“Into the Dalek” gives us our first full look at the new Doctor without the trappings of regeneration shenanigans and Clara’s meta-doubt about him. We’re also given a twist on the Dalek story (which, at this point, it really needs, since there’s only so many ways the Daleks can lose, right?), as well as the Doctor’s continued thematic return to a more alien state.
It’s obvious (as in “they’re saying it in the dialogue” obvious) that this Doctor is darker. He’s almost as much a stranger to humanity as he is to himself. On a meta-level it works as this is the first Doctor of a new regeneration cycle; the callbacks to William Hartnell’s original Doctor are clear. After having the past two Doctors being rather affable only to take a darker turn late in their lives (in particular with the Tenth Doctor), it’s refreshing to see Capaldi playing up to the Doctor’s alien sensibilities. There were moments in this episode that I couldn’t help but be reminded of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in the final two seasons of the original series, as well as in the long run of novels under Virgin Books’ New Adventures brand. The difference here as opposed to the TV run is that Capaldi has an actual budget to work with.
There are some standout moments. One is how the Doctor uses the doomed soldier. On the surface it seems cold and as if he lead the soldier to his death. But from the Doctor’s point of view, the soldier had already been marked for death by the Dalek “anti-bodies”, so he might as well be useful for something before dying. It’s a bit chilling and gruff, and frankly works wonders to differentiate this Doctor from others. He’s alien but struggling to be considered a good man. This Doctor is morose and conflicted, but capable of moments of razor wit which Capaldi delivers effortlessly. It’s a curious mix and makes this new Doctor riveting to watch.
The script is self-conscious about its Fantastic Voyage / Doctor Who mashup, and lampshades this fact early on. I’m still mixed on how well the plot works, given that no one seemed to have the foresight that fixing the issue causing the Dalek to have a conscious would, you know, make it evil again. And everyone reacts with shock when this inevitably occurs. It stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond what I was willing to forgive already, thanks to the humor mixed into the script.
And the first few scenes with Clara and her new love interest were painful. Why is the awkward romance trope still a thing? Here it’s played for a mixture of sweet and sympathy but the “sensitive ex-soldier with a tear running down his cheek” felt forced and paced entirely wrong. It did little to help the following awkward banter and inevitable lead-in to the first date (which, thankfully we don’t witness).
“Into the Dalek” is not your typical Dalek story. It’s also a rather middle-of-the-road effort for the series. Capaldi shines and the enigmatic Missy returns for those invested in Moffet’s season-long mysteries, but the one-note human soldiers and rehashed plot (even if it’s mixed with the Doctor Who special sauce) drag it down.