Doctor Who: Into The Dalek

Doctor Who: Into The Dalek August 30, 2014

I found the Doctor Who episode “Into The Dalek” felt rushed – they could have easily made this a two-parter and taken the time necessary to introduce characters and explore details. But the concept and the themes explored are fascinating, and give viewers much food for thought. Spoilers ahead!

The episode introduces the question of whether there can be a good Dalek. Clara’s comment when the Doctor says there’s no such thing gives an insight into how things will unfold. She says that the Doctor sounds unusually inflexible, indeed prejudiced. The Doctor has experienced damage, and the Doctor makes a quip about “morality as malfunction.”

The plan is for the Doctor to “get inside its head” – and not metaphorically. And so we get to see the classic science fiction scenario of people miniaturized and entering into another – a scenario which I think that Doctor Who never included in all its 50 years, so it was long overdue for this trope to be used!

Into the Dalek 2The Doctor asks the Dalek what changed it. The Dalek says it saw beauty. It uses the phrase made famous by the Cybermen and then later the Borg on Star Trek: “resistance is futile.” But in this case, the Dalek had seen a star born, even though Daleks have destroyed millions of stars, and had realized that “life returns; life prevails.”

As an aside, a saying very similar to this – “life is victorious” – is repeated throughout Mandaean literature, most commonly as an ending of chapters in the Book of John and other works.

The Doctor heals the Dalek’s radiation leak, and it quickly returns to its instinct to exterminate. The Doctor says that this proves that there is no such thing as a good Dalek – “no miracle,” just radiation affecting its brain chemistry. Meanwhile, as the Dalek goes on its killing rampage, one of the soldiers says “God save us all.”

But Clara sees something the Doctor doesn’t. What they have learned is that a good Dalek is possible. The Doctor then sets about trying to reawaken the memories that had helped the Dalek learn good in the first place. The Doctor says hopefully that if he can turn one Dalek, he can turn them all, and save the future. The Doctor tells the Dalek (whom he has nicknamed “Rusty”) that he is going to save its soul – to which the Dalek responds that it doesn’t have one. The Doctor performs a sort of “mind meld” and lets the Dalek see inside his own soul, to see the universe as he sees it. And there, the Dalek sees the beauty of the universe – “endless divine perfection” and “divinity” – but also the Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks.

“Rusty” turns on its Dalek comrades and saves the humans on the spaceship (“Aristotle”). The Doctor is unhappy – earlier he had asked Clara whether he was a good man, and she said she didn’t know, to which he replied that neither did he. But a Dalek had looked into his soul and had seen hatred, and for the Doctor, “That’s not victory.”

But Clara has insight to offer once again, at the end of the episode. She said that she didn’t know if he was a good man, but he tries, and maybe that is the point. The Doctor makes an observation about her skills as a teacher.

The Doctor seems a bit callous at times, as well as being punny and sarcastic. But while some may perceive this as a significant change of direction, I would suggest that that perception is wrong, and perhaps due to the new attack eyebrows. If you go back and imagine Matt Smith saying the same lines, I trust that you will see that it is not only possible, but fairly easy to do.

The episode is really about the possibility of redemption – not just for the Dalek, but for the Doctor, and for soldiers present and future. There is an interesting suggestion that, for all the genetic manipulation that makes Daleks evil, there is a need for something more evil still – a computerized supplement to the Dalek’s brain that takes that evil tendency and supplements and enhances it. And so there is some suggestion that even a Dalek may not be beyond redemption. And if so, that has a hopeful message for human beings, and a challenging one for those who view other humans who are their enemies as being pure evil, with no hope of redemption or possibility of change.

When we see darkness rather than beauty, when we see other people as soulless and beyond redemption, we are not fighting the Daleks, we have become them.

What did you make of the episode “Into the Dalek”?

Into the Dalek

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  • Anthony Lawson

    Very good episode and agree with you on all points. Newer viewers need to remember that there have been many incarnations of the doctor with varying personalities. It’s always refreshing to see each new person taking on the role and what they can bring to it. That along with the story arcs that the writers bring into play.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    When Matt Smith took over it felt like everything was brand-new. It doesn’t feel that way with Peter Capaldi. I think it’s because Matt Smith took over as the Doctor at the same time that Steven Moffat took over as showrunner. His storytelling style was very different from Russell Davis’: not necessarily better or worse, just different. It brought a breathe of fresh air. This time we have a new Doctor but the same showrunner. I think that we’re reaching a point with Moffat that the air is getting stale. It seems like we’re constantly going over the same themes. We need a new primary storyteller.

