Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Into the Dalek"

If the Daleks can't see you, they think you don't exist.
It's a new year and the Nation estate have a contract about which I'm sure they're very pleased, so it's time to do the Twelfth Doctor's confrontation with the Daleks. We begin in a typical New Who spaceship crewed by people who don't speak BBC English, fighting a Dalek saucer. It's all very exciting. Actually, if I'm being honest, it is a bit exciting, but fear not that we're about to turn into Star Wars or something because the Daleks, as they so often do, have a Master Plan: exhaust the CGI budget. As such our space pilot's ship explodes and she finds herself on the TARDIS. Before this, we get an unnecessary shot of the upper half of a Dalek saying "Exterminate!" in his brightly lit saucer bridge in case you've forgotten that's what Daleks do. On the TARDIS, our soldier wants out but Capaldi isn't having any of it, seemingly being stubborn to make a point. I think Capaldi carries this stuff reasonably well; he has the right demeanour for a Doctor who can make demands. After dragging a "please" out of her they arrive on the main anti-Dalek rebel spaceship, the 'Aristotle.' "It's a hospital," the Doctor remarks. I can't fault him. It looks a lot like a hospital - a lot. As in a building on Earth in the present day. A spaceship with rectangular paned windows? Right. We get a tiny bit of matte painting or something of a larger hangar from one angle to try to convince us that we're in space.
Nothing to see here.
Some soldier colonel with a beard rolls up with his crew and starts being a dick: "I'm still going to kill you," even though Capaldi saved the life of this soldier, whose name is bizarrely 'Journey.' She has them spare the Doctor's life: "He's a doctor, and we have a patient." "Why does a hospital need a doctor?" the Doctor asks. Colonel McBeard fobs him off with some answer implying the Daleks showed up first and killed all the doctors, while 'Journey Blue,' whose name sounds like a brand of aftershave, tells him "You don't like soldiers." Subtlety hasn't been Moffat's strong suit for a while. Further along, they come across a big glass cylinder: "Wow, a molecular nano scaler!" the Doctor exclaims, even Capaldi incapable of delivering this kids' TV line with anything approaching believability. It reminds me of Mel exclaiming "a megabyte modem!" in 'The Trial of a Time Lord,' which also sounded very futuristic in its day. The Doctor assesses that in science fiction tradition it's used to "shrink the surgeons." That 'science fiction tradition' includes a Tom Baker serial, of course, 'The Invisible Enemy.' We're hardly in pastures new here. In any event, if they can shrink stuff, why would they need to shrink surgeons? Wouldn't they have technology far superior to human hands? Anyway, the patient under examination is none another than a Dalek: "You can't put me in there!" Doctor Capaldi exclaims with some consternation. Why not? Roll titles!
"Why am I Mister Pink?"
Back on earth, the pacing of the episode takes an abattoir bolt to the head and has its flesh sluiced away as we cut to some beefy guy called Danny Pink training little kids to be soldiers at the Coal Hill School. We get some pointless comedy and then, as in every effortless school scene ever written in anything, the bell rings. This is followed by a completely nonsensical conversation Mr. Pink has with the secretary of the school where she keeps saying things like "I bet you did," and "I know your type." What's she on about? Him being a soldier? If I was a teacher and the secretary of the school was this weird with me I'd be pissed. In class some kid asks Pretty In Pink if he's ever killed a man, and like a classic incompetent teacher he doesn't fob off the question, although he really cagily does to the question about killing anyone who wasn't a soldier. Whatever is being set up here, it's another thing not being handled in a way that could be remotely considered to be subtle, as exemplified by the cliché single tear running down his cheek. In the staff room Clara is introduced to Mr Pink, the headmaster declaring that he's "a bit of a ladykiller." Wouldn't that be kind of an unprofessional thing to say about a colleague, especially when introducing them to a fellow colleague? Danny Pink denies this: is this heavy handed foreshadowing of a future plot point that he did kill a woman, literally? Or did he not kill a woman, but did kill a man? Perhaps he killed a "good man." Why do I get the feeling we've been here before? Clara questions the soldier practice outside, asking if Danny's "teaching them how to shoot people" and if any "moral dimension" of soldiering is that you "cry about it afterwards." Why is everyone being so confrontational to this guy? Then again I'd probably find it a bit odd if I worked at a school and some guy started trying to start a sort of cadet club. Maybe he's called 'Danny Pink' in juxtaposition to anti-military 'pinkos.' Maybe that's why he's crying.
"Why are some of the most positive reviews on OCBW?"
