“Into The Dalek” is the first of several collaborations we’ll see from the writers of Doctor Who in Series 8 (followed by “Time Heist” and “The Caretaker”). It’s co-written by showrunner Steven Moffat and Phil Ford, who previously worked on “The Waters Of Mars” with Russell T. Davies during the Series 4 specials. You can definitely feel Phil Ford’s influence in the final version of this story, because “Into The Dalek” has a much higher kill count than your usual Moffat era Dalek story and some of the action scenes in this episode can get surprisingly brutal. The plot of this episode is heavily inspired by the 1966 film, “The Fantastic Voyage”, and it primarily revolves around the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald shrinking themselves down to miniature size, so they can venture inside a damaged Dalek drone and learn more about the inner-workings of the Daleks.
As the title plainly states, this is a Dalek-centric episode, which is surprising, since the Daleks just appeared a few episodes ago in “The Day Of The Doctor” and “The Time Of The Doctor“, where they had a fairly large role in both of those stories. They have another episode devoted to them so soon into this new season for the same reason that they did in Series 5 with “Victory Of The Daleks“. Steven Moffat has gone on record that he believes every new Doctor needs to face the Daleks at some point, as a rite of passage, and since the Daleks aren’t the endgame villains of this season (that would be Missy and the Cybermen), their spotlight episode is positioned early in Series 8. In a lot of ways, “Into The Dalek” feels more like the true, official start of the Twelfth Doctor’s era than “Deep Breath“. The season premiere spent a lot of time tying up loose ends, saying goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor’s era, while “Into The Dalek” lays down a lot more groundwork for the Doctor and Clara’s new character arcs across this season – including introducing a new love interest for Clara, Danny Pink.
With his second outing, we quickly learn a lot more about the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) brusque and aloof personality, and what he chooses to prioritize every time he steps out into the field on a new case. This episode starts with the Doctor rescuing Journey Blue, a soldier who’s fighting a war against the Daleks in the far future, from certain death – but he’s unfortunately too late to save her brother from the same fate. Twelve doesn’t offer her much comfort about it, instead telling her to look on the bright side and be glad that she isn’t dead as well. When she tries to pull a gun on him to commandeer his vessel, he makes it very apparent that he responds to threats and intimidation attempts with nerves of steel, since he refuses to let some rando bully him around on his own ship.
After he drops Journey off at her base, he nips back to the 21st century for a few minutes to collect his best friend, Clara, for help on his newest mission – shrinking himself down and venturing inside a Dalek shell. Around this point, the two of them have a very interesting conversation: Twelve has started to wonder to himself if he’s a good man, and to his disappointment, Clara isn’t able to give him a definitive answer either. During his last three lives, he was completely certain that he wasn’t one (Eleven made that quite clear in “A Good Man Goes To War“). But now that he’s managed to save his home planet and find a bit of redemption for his role in the time war in “The Day Of The Doctor”, he’s really not sure what to make of himself anymore, and his self-image has been flipped on its head. Funnily enough, Clara actually gives him the proper answer right from the start – whether or not he is or he isn’t one is less important than him constantly trying to be one – but the Doctor won’t be ready to see that for himself until the end of the season in “Death In Heaven”.
The Doctor’s distaste for the military hasn’t been highlighted for a long time now: during the Eleventh Doctor’s era, it was only touched upon in “The Time Of Angels” and “Cold War” (and not to the same extent as “The Sontaran Stratagem” or “The Doctor’s Daughter“). In this episode, that character trait returns with a vengeance. The Doctor doesn’t like to work with soldiers because they’ll do whatever it takes to get a job done, however unethical it may be. They follow their orders to the word, and absolve themselves of any responsibility for their actions by deferring to a higher authority. Their shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality can cause a lot of damage, and they often try to use force and threats to get their way, like Journey does when she tries and fails to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS from him. Of course, the Doctor harboring this kind of resentment towards soldiers everywhere makes him a massive hypocrite. He fought in the time war for centuries, and he apparently did a lot more shady stuff for his people than most of the human soldiers he’s encountered can even imagine.
