Sunday, August 31, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x2)

The Fourth Doctor: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other, and it's it? The Daleks cease to exist? Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations, can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word "Dalek"? 
--Genesis of the Daleks, 1975
What would the Doctor be without his Daleks? And what would they, in turn, be without him? When I learned that the Daleks were coming to this weeks episode, "Into the Dalek," I was rather nervous. Under Moffat's tenure, the Daleks have gotten a bit of a rough shake. Moffat prefers the creatures of his design, the Silence or the Weeping Angels instead of the classic monsters of Doctor Who. For example, Moffat erased the entire history of the Doctor and the Daleks in one episode, something I was not too keen on. But I have to admit, that this episode was rather good. It returned to one cornerstone of the Doctor Who universe, the sheer unadulterated hatred of the Doctor and the Daleks and whether or not their hatred is moral. I like when Doctor Who explores morality. We tend to see the Doctor (and, let's be honest, it's how he sees himself) as a hero, a good man who swoops down and saves the day with a witty remarks and a smile. But one thing we forget is that behind that young veneer beats the heart(s) of a man who knows what it is to hate. The reason I quoted Genesis of the Daleks at the start is because this weeks episode felt very reminiscent of that: the moral quandary of whether or not Daleks can be anything besides pure evil and whether or not the Doctor can ever find it in him to have more than loathing for a Dalek. This episode did not reinvent the wheel, however. It takes a lot of cues from the 2005 episode "Dalek" and ties it in with the season 3 arc of "Daleks Take Manhattan" as well as the season 4 finale of the Dalek who betrays Davros because the Dalek saw the error of its ways. What this episode was, though, was a return to center. To that place that made Doctor Who more than just timey wimey science fiction mumbo jumbo. The morality of the Doctor. Is he a good man?  

I want to get this portion of the episode out of the way because, while I'm sure he'll be important later on, Danny is not at the moment. So, this is Danny Pink. He's a new teacher (math) at Clara's school. Clara seems to like Danny right away, though Danny is a bit shy and fumbles around her. He's cute in that "obviously traumatized' sort of way. Danny was a solider and based on his reaction to the question of it he's ever killed someone who wasn't a solider, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's a tragically troubled soul who will find comfort and peace in space travel and in Clara's arms. If the rumors that Jenna Louise Coleman is leaving Doctor Who at the end of Christmas are true, this might be her ticket out. Clara would not be the first companion to leave the TARDIS for a life of being settled down instead of being pulled through time and space. My overall impression to Danny at the moment is pretty neutral. He was cute but didn't really make a lasting impression; he's better than Rose's Mickey Smith but not as cool as Jack Harkness. Movin' on...

So, briefly, it has been about three weeks since the Doctor last saw Clara. In fact, he's literally holding the coffee he promised her in last weeks episode. The Doctor got distracted by a thing (which is totally Doctor of him. Please never change that.) The thing he got distracted by was saving the life of a fighter pilot while she was in mid-flight, fighting the Daleks. I want to talk a little about how the Doctor treats this poor fighter pilot. The 10th and 11th Doctors would have made sure she was okay as she is obviously confused and in emotional distress. The Doctor treats her as if she should simply be grateful that he saved her life. When she pulls a gun on him and demands to be taken to her ship, the Doctor refuses to do so until she is polite about it. He seems to expect gratitude, not hostility. When the pilot mentions her dead brother, the Doctor is pretty cold about it. That's a big difference between past Doctors and the 12th Doctor. I like it. The Doctor is very concerned with his own morality because I think he knows that he is a much darker, and as we will see shortly, pragmatic version of his past lives. When the Doctor learns that the humans have a Dalek on board that claims to be good and wishes to destroy all the Daleks for the humans, the Doctor can't help but be intrigued and reflect his own moral ambiguity on to the "sick" Dalek. Morality as a malfunction--perfect sum of the 12th Doctor thus far. Even Clara isn't quite sure what the Doctor is in terms of good and evil; when he asks if he's a good man her only response is, "I don't know." The Doctor has always walked a fine line but he's teetered more toward being good than straight up bad. The 9th Doctor was too damaged from the Time War to ponder morality, knowing that his own was gray. The 10th Doctor wasn't a man who offered second chances but the point was he offered first ones. And the 11th Doctor had rules to keep him regulated. 12? I don't think 12 has rules, or if he does, they aren't ones we're used to seeing. 

