September 4, 2014
Into the Dalek falls into the familiar trope of new series Who - if the first episode is the "setting the scene" (or even after Deep Breath, the obligatory "the-new-guy-acts-kooky"), the second sets the tone, pace, and establishes the Doctor's character - and even the season. In this regard, Peter Capaldi really settles into the role of the Doctor. He's a much more aloof, much more alien doctor than Smith or Tennant - he speaks in a McCoy-esque whisper, displays a Pertwee/Tom Baker-style callousness (sacrificing a soldier to save the rest of his intrepid band), and even has a slight post-regenerative crisis. (As he asks Clara in an oft-repeated clip, "Am I a good man?")
Phil Ford and Steven Moffatt's script, however, is a bit of a stretch - thanks to Ben Wheatley's direction, there are plenty of whiz-bang moments of action and great introspective drama. However, Into the Dalek does suffer somewhat in wearing its influences on its sleeve - everything from Fantastic Voyage to Aliens, and even cribbing from the series itself (if you thought this episode was a hybrid of A Good Man Goes to War and first season's Dalek, well....you wouldn't be wrong). On the whole, it's a rather good script that brings this Doctor's character up front - a Doctor who, after living thousands of years, relieved of the guilt of the Time War (knowing he was responsible) and living an full lifetime in one incarnation, sees a much broader life but can't see his own character flaws.
Two incidents really bring this to the forefront, and one of them - Clara slapping the Doctor and calling him out - shows that Moffatt is at least attempting to give Clara a bit more character than just being "the impossible girl". (Although the scenes at Coal Hill School seemed reminiscent of the domestic contexts of Series One, Two, and Four of Who. I didn't mind the effort - after all, there's some great parallels in theme - but it did seem a bit tacked on.). These are small steps, but there is much room for growth in her character. I'm personally hoping that the character of Danny Pink isn't going to be a "love interest"....it's a bit too cliche, too much of a trope....but I am intrigued by the idea of a character who serves as a foil for Clara (as much as the companion serves as a foil for the Doctor.
The other scene - Clara confronting this Doctor and slapping him - shows a radical change in their relationship. For those who wondered why Clara was "freaked out" by this new Doctor - if you knew someone who aged, lived a long life, and suddenly changed into a new person, you would be freaked out as well. But it's no longer the "best friend/impossible girl" relationship with the Matt Smith Doctor - it's a bit more confrontive, a bit more tense, and a bit more willing to "test" this new Doctor/companion relationship.
There's been a great shift in tone and mood between this and previous seasons - the fact that Moffatt's preference of split seasons is being abandoned means a greater ability to tell a stronger story over time. (One potential subplot involving "heaven" has massive speculation - I have my ideas, but they all revolve around "brand new character"). Time will tell whether this change will bear creative fruit, but Into the Dalek serves as a kind of anchor. It's not the best Who story....but it does cement the radical changes in the show.