Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”

Terry Pratchett

I do not know why Steven Moffat thought Into the Dalek would be a good title for a Doctor Who episode, but whatever his reasoning, it was wrong. It’s something of a relief to find out that it’s actually literal: the Doctor, Clara and a random assortment of trigger-happy soldiers are miniaturised so that they can enter the carapace of a damaged Dalek which has turned “good” or is, at least, informing the general vicinity that “ALL DALEKS MUST BE DESTROYED”, which apparently amounts to the same thing. Except when it doesn’t.

Why, you may ask, is our merry ka-tet embarking upon such a dangerous and foolhardy mission into the unknown? Well, the Dalek is damaged. And it needs mending so that it can help the men with guns. (On a side note: really? All those TARDIS scanners and your best diagnostic tool is a miniaturisation machine?) Now there is an obvious outcome to this expedition, and if it’s obvious to a twenty-year-old English student it should be practically a law of nature for a two-thousand-year-old Time Lord. But apparently the Doctor (or, more likely, Steven Moffat) is having an off day, and has forgotten the events of extremely-very-famous Ninth Doctor episode Dalek; Twelve mends the Dalek, which, predictably, immediately decides that the Daleks aren’t that bad after all and that, in fact, it would quite like the entire race to come and attack the spaceship upon which this little charade is playing itself out.

Daleks: 1, Doctor: 0.

From this point the story descends into material which is frankly snigger-worthy, not to say actually self-contradictory. I won’t spoil it (as if I could do a better job of that than Moffat has done!), but suffice it to say that it’s just as risible and ridiculous as the rest of the episode, if not more so.

If a plot so full of holes you could use it as a sieve were not enough, Moffat (or possibly his co-writer, a Phil Ford) adds to the mix a slow and uninteresting ten-minute opening whose only purpose appears to be the set-up of a deeply suspect thematic link between Clara’s life and the Doctor’s; a complete and blatant disregard for the laws of science; some extremely dodgy acting from Zawe Ashton, whose performance as soldier Journey Blue is unmeasured and faintly hysterical, and from Capaldi himself, who seems a little unsure of how he should be playing his Doctor (practical and a little bit callous? introspective and insecure? badass and flippant?); and a general lack of common sense. It’s also a shame to see that Jenna-Louise Coleman, who blossomed last week, is reduced here to playing a rather uninspired schoolteacher character arc.

Into the Dalek has single-handedly, in one fell swoop, destroyed all the confidence in the Capaldi Administration which Deep Breath built up for me last week. It feels like one of the sillier episodes of classic Who, without having the excuse of being made in the 70s; Capaldi’s character development has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer; and it’s horribly mispaced, with an introductory section which is far too long and leaves inadequate time for the payoff. Perhaps its only saving grace is a brief few seconds in which the mysterious and deeply surreal woman Missy, who claims to be welcoming various characters to heaven, pours tea for one of the casualties of this episode – an intriguing hint at what could be an interesting series arc.

Nice to see the steampunk titles back, though.

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