    That said, I still liked “Into the Dalek.”

  • Miriam

    I thought that how Clara was introduced to the crew of the Aristotle was an interesting bit of foreshadowing.

    “I’m the carer.”

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Clara is much improved this season. Actual Woman > Impossible Girl.

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I’m enjoying this new season more than I thought I would. I’m still getting to know the Doctor, but there seems to be something else about the story-telling that’s a lot more satisfying. I’m not sure what it is.

    Anyhow, I saw the episode at 4 am yesterday morning — in Australia we’re getting it simulcast with the BBC’s broadcast. That time suits me, but few of my friends, which means I get to post a few fake spoilers when I’m feeling evil. Yesterday I commented on the big surprise, which is that Clara is still a Dalek. When I was finally challenged by people who missed that fact, I said this:


    Well, the name ‘Oswin’ (Clara’s name in her Dalek days) means ‘friendly god.’ Now, look at what Rusty saw when he looked into the Doctor: divinity. The Doctor is the ultimate ‘Oswin’.

    However, the other thing Rusty sees is how the Doctor is the perfect Dalek (not the first time he’s been told that!)

    It’s going to turn out that this Dalek streak and friendly god which have run through all of the Doctor’s regenerations, aren’t the Doctor at all. It’s a good Dalek that has been integrated into the Doctor’s time stream.

    It wasn’t too obvious the first time through the episode. I picked it up on it enough to watch for it second time around, and yep!


    I don’t think they bought it. Not quite.

  • Thomas Walder

    It’s incorrect that doctor who has never done a miniaturisation plot. This was done in the fourth doctor’s era, in The Invisible Enemy. It also seemed strange that radiation was harming a Dalek, as in some of the earliest stories, Daleks lived on radiation.

    • You’re quite right! “The Invisible Enemy” had slipped my mind. And of course, I was talking about the “Fantastic Voyage” scenarion, which both these episodes involved. But if we were to broaden it to miniaturization in general, then there was an even earlier one, “Planet of Giants.”

    • Of course, Dalek anatomy is a fiction that is continually made up, but I would imagine that radiation is good in some parts of a Dalek, but bad in other parts. After all, the radiation leak was occurring inside the Dalek, so, presumably, the radiation is beneficially contained in some parts of the Dalek. Like blood in a human: keeps us alive, but internal bleeding can kill us.

  • MarkP

    Is this the first time a dalek has been named? Dangerous stuff — my 8 year old daughter — who is no more in thrall to evil than most 8 year olds, and has never shown any great affection for daleks until now — thinks “Rusty” is just the cutest thing. She wants a stuffed dalek to sleep with!

  • James Walker

    I really like that Capaldi’s Doctor is revisiting and perhaps expanding on some of the dark personal stuff they explored with Tenant. Is he a “good man”? Is he a killer? What gives him the right to choose who lives and who dies when he appears in the midst of a conflict?

    We didn’t see so much of that with Smith’s Doctor, although I thoroughly enjoyed his portrayal as well. I’m looking forward to whatever they have in store for this “Heaven” story arc. It’s shaping up to be an interesting season.

    ETA: was the breach in “Rusty”s reactor shaped like the flaw in the universe? or was that my over-active imagination?

  • MarkP

    Here is what I hope we will look back on and see as a harbinger of things to come in the Capaldi years (I hope not just one year!) of Doctor Who: after all the fun the writers have had with recent doctors being unable to pilot the Tardis competently (even the iconic Tardis sound was identified as evidence of his incompetence), this Doctor materialized around a single person a second before her spacecraft exploded, and then piloted it with one hand onto a cloaked mother ship, balancing two cups of coffee in his other hand, his back erect. This would be a very interesting change to explore!

  • I missed this episode last week, and just watched the BBC America re-run. Two things I noticed, for what it’s worth:

    The Doctor discovers that the Dalek becomes a “good Dalek” because he learns the truth. Dalek’s are kept evil by having their memories repressed. So it seems that, thematically, truth (or knowledge) has the potential to make one “good”.

    I’m not sure that this Doctor is “helping” or leaving things better than he found them. He didn’t have the forethought to see that repairing the Dalek would set it on a rampage through the ship, killing lots of crew members. Before the Doctor arrives, the rebel ship was hidden from the Daleks, when the Daleks leave they assume the rebel ship has been defeated (same basic effect). So unless, Rusty has some later value in defeating the Daleks, more bad than good was achieved by the Doctor in this episode.