Incapable of having a normal conversation with anyone, Mr Pink has an equally odd one with Clara where he asks "why" to basic remarks like "I was being funny." Maybe he's a robot? Then in pure sitcom style he goes to his classroom and acts out a conversation with Clara because he won't go to drinks with her for some reason. Maybe it's because he's such a non-metaphorical ladykiller; he just can't help it, and that's why he can't go - he might uncontrollably slaughter Clara during conversation. Turns out Clara is listening in and she gets him to change his mind. Wasn't there Peter Capaldi and a Dalek at some point in this? What's going on here? This isn't a sitcom, and even if it was, this wouldn't be funny. The lack of music helps, mind. Anyway Clara finds the TARDIS in her cupboard. Turns out Capaldi ditched her in Glasgow at the end of last episode, which bothers me. Inside, Capaldi manages to carry some dreadful jokes about Clara's age before asking her a dangerous question written specifically for Series 8 promos: "Am I a good man?" He needs her for something - what? Maybe to help him size up the Dalek given how morally confused he's seemingly become. Back on the Aristotle, the captured Dalek declares that "Daleks must be destroyed." Haven't we seen this before? RTD's 'Dalek Caan' in the Series 4 finale, for instance? Or, dare I mention it, the Sixth Doctor audio drama 'Jubilee' by Rob Shearman on which RTD based the 2005 episode 'Dalek'? Clara says the Doctor's prejudiced, which sets up our cannonball-subtle theme for this episode. Meeting the soldiers, who apparently let Capaldi piss off to pick up Clara despite all their talk of killing him earlier, the Doctor declares of Clara that "She cares so I don't have to." Ooh, edgy.
Mr Tickle.
The Dalek is apparently "so damaged it's turned good." Pretty sure we've seen this before too. Capaldi, Clara and some stiffs including Chanel no. 5, get miniaturised so that they can go "into the Dalek" as it were, much like the aforementioned Tom Baker serial where miniaturised duplicates of the Doctor and Leela go inside the Doctor's body. The nano scaler seems pretty daft but there you go. There's an awkward shot of the little people inside as the tiny capsule gets picked up, and then a guy who looks a bit like Shapp from 'The Armageddon Factor' inserts them into the Dalek's eye stalk. Isn't this a lot like what happened in 'Let's Kill Hitler' as well, where tiny versions of the characters ended up inside a mechanical eye? After a bizarre and inexplicable slow motion sequence they follow some equally slow 'visual impulses' - the Dalek must see everything about five seconds after it's happened - before they come to the 'cranial ledge,' a huge empty space. Pretty roomy inside a Dalek, it seems. Capaldi reveals that the Dalek's personality change is due to a malfunction in the 'cortex vault' which "keeps the Dalek pure," that "extinguishes the tiniest glimmer of kindness." This doesn't seem to mesh very well with the notion that the Daleks are born full of hate, and I'm not fond of the notion that some mechanical device represses an otherwise unmentioned positive side of their personality. Surely their ideology and genetic engineering is enough to do that. It's not unlike the thing that stops the Cybusmen from feeling emotions in that New Who Series 2 story. In a somewhat lame way the Doctor addresses the Dalek as "Rusty" and then all hell breaks loose when one of the soldiers fires a harpoon into the Dalek's armour. I don't get this either: since when did a Dalek's entire casing simulate an organic being? What would be the point of armour if it could feel pain? Maybe if they'd fired it into an organic bit - it's just an excuse to have some robotic 'antibodies' show up to menace the cast. Didn't this happen in 'Let's Kill Hitler' as well?
"You do know I'm an evil hypnotist?"
Another soldier with a beard gets disintegrated shortly after the Doctor feeds him an energy cell that will let them find out where the bodies are dumped. This turns out to be a nearby chute. "They've dumped him down there." How? The antibody was behind them - how could it have already dumped the remains? These convenient, arbitrary enemies inside the Dalek are a bit unambitious as a storytelling device. Capaldi gets everyone to jump down the slippery dip and they land in a puddle of green goo like the garbage chute from Star Wars or perhaps the Space Whale's stomach from 'The Beast Below.' Capaldi informs us that Daleks need protein. Do they? Never seen one eat anything before. They can travel through time, but they can't synthesise a few proteins to sustain their organic components? I'm overthinking this. The bearded soldier has become "the top layer if you want to say a few words," according to Capaldi, forced to play up the 'Doctor being a bit of a dick' card with which this incarnation has been saddled. He gets briefly throttled and then goes through a hole. He explains that the tunnel they go through is hot, which is presumably meant to explain why in the next scene their costumes look freshly laundered. Even if they dried, why aren't they encrusted with Dalek shit? Turns out the radiation is getting higher: for some reason Capaldi's question "Are you wearing a Geiger counter?" is one of my favourite lines of the episode because it's just... characters talking about stuff. Explaining things sensibly. It's not that hard. He figures out that the Dalek is suffering from a technobabble syndrome, a "trionic radiation leak." Why do these people want to cure the Dalek anyway? Turn him against their own kind? As Journey herself asks, "Why should we trust a Dalek?" It's not explained.