As we’ve seen before in Series 4, the Doctor is basically overcompensating – part of the reason why he turns his nose up at soldiers all the time is to distance himself from his own past. And ironically, he still thinks like one himself (particularly a commanding officer). “Into The Dalek” repeatedly emphasizes that the Twelfth Doctor has a coldly rational and pragmatic mindset. He can’t save a dead man walking from the inevitable demise he’s brought upon himself, so he moves right along and focuses on using what he learned from Ross’s death to save everyone else. As far as he’s concerned, he can’t afford to stop and mourn people’s deaths when every moment he wastes is vital. And throughout this season, he’ll go on to teach Clara to do the same, to focus on the greater good. The Doctor does show some level of respect to a soldier who gives her life to help him with his crazy plan, promising to honor her last wishes. At the end of the day, when Journey Blue asks to come with him in the TARDIS, he flatly rejects her because he doesn’t want the company of a soldier. This decision is motivated by pure prejudice that will go unchallenged until “The Caretaker“, when he finally gets called out on his hypocrisy.
After having a front and center role in “Deep Breath”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is more of a supporting character once more in “Into The Dalek”. In her second outing of the season, a new co-worker at Coal Hill School catches her eye – Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a former soldier turned maths teacher – and he’s very clearly interested in her well. During his introductory scenes, it’s made very apparent that Danny suffers from PTSD, as well as a guilty conscience. It’s strongly implied that something went horribly wrong in his past that he’s not proud of, something that made him give up his old job in the military and choose the considerably more safe and harmless career of a schoolteacher. When an incredibly rude student of his keeps asking him if he’s ever killed someone who wasn’t a soldier, Danny very pointedly avoids the question and quietly sheds a single tear, making the answer quite plain.
After some initial awkwardness, Clara and Danny hit it off well, and they have their share of cute moments. As you would expect from a retired military man, Danny is about as brave as they come (and he’ll certainly get a chance to prove that later in this season), but amusingly enough, he turns into a massive tongue-tied screw-up whenever he’s around a woman he likes. Clara’s gift of gab makes her a charismatic person, but it can also easily backfire on her when she puts her foot in her mouth – especially since Danny can be triggered easily by the skeletons in his closet she doesn’t know about – which is really going to start to become a problem later in “Listen”. For the time being though, Clara and Danny agree on a date in the near future, just to test the waters and see if they’re compatible – which means we have a potential workplace romance on our hands. Now that Clara and the Doctor have decided that they’re never going to be anything more than friends, Clara is officially free to pursue a relationship with other guys she’s fond of.
Clara is completely onboard with the Doctor’s quest when he recruits her for it (putting her date with Danny on hold for a while), because seeing a bunch of weird, trippy stuff like the inside of a Dalek is right up her alley. And along the way, she discovers a bunch of new things about her friend, now that he’s got a brand new face and a brand new personality to match. One of the biggest strengths of the Twelfth Doctor’s era is the fact that Jenna Coleman has much more chemistry with Peter Capaldi than she did with Matt Smith (when Eleven and Clara were already a very fun, amiable duo). Their characters’ personalities are so different and yet they compliment each other so well, and whenever we’re treated to a scene of the Doctor and Clara bantering (or simply sharing their honest thoughts about something), their dialogue simply crackles.
Clara spends a lot of time explaining the Doctor’s actions to other people when he doesn’t have the time to do it himself, though at times it almost seems like she’s making excuses for her friend’s bad behavior, which she’ll be made aware of later in “Time Heist“. When she finally gets fed up with the Doctor being foolish and bullheaded, she quite literally slaps some sense into him and convinces him not to throw in the towel prematurely because of his vendetta against the Daleks. As usual, Clara is shown to be a crafty and resourceful person, who’s more than willing to think outside the box to get out of a tight scrape – especially compared to Journey Blue, who lacks vision because she’s mostly been trained to follow orders. During the episode’s coda, Clara realizes she has a potential problem on her hands: the Doctor’s her best friend and he hates soldiers, so she decides to keep her new beau a secret from him, because she knows he wouldn’t approve of her thing with Danny. She also starts lying to Danny as well, to hide what she does in her spare time. And once she starts the habit of lying to the people she cares for, Clara will quickly find it’s very difficult to stop doing it.
