Monday, September 1, 2014

Into The Dalek

I found Inside The Dalek really rather entertaining.

I know you could pull it to death by focusing on all the stuff it borrowed from elsewhere. From Dalek*, from The Invisible Enemy, from Fantastic Voyage and so on but equally I'm gob-smackingly surprised it hasn't been done before. Surely this is the idea that everyone must have had. And yet it took until 2014 for someone to actually get around to doing it.

I fear 'originality' is a stick to beat many a Doctor Who writer or show runner to death with. It's as if Doctor Who was entirely original from 1963-1989 and never borrowed from other sources. Or from itself.  I mean Terry Nation wrote virtually the same Dalek story time and again, although I'm not sure ripping off yourself is entirely unfair. If you have a good idea why not hammer at it again and again. After all Robert Holmes wrote The Caves of Androzani twice. It's just the first version was called The Power of Kroll. Doctor Who has always been a magpie television series and without undertaking a proper scientific review I'd wager that genuinely original stories are few and far between. Mostly Doctor Who picks up something and metamorphoses it into something distinctly Doctor Who. So I'm not quite sure lack of originality is as bad as all that.

It's a tale of morality. The Doctor's morality. Is he a good man? Or is he a good Dalek?

It's a big question. I think we like to find a Doctor that fits our own image and the new Doctor Who has certainly been slightly less ruthless than the Classic Doctor could be. Or at least has always made more of a big deal out of his morality, which makes the scene here where he uses a soldier's impending death to find an escape route ice-cold shocking. No 'I'm so sorry's' etc. Just 'this man is going to die but I'm going to save everyone else.' It really does feel different this time.

He's still finding his way this new Doctor. He's clearly not the man he was. There's a ruthless streak of logic, sharp snark and a lack of neediness about this new Doctor. He doesn't have the time to care about whether people like him or not. He is just going to do his thing.

And I love Capaldi's take on the part. He's such a brilliant actor.

Then there's Jenna Coleman's Clara. She's developing a character, which is nice. Now she's not a puzzle for the Doctor to be solved. The Moff gets a lot of criticism for the way he writes women characters in Doctor Who and the Doctor makes one or two unnecessarily snide comments about Clara's appearance that veer dangerously too close to 'banter' for my liking (although I was reminded of the Fourth Doctor's digs at Sarah Jane in The Ark in Space whilst they were crawling through the ducts). Anyway I thought Clara / Coleman was great in this. The Doctor deserved his slap and it was nice to see Clara turn the tables on the Doctor after Deep Breath by getting him to focus on the right lesson to take from the day.

I also liked her scenes with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The Clara-Danny thing is endearingly awkward, which I confess to liking. I get the impression that The Moff could quite happily write a sit-com revolving around those two. Danny Pink is another teacher at Cole Hill School. He's an ex-soldier with a secret. He's also got one of the best and brightest smiles I've ever seen. It seems the Clara-Danny thing is going to be a 'thing' for the whole season so it is early days for judgment (although when has that ever stopped me).

The soldier thing is going to be one of the threads of the season I think. Along with Missy, who makes another appearance here. Ah, Missy. The face that launched a thousand theories. I'm not going to comment here. I've got ideas. Too many ideas but being this is The Moff at work it wouldn't surprise me if Missy turns out not to be a villain at all but a friend of the Doctors. But who knows. It does seem though that The Moff's confident that the Missy pay-off is worth her regularly pop up appearances, although it does have a touch of the Madam Kovarians about it. [There's me ignoring my own earlier paragraph about the dangers of whinging about originality. I'm such a hypocrite.]

Where was I. Ah, the soldier thing. Yes, the Doctor dismisses Journey Blue (Zawa Ashton) at the end when she asks to come along with him by saying he doesn't like soldiers. I'm assuming that's just this Doctor because the Eleventh Doctor was quite upset when he found out that his soldier friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart had died. But it's a new Doctor. I suspect his judgmental approach will come and bite him on the arse before the season is out.

Oh and Danny Pink and Journey Blue. Is this colour thing also going to be a 'thing.' How many 'things' can the Moff get into a single season? How many of them will be - and forgive me - red herrings. Doctor Who fans: always finding patterns in things that aren't there.

The other thing worth mentioning - apart from Michael Smiley's appearance as Colonel Morgan Blue - is Ben Wheatley's fab direction. He actually manages to make the Daleks look like warriors. And Rusty the Dalek gets a fine line in snark, which is unexpected in a Dalek.

Oh and praise for Nick Briggs whose Dalek voice work reaches pretty impressive heights in this story. The slight change in emphasis between the 'good' Rusty and his return to Dalekness is rather brilliant and subtle.

So...I enjoyed it. With quibbles.

Next week Robots of Sherwood which looks whimsical. And there's not a lot of love for whimsy in the Doctor Who fan world. Me, I'm a big fan of whimsy. Lord Peter included.

*I listened to Big Finish's The Genocide Machine today too and that's got a similarities with this story thematically too in terms of what happens when a Dalek changes.

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