"We're in the gonads of the Dalek."
The Dalek reckons it changed its mind about things after seeing "beauty," in this case the birth of a star. It busts out another well-worn science fiction line: "resistance is futile." Apparently it's recognised the inevitability of life, which makes the Daleks' ideology seem a bit unsustainable. We've come across this before as well, haven't we? Didn't the Daleks in New York say pretty much the same thing? Capaldi hopes the Dalek isn't lying as they come upon the "heart of the Dalek," which looks a bit pants: just a bunch of rubbery looking tubes and stuff. He closes the radiation leak with the sonic screwdriver and the Dalek immediately goes back to being its normal nasty self, fighting all the soldiers and opening communications with the little toy Daleks on the saucer. The Doctor figures the Dalek wasn't "good," just "broken," but Clara slaps him because she thinks he's pleased with the fact that he was right about all Daleks being fundamentally evil. Moffat needs to cut it out with the slapping, which happened a fair bit in the Smith era too. Not only is it lazy and cliché, but it's basically saying "women have to resort to displays of physical violence because they can't express their point in any other way." He seems to think women slapping men is women standing up for themselves, but it's quite the opposite. Journey wants to place explosive charges inside the Dalek: wouldn't they be tiny and therefore weak? Clara demands that the Doctor "think" about what's going on. Meanwhile the other Daleks declare their intentions with an amusing model shot of lots of silly-looking toy Daleks. It looks a bit naff, but I complain about the lack of model work in the show, don't I? So I should probably shut my gob.
"What idea of Steven's should I refuse to do next?"
The Doctor and co inexplicably manage to climb all the way back up to where they were when they first came in, declaring that they need to get the Dalek in the frame of mind it was when it was irradiated. Apparently the radiation allowed it to "expand its consciousness." He doesn't know how to do this, however, so we can get some subverted expectations for a cheap laugh. The other Daleks attack the Aristotle: we've definitely seen this stuff before. Inside, the remaining non-Journey soldier, Gretchen, sacrifices herself to the antibodies by firing a grappling line up to the cortex thing while the Doctor simply pisses off and leaves her to die. Gretchen reappears in 'Heaven' with Miss Pickwell from the last episode. It's not dissimilar to when the Doctor rescued Journey at the beginning, lending more credence to my theory that Missy is the Master and that "Heaven" is a TARDIS. We see Daleks and soldiers blowing stuff up. Why do the Daleks care about rescuing their 'comrade'? Why not just blow up the whole ship? Somehow Capaldi gets to where the actual Dalek mutant is located, while in the cortex Clara discovers the 'memories' which are just a bunch of lights in the wall. Pretty crude system. Elsewhere, the Dalek gets one of its better lines: "Daleks do not have souls." It starts seeing memories of random shit from New Who as Clara crawls through its memory ducts, reactivating its memories simply by whacking big red buttons along the floor. Seriously? The Doctor declares that it was when he went to Skaro that he "understood who he was" and the Doctor ceased to be 'just a name.' I suggest Moffat rewatch some early Hartnell. The antibodies are coming to get Journey, but somehow Clara hitting the last memory causes the Dalek to 'reboot' and the antibodies to 'reset.' Why?
Capaldi gives an arbitrary New Who speech, waving his arms around and enthusiastically declaring stuff like "you saw a star being born!" It's probably the lack of colloquialism in the dialogue as well as a general tendency to downplay some of the more exaggerated elements of the scene that allow Capaldi to carry this without it being nearly as cringe-inducing as, say, Smith's big speech from the end of 'The Rings of Akhaten.' He does a Vulcan Mind Meld with the Dalek to get it to understand things the way it did before. Why does it see "divinity" and "endless divine perfection"? Seems a touch hyperbolic. Then it witnesses the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks and that gives it reason to go kill its buddies. "There must be more than that, please," Capaldi argues. It reminds me of Tennant always pleading "just shtop, think" etc to bad guys in his time, when it was totally ineffectual and never worked either. During a transition the Dalek somewhat abruptly remarks to itself, "Daleks are evil," which comes across as a bit silly. It goes to town on the other Daleks, who all seem totally incapable of defending themselves against this one. The Doctor resigns himself to the fact that all they ever do is kill, even when 'good.' Again, this has been established before. It's a far less sophisticated analysis, just redirecting the hatred on another source, than the climax of the audio drama 'Jubilee,' which proposes an inherent logical contradiction in the Dalek imperative: if the Daleks ever achieved their goal of universal conquest, they would have no purpose, so it's actually in their own interests that they never achieve their goal.