The Doctor, Clara, and a team of soldiers literally go inside the Doctor to see if they can't "heal" the good Dalek. It's the one place the Doctor has never been before when it comes to the Daleks and it's quite intriguing. When one of the soldiers makes the very dumb decision to shoot the inside of the Dalek, the team is attacked by antibodies. Now, here's where we get the single biggest change in the Doctor. One of the soldiers, Ross, is in danger of dying from the Dalek antibodies. The Doctor throws him a pill and tells Ross to trust him and take it. When Ross does, the Dalek antibodies instantly kill him. The Doctor's response "He was dead already, I was saving us." This is quite different. This is not to say that Doctors 9-11 didn't loose humans, of course they did. But, rather, they would have done everything humanly (of Time Lordy) possible to save the human first. And if the human had died, it would have greatly upset the Doctor. So for the Doctor to participate in the death of a human for the pragmatic reason of saving everyone else is a bit alarming, and yet fits with this darker Doctor. When the other soldiers get upset that the Doctor let Ross die, the Doctor gives it very little thought and even goes so far as to make light of it with a joke. 

So now we reach the heart of the Dalek and the Doctor sees that the repair for the creature is quite simple and does it gladly. And what happens? The Dalek reverts. His "goodness" was a malfunction and now the evil Dalek is back. And the Doctor is secretly pleased, or so Clara notes. It means that the Doctor was right: there are no good Daleks, there are only evil ones and by assuring the Dalek morality, he's assured his own. If the Daleks are evil then he, The Doctor, is ipso facto good. But Clara points out that this is not the case. This is not what the Doctor has learned today. The Doctor learned that it is possible for the Daleks to be good with the right stimulus and experiences. Of course, a lot of this episode wants us to examine the Doctor and Dalek as a unit. Is the Doctor inherently good or is he made good by his various stimuli and experiences? Can the Doctor be made to be good if there is a danger that he is not?

So what turned the Dalek good? A simple experience: it saw a star being born. Now, the Daleks have destroyed millions of stars but what changed the Dalek's mind was the knowledge that life wills out. Resistance to life is futile; its consciousness was expanded because it saw that its attempts to destroy all life was never going to succeed. How lovely. So while Clara is doing a clever thing, the Doctor gets inside the Dalek's head, merges with it, and says to look inside the Doctor's soul to re-understand beauty. It works, after a fashion. The Dalek sees beauty, divine perfection but one more thing that I don't think the Doctor was counting on: hatred. It sees the never ending hatred the Doctor has for the Daleks and it takes that hatred and makes it its own. It rewires it's agenda: instead of exterminating all the humans, it will exterminate all the Daleks because they are evil, just like the Doctor's soul believes. So did the Doctor make the Dalek objectively good? Nope. But he did make the Dalek like him and what is the Doctor--a good Dalek.

Miscellaneous Notes on Into the Dalek

--Yeah, Missy appeared again, along with her "heaven." I don't know what to do with her and this whole concept which is why I'm ignoring it for the moment. A few theories passing around the internet: she is the Master in a gender swap version of that Time Lord. It's very possible; Moffat has said he wouldn't bring back the Master unless he had a very unique vision for him. The other theory is that she is the Rani from the Classic Era, which I doubt because Moffat doesn't really stick his toes into the classic era all that much. 

--I think the success of this episode owes a lot of Phil Ford who wrote everything but the Danny/Clara and Missy scenes. Ford also wrote "The Water's of Mars" one of the best episodes of the 10th Doctor's time. 

--I adore that the Doctor openly insults Clara but in that "older brother" sort of way. 

--Lots of cute one-liners. A smattering of quotes:
"You're not my boss. You're my hobby."
"Don't be lasagna."
"Are you out of your mind?" "No, I'm inside the mind of a Dalek."
--When the 12th Doctor started talking about Skaro, I got chills.  

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