Early on, the Doctor saves a soldier named Journey Blue from being exterminated by the Daleks, but he’s unable to save her brother as well. She doesn’t make the best first impression when she lashes out in anger and grief, trying to steal his ship from him, but we quickly learn she does have more standards than her uncle she serves under (who’s a very dedicated and very ruthless man). “Into The Dalek” spends a lot of time exploring the general culture of the military that drives every soldier it creates. Journey’s used to death and devastation by now – she’s a child of war who’s known about the evil of the Daleks since she was a girl – so her heart has hardened slightly from the terrible times she lives in. She does her best to bury her personal feelings and cope with the grief of losing her brother by focusing on the mission at hand. Like every soldier, she’s willing to live and die for the cause she fights for, and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to get her job done.
However, as time goes on, she starts to show a bit of promise, and it becomes apparent that she hasn’t completely forsaken her individuality yet to become a cog in a very efficient war machine (a bit like Jenny in “The Doctor’s Daughter”). Early on, she’s willing to go against her uncle’s wishes and recruit the Doctor for help, when she thinks they might need it. Later on, when the Doctor has an insane plan to save them all from the Daleks that he can’t guarantee will actually work, she’s willing to defy a direct order from her commanding officer to help him with it. She also learns to think outside the box more from Clara. By the end of the day, she wants to see more of the universe, and she’s ready to leave her war-torn world behind her. But her request to come with them is swiftly shot down, and she’s denied an escape from the hell of her life. It’s a shame too, because from the small amount of growth she showed in this episode, Journey (like so many others before her) probably could have benefitted from the positive influence the Doctor and Clara would have had on her and her morals.
“Into The Dalek” rethreads a lot of old ground that the show previously explored in the RTD era – why the Daleks are the way they are, and what happens when they start to think as individuals – but it puts a slightly new spin on the material. By nature, the Daleks are very static characters who never grow or evolve because they’re utterly convinced of their own perfection, so their society stagnates endlessly. However, ‘Rusty’ is a malfunctioning drone, and he’s currently started to question his purpose in life. He’s something new, a brand new mystery for the Doctor to solve, and our rogue time lord cannot resist going inside him and looking into it. Along the way, we discover that while the Daleks are already hated-filled creatures, they also like to suppress certain emotions, so they can keep their soldiers loyal and pure. Rusty has been damaged by a radiation leak, giving him the potential for growth as he starts to imagine new thoughts.
As we’ve seen before in “Evolution Of The Daleks“, the Doctor has always held out hope that his oldest enemies can still be reformed someday, somehow, even if it’s a fool’s dream – and our heroes do come off as being rather foolish in this episode. Once they fix the problem with Rusty, he immediately turns on them and goes on a rampage with them trapped inside of him, and in my opinion, they really should have seen that coming. The Doctor forms a psychic link with him, so he can change his worldview and cement his new growth – but his own lifelong hatred towards the Daleks corrupts Rusty as a result and ruins this once-in-a-lifetime chance to rehabilitate the malevolent cyborg. Rusty does a roundabout turn from hating the rest of the universe to hating his own kind. He’s still a mad killer, but now he’s fanatically obsessed with hunting down other Daleks. He’s technically making the world a safer place, but in the most messed up way possible. So this wasn’t a total victory, but it’s still a better outcome than the way things panned out in “Dalek“, “Evolution Of The Daleks” and “Victory Of The Daleks”.