I've got my eye on you.
Afterwards the Dalek just sits there chatting to the Doctor and Clara. He claims that it has unfinished business, and we get a very repetitious line: "I am not a good Dalek: you are a good Dalek." Seems like that's awfully similar to what we heard in 2005. That being said, this is New Who's eighth series and its tenth year onscreen. There are probably a lot of people out there, especially (but not exclusively) young viewers who've never seen the Eccleston episodes. Weird. Anyway, the Dalek goes away after giving them a lot of sidelong glances. Apparently the leaked script called for it going back to its saucer and self-destructing but that doesn't happen here. All we see is a shot of the saucer moving away. So what happens next? Who knows. There isn't time for resolutions in forty-five minutes of New Who. The Doctor and Clara piss off, Journey tries to follow but gets rebuffed by Capaldi because she's a soldier, and it's back to school. I don't know what all this 'soldier' business is about but we'll see. Clara doesn't know if the Doctor's a good man, and off she pops. I think it's time we went back to a companion who is a full time TARDIS inhabitant: this stuff with Clara and before her the last stint of Amy and Rory seems like it's run its course. Outside, Danny Pink suggests to Clara, "I thought you might have a rule against soldiers." What is going on with this solder thing? Clara disagrees and we're done.
Could you repeat that?
The main issue with 'Into the Dalek' is the fact that it's nothing we haven't seen before. We know the Daleks bring out a pretty harsh side of the Doctor. We know Daleks are never really capable of overcoming their genetically-engineered nature. We've seen people getting miniaturised and wandering around inside other things, too, in both Old and New Who. Another very notable example I've neglected to mention, of course, is 'Carnival of Monsters' in which Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor and Jo Grant are miniaturised and explore the interior of a machine. The narrative is a bit thin, and once again the lack of a real sub plot is problematic, resulting in a lot of wandering around sets one after the other, most of which don't have much particular purpose. The message is a bit simplistic - hating haters is still hate - and the stuff on Earth feels awkwardly positioned, as well as the extremely ambiguous comments about soldiers. It also seems deeply problematic to me that we're expected to find it troubling that the Doctor has 'prejudice' against the Daleks given that they're murderous totalitarian genocidal maniacs. As usual, there's plenty of clunky dialogue. I'm tired of the RTD-era gold, rivet-laden Daleks too. Moffat's 2010 'New Paradigm' seems to have been rendered damnatio memoriae but personally I think apart from the extravagant colours a more futuristic redesign was a step in the right direction. I'd like to see the standard New Who Dalek smoothed out with some of its panels and rivets stripped away, done up in gunmetal grey or something like that, and led to battle by maybe the white New Paradigm one to mix things up a bit. Just a thought. As for the script here, Capaldi does what he can with limited material, although a lot of the stuff at the school is, and I'm just going to be blunt, impossible to sell effectively given how badly it's written. That being said, I appreciated the future setting and I enjoyed Capaldi's performance, although I found the soldiers forgettable - like so much of the New Who guest cast, let's face it, they're never really there to do much except get in the way and die - and I think Clara's characterisation was a bit disagreeable. Overall, the episode's not great but I found it inoffensive. Clearly I've been worn down; much like the Cat and Rimmer in the Red Dwarf episode 'The Inquisitor,' by New Who's own low standard this episode has acquitted itself (for me at least - other opinions are available). What we really needed here, I think, is a bit more stuff about why 'hate' exists (fight or flight responses, etc) and whether or not we're born good (as Rosseau might have said), bad (see Hobbes) or neutral (Locke). Characters should be used to consider moral questions, not moral questions used to explore characters. Too much modern popular fiction seems to think that the fictional characters and universes are things and speculative ends in themselves rather than parts of a narrative whole. The Daleks do not exist. The Daleks are us, representing our hatred and totalitarian tendencies. The question is not "can a Dalek be good?" That's amusing but pointless fannish nonsense. The question should be "what might a good Dalek represent?" By all means go into the Dalek, but in New Who don't be surprised if you just end up covered in green shit.

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