The Doctor’s most well known and most hated adversary returns. At the request of a team of rebel fighters, one of whom the Doctor saves from inevitable death in the beginning of the episode, the Doctor and Clara shrink down magic school bus style and travel inside a Dalek. This is no ordinary Dalek though, it’s a broken Dalek, a Dalek with morality.
Journey Blue, the soldier the Doctor saves, brings the Doctor aboard her ship and he is recruited by her uncle, Colonel Morgan Blue, to help a “patient.” Said patient turns out to be a broken Dalek asking for help. The Doctor shows his usual ruthlessness with the Daleks. He speaks of them with hatred and resentment and is unwilling at first to help the Dalek patient. When the crew enters the Dalek, whom the Doctor calls Rusty, they find out that it is being poisoned from the inside. Unfortunately that’s the same poison that’s causing the Dalek’s newly found self awareness. Once they save him he reverts immediately to his old ways. “We had a good Dalek and we made it bad again? That’s all we’ve done?” asks Journey before ordering a full on attack on the exterminating robot.
Clara and the Doctor’s relationship is more solidified now and we start to see how they can make great partners. Clara proves her importance as a companion, forcing the Doctor to see things in a new way. Her skills as a teacher are once again employed as she guides the Doctor asking “is that really what we’ve learned today?” The Doctor thrills at the opportunity to plant a new idea in the Dalek’s mind relying on Clara to do “a clever thing” to make it happen. He allows the Dalek to see into his own mind, revealing how he views the universe.
Soldiers play a significant role in Into the Dalek. Journey Blue loses her brother when her ship explodes out in space and the Doctor transports her onto the TARDIS to save her. Momentarily we see the new teacher at Clara’s school, Danny Pink. He is clearly being set up as Clara’s love interest and from his emotional reaction when a student asks whether he’s killed someone it looks like there’s a deeper and likely darker back story waiting to unfold.
Before he leaves, Journey asks the Doctor to take her with him but he refuses on the basis that she is a soldier. The Doctor doesn’t need another person like himself that acts on logic alone and does what needs to be done; instead he needs the compassion of someone like Clara Oswald. As he describes her in a rather throwaway but telling comment, “[she’s] my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.” That idea is the heart of Doctor Who and something co-writer Phil Ford excels at exploring. Ford also wrote The Waters of Mars with Russell T Davies, an episode that examines what happens when the Doctor has no one to check his power.
The performances were the stand out strength of the episode. Actress Zawe Ashton brought something interesting and multi-layered to Journey. Her performance overshadowed anything that was lacking in her character. This is noteworthy because a main strength of Doctor Who is that often even secondary characters have depth and importance that endears you to them. Capaldi does an excellent job as well even though we’re still learning who his Doctor is. He seamlessly fits into the role by gleaning the same stock traits but with his own particular flair.
The most intriguing new addition is the character of Danny. His introduction doesn’t quite mesh evenly with the rest of the episode despite the best intentions and we don’t find out much more about him at this point. Another notable tidbit is the mysterious Missy who is greeting those that for all intents and purposes have died in battle and welcoming them to “heaven.” She claims to know the Doctor but who is she really and where are all of these people being taken? Into the Dalek raises many questions and, if Moffat’s story arcs from previous seasons are anything to go off of, we may not find out the answers any time soon. But that’s half the fun.