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New Who 8.2 Into the Dalek

Well, I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing (well, lying - on the sofa, of course), that looked very much like two good episodes in a row. Not only that, but some strong themes for the season now seem to have established themselves, and I like where they're going - so that's where I'm going to start.

Last week there was a lot of stuff about the Doctor's new face, and what subconscious message he might have been trying to tell himself by choosing it. It was obvious that we were meant to pay attention here to the elephant-sized hints about the Doctor's new character. With this story to add to the bank of evidence (and noting that it was co-written by Moffat, so is likely to contribute directly to the Big Arcs of the season), we can now see a little more clearly where those hints were going. The Doctor's Caecilius-face reminds us that while he certainly saves people, there are also many more whom he can't and doesn't save - and indeed that the difference between them often rests on little more than chance and his whim. And we saw exactly this multiple times during this episode.

I groaned at the opening, when it seemed clear as day that yet again, we'd just met two ethnic minority characters only for them to be the first to die. But while one of them did, one of them didn't, so that we were confronted directly with that very difference between the saved and the not-saved - and it was made quite clear that Journey was more upset about the loss of her brother than grateful about her own rescue (as the Doctor expected her to be). Then two more died inside the Dalek - the first of whom the Doctor explicitly stated he had chosen to sacrifice without any consultation (thus acting in exactly the role of a divinity which the Dalek later sees in him), and the second of whom chose to do it of her own volition (perhaps now convinced, after Clara's assurance, that he is a quasi god-like figure, in the service of whose mission it is worth sacrificing her own life). And, most importantly of all, we see her ending up in 'Heaven' with Missy, just like the cyborg whom the Doctor either killed or allowed to die last week as well.

I no longer care who Missy is (beyond hoping that she is her own original, independent character, rather than a rehash), but it looks very much like what she is doing is collecting up all the people whom the Doctor doesn't save. She is a sort of inverted version of him, so that while he acts like a god in his own universe, she has set up an alternate heaven, with herself as goddess, which reflects his failures. Likewise, all the other themes here - about whether being a soldier fatally compromises a person's morals, and whether or not the Doctor is any better than an inverted version of the Daleks - seem to be exploring the same territory. I still don't trust Moffat not to mess up the denouement of all this in the final episode with his trademark combination of over-complicated action and over-simplified emotions. But I am certainly sick of Moffat-y 'everybody lives' stories, so am happy in the meantime to watch stories where everybody doesn't live, and to explore some of the emotional and moral consequences of that.

The other obvious thing to say about this episode, as was also the case for last week's, is how strongly it references other stories. There is an adage about Doctor Who (one that's repeated often enough to mean that a cursory Google doesn't reliably reveal its source) which says that the programme is often at its best when its roots are showing. That is, when it presents unashamed re-tellings of existing stories, as e.g. in the glory days of the Tom Baker era, when writers like Robert Holmes raided Hammer's back-catalogue for their inspiration. This story most obviously recalls Dalek from the New Who era, The Invisible Enemy from the old, and by extension that story's own source, Fantastic Voyage (1966) - as acknowledged in the Doctor's comment that being sent 'Into the Dalek' would make a great plot for a film. And those are only the most prominent plot references. The Doctor himself muses over his first encounter with the Daleks on Skaro; any appearance of Coal Hill School still inevitably recalls the many previous stories in which it has featured; and I'm sure there are many other connections which one could spot. All in all, the experience of watching this story often felt rather like watching several stories at once, all layered over one another like strips of gauze.

