Into the Dalek

12-episode set
Region A/1
12-episode set
Region B/2
(Doctor Who Story No. 248, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
  • directed by Ben Wheatley
  • produced by Nikki Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 49 minutes
Story: When a malfunctioning Dalek prepared to betray its own race on ethical grounds asks for medical assistance, the Doctor agrees to be miniaturized and go into the Dalek to find the cause. Can a Dalek actually have turned "good"? How might this inform the Doctor's view of them, or indeed of himself, moving forward?

DVD Extras for this story include:

  • Audio commentary by writer Phil Ford and director Ben Wheatley.
  • Behind the Scenes featurette (11 min.) with Ford, Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald),
    Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Zawe Ashton (Journey Blue), Laura Dos Santos (Gretchen), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voice),
    co-writer Steven Moffat, and location manager Iwan Roberts.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


It may look at first as if Peter Capaldi is simply being given a Dalek story this early on to legitimize his new Doctor and boost his popularity, but this story examines enough new and/or rarely tackled aspects of Daleks that its premise earns its keep in fueling a story all on its own, and it turns out to be one of the better ones of the season. In fact, it almost felt as though "Deep Breath" (the previous story) was another insignificant Christmas Special, while "Into the Dalek" was the proper intriguing season opener. It may still be debated, however, whether this story managed to execute its premise adequately.


The opening is properly attention grabbing, and we get the unique move of seeing Daleks in battle as spacecraft pilots instead of ground soldiers for once. Nice touch, complete with standout optical shots. But understanding the true turning points of the action requires paying close attention to a lot of dialogue, as director Ben Wheatley opts to leave out all of the numerous materializations of the TARDIS all through this story as he has in the last one. Far less than what any Doctor deserves at the beginning of his era. How many potential brand new viewers are we confusing by doing things this way?

The entire opening sequence appears to be in a bit of a rush, such that they can reveal the main premise of the episode as quickly as possible, before then restating the premise with additional emphasis from having it as an episode title during the opening credit sequence. We then abandon this thread to cram in nearly all of Clara's scenes at the school for this story, before coming back and rushing through the premise again quickly to get on with the story.

Many important things are lost in the shuffle from all this rushing about. The tracking shot of the Doctor breezing through the station as he re-introduces the crew of the Aristotle to Clara contains a lot of unusual dialogue that needs extra time to be heard properly and appreciated. It feels important both in terms of getting a handle on Peter Capaldi's relatively new interpretation of his character and for the set-up of the story, yet the director seems content to let the actors rattle it off into the corners instead.

The most important of all the casualties of the story's rushed pacing is surely the statement of motivation for any of these characters to want to repair this Dalek in one of the most dangerous and complicated ways imaginable BEFORE even trying or discussing any other methods or lines of investigating the cause. It's especially bizarre for the crewmembers of the Aristotle and their Captain Morgan. If he would gladly shoot people who were obviously helping them, why would he go to such trouble to save the enemy? Additionally, if they intend to hold the Doctor at gunpoint to make him do the job, how is it that they would let him hop away in the TARDIS by himself to collect Clara? It might only take a bit of patient dialogue to easily fix these holes, but the writers and production team failed to make it important enough to get the job done. Indeed, as fascinating as it is to go inside a Dalek, I often find myself stopping to wonder "...wwwhy are they going to all this trouble then?" The question crops up on repeat viewing as well as on the first go, and remains the story's largest hole during its first 2/3.

Of course, the story's premise is pulled from easily identifiable sources. Most obvious is a previous Doctor Who story: "The Invisible Enemy" (story no. 93, which introduced K9), and even then, that one itself was obviously also drawing from the sci-fi feature film "Fantastic Voyage". Both of those had much clearer motivation to shrink people to go inside a patient. In fact, "Into the Dalek" doesn't stop at drawing imagery from the miniaturization-into-the-patient concept in "The Invisible Enemy". We also repeat the idea of all of this happening on an outer space structure located in an asteroid field. Our rushed dialogue fails to identify exactly where this is, and indeed the script may have had in mind that it should be the same Maldek asteroid field from our very own solar system that featured in "The Invisible Enemy", but the visual effects people inserted a very close-by reddish planet or brown dwarf into many of the optical shots, which effectively rules out our solar system.

Curiously though, because the inside of the Dalek is so mechanical, as this story plays out, it doesn't resemble "Invisible Enemy"/"Fantastic Voyage" as much as it does the old "Lost in Space" episode "Trip Inside the Robot" - classic imagery burned into my brain as a youngster from a clunky old series. Then along come the anti-bodies, and one is also reminded of the Tesselecta from the Matt Smith Doctor Who story the one where Vultures Circle (no. 224).


"How do we get Inside its Head?"
"That was Not a Metaphor."

So this premise has been kicking around sci-fi circles for some time, yet this story manages to pursue an obvious second layer at the same time as well, because we are getting into the Dalek both physically and metaphorically, tackling the fascinating question of whether or not there can be other aspects to their characters like "goodness", and whether the meaning of "goodness" has decayed into hollow propaganda about battling evil. Excellent territory that allows us to see something of Daleks beyond their usual one-note characterizations.

If the first 2/3 of this story had some motivational holes, the final leg brings character motivations into strong crystal clarity, and features many of the story's strongest scenes, most exciting action, and most beautiful visuals. Some of the questions are all about Capaldi's Doctor, which is fair, but a bit weird since it would seem that he should be aware of all these issues already, if not on top of them.

Of greater interest to me were the character implications to the Dalek race as a whole. Firstly, I like that physical factors such as brain chemistry and programmable memory interfaces were shown to have impact on the shifts in character, making it far more believable than stories like Star Trek TNG's "I, Borg" which seemed to want to rely almost exclusively on intangible mental/spiritual changes of heart. Most interesting of all might be what this potentially means for the entire Dalek race. In that respect, perhaps we are exploring avenues with some similarity to what we witnessed in "Asylum of the Daleks" (story no. 231) which opened the previous season. Indeed, both stories hint at certain possibilities, yet don't quite go far enough into the ramifications to truly satisfy.

"Into the Dalek" felt like it could be the beginning of something much bigger, far more grand-scale and interesting. It was off to a decent start, and seemed ready to escalate with great excitement. But then it seems to be over a bit too quickly and neatly, as though we should be satisfied with just following the impact on the Doctor, which didn't feel like anything near as interesting a breakthrough. As a stand-alone Dalek story, this episode didn't quite rise above decent. However, if the developments here were to pay off later in the season, or in the next, it might just earn "Into the Dalek" a bit of retroactive credit and elevate its status overall.


This story also marks the beginnings of Clara's season-long story arc at the school, most specifically how she meets fellow teacher Danny Pink. I suspect these portions are by and large Steven-Moffat-penned contributions to the script. The scenes are fairly entertaining, and work in terms of both a humorous sideline to the main plot, as well as further comment to the soldiering character theme that runs throughout the story and the season. Nice enough.


"Into the Dalek" was decent, but fell a bit short of great. Still, I was now much more hopeful for the rest of the season. More decent stories followed, but none seemed to really pull themselves together better than this one for a long time....



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 34 Box Set
11 stories in 12 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
Dec. 9, 2014.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
Nov. 17, 2014.



Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


LYRATEK.COM


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Robot of Sherwood"



Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Peter Capaldi Era Episode Guide Catalogue