Into The Dalek can be best described as the episode that confirmed to fans that Peter Capaldi’s darker, more morally-ambiguous incarnation of The Doctor is here to stay. It was a strong follow up to last week’s Deep Breath that demonstrated the show’s willingness to not only go back to basics in terms of structure but also still find the time to tackle classic villains in unconventional new ways.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Last week’s episode was all about establishing the 13th Doctor as a character that we don’t immediately recognize as the series titular timelord. Into The Dalek moves on from this to concern itself with examining who the Doctor is in the eyes of his greatest enemies. While the script occasionally stuttered into tired ‘Moffat-isms’, it was for the most part a pretty compelling character study – and one brought to life by Peter Capaldi’s fantastic performance.
While the Doctor has never been a fan of soldiers, he’s never acted quite as negligently towards them as he does in Into The Dalek. His cold demeanor towards their deaths and frequent snarky jokes he cracked throughout helped cement both Capaldi’s ‘meaner’ take on the Doctor and reiterate the character’s commitment against violence and soldiers.
This reintroduction of The Doctor’s anti-soldier agenda also tied in nicely to Into The Dalek’s introduction of soon-to-be-companion, Danny Pink. I actually quite liked this humorous sequence in spite of its sharp contrast against the episode’s opening. Samuel Anderson did a good job of establishing his characters history in very little screentime and I look forward to seeing how he and The Doctor interact when their paths inevitably cross later down the line.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that this latest series of Doctor Who is one that’s very focused on going back to basics. Thus far, Capaldi’s Doctor hasn’t been one for excessive chases or sonic-wizardry. While Into The Dalek definitely had its chase scenes, they were brief and far outnumbered by Capaldi’s dramatic monologues. Doctor Who has often been praised for drawing phenomenal performances out of good actors but with Capaldi things seem to be operating in reverse. He’s bringing a dark magnetism to his role and its unlike anything Who-fans have seen before.
Into The Dalek brought a lot of new ideas to the table, however, not all of them worked out as well as fans might hope. The psychedelic sequence towards the end in particular, came off as a little bit clumsy, even by Doctor Who’s standards. That said, I’m excited that the series is willing to tread new territory and while it wasn’t the best moment of the episode, it was a moment that felt like it belonged entirely to Capaldi’s Doctor. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the kind of sequence that Matt Smith or David Tennant would be able to pull off and that’s an observation that has me excited.
For an episode that could easily be dismissed/pitched as ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Doctor’, Into The Dalek was surprisingly dark in tone and a solid follow-up to last week’s premier. It’s a solid, self-contained showcase for the show’s commitment to greater narrative depth and innovation, not to mention Capaldi’s acting skills.