Sunday, 31 August 2014

Tracheotomy of the Daleks

"Come the f*** in or f*** the f*** off!"

Well then... Only one week into the Twelfth Doctor's run and we have already come face to face with the Daleks. While I have personally grown very tired of the Time Lord's most persistent foes, it's become a rite of passage for each incarnation to face them at some point in their run. With that in mind, it's probably for the best that time has come nice and early!

Having said that, I was looking forward to Into The Dalek. Instead of the standard yearly invasions of the Russell T Davies era, it would be wrong of me to accuse Moffat's tenure of playing the Daleks too safe and this story is not an exception. This time, as the title suggest, Phil Ford is taking us inside the Dalek itself, physically and metaphorically. I'll forgive you if you're having flashbacks to Lets Kill Hitler.

So how does this fantastic voyage hold up? While it's certainly not up there with the best of the Dalek stories, at least doesn't find company with the worst. It is - if nothing else - a different kind of Dalek story, but one which ultimately falls somewhere around average.

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

So the premise of the story is fairly simple: A Dalek has been damaged so much that it has turned good and is punished by The Doctor, who gives it the awful nickname of 'Rusty'. As the title implies, The Doctor is miniaturised and set out to fix it.

Shocker: When the good Dalek is 'fixed' it turns bad again.

After this, we're at tremendous risk of running straight into a standard Dalek siege story. Fortunately, The Doctor (however pleased he may be to see he was right and the Daleks are evil! Yay!) is fully aware the best solution is to try and recreate the moment which turned Rusty good in the first place. This would make him suggestible to new ideas, where The Doctor would deliver his standard speech. But something goes wrong.

When Rusty sees hatred in The Doctor rather than the wonder or beauty we were led to expect... something happens and the Dalek is ended. It's also a dark reminder that we are far from understanding Twelve yet. Rusty's parting line of "You are a good Dalek!" seems as though it's positioned as a WHAM! line, it carries very little impact; least of all since we've seen similar ideas repeatedly in the past. Credit where it's due, I appreciate that the story subverts the usual cliché by having it play into Twelve's darker character. Indeed, it's quite a shaggy dog of a story: By the end, virtually nothing has been achieved. One Dalek has sort of, but not really, been turned good and Clara still has no real answer to whether Twelve is a "good man" or not. I almost like that though.

Unfortunately, this means the arbitrary question "Am I a good man?" could recur.
Beware, everyone.
Speaking of which, Peter Capaldi continues to impress in the role of The Doctor. This is his first real episode in a sense: a greater taste of what his character will be on a regular basis. He is definitely a challenging character. Far less childlike than Smith or Tennant, but there's still a sparkle there. He hasn't at all lost his ruthless streak - he is far more pragmatic when it comes to the death of his allies and unconcerned with normal human compassion. It's always been implied, but the companion explicitly "caring so he doesn't have to" is a great dynamic with lots of potential for the rest of his run.

Sadly, following some tantalising glimpses into a more layered and considered portrayal last week; Clara seems to have devolved into standard companion this week. Given Deep Breath's... generous running time, this is only to be expected, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

On the side of the supporting cast, Zawe Ashton puts in a fairly passionate performance as the unfortunately named 'Journey Blue'. While she can be a bit unnecessarily shouty at times, I felt bad for her when The Doctor callously (and hypocritically) denies her companionship, so she must have made some impact! Iain from the Bake-Off plays her uncle and probably her captain or something. He gets little screen time; does the job.

However, the two soldiers who go into the Dalek with The Doctor are less impressive. They're killed in dramatically impactful ways: sacrificed either by The Doctor or for him. But... We have no idea who they are, so they're basic red shirts masquerading as sacrificial lions, who cares. That said, they do give us an interesting look at Twelve, which is probably closer to their purpose. There's a trustful glance between Ross and The Doctor moments before he's dispatched by antibodies and The Doctor's plan was just to follow his battery signature than to save him. It's an effective and fairly powerful scene because we're used to seeing The Doctor saving everyone he can and here, he doesn't even try.

We're also introduced to Danny Pink - a new recurring character and teacher at the same school as Clara - in this episode. He's not on screen for long, but we're given a few glimpses of what his character is like and his backstory. I don't know how to describe him other than "real". He doesn't come off as a character who is built around one decision as I feel many of Moffat's characters are. Though he's also victim of the most disjointed, awkward, and poorly-composed scenes in the episode. His scenes feel too much like an introduction: The scenarios are too conveniently constructed and the dialogue feels pretty flat. So a mixed bag for Mr Pink.

Compared to Deep Breath, this story if far more visually driven. In that respect, it's almost a small reassurance that we haven't lost all traces of the old era. Explosions, spacey-wacey, all the usual spectacle. It looks amazing, of course. The actual direction leaves a lot more to be desired. For the inside of a creature, the Dalek seems remarkably easy to get around in. The set design and even the choice of camera angles make everything look too comfortable.

Bear with me. I know it sounds like I'm just nitpicking, but this actually is quite important.

One thing you have to give Series 7 credit for was it's directional flair. Stories like The Bells of Saint John, A Town Called Mercy, and The Name of The Doctor... they all look stunning. That's not just down to good CGI, it's the culmination of lighting choices, the use of angles and types of shot. Now I'm no direction expert, so I can't explain this fully but Into The Dalek lacks the same panache which kept half of Series 7 above water. There's lots of medium shots which don't capitalize on the setting, nor do they contribute to a tone or atmosphere.

Music - like Deep Breath - remains atmospheric for the most part. However, if it's recurrence is anything to go by, we might know the Twelfth Doctor's theme! There's a dramatic, Dark Knight-esque motif which initially played when The Doctor unmasked in Deep Breath which comes back as we approach the climax in this story. If it IS his theme, I will be very happy.

Overall? You know, it's okay. It's not so much like Deep Breath, where I really enjoyed some things and hated others, it was just okay. At times, it felt like a retread of some other (not all spectacular) episodes. I'm giving it a respectable 6/10 because it is a pretty good story, it just didn't strike many chords with me. It's on the higher end of the Dalek stories though, so that's something.


Curiously, in the script there was a scene where Rusty was shown to blow up the Dalek ship towards the end. The fact this; a fairly important conclusion; was removed leads me to believe that we haven't seen the last of Rusty. Keep your eyes peeled!

Oh and the 'power ranger' Daleks seem to have been completely dismissed. Which is a shame. I know they looked a bit silly but with a metallic repaint and some model tweaking they could have been rather threatening. Sad to lose them with no fanfare.