Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 2: Into The Dalek

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. With no mention of Eric Cantona this time, Steve Hendry gives his opinion on Into The Dalek...

Many critics have accusingly squealed “simulacra!” at various points in Doctor Who’s history. The most obvious recent example of the show borrowing from its own past is Planet of Evil being ripped off by 42. With this in mind, let me be clear that, before any thought of comparison enters your mind, that Into the Dalek owes absolutely nothing to The Invisible Enemy. The latter was the type of script Tom Baker used to describe as “whippet shit” in read-throughs, whereas this week’s episode has continued Phil Ford’s 100% record for top grade Doctor Who.

Quite how Ford has not been held at gunpoint every year until he produces a new story each season is beyond me, after the masterpiece that is Waters of Mars. Early episodes for a new Doctor provide a tricky challenge for writers, some smack strongly of being written for a catch-all, generic ‘Doctor Who’ or even the previous one in some cases. Yet Ford has now, in essence, been successful at it twice. David Tennant’s Time Lord Victorious was, as we now know, The Doctor’s eleventh incarnation, this being possible thanks to a sword fight and Jack Harkness’ preserving skills. As such he was written differently after the events of Journey’s End, subtly at first by Russell T Davies but then majorly by Ford in those closing sequences that took place in The Doctor’s chronology before his contribution in Day of the Doctor. Peter Capaldi’s 12th/14th/Doctor 1A had his first full outing without any post-regeneration issues in Into the Dalek, yet Ford wrote him like he’d been there for years. He also writes claustrophobia and high tension very well indeed, my heart was racing several times watching this.

I’m giving Phil Ford the credit for the main body of the script despite the co-writer credit for Steven Moffat, based on my assumption that Moff’s contribution here consists of the Coal Hill School and Missy sequences. Not that I objected strongly to either, but neither of them will be what the kids at school will be talking about next week. Season 34, Episode Two is all about the Daleks. This is a proper Dalek story as well, not a ‘70s Terry Nation re-hash (we’re back at simulacra again) but a dark, original, Eric Saward-style deep space encounter with the series’ greatest villains already up to their plungers in bastardry. Speaking of Saward, I can’t have been the only one reminded of Resurrection of the Daleks as the Aristotle was breached by the Daleks. All that scene lacked was Rula Lenska, and if this episode owes anything to any other story, it is Resurrection.

Those scenes, like the rest of this week and last’s, were superbly crafted by director Ben Wheatley. I really feel we’ve got the new Graeme Harper on our hands here, there were plenty of Harper-y moments, and none more so than the view from atop the Dalek’s dome in the stunning combat scenes. Wheatley is inventive in ways that really complement this new era of the show, along with Michael Pickwoad’s outrageously gorgeous sets. I wrote last week about how Steven Moffat is undervalued in some quarters of Who fandom, and one of his major achievements as executive producer has been attracting a stellar crew to the show. This is a golden era happening right here and now folks, and it’s all ours. Treasure it and enjoy every moment of it, because one day we’ll talk about Into the Dalek the same way those who were around in Tom Baker’s pomp laud Pyramids of Mars.

On the similar vein, casting wizard Andy Pryor continues to deliver year after year. Nick Briggs gives his best turn to date at the ring modulator, and it is testament to Zawe Ashton’s performance that I was disappointed when The Doctor left her behind. It is too early to gauge Samuel Anderson’s Danny Pink as a Doctor Who character, especially as his scenes could have been lifted from an episode of Waterloo Road. Alright, you’ve rumbled me; I was lying before, as I do object strongly to Clara’s love life impinging on this excellent episode. After Amy and Rory outstayed their welcome ever since the end of The God Complex I am wary about another couple aboard the TARDIS, as well as the issue of overcrowding. We’re not at Peter Davison’s packed house stage yet, but I was really looking forward to a Doctor and Sarah-Jane/Ace/Donna type of dynamic this season. Maybe Danny will meet a sticky end and tip up with Missy, who I’m still not ready to speculate about beyond going “oooohhh” when she appears.

I have always felt that no Doctor ever faced down the Daleks as well as Jon Pertwee; though my opinion wavered when John Hurt’s War Doctor smashed his TARDIS through a wall into a bunch of them, admittedly. Terry Nation certainly can’t have written Genesis of the Daleks with Pertwee in mind. The third Doctor wouldn’t have hesitated to link those two wires, and fulfil the Time Lords’ mission brief. He unashamedly loathed the Daleks in a way we only really saw from Chris Eccleston since. Based on the latter stages of this episode Capaldi’s no-nonsense Doctor, who watches Rusty trundle off to infiltrate and destroy the retreating Dalek ship’s crew, falls into that category as well. Capaldi was majestic in every scene again this week, and I continually have to stop “favourite Doctor already” discussions going on in my head. It’s too early of course, but the odds on this happening are shortening rapidly.

I’m not sure how Rusty can retain a memory of Journey’s End, as it’s made pretty clear that no Daleks escaped the meta-crisis Doctor/Donna duo’s finishing move. But that, dear reader, is the only fault I have with Into the Dalek. Well, that and the Waterloo Road clips. If anyone can knock me up an edited version on a DVD without these I will award this episode a full ten, but as it is I’m going for my second nine in as many weeks. Not a bad start Mr Capaldi, not too shabby at all.

Image - BBC.