Before reading on, all my words will make a lot more sense if you watch the episode here first.
I usually hate repetition. And Into The Dalek was riddled with returning themes.
The most obvious comparison is with ‘Dalek’, the Christopher Eccleston episode that introduced Daleks into the Modern Who era. Like here, that episode featured a tied up Dalek and a conflicted Doctor. Hell, the line ‘You are a Good Dalek’ at the end of the story is only a few words short of ‘You would make a Good Dalek?’ as uttered in that aforementioned 2005 episode.
Then there’s the Doctor’s sudden issue with whether he is a good man or not. You know, the same issue he had in the Series 6 mid-season finale A Good Man Goes to War when he discovered that in some cultures ‘Doctor’ means ‘Warrior’.
And some of the writing is getting a touch familiar. “Is he mad or is he right?” asks Gretchen the soldier. You knew the answer was ‘both’ before Clara even uttered it. It’s just the latest version of the oft-quoted ‘madman in a box’ dialogue.
“Don’t be lasagna.”
But you know what? A bit of repetition and recurring dialogue isn’t such a bad thing, not when the episode is as entertaining as Into The Dalek.
And it could have gone so wrong. It could so easily have been ‘Honey I Shrunk The Doctor’ and yet [writers] Phil Ford and Steven Moffat dial down the humour and play it straight. And the whole ‘shrinking’ thing is not exactly new to Who, having also been a major plot point in Series 6’s Let’s Kill Hitler.
Ben Wheatley’s second stab at Who is arguably superior to the more ‘talky’ Deep Breath, with a few nice action scenes to sink his teeth into. Plus the SFX team did a really great job at blowing up Daleks. I think these were the best ‘bangs’ in Who yet (even if the ‘inside’ Dalek moments didn’t always convince).
And for all my criticisms of repetition, going inside a Dalek is definitely new. And I loved the idea of there being an anti-Dalek Dalek in the world.
Clara is also fast becoming an actual real human being. She has a job, and a boss, and a receptionist. And maybe a boyfriend. In fact, The Doctor randomly turning up having abandoned her in Glasgow three weeks before seems to be a bit of nuisance for Clara. She’s got other things to do. And her role as The Doctor’s apologist is quite entertaining, even if her position as The Doctor’s teacher is a bit of a push. She’s already surpassed Amy in my eyes.
I am also mildly enjoying The Doctor’s occasional Clara put downs at times. And as long as they are continually played in good humour, I won’t worry. But there’s a fine line between banter and nastiness. We don’t want a repeat of the Colin Baker Doctor, who frankly spent most of his time bullying his companion Peri.
“She’s my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”
Now comes the question that dominated the episode. Is The Doctor a good man?
Clara doesn’t know. The Doctor doesn’t seem to know either. And the writers are trying to do their utmost of making us doubt our hero, too. Even though, after 51 years of saving the universe, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who The Doctor is.
The scene where The Doctor asks a scared soldier to swallow a tablet so that, upon his death, he can find out where his body was taken, was just unnecessary. The Doctor is not Sherlock (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch) despite the occasional similarities. He is not callous. He doesn’t get involved in things out of curiosity, but out of compassion. Remember this line: ‘in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important’? Or, more recently, his dual with the half-faced man in Deep Breath and his declaration of love for humanity? This moment seemed to conflict with all that.
But perhaps The Doctor’s lack of compassion is more linked to his apparent dislike of soldiers. Which isn’t entirely convincing. Yes, The Doctor has always had issues with soldiers, but it’s the guns he really doesn’t like, not so much the people holding them. Remember he was a member of UNIT, which were soldiers. He was friends with The Brigadier, who was a soldier. The Silurians, which he has so much admiration for, are a warrior race. He’s worked with the Clerics and the soldiers from the Papal Mainframe. He’s not as anti-soldier as he likes to pretend to be.
Granted, the soldiers in this episode, including a grumpy Tyres from Spaced (Michael Smiley), were threatening and hostile. But you sense this whole soldier thing is more a set-up for The Doctor’s inevitable dislike for Clara’s new love interest Danny Pink (which, when The Doctor does disapprove of their relationship, will further cement the rather unusual Father/Daughter dynamic that seems to be happening here).
Pink is a soldier-turned-teacher who cries in class and may or may not have killed someone. And in fact, may have killed someone innocent. You just know our new grumpy Doctor is not going to warm to him.
But who really is The Doctor to criticise soldiers? The question of the episode was not actually ‘is the Doctor a good man?’, but rather ‘what is a good man?’ Is a good man someone who fights evil? Or someone who does not fight at all? And if a soldier is someone that fights evil, what does that make The Doctor?
Maybe he’s not such a good man after all.