Whether this is a good thing or not, I'm not sure. This was certainly a good story, but was that because of the references to other stories, or in spite of them? The 'roots are showing' adage of course doesn't really relate to references within the Whoniverse - only the usage of external stories by Doctor Who writers - and in those terms I think it still rings true. Fundamentally, the fact that this story used substantial chunks of the plot from Fantastic Voyage (1966) meant that Steven Moffat and Phil Ford could concentrate their energies instead on the 'Who-ish' elements of the story - i.e. writing the Doctor, Clara and the one-off characters well, and inserting a bit of classic Whovian fun and irreverence. That, I think, is why the 'roots are showing' rule has been so reliable over the years. Multiple internal references back to other Doctor Who stories are a rather different thing, and may be more about fan-service and showing off how clever and geeky Moffat is than anything much else. But then again, they may be leading somewhere interesting, and they certainly didn't commit the cardinal sin of overly-fannish continuity references - relying so heavily on viewers' knowledge of (long-)previous stories that they couldn't follow this story without it. So far as I could tell, this was a decent stand-alone story, whether or not you knew its sources, and that is the really important thing.

Meanwhile, Clara continues to be interesting and well-developed, both in her interactions with Danny Pink, the ex-soldier-turned-teacher at Coal Hill School, and in her contribution to the story-of-the-week. It's nice that the Doctor trusts her enough to send her to the Dalek's main cortex to 'do a clever thing' without himself having any clear idea what that might be - and that she manages to do it and save the day, too. That said, while it was also a lovely idea to give her insights which the Doctor fails to spot into what they have learnt from the fact that the Dalek returned to form after the radiation leak was fixed, I'm not so keen on the fact that she never got to voice them. OK, yes, the Doctor gave her full credit when he relayed her insights to the rest of the group, but it did feel rather a lot to me like the phenomenon in meetings where a woman puts forward a good idea and nobody hears it, but when a man says the same thing he gets a rapturous reception. Still, by Moffat's past standards this is definitely an improvement. Maybe he really has been listening to people's criticism about his portrayal of women, BaME characters and (given last week's lesbian lizard kiss) LGBT characters, after all?

Other things:
  • Suddenly the rumours that Clara may be leaving in the near future seem more substantial. She has been given a love interest, while we've also seen another person ask to join Team TARDIS. I.e. the ideas that the existing companion might move on to other things, and that another person might start travelling with the Doctor, were both aired - even if they haven't gone anywhere yet.
  • I loved the Dalek spinning round yelling "Truth? What is the truth?" on a spaceship named Aristotle. I'd been waiting for the name to pay off all episode, and that moment did not disappoint.
  • Looking forward to a straightforwardly silly episode next week with Robin Hood - yay!
  • [Added a couple of hours later] Oh - can't believe I only just noticed this, but Rusty the Dalek? Because while 'Rusty' is a perfectly reasonable name for a Dalek with corrosion issues, that's also what fandom always used to call Russell T. Davies. Did you really do that Moffat? Name your confused Dalek who has two settings - GOOD and EVIL - after your predecessor? 'Cos that doesn't sound super-complimentary to me, and you'd better be pretty confident about delivering the goods yourself if you really meant everything that implies.

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( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 30th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC)
I loved the Dalek spinning round yelling "Truth? What is the truth?" on a spaceship named Aristotle.

But it would have been better still had the ship been called Pontius, and the story "Pilate Episode".
Aug. 30th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
For the public good, you must offer your services to the BBC forthwith as an episode-titler.
Aug. 30th, 2014 09:34 pm (UTC)
My thoughts are here, as regards what I see as a problematic aspect of an otherwise good episode: given his own history, isn't it rather hypocritical of the Doctor to take against Journey Blue for being a solider in a war against the Daleks?

I also liked the references back to earlier stories, in particular the Doctor's comment that it was his first encounter with the Daleks on Skaro that set him on his interventionist course. (That's a nice meta-reference to the way that almost every commentator on Who agrees that the first Dalek story set the tone for pretty much everything afterwards, as well as saving the show from being a forgotten one-season curiosity.) The echo of the Dalek from 'Dalek' ("You would make a good Dalek") was another nice touch.
Aug. 30th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, just spotted your post as well. I'm hoping that answers to your questions might emerge as these themes are explored, though you're definitely right that there is a risk of just re-
hashing stuff we've already gone over.

