Recap: Doctor Who, “Into the Dalek” (8×02)

Two themes run through “Into the Dalek” – the Doctor’s complicated relationship with war and soldiers, and his need and appreciation for Clara. Throughout the episode, we are reminded that the Doctor does not like guns (the only one I can think of him wielding is a water gun) and he has no love lost for soldiers. It is interesting to be reminded of these two facets of the Doctor’s personality after meeting the War Doctor – after seeing him as a solider, deep in the battle for the survival of the universe. It doesn’t ring false – but it does remind me of Eleven’s pretension that he couldn’t remember the number of children on Gallifrey.

We are also reminded, frequently and explicitly, that the Doctor needs Clara. He needs her to reflect himself back to him, to show him the truth of himself and the situations around him.

The episode opens on a ship in distress – being shot at by a much larger ship.

EXTERMINATE

The Daleks shoot and take their first victim of the season.

Or not! The pilot of the ship wakes up on the floor of the TARDIS. The Doctor materialized a time capsule exactly around Journey Blue – the aforementioned soldier distressed in the ship. He waits until she stops pointing her gun at him and finally, after a time, returns her to her ship after she says please.

The Doctor has returned Journey to a grateful captain who still intends despite his gratitude to kill the Doctor to protect the safety of his ship’s location.

I like that they start off this episode with the Doctor sans Clara. It shows the audience right out of the gate that it isn’t just Clara that he is impatient with – he seems to find all humans slightly annoying.

The Doctor is taken to a patient in need of tending – a Dalek that has decided that all Daleks are evil and must be destroyed. Is it possible there is a good Dalek? Is the Doctor capable of helping this creature?

Our first introduction to Danny Pink is as the lead of the Coal Hill Cadets. In obvious reference to the Doctor’s current feelings on soldiers, the primary conflict between Danny and the Doctor is laid out before we even know his name.

CLARA HAS PANTS ON. This may not be material to the storyline at all. But she has PANTS on. I didn’t think Clara (or for that matter Jenna Louise Coleman) wore them.

Danny, a math teacher, is a soldier – with a soul and a dropping tear. He is introduced to Clara and blunders his way through their interaction. He is clearly TERRIBLE with women. In the most endearing and completely adorable way. Clara catches him repeating a much better version of their last conversation – and insists, with a heavy dose of merriment, that they grab a drink.

The Doctor has materialized – and it turns out that when Clara sent him for coffee, in Glasgow, he vanished. It’s three weeks later and the coffee is most certainly cold.

The Doctor needs Clara’s help. He doesn’t know if he is a good man. She is straightforward and says that she simply doesn’t know. The conversation continues, and the Doctor realizes just how important Clara is to him. He asks her if he pays her, for surely she needs a raise. “You’re not my boss,” she says. “You’re one of my hobbies.” I love everything about this. I love that she is amused but stern, that she lists him AMONG her hobbies, not as her only one. It is clear in this power dynamic that the Doctor needs Clara much more than Clara needs the Doctor. And it isn’t Clara trying to manipulate or maintain control of the situation. It is simply the nature of their changed relationship.

The Doctor brings Clara back to see the “good” Dalek. She’s introduced not as his assistant, but as his “carer.” She cares so the Doctor doesn’t have to. Always the Doctor’s external conscience, Clara’s position as the doctor’s external morality is on full display in this episode.

To solve the problem of the mysteriously good Dalek, Clara, the Doctor and a few guards are all shrunk so they can go inside the Dalek’s head.

There’s a pretty hard core Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus vibe to this as they enter in through the Dalek’s eye. Throughout the episode, I had a very difficult time understanding the physical existence inside the Dalek brain. It pulled me out of the episode as it wasn’t clear whether they were entering into the organic brain of the Dalek or the internal function of the Dalek exoskeleton.

The medical team ventures farther and farther into the depths of the Dalek. The Dalek, it seems, has finally realized that resistance against life is futile. The birth of a star has shown him that, no matter how many stars the Daleks kill, stars will continue to be born. There is something deeply beautiful about that.

The Doctor finds the radiation leak that has expanded the Dalek’s mind and fixes it. This fix, however, means that the Dalek is now free to return to exterminating everyone around him who isn’t a Dalek. The Doctor is crestfallen, if a little smug at being right to question the existence of a good Dalek.

Clara slaps him. She insists he’s learning the wrong lesson. They are inside what could be the only good Dalek. It isn’t important that it turned bad again – it is important that it turned good to begin with. The Doctor is inspired. If he can change one Dalek, he can change them all. He can change the future. The Doctor offers Clara another raise.

To remind the Dalek of what had changed his mind to begin with, Clara must crawl through the memory banks, reigniting the memories that he suppressed. But she has to get there first. One of her party realizes she must sacrifice herself if Clara is ever going to succeed.

“Is he mad or is he right?”

Clara replies, “Hand on my heart, most days he’s both.”

The soldier sacrifices herself so Clara and Journey can find the Dalek’s happy memory again. She dies – and sits down to tea to Missy. The soldier, like the Cyborg from last week, is welcomed to heaven. The camera work was very similar to that of the Doctor materializing the time capsule around Journey at the start of the episode. Is it possible that Missy is doing the same thing? Perhaps collecting the collateral damage around the Doctor for some reason?

The Doctor is trying to find out if this Dalek’s morality wasn’t just a malfunction. Perhaps if this Dalek was enlightened enough, he might actually be good. So the Doctor joins his mind with the Dalek in an attempt to show him the beauty and divinity of the universe. The Dalek sees it – and the Doctor wants him to focus on that. But even the Doctor himself cannot focus on the divinity of the universe alone. He is always carrying a deep hatred of the Dalek race – and it is contagious. The Dalek takes his compulsion for extermination and turns it on his own kind.

After the Dalek has destroyed the invading force, he is surprised that the Doctor is not feeling victorious.

The Doctor speaks plainly to the Dalek. “You looked into my soul and saw hatred – that is not victory. You are not a good Dalek.

The Dalek counters, “No, you are.”

Journey wants to come along. The Doctor thinks she’s probably nice. And definitely brave. But she’s been a soldier. And he can’t take her on board.

Much of this episode has been the Doctor questioning who he is, what he is, whether he is a good man. Those answers are certainly for another day. But Clara reminds him he’s trying to be a good man. And maybe that’s the point.

Clara returns home – 30 seconds after she left. It is pleasant to have a Doctor that can actually do time travel accurately when he needs to. There’s no blundering for him. When he brings coffee three weeks late, it’s because he didn’t bother to be timely, not because he over shot. Clara sets a date with Danny, and we all wait for the inevitable conflict with and growth opportunity for the Doctor.

Doctor Who has always had a less-than-stellar success rate with writing for female characters. While I wouldn’t suggest the series is getting everything right in that regard so far this season, they’re certainly doing better than they ever have.

So what do you think? Do you think Missy’s a meddling Time Lord collecting the scraps of the Doctor’s adventures? Do you like Clara in pants? Are you excited for Danny Pink to join the crew of the TARDIS in the coming weeks?