Doctor Who: "Into the Dalek" Is Just Terrible

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I don't think a single episode of Doctor Who has ever been quite as terrible as "Into the Dalek" was. Maybe "Love and Monsters," but not in the same way.

I'll leave aside the most obvious complaints. Peter Capaldi's Doctor is for some unknown reason needlessly cruel to Clara, constantly harping on her appearance, which was funny when he was newly regenerated and confused her with Handles but has since become a boorish attempt to solidly divide him from romantic connections. The special effects looked as if they were borrowed from Paul McGann's movie, and this is the third Dalek episode in the last four of the show.

All that aside, and it is a lot to lay aside, the problem with "Into the Dalek" is that it makes absolutely no sense in the slightest.

An injured Dalek has suddenly become very keen on killing his own people, and the Doctor and Clara are recruited to shrink to microscopic size to go inside and find out why. Yes, that's the same thing they did in Fantastic Voyage, and they even make a joke about it. In many ways the episode is really just an homage.

But never for one second is it adequately explained why this harebrained scheme is necessary. They play it off in such a way that The Doctor must find out why a Dalek could ever turn good...because apparently turning fanatic on your own people is "good" these days. In response, The Doctor learns that the power of suppressed memories is enough to fight the blind racist hatred of the species, and also that The Doctor's own inner darkness is enough to overshadow that in many ways.

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Here's the problem: Nearly every season has shown Daleks that can have depths and nuances within their fanaticism. The Doctor knows they can. In "Dalek," the Dalek is colored by the soul of Rose Tyler, showing her both mercy and a terrible desire for understanding. Still a killer, but a killer that is horrifying in its sudden opening to other kinds of thought.

There was Dalek Sek and Dalek Caan, the former gaining a desire to merge with humanity through his vision and the other manipulating his own race after insanity opened his mind to the dangers of Dalek nihilism. The Daleks in "Victory of the Dalek" willingly humiliate and sacrifice themselves in order to ensure the survival of their race. There was one of the Claras who overcame the programming to save The Doctor, and in the same episode the strange evolution of the Daleks into a democracy that expresses concepts such as beauty and even a kind of mercy and love.

Hell, you can go all the way back to Troughton teaching young Daleks to love and to play children's games in "Evil of the Daleks" if you want an example of how The Doctor has seen Daleks be as different in their ways as humans and Time Lords themselves.

There's simply nothing in the classic series or the revived one to give any reason why The Doctor would have any sort of driving need to understand why a Dalek would act this way. The plot throws aside everything they've explored about the Daleks and sets aside some tremendous character development for the race. For what? To give Capaldi a chance to look menacing and call Clara fat? Where's the brilliance of "Asylum of the Daleks," the grand madness of Dalek Caan?

It's nowhere to be found.

If this is what Phil Ford will be bringing to Steven Moffat's aid in the writing then the show is in real trouble.

Do. Better.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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