JON KANEKO-JAMES reviews the latest Doctor Who episode, ‘Into the Dalek’
I’ve had my reservations about Stephen Moffat’s writing in the past. He went from being the writer who we all desperately looked for to hearing from, to the captain of the bad ship Nu Who, with all of its worst excesses.
Moffat created legendary episodes like The Empty Child, but was involved in atrocities like Closing Time (yes, this one of the episodes I hate the most, especially because Wikipedia says that Moffat specifically intervened to write the awful last scene) and Let’s Kill Hitler.
In fact, before the second half of last season I’d sworn that if things didn’t get better, I was going to stop watching.
I take it all back. I take back every single mean thing I’ve ever said about Steven Moffat, because I just loved Into the Dalek despite it being based on one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard.
(Semi-spoiler alert: I’m only going to give away plot points that are established in the first couple of scene of the show, but I’m still going to describe things from the episode.)
So, spoiler disclaimer given, I’m not saying that the premise of a Dalek having an emotional experience and questioning its beliefs is a stupid idea. I think that’s an awesome idea. I love the book of Power of the Daleks, so humanised Daleks are something I’ve always wanted to hear about.
No, I think shrinking Doctor and his friends down into tiny little nano-people and injecting them into a Dalek is a stupid idea.
And here’s where we get to the part that makes Stephen Moffat and Phil Ford the greatest writers in the universe: because within five minutes of thinking ‘this is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard’, I was totally gripped and enjoying the episode.
For me, this episode knocked the ball out of the park. The first thing that impressed me was that the acting was incredibly mature. There were funny moments, but toned down so that they didn’t break the tension.
Another stand out was the general quality of the interaction between characters. I’ve never found it to be Moffat’s strongest point – his dialogue always feels stylised, which isn’t always appropriate – but here there were just so many moments that I really appreciated.
Capaldi’s Doctor is more serious here, and he manages to be morally ambiguous without being an unappealing ‘gritty reboot’ anti-hero. He displays humanity without sentimentality.
We also see some wonderful emotional interplay with the Doctor’s feelings towards the Daleks, and some great self-examination about his development as a personality (without being pretentious or self indulgent, which impressed me).
Jenna Coleman puts in a good day’s work, although her characterisation makes one fact more and more evident: we no longer live in a fictional milieu where bumbling sidekicks and damsels in distress no longer satisfy.
Episode after episode Clara’s complete lack of skills puts a visible strain on the plot. It’s nothing to do with Jenna Coleman’s portrayal (I think she’s a great actress), it’s just a rather old fashioned writing style that no longer works in a world where sci-fi/fantasy means Stargate, Enterprise, Orphan Black, Battlestar Galactica or Warehouse 13.
This time, Moffat and Ford pull it off and make her feel a real part of things: the trailer contains the quip that Clara is the Doctor’s ‘Carer’ (she cares so that he doesn’t have to), and that works. The plot creaks a bit when the Doctor dispatches her to do something advanced with alien technology, but they work it out and it doesn’t break credibility.
There are also some great battle scenes in Dalek, made all the better for the fact that while Daleks do certainly outgun the humans, they aren’t invulnerable. It’s much more engaging to watch what feels more like a real battle, with Daleks being taken out here and there, but not often enough to save the human defenders.
All in all, Into the Dalek is a great episode. The only thing that bothered me a little was the continuation of the metaplot with the character Missy. In the past, I’ve been incredibly hopeful when it comes to season metaplots, and then disappointed when they play out.
This time I hope it’s the reverse: that as apprehensive as I am for the Missy character to be steaming pile of awfulness, Moffat and his team will pull out a great finale.
If there’s anything I would have changed, it would have been to make this episode one of the season. This is the episode that contains the much-trailed “Clara, am I a good man?” conversation.
How much better would it have been if that scene had taken place directly post-regeneration, just after the Doctor has stabilised his crashing Tardis?
JON KANEKO-JAMES of Boo Tours, which runs ghost and supernatural tours around London, including talks about human skin covered books. Check out Boo Tours website is www.bootours.com.