On the specific issue of Journey Blue, it may be partly that the Doctor is afraid of where his own personality might go if he has a soldier permanently on board the TARDIS. Perhaps later in the season he will get over that and take Danny Pink (whose name is an obvious counterpart to hers) along instead?
(no subject) - travels_in_time - Aug. 31st, 2014 02:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 30th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
Just one minor point -- the Doctor doesn't sacrifice that soldier, he just realises he's unsaveable, and gives him the tracer to swallow so they can find where his body goes...
Aug. 30th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
I'd still call that sacrificing him, at least in dramatic terms. Some past Doctors would have done everything possible to save him, and some would have succeeded. This Doctor callously chooses not to try.
(no subject) - major_clanger - Aug. 31st, 2014 11:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Aug. 31st, 2014 11:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steepholm - Aug. 31st, 2014 11:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Aug. 31st, 2014 11:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 30th, 2014 11:03 pm (UTC)
As soon as James found out I was watching this this evening he asked me to call him when it was finished, and when I did we spent a good while talking about the deaths. Following on from what I said last week, I liked the Hartnellish tone of the character -- this is recognizably the guy who lifted a rock over a caveman's head. But I didn't think to explicitly contrast it with Moffat's previous "everybody lives" tendencies; I too was sick of those and think this compares favorably.

And that despite the fact that the older I get the less tolerance I have for sad or painful stories; even I get tired of no one dying. It's a cheat, like playing a game on the easy setting.

It turns out that my favorite line in Guardians of the Galaxy is where the talking raccoon says "everybody has dead people". His very good point at the time is that "a dead person" isn't sufficient to explain the Star Lord's choice of career, but I keep finding new resonances to the line: here, that to pretend that everyone (at least, everyone in an action/adventure setting) doesn't have dead people, or isn't going to see people die, limits the highs a story can reach as well as the depths it can drag us to.

James and I both said that, even though we're back to forty-five minutes this week, this story felt rich, and I think part of that is because people did die and it was acknowledged by other characters (for better or worse...though I also think the Doctor's reaction to the origin of the protein soup is no more callous than his introduction of "Gun Girl and I think this may be her uncle"; the dead get as much respect from him as the living, it's just that the living don't get all that much).
Aug. 30th, 2014 11:14 pm (UTC)
It's a cheat, like playing a game on the easy setting.

Yes, exactly. I haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy, but I always end up going back to something J.K. Rowling said about Harry Potter regarding deaths in fiction. Her mother died while she was writing the first book, and she said that her experience of that had made her feel it was very important to treat death seriously, and not to have any of the dead characters from her books come to life again, even in children's fiction about magic.

She pretty much stuck to that (bar a couple of ghostly visions and a possible visit to the afterlife), and it gave her stories a weight which they'd have lacked without it. But Doctor Who since Moffat took over has been appalling about bringing characters back from death in particular (ask Rory), and it's really compromised the illusion that the stories could in any way be real.
Aug. 30th, 2014 11:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, the other thing I wanted to say (before I got distracted talking about how great death is! Sheesh) was that I don't think I knew any of the references to previous Doctor Who stories -- Andrew told me about The Enemy Within when I mentioned Fantastic Voyage and it was only when I laughed at "you are a good Dalek" that he said "that story was nine years ago now" and I realized the Dalek reference there -- and it didn't hurt my enjoyment of this at all. I was actually admiring that lines like that one could be powerful even without heartening back to previous stories, because I liked it before I realized that's what it was doing.
Aug. 30th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
Good to know! Don't get over-excited and start actually watching The Invisible Enemy on the back of this, though, because it is awful and has a giant prawn. Not in a good way, either. In a WTF, giant prawn? way.
(no subject) - minnesattva - Aug. 30th, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:10 am (UTC)
I thought that Rusty reference was a snide jibe at his predecessor. He needs to deliver good stories to beat Russell!

