Thoughts about Deep Breath.
Episode two or series 8 of the 21st century version of Doctor Who, Into the Dalek, sees the return of the Daleks. Again. Every single series since the programme returned has seen the Daleks pop up over and over again to the point where they’ve went from incredibly effective monsters to cartoon baddies who are incredibly easily defeated. It’s worth noting that in the seven years Tom Baker played the Doctor, he faced off against the Daleks only twice. In short, the Daleks are now seriously overused, but the BBC need them to sell toys. Lots and lots and lots of toys. So the Daleks are back in what appears to be Stephen Moffat’s homage to Fantastic Voyage.
This is also the second of two episodes directed by proper film director Ben Wheatley who does really work wonders with what is becoming a noticeable decrease in budget from previous years. It’s also the first full episode with the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, not running around in the traditional post-regeneration mess. This is the new Doctor in full flow and so it’s an important episode because the audience is going to really start to decide whether it likes or dislikes Capaldi so the use of the Daleks so early is probably seen as a safe bet to help give the new Doctor a little boost in the ratings, and seeing as ITV’s popular shitefest The X Factor is back, it needs to keep the momentum going.
Into the Dalek is essentially nu-Who looking back and doing it well. The plot is basically that of Fantastic Voyage as mentioned, and this is even referenced in a line of dialogue, but for those of old bastards it’s also The Invisible Enemy, a serial from Tom Baker’s era. The story is basically the Doctor and companions get miniaturised and go into a captured Dalek who is the prisoner of some humans at some undetermined point in the future. This Dalek however is ‘good’ as it’s seen the birth of a star which has taught it the lesson that life prevails regardless of how many stars the Dalek Empire snuffs out.
Of course the Doctor finds what’s causing this in the Dalek (an internal radiation leak), seals it and this changes the Dalek back to the murdering psychopath we’re all used to which means the rest of the episode if spent trying to stop the Dalek, or indeed, try to make it ‘good’ again. In the course of this we find out more about Capaldi’s Doctor and he’s not nice, simple and heroic like Matt Smith’s or David Tennant’s. He’s very alien and very callous when it comes to human life being sacrificed when it needs to be, or at least until Clara slaps him in the face and gives him a serious bollocking. This Doctor has shades of Hartnell, with a lot of Tom and Colin Baker with a little bit of Pertwee. It’s quite brave of Capaldi (who I assume is helping guide the characterisation) to play a Doctor who isn’t just a grumpy old man, but almost sociopathic at times before flipping into childlike wonder at the universe. He’s not especially heroic so far, and in fact there’s a serious ambiguity around him hence the ‘am I a good man Clara‘ line.
And this brings me to Clara and Jenna Coleman. When she was started she was essentially a blow up doll who jumped around looking pretty at the side of Matt Smith. There was nothing to her, but now there is and Coleman is called upon to act, which she does very well. Clara is now the audience surrogate so it’s important she develops otherwise Capaldi’s Doctor is stillborn, so it’s good to say she’s becoming a fully formed female character. Somewhat of a first since Moffat took over.
This episode also sees the introduction of Danny Pink, a new character who is intended to be the boyfriend of Clara. He’s an ex-solider clearly suffering from PTSD, and apart from looking like Andros Townsend, he’s an interesting character so far. The fact he’s an ex-soldier is going to be obviously important after the end of this episode when the Doctor refuses to let one of the future soldiers join him as she’s a soldier. Make no mistake, this isn’t the easy to love Doctor of Tennant or Smith, this is harder and about as hard as you’ll see for something which is still a children’s/family programme for a Saturday teatime slot.
The plot is thin but this is about the new Doctor coming to terms with who he is and what he’s done, plus the intention he has to make things good, and better. The fact that he doesn’t create a good Dalek, but leaves the future humans with a Dalek who hates other Daleks because it’s looked into the soul of the Doctor to see his hatred for that race (yes, the Doctor is racist) and decided to kill them all. He’s failed from the very start of this regeneration. There’s no great victory even though he’s tried to be a ‘good man’.
Into the Dalek is a fine episode. Short on plot but it’s all about the characters. The direction is splendid and it’s nice to see Michael Smiley pop up in what is basically a cameo role. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is developing nicely, and the mystery of Missy is nicely developing without being too intrusive. In fact so far, this series is free of the messy storytelling of the previous two, and the lack of jump cuts every five minutes lets characters develop. It’s interesting to see this Doctor grow along with Clara. The problems are the thin plot, and the fact that the spaceship this is set on looks like a disused office in Cardiff because, well, it probably is. No matter how good a director you have, they can’t hide things like that.
Any criticisms though as small. This is a fine episode which sets this series up nicely and it has to be said, it’s nice to actually enjoy Doctor Who telling stories simply again.
Next week, Robin Hood?