch our video review of Into the Dalek

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