Monday, 7 September 2015

Doctor Who: Series 8 Revisited - Into the Dalek

In eager anticipation of brand new Doctor Who, the Gallifrey Times team are revisiting Peter Capaldi's debut season as the Doctor. We'll be covering an episode a day from Deep Breath to Last Christmas, the perfect build up to The Magician's Apprentice on September 19th.

It is often considered that an actor does not officially become the Doctor until he has faced his ultimate nemesis, the Daleks. Peter Capaldi ticks off this landmark swiftly, facing them in only his second story in the role. However the resulting story is pretty dreadful. As is often the case a story comes from an initial idea, in this case that idea is relatively interesting, a Dalek turned good. That single idea doesn't stretch far enough to fill 45 minutes so another concept is borrowed from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, the miniaturisation and exploration inside the Dalek. This is even acknowledged by the Doctor's line "Fantastic idea for a movie". It was and has been done but marks just the beginning of idea recycling.

Once again there is a single Dalek, screaming from the wounding actions of human beings. Sound familiar? Dalek (2005) made the Daleks impressive once again, proving that the Doctor can exchange cutting dialogue with the pepper pot terrors, intimidating and ruthless. As a result, Dalek was a huge hit but it still owed a little to the Big Finish story Jubilee, which coincidentally also featured a lone tortured Dalek prisoner. Into the Dalek fails spectacularly to recapture those starry heights of tremendous story telling. For example, the Dalek antibodies are a rehash of the antibodies seen in Let's Kill Hitler (2011) and even the descent down the feeding tube is another copy of a sequence in The Beast Below (2010). Recycling of previously used scenes is a real shame because there is the potential to do something unique and different with the fresh ideas that are presented.

The concept of a good Dalek cleverly mirrors the Doctor questioning his own morality. Coming so soon after his regeneration this is an avenue which had great potential for intrigue and debate. It is the type of question which suits Peter Capaldi's incarnation, more so than Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor for example, but one would be obtuse to describe him only as a dark Doctor. Capaldi is once again brilliant, perfectly blending a dry humour with steely seriousness and begins to feel more alien than has been seen for a long time with a notably poor etiquette with human beings.

The addition of new character Danny Pink is a fantastic move, immediately striking up chemistry with Clara and alluding to something in his past that haunts him. He is also very likable, confident in some ways but awkward and shy. Although used sparingly in this episode it is a perfect initial introduction. On the opposite end of the spectrum Journey Blue is a dreadful character, spouting rank, being ungrateful and inconsistent with her attitude, abandoning the orders given by her uncle in a split second for instance. Zawe Ashton, more familiar to audiences as student stoner Vod in Channel 4's Fresh Meat, is debatable casting, delivering lines with volume and pace instead of convincing control. Two subsidiary characters are also dispatched at ease in a lamentable attempt to artificially induce peril. The Doctor mercifully turns down Journey's request to join the TARDIS crew, adding her to the list of 'almost companions' such as Astrid Peth and Samantha Briggs. This decision is made because the Doctor dislikes soldiers. In a story which shines the light on the Doctor's morality it is odd for him to take such a stance given he has far more significant amounts of blood on his hands than Journey is likely to have. Perhaps Clara is right and that this decision is shaped by his attempts to be a good man. What is certainly clear is that Daleks are not good.

The Daleks look like a strong force once again, actually doing some killing, boarding the Aristotle in a powerfully explosive way that does a little to elevate them once again above the obvious consistent failures. But the reactivation of Rusty's memory banks is absurd. The script itself clumsily makes jokes about 'changing the bulbs', whilst the electrical impulses are supposedly being carried by non-conductive tubing that can be found in B&Q or Home Depot. Apart from these disappointing visual realisations the standard of the SFX and CGI is once again spectacularly high.

Although 'Into the Dalek' is a mess of ideas recycling and some poorly defined characters, it is a joyful experience to watch Peter Capaldi's Doctor develop further as he becomes more comfortable in the role, and the successful introduction of Danny Pink.

Tomorrow Anna goes to Nottingham and finds the 'Robot of Sherwood'!