31 August 2014

TV: Into the Dalek

Morris Style

Oh quit yer whinging Morris. Here ya go!

A Dalek fleet surrounds a lone rebel ship, and only the Doctor can help them now… with the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side. Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question 'Am I a good man?'?

List of Bits That Spoiled it for Me:

  • Missy's scene
  • the name 'Aristotle'
  • the direction, in a couple of places
  • continuity errors
  • Capaldi's lack of neckwear

Mark out of Ten: 9/10

Rambling, Pointless Style

What a return to form! After last week's drawn out, character-based period piece, Into the Dalek couldn't seem more different. It works in the series' favour offering such a different style of episode, showing off the diverse flexibility of the format. I liked the way Russell T Davies used to structure his seasons, starting off with a bang - London's being invaded from inside! Rhinos have taken a hospital to the Moon! - and then went even bigger for the second week - literally the end of the world in the 2005 series. Moffat doesn't tend to follow the same pattern, but here this is undoubtedly of equal scope and ambition, but tackling a very different type of story. 

In a different way to Deep Breath, this is still a character piece for the most part. In fact, it's as much an examination of the Doctor as we got last week, but framed through the eyes of a Dalek. I must confess that it does seem rather random for the Doctor to go about saving people, but if that's the sort of man he is now, I'm fine with that. I'll come back to this later (probably about ten weeks later) but could this be a similar thing to what Missy's doing? I've been looking forward to the second episode of this series far more than the first for a long time, not only because it's (co-)written by Phil Ford but because it's the first chance we get to see what the Twelfth Doctor will really be like. I must say, I'm impressed. 

The plot, if thinking completely coldly, was nearly as ambivalent as last week for the middle section of the episode, but I really didn't mind. The action and dialogue worked for me, and I wouldn't have minded where this was set, but the fact it was inside a Dalek makes the issues discussed (literally and in the subtext) all the stronger. While we're on the subject of the titular terror, I think it's probably an appropriate time to discuss the inspirations for this story. I think the one most people would've spotted without the (unscripted) inclusion of a clip from it was Dalek. Thanks to the direction though, I felt the opening sequence lacked a lot of the tension present in the earlier story. While this wasn't the focus of the episode, it could still have revolved a little more around the Doctor, and his reaction to being asked to treat a Dalek. The concept of a 'good' Dalek is one that has been explored before, despite what many reviewers might tell you, most notably in the aforementioned Rob Shearman episode on TV and in Justin Richards and Mike Collins' graphic novel The Only Good Dalek elsewhere. 

It's interesting to consider that Genesis of the Daleks is Phil Ford's favourite Dalek story. In both this episode and City of the Daleks shades of the Tom Baker serial are recognisable. Here, the most obvious comparison is the decision the Doctor must make whether to allow the Dalek to continue on its predestined path or whether to take the opportunity to use it (indirectly) as a weapon to aid the Combined Galactic Resistance. I personally don't think the Dalek is ever 'good' in this episode, it simply switches targets after deeming that the Daleks are a force for evil. On to the mutated monster itself. I loved that it was called Rusty. This is the kind of in-joke that I really appreciate and made me smile. I guess it's the sort of thing that happens when your mates are making your favourite TV programme. I thought the FX work on the mutant was a real step up from what we got in the likes of Asylum of the Daleks (and I was thankful we didn't hear from the Parliament again) but it was still inescapably obvious that Capaldi was up against a green screen.

The action inside the Dalek was kept at a tense, but not overwhelming, pace and was timed really well for me. The way these scenes and the battle on the Aristotle were intercut was really effective so I think Will Oswald deserves a bit of praise, especially after coming in for a bit of flack last week (although not from me). The rumours are that once the production blocks were finished, Wheatley completely abandoned the first two episodes of Capaldi's era, so I think Oswald and his team have done a really good job to pull them into their current shape. I really had very few notes on the second half of the episode, as I think it worked really well, including the 'anti climax'. To give Ben Wheatley his full credit, the action sequences were written relatively loosely in the script so he's to be applauded for the amazing style and impact of these sequences. The effects (practical and visual) really helped sell it, but the way Wheatley shoots the Daleks (on the whole) is excellent. A quick mention for Magni Agutsson, the director of photography for both Deep Breath and this episode. The blue of the 'cell' was gorgeous and I thought the lighting throughout the episode was a significant cut above average.

