The Doctor tries to repair an injured Dalek turned good. Clara ponders whether the Time Lord’s new incarnation is a good man. And who is Danny Pink, a former soldier turned teacher with a secret past?
Questions of morality
Welcome to the most dangerous place in the universe.
If Deep Breath hinted at a darker direction for the series with the Twelfth Doctor’s arrival, then Into the Dalek confirms and underlines it in triplicate. This is a more ambiguous Doctor operating in a universe where he must confront darkness both externally and internally.
Continuing where we left off last week, this is another story driven more by character than action as the Doctor continues to wrestle with his own identity (“Tell me, am I am good man?”) and morality, and Clara‘s back-story is fleshed out further while at the same time she plays a pivotal role in the story’s outcome.
Again the Doctor’s morality deals more in shades of grey than pure black and white. He makes no effort to save Ross from the Dalek’s antibodies, writing him off as dead already and sacrificing him to save the rest of the group without batting an eyelid. His time-worn hatred of the Daleks manifests itself as prejudice as he is too quick to dismiss the repaired Rusty with a casual, “Daleks are evil – irreversibly so.” It takes Clara to make him stop and set him on the right track of seeing the potential for good.
There’s also something unsettling about his initial rationalisation that a Dalek who declares war on his own kind must therefore be ‘good’ in a bastardisation of the old truism about an enemy’s enemy being a friend. The Doctor has always stood for the avoidance of killing wherever possible, even when it comes to the Daleks. His fourth incarnation, of course, refused to prevent the Daleks’ initial creation – “Do I have the right?” – knowing that his inaction would mean the death of billions of innocents (Genesis of the Daleks). Here, however, he implies that setting a Dalek loose on other Daleks is morally acceptable.
At the end of the episode, his attempt to use his own memories to persuade Rusty to revert to being good backfires. Instead of showing him all the good in his mind, his own searing hate of the Daleks imprints itself into Rusty’s cortex. It’s an act which saves the Aristotle from the invading Dalek forces, but it’s an empty victory and one which leaves the Doctor deflated.
Have you ever killed anyone who wasn’t a soldier?
So what have we learned from the first appearance of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson)? We know he’s an ex-soldier turned teacher and it’s heavily implied that at some point he has killed a civilian (possibly more than one), an experience traumatic enough to bring a tear to his eye.
Clara takes an immediate shine to him, and it seems clear that Steven Moffat is continuing his exploration of a companion’s life outside the TARDIS that he touched upon towards the end of Amy and Rory’s time. Having firmly established the relationship between Clara and her complex, time-travelling not-boyfriend, in Danny we have (apparently) straightforward boyfriend material to bring some stability when she steps away from the madness of the Doctor’s adventures.
Will Danny join the TARDIS crew or will he remain earthbound? And if the latter, will Clara keep her incredible second life a secret from him? Either way, it creates the potential for some interesting character dynamics. Here the early stages of their relationship is played mostly for laughs. I can’t see that lightness of tone lasting long.
Finally, it can surely be no coincidence that former soldier Danny Pink is juxtaposed against active soldier Journey Blue in this story. But what does this mean, and is it linked to Danny’s past? We’re being invited down a path similar to the one that led us to the revelation that River Song and Melody Pond were the same person, but that’s way too obvious, right?
Overall, this was a quietly confident episode which benefitted from its focus on a single Dalek and succeeded in making them menacingly chilling again. The story may have been reminiscent of Dalek (Doctor encounters a single wounded Dalek, brings out his hatred of them, havoc ensues) and was an even more obvious remake of Fantastic Voyage than Voyage of the Damned was of The Poseidon Adventure, but it was unmistakably Doctor Who and no less effective for it.
Fun stuff, references & quotables
- The Doctor has a blackboard in the TARDIS control room which contains equations and diagrams simiar to those he wrote all over his bedroom in Deep Breath.
- On observing the molecular nano-scaler, the Doctor observes that it would make a “fantastic idea for a movie”, a reference to the cult 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which a team is miniaturised to carry out life-saving surgery inside a patient’s body.
- “He can get us out of here. The difficult part is not killing him before he can.”
- Even now he’s over his post-regenerative stress, this Doctor has a liking for making up names, referring to Journey Blue as ‘Gun Girl’ and calling the injured Dalek ‘Rusty’.
- Gretchen: “Is he mad or is he right?” Clara: “Hand on my heart, most days he’s both.”
- Like the First Doctor, Twelve’s first meeting with the Daleks comes in his second story. He references it when he talks about his encounter with them on Skaro in The Daleks.
- The First Doctor’s original companions included Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, teachers at Coal Hill School. And now we have Clara and Danny, fellow teachers at the same school.
- “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.” Rusty’s observation echoes the episode Dalek, in which the Ninth Doctor is told, “You would make a good Dalek.”