Edited at 2014-08-31 01:11 am (UTC)
Aug. 31st, 2014 10:15 am (UTC)
I got the Rusty reference too, though it's also a reference back to Dalek. I don't think it's snide, rather a sort of compliment.
(no subject) - strange_complex - Aug. 31st, 2014 10:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - parrot_knight - Aug. 31st, 2014 10:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Aug. 31st, 2014 10:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jane_somebody - Sep. 12th, 2014 09:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Sep. 12th, 2014 10:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2014 10:15 am (UTC)
Excellent and focused analysis as ever.
Aug. 31st, 2014 10:25 am (UTC)
Thank you! That means a lot from someone who approaches Who on the level you do yourself. I enjoyed your piece for The Event Library too, especially your point about the Doctor having 'an author within the diegesis' - nice, and an interesting thread to watch out for.

I remain perpetually glad that the programme continues to inspire and support such discussions. That is its true appeal, I think.
(no subject) - parrot_knight - Aug. 31st, 2014 10:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2014 11:29 am (UTC)
I felt really sad about the Rusty thing, I don't think it was needed (and even if it was 'accidental' someone would have pointed it out and they could have removed it) I dunno what he supposedly did but it makes Moffat look terrible and childish.

I do like your analysis though, you're always really thorough. I rather love Missy, I'm hoping she's Doctor Who's version of Gene Hunt, with less swearing and misogyny. Or maybe a part of the Doctor's mind that tallies up the people he consciously unsaved.
Aug. 31st, 2014 11:41 am (UTC)
parrot_knight suggests above that the 'Rusty' thing might have been meant as more of a complimentary nod to the originator (though not literally author) of Dalek, and I've come around to that view more this morning myself. That said, it's obviously capable of being read as a snub as well, in which case it definitely does count as inept - and on that basis, probably best not done after all.

And yes - Missy as a sort of Gene Hunt and / or as part of the Doctor's subconscious both work nicely. She's looking interesting, anyway.
(no subject) - ms_siobhan - Aug. 31st, 2014 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pippaalice - Sep. 1st, 2014 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 1st, 2014 09:19 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the episode.

I’m with some of the other commentators on the sacrifice of the soldier. I think he was already dead and all the Doctor has done is think quickly to himself, “how can I improve my situation here, given that this guy has already killed himself?” A bit callous perhaps. The accountant’s response to a distressed asset sale.

I’m enjoying Clara much more than I have previously. She almost seems like an actual human being in her own right. (Could have done without her slapping the Doctor but then characters are proxies for real people and real people behave badly at times.)

Interesting musing on the nature and permanence of good and evil (which carried on with my four year old son at bathtime when we found a Storm Trooper lego figure in the bath.)

Crucially for me, 45 minutes worth of story and character development fitting in to a 45 minute episode.

I’m curious about Missy. I think there the common theme is that both the robot from 8.01 and Carlisle, the soldier from 8.02 had sacrificed themselves. Admittedly, it’s an open question whether the robot jumped or was pushed but if jumped then it looks like Missy might be gathering up those who have sacrificed themselves for the greater good whilst relying on the opinion of the Doctor as to the Goodness of the outcome and the utility of the sacrifice. (An interesting theme in the centenary of the First World War.) That’s my working theory for the time being.

The guy playing Robin Hood next week reminds me of Robert Webb in an early episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look where he plays a sort of lepricorn with a magic clarinet that makes you reveal embarrassing truths about yourself.
Sep. 3rd, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
Could have done without her slapping the Doctor

Yeah, that jarred a bit for me, too. I felt as I was watching it that I'd have been really angry if it had happened the other way round. I wasn't actually that angry in practice, because the power dynamic between an older man and a younger woman means that the same action doesn't have the same significance when reversed - i.e. it's contributing to a wider systemic inequity if a man slaps a woman, but not if a woman slaps a man. But still, it's just fundamentally not a nice or constructive way to engage with any other human being, regardless of gender issues. I would have liked to think Clara knew that.

(Edited because I hadn't actually finished writing the first time, and must have accidentally pressed some combination of hot-keys which made it happen against my will!)

Edited at 2014-09-03 07:13 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - danieldwilliam - Sep. 4th, 2014 09:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Sep. 4th, 2014 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - danieldwilliam - Sep. 4th, 2014 10:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - danieldwilliam - Sep. 4th, 2014 12:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

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