I suppose I should come to the most likeable character in this episode - Danny Pink. I've seen Samuel Anderson in both The History Boys and Gavin and Stacey (which, incidentally, is my favourite completed series of all time) and I can only remember him having about six lines altogether, so I really wasn't sure what to expect. Needless to say I was absolutely blown away by Anderson. On the whole, the Moffat era has really excelled in its casting with only a few notable exceptions (arguably Amy Pond and Jennifer Lucas) and the calibre of performers has been maintained by the reliable Andy Pryor (CDG, whatever that means). I can scarcely believe that we're getting a character with a mysterious backstory who isn't (yet) fawning over the Doctor in some way. In his job, ambitions and attitude Danny seems like a real character. I have gone on record before as saying that I hope Danny becomes the companion for Capaldi in the same way Jamie (who also first appeared in the second story) did for Troughton. I stick by that rigidly so far, but I can't help dreading that we won't see Anderson in the show past November. I thought it was quite touching to have another reference to the Brigadier (one of my favourite associates of the Doctor) - an ex-soldier becoming a maths teacher, a girl named Courtney. If Pink leaves anywhere near the impression Lethbridge-Stewart did, I'll be ecstatic.

Where there may be some valid criticism of this episode was in the supporting cast. Beyond Morgan and Journey, the crew of the Aristotle were completely anonymous. I could accept Keith from Pramface's death because it was supposed to shock us, and remind us that this really is a dangerous place. I expected Gretchen to grow as a character, reacting to her comrade's death over the remainder of the running time, but by the time her death rolled around I wasn't even sure of her name. Missy's scene took me out of the narrative, and felt like the sole hiccup of pacing. I did appreciate Michelle Gomez's ad libbing though, and I think she'll work well as the character. Whether the character will work well for me is another matter.

The soundtrack and score for Into the Dalek seemed to me to be a real step up from the preceding episode. MuGo (as he has requested to be known) contributes a much more sophisticated score. The most notable instance for me was when the Daleks first invaded the Aristotle, accompanied by grand, sweeping orchestras like never before. Did I detect a few hints of Paddy Kingsland creeping in at other points too? There were scream-like stings at various points during the episode. I'm not entirely sure why they were included, but it might just be because they were intensely effective at creating atmosphere. 

I was strongly reminded of the Fourth Doctor's era by this story, particularly in the moment the Doctor is talking Clara through the shafts (The Ark in Space). Considering she's built with the intention of being a modern Sarah Jane, I think there were moments where she filled that role absolutely, albeit in her own style and manner. I did find too much of the smugness that pervaded last year's series crept back in though, which is a shame after three strong episodes in a row for her. The scene where she was being 'funny' didn't work for me, because it smacked too much of many other Steven Moffat characters. I know each writer has their own voice, but this did feel like a step backwards. One instance of this that I disliked the most was when Ms Oswald, as she's known to her pupils, commented that the Doctor was "one of her hobbies". Alright love, do you want to explore the wonders the universe has to offer or not?

There was undoubted reuse of plot elements (The Invisible Enemy, The Beast Below, Genesis of the Daleks) but they were all combined exquisitely to form one knock-out action masterpiece. I hated that we had to be told that we were going to "the most dangerous place in the Universe" (again!) and the fact that the hospital-cum-command ship was called Aristotle was frankly a bit embarrassing, but it did have a great logo. There were a few moments where the direction fell flat, a couple of duff lines ("You are a good Dalek") but I was almost too enthralled to notice. This is the kind of spectacle I've been waiting for. The last time we had an episode this dynamic and exciting was probably The Next Doctor. I know The Day of the Doctor is supposed to be a massive landmark of a story, and does lots of 'epic' things, but frankly this blows the anniversary special for me. 

The Doctor (and Peter Capaldi) were once more the stars of the show, getting all the best moments and lines. I love delving beneath the surface of the Time Lord in this way, and the psychoanalysis is certainly beginning early on in his tenure. More and more I'm beginning to believe that Moffat originally conceived this incarnation as his own Eccleston. What we've ended up with is more a hybrid of the First and Ninth Doctors. The parallels between the first season and this have already been drawn (with three companions, two being teachers of the other, coming up) but I'd like to throw another into the mix by pointing out that both the second stories of Hartnell and Capaldi are Dalek-orientated (and involve entering them [steady - Ed], in one way or another). I find it intriguing that a scene where Rusty destroyed himself (and the Dalek fleet) was cut from the end of the episode. I fully expect to see the Skarosian scoundrels again next year, but I hope it'll be in the latter half of the series. If it's anywhere near this good, we're in for a treat.

Top Three Lines:
  • "I'm his... carer."/"Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don't have to."
  • "It's more exciting going the other way."
  • "That's it, keep your spirits up!"

I watch the show every week with someone we'll call Larry. He grew up with the show, but isn't a 'fan' and has never been a huge fan of the Moffat era. On the whole, though, he usually enjoys episodes written by the showrunner the most. 

Larry's Line: "Much worse than last week."

In a Nutshell: A standout, action-feast of an episode that still manages moments of character and heart. Almost perfect.

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