Into the Dalek ★★★

A rollicking adventure with fabulous visuals and minor script wobbles

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Story 243

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Series 8 – Episode 2

Storyline
In deep space, the Doctor rescues Lt Journey Blue just as her ship is zapped by a Dalek saucer. He returns her to her base ship Aristotle concealed in an asteroid belt, where the soldiers of the Combined Galactic Resistance have captured a damaged Dalek. It appears to have turned “good” and is now intent on destroying other Daleks. The Doctor is to be miniaturised and placed inside its casing to effect repairs. On Earth, at Coal Hill School, Clara takes a shine to the new maths teacher, ex-soldier Danny Pink. The Doctor arrives and requests her help in facing his nightmarish mission…

First UK broadcast
Saturday 30 August 2014

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara Oswald – Jenna Coleman
Lt Journey Blue – Zawe Ashton
Colonel Morgan Blue – Michael Smiley
Danny Pink – Samuel Anderson
Gretchen Carlisle – Laura Dos Santos
Ross – Ben Crompton
Fleming – Bradley Ford
School secretary – Michelle Morris
Mr Armitage – Nigel Betts
Courtney – Ellis George
Dalek – Barnaby Edwards
Dalek voices – Nicholas Briggs
Missy – Michelle Gomez

Crew
Writers – Phil Ford & Steven Moffat
Director – Ben Wheatley
Producer – Nikki Wilson
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin

RT review by Patrick Mulkern

Davros be praised that we can now just jump aboard a rollicking Dalek story without the weight of centuries of continuity bearing down upon it. No more the Time War. No “Last Dalek”. No Dalek Sick, Dalek Blah and Dalek Wotevah, which became so tiresome in the Russell T Davies period. Also, the ghastly Smartie-coloured paradigm “Fatleks” from Matt Smith’s first series have been consigned to history, or to Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience exhibition, or wherever. No one cares.

Still, it must be a head-scratcher for Steven Moffat to come up with an original angle for the Doctor’s oldest and most battle-worn opponents. Two years ago we had the brilliantly imaginative asylum for demented Daleks in which the nuttiest inmate turned out to be a mutation of the Doctor’s companion-to-be (Clara).

Now our heroes are miniaturised and actually go inside a Dalek to explore its inner workings. OK, to the well-schooled Who fan this won’t seem all that original. In 1977, duplicates of Tom Baker’s Doctor and Leela (Louise Jameson) were shrunk and inserted into the Doctor’s head, and yes, that also took place on a medical base in an asteroid belt. (If you haven’t seen The Invisible Enemy, source the DVD. It’s quite dreadful, featured a belligerent prawn and introduced the cosmos to K•9.) Both are a direct steal from the 1966 Rachel Welch movie, Fantastic Voyage. But hey, it’s 2014 now and this will feel fresh to most viewers.

The interior of the Dalek doesn’t disappoint. It’s the right blend of ace design and tingly horror: gangways, vaults, ducts, shoots, tendrils, plastic tubing, slimy squiddy blob… In a truly disgusting moment, the Doctor and his comrades tumble into the Dalek’s protein-slurry-filled digestive system.

I love the cute but deadly spherical antibodies – if they’re another cynical bid for a new Christmas toy, I’d like one as a paperweight (in case anyone I know is reading this). The standout moment, though, is the eerie, surreal image of the Doctor’s arm penetrating the Dalek’s “eye”. I could have done with a lot more of this.

So we have a sickly Dalek, which could be a rare good Dalek, but is actually just malfunctioning and, once repaired, reverts to evil; it’s nearly talked round by the Doctor but then latches onto the Time Lord’s hatred and goes on a spectacular Dalek-killing spree. At the close of play, I was as dizzy as this poor Dalek mutant, which the soldiers and Doctor allow simply to glide off set. Bound where? Nobody seems bothered. But it has, at least, got the measure of the new Doctor. (“You are a good Dalek!” it blurts.)

Peter Capaldi provides the wintry centre of this episode. The generally blacker edge to the series is oh so welcome, distilled to match his Scotch-on-the-rocks Doctor – chilly, stinging on the palate but warming on the way down. When Clara quips, “I’m his carer,” his retort is: “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.” Later in the gunge tank, he says of a dead soldier, “Top layer, if you want to say a few words.”

An actor of Capaldi’s stature demands taut, sharp dialogue but he doesn’t always get it. There’s no escaping the fact that his first scene in the Tardis with Journey Blue is awkwardly worded and performed. And the Big Moment where the Time Lord tries to convert the Dalek also presents a challenge, recalling Matt Smith’s woeful grandstanding in The Rings of Akhaten and Nightmare in Silver. Capaldi acquits himself but you sense it’s beneath him.

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The script, credited to Phil Ford and Steven Moffat (you don’t picture them sitting across a desk from each other, do you?), adeptly thrusts us into the middle of a Dalek/human war with no faffing but fails to explain clearly why the soldiers want to help their captive Dalek nor what they hope to achieve with it. Into the Dalek also strains to make a statement about soldiers. It’s all a bit woolly but both Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) are sympathetic characters, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of the latter.

I can’t believe it’s 2014 and a TV drama still gives us an establishing scene in a school that is interrupted after a few seconds by… the school bell. I’m ready to scream! But the meeting between Clara and Danny and in fact all their scenes have an easy charm. Samuel Anderson is a welcome addition to the Doctor Who fold.

As modern Who dips back to the school location of the very first episode An Unearthly Child, I can’t help wishing for a cameo for William Russell as companion Ian Chesterton, perhaps having a nose round Coal Hill where he once taught in 1963.

Another lovely nod to first Doctor William Hartnell’s earliest days is to hear the 12th Doctor acknowledging, to the Dalek: “All those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. Then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was.” Yes, it’s fan-speak but it’s terrific. The Daleks made Doctor Who. They also made the Doctor.

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