Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dr Who - Into the Dalek

Do you guys remember Dalek? That one with Ecclestone and the lone Dalek taken prisoner? Apparently, the Who guys remember it too, and in a move that sort of harkens back to it have decided to construct a sort of Capaldi-era version of it.

In a quest to fix a broken Dalek and discover what kind of man the Doctor is now, Clara and the new 1st (do we call him that now?) go inside a Dalek that has been captured by besieged soldiers.


Before that, however, we got to meet our secondary companion for the episode - a minor character who would, like many before, end up as failures in their attempts to be companions. We first meet her as she screams at her clearly dead shipmate not to die, whilst being chased by a Dalek craft. As the Daleks seem to have her dead, she is saved at the last minute by the Doctor.

As we get a little look at the Doctor and her first little interaction - and, again it all seems kind of awkward. The woman screams about how she has lost her brother and tries to hijack the TARDIS - unsuccessfully of course.

This first meeting really demonstrates well why her character plain doesn't work - why almost all of the character beats of this episode, in fact, do not work. We're told to sympathise with her, we're told about her character through dialogue. It's on a hiding to nothing, since we never really saw her with her dead brother and was never given a reason to care about their relationship. Yet we're meant to care, because she has went through loss and she's showing her qualities as a character by being generally shouty and dislikeable. Worse, her portrayal never particularly improves either, so we end up not really caring when the Doctor eventually knocks her back.

Really, all of the side characters are badly handled here. Rusty, our intrepid broken dalek and the closest the story gets, is mainly characterised through an extended monologue whilst the characters all stand around listening. Again, we should care because the dialogue tells us we should, not because the characters actions or the context of the plot makes us engage with them in any real way.

Thematic Throughline

The two main characters, Clara and Big Ol' Caps, have something of a better defined character journey through the episode. Of course, they have a better base to build from, but it's still appreciated.

Unfortunately, this whole show/tell problem is just as evident here. At the start of the episode the Doctor sits Clara down, turns to her and asks her "Am I a good man?" It's a bit too explicit. It's way too explicit. What's worse, is that how explicit it is seems to be used in place of actually using the plot to demonstrate it much of the time. There's a lot of talk about experiences and memories in the latter part, in the connection with the dalek's mind and the Doctor's. At the end, we seem to get an answer to the question - but instead of being demonstrated by the plot, it relies on a flimsy paralleling.

Worse than Clara's though. At the key moment realisation, when the Doctor needs to learn something, she wades in. "I'm a teacher," she says, "I teach." As if trying to convince herself that was her character arc all along. I'm pretty sure even she isn't convinced, although efforts to make her relevant to proceedings, no matter how late, are welcome.

The key to the Doctor's arc, the question asked at the beginning, is the dalek. The not-good dalek, the broken dalek. When asked what a good dalek, Rusty replies "you're a good dalek." Because that's the point of the episode - characterising the Doctor by drawing parallels between him and his most hate enemy, the daleks. Just like the episode Dalek.

Shades of Dalek

The problem with this very obvious similarity is that it sets up the episode to be compared very directly to Dalek. Both have the same thematic throughline, and both look to take on a raw, somewhat edgy Doctor and confront them with an uncomfortable truth about themselves. Such are the parallels between both episodes that it feel like it was probably on purpose.

The problem is that Dalek is a far superior episode to Into the Dalek. Okay the dialogue isn't as sharp, it doesn't look as good and it's not as inventive, but the core story is told just so much better. The lone dalek's actions and Nine's actions both speak for themselves during the episode, the ideas are much better communicated and have more substance. There's a real sense of tragedy to proceedings, and the switch up that happens is all the more shocking for it. The dalek, although not given a cheeky nickname, feels like it has much more character and power. As such, watching the new episode, it is difficult to escape the feeling that we've seen this done better elsewhere.

Still, wasn't all bad.

What I liked

This was a good looking, ambitious episode, well directed and creative. It had ideas in it, and on paper was quite an interesting premise. Never be let it said that I don't appreciate a story that gives me a lot to chew on, even if it doesn't quite manage to convey those ideas well.

The best thing, and the thing I always like when Doctor Who rarely does it, is that it felt a bit like a quest. This was a physical journey as well as an emotional one, where we got to see new places and characters overcome obstacles that stopped them getting to a goal - always a solid way of creating conflict, which tends to be hard to get wrong. Some of my favourite stories (The Impossible Planet, Asylum of the Daleks, etc) feel like quests, and this episode definitely benefited from a similar vibe.

The dialogue sparkled. A lot of the interchanges between Clara and the Doctor was funny, sharp and conveyed a great rapport. Whatever else the episode was, it was eminently quotable.

Also, as a part of the continuous dalek lore that New Who has been building up, I felt that this is a pretty decent addition on that front - the idea that a "good" dalek is just one who is broken was good, although the memory bank bit doesn't quite fit as a part of the make-up of daleks with me for some reason.

Clara and Danny

Slowing down the pace of the episode, and cluttering up the time line, we also had our introduction to Danny Pink. It was just about as literally tacked on as you could get. Tonally it was nice, and it sold the characters far better than the rest of the episode, but it just felt so peripheral to the actual thing that it kinda felt a bit boring. Plus the romance seems a bit forced - it's not given any time to grow before it is already being toyed with. Still, look forward to Mr Pink being actually involved in an episode.

Does feel like the tone, especially set in the between-adventure segments with Clara are an interesting counterpoint to the childish, fairy tale tone of Eleven's days. There's definitely a slightly older tone going on, a young adult to the childishness of Eleven.

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