“Into The Dalek” is helmed by Ben Wheatley, the same guy who handled the last episode, and while his work on “Deep Breath” was certainly good, his direction in this episode is a pretty big step up from it when it comes to the confidence and charisma on display. The early comedic scenes, where we frequently cut back and forth between Clara and Danny failing to maintain a conversation and Danny’s regret about blowing his chances with Clara, are charming; steadycam is used to good effect throughout the hour, to give certain scenes the sense of momentum that they require without becoming obnoxious; and once we get inside Rusty’s body, there are some beautifully crafted low-angle shots tossed in from time to time that I always like to see in Doctor Who. Location shooting for “Into The Dalek” was primarily done in St. Athan, Wales, Newport, Wales, and a hangar outside of Cardiff.
The show’s special effects team (BBC Wales VFX) did a phenomenal job with “Into The Dalek”, because there are some gorgeous CGI shots woven throughout this episode: from battles in space through asteroid belts, to the inner machinations of Rusty’s tank, to all the brutal extermination scenes that take place when the Daleks lay siege to the humans’ secret base. Compared to the loud and super expressive music in the last episode, Murray Gold’s funky, synthesized score is toned down significantly in “Into The Dalek”: softer pieces like “We’re Still Going To Kill You” and “Tell Me, Am I A Good Man” are allowed to allowed to simmer softly in the background, building up a sizable amount of ambience, while other tracks build upon the foundation that was set in previous Dalek stories. “Aristotle, We Have Been Hit” samples “The Dark And Endless Dalek Night” from Series 4, “What Difference Is A Good Dalek?” reprises “The Doctor’s Theme” from Series 1, and “The Truth About The Daleks” produces another triumphant riff on the Twelfth Doctor’s leitmotif, “A Good Man?“.
All in all, “Into The Dalek” is a strong follow-up episode to “Deep Breath” (and a fairly riveting Dalek story) that cements what sort of character the Twelfth Doctor is going to be for the rest of this season, and gives us a taste of some of the character development that’s in store for him down the line.
* “However, the security of this base is absolute. So we’re still going to kill you” “Oh, it’s a roller coaster with you, isn’t it?”
* “There’s a bit more to modern soldiering than just shooting people. I like to think there’s a moral dimension” “Ah, you shoot people then cry about it afterwards?” Damn, girl. Just damn.
* “Three weeks ago, that’s a long time” “In Glasgow. That is dead in a ditch” Well, at least it’s better than Aberdeen.
* At one point, the Doctor kicks the doors to the TARDIS open. Well, that’s rude.
* “Clara, be my pal-” Oof. After the way the last episode ended, the Doctor gives Clara another reminder that she’s just been friendzoned.
* “Do I pay you? I should give you a raise” “You’re not my boss, you’re one of my hobbies”.
* “I’m his carer” “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to” Edgy, Doctor, edgy.
* “So, who makes you smile or is nobody up to the job?” “My brother. But he burned to death a couple of hours ago, so he’s really letting me down today”.
* “Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe, then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering!”
* A part of me wonders if the nickname ‘Rusty’ is meant to be a subtle nod to Russell T. Davies.
* “So you saw a star being born, and you learned something. Oh, Dalek, do not be lying to me!”
* The Doctor has been slapped by angry women numerous times in Doctor Who, but Clara’s slap is probably the most savage one we’ve seen so far: she held nothing back.
* “Clara Oswald, do I really not pay you?” “You couldn’t afford me”.
* “Gretchen Alison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me” “I will do something amazing, I promise” “You damn well better”.
* Missy is still greeting the souls of one-off characters who died in afterlife: not just in the past and in the present, but in the future as well. I’m sure that isn’t a sign of something troubling on the horizon.
* “I saved your life, Rusty. Now I’m going to go one better. I’m going to save your soul!”
* Nicholas Briggs, the guy who provides all the Dalek voices in Doctor Who, gets to show a lot more emotional range than usual in this episode, due to Rusty’s existential crisis, and I am completely onboard with that opportunity.
* “I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty! I see divinity! I see hatred! I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good!“
* “I am not a good Dalek, Doctor. You are a good Dalek” Oh snap.
* “How do I look?” “Sort of short and round-ish, but with a good personality, which is the main thing”.
* “You asked me if you’re a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point”.