Sunday, 31 August 2014

Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (Episode Review)

The creators of Into the Dalek were always going to be facing an uphill battle when it came down to delivering a good episode. Directly post-regeneration stories since the series returned have hardly have a great track record, with The Beast Below and arguably New Earth being counted among them. What's more is it was throwing the daleks into the mix extremely early on into this new regeneration, allowing no time for the crew to really get to grips with Peter Capaldi's new incarnation before having him face off against a classic nemesis. To make matters worse, this was going hand in hand with a dynamically new direction and attempting to handle heavy subjects about the Doctor's new persona at the same time.

Things looked bad for this episode, but the end result? This is almost intentionally bad, so horribly put together, that you would be forgiven for thinking there was a Springtime for Hitler going on behind the scenes.

The story here starts with the TARDIS intervening to assist a Combined Galactic Resistance subfighter about to die fighting daleks. With her co-pilot dead and a massive saucer bearing down upon her, she is barely saved at the last second by the Doctor, coffee in hand. After arguing for a few minutes, he eventually returns her to the human held stronghold Aristotle, hiding within an asteroid belt and desperately attempting to survive. 
Upon learning he is apparently a medic, the Time Lord is promptly taken before a very special patient: A dalek salvaged from space and slowly succumbing to its wounds. Adamant that it should be destroyed, the Doctor is then amazed when it tries to encourage him to save it with a few choice words - "Daleks must be destroyed!"

Now, in complete fairness, up until the opening credits and perhaps a little after, this looked promising. While a few flaws such as wooden acting and a complete lack of real establishment of the setting, the idea behind the story was solid, the location was interesting and the Doctor himself was making a good showing. Capaldi displays that he can be a great Doctor in his own right during these scenes, especially in how he handles speaking with the pilot, but then things start to fall apart shortly afterwards.

Directly after setting up this whole futuristic situation, the plot suddenly veers off back to current day Earth, and spends a good several minutes focusing purely upon that. We're then introduced to a shell-shocked former soldier as Clara's co-worker, Danny Pink, spend much of the first act building him up, only to then episode promptly discard him. We don't see the character again until the very end and he has barely any bearing on the plot. 

Things are only made worse with the abrupt attempts at non-linear storytelling which just end up as a confusing mess. First doing this out of seemingly nowhere when Danny is speaking with Clara for the first time, then again when the Doctor meets up with Clara and we see his reaction to the dalek. That ending bit of the synopsis with that line? That's not seen until we're over a quarter of the way into the episode, ruining a fantastically gripping opening plot twist. What's more is that just as soon as the Into The Dalek starts using this as a storytelling device, it's immediately abandoned and we never see it again.

From there on big, big problems begin to appear. Despite being described as rebels briefly given the name the Combined Galactic Resistance, we never learn anything about the human forces. We don't know why they're fighting the daleks, what stage this conflict is in nor even how long they have been fighting for. Not one detail beyond a few bare hints is given, and even the situation behind the battle itself is shady. 

Things are no better with the supporting cast. Journey Blue, the pilot the Doctor rescues at the start, and Colonel Morgan Blue are blank slates. Beyond a blood relationship with one another, neither has a shred of personality to them. They have both been fighting a desperate war against the daleks and have had a close relative die just before the Doctor arrives, yet the wooden acting and uninterested stares convey nothing. Neither actor conveys anything beyond dull surprise, whether it be having an unstoppable dalek invasion force hammering down their door or being turned down when requesting to join the Doctor on his travels. Even if the script had delivered solid gold, there is nothing here that would not have been torpedoed by these dull performances.

On the other hand we have the Doctor himself, who goes to the opposite end of the spectrum. Despite starting out strong, Capaldi's Doctor soon becomes downright sociopathic in his behaviour, showing a callous disregard for human lives or even the feelings of those around him. Along with making no effort to save a soldier about to be killed (admittedly under the excuse of "he was already dead") the Doctor callously cracks jokes as Journey wades through the liquefied corpse of her bother. His exact remark? commenting that he's the "top layer if you want to say a few words." Yes, that's actually in the episode, and atop of character assassination it's yet another bloody big plot hole.

Of course, this is nothing compared with the continuity issues.

Foremost among these is the fact that half the episode only works if you discard countless major facts and events surrounding the daleks. Doctor Who tends to play fast and loose with its details even on a good day. However, there's stuff here which contradicts Asylum of the Daleks and even Time of the Doctor, pretending half of their big events never happened. The story even pretends that there's no possibility of a dalek ever potentially turning good and treats the its revelation as if it's the first of its kind. 

Even discounting the multiple expanded universe stories, the likes of Dalek, Evolution of the Daleks and The Stolen Earth have looked at these multiple times before. While audiences would certainly like to forget Evolution, it's insane to see the series pretending so much has never happened. What makes this all the more galling is that even stock footage from The Stolen Earth is used at one point, showing clear awareness of that episode's existence.

Even the directing here is astoundingly weak, with Ben Wheatley apparently forgetting how to properly frame half his shots. While certain scenes work fantastically well, others look so amateurish that even a student film would not pull them, losing all sense of scale or distance. This is especially true of the scene trying to show the group entering the dalek via Fantastic Voyage technology, but that's topped by some ludicrously badly shot fight scenes. Along with gratuitous slow motion of people running and the actors not even trying to present any hint of recoil with their energy rifles, the shots are confusing at best. Often they present no establishing shots, skip to disjointed extreme close ups of each side in movement and never pause to even confirm who is losing the battle.

There's far more that could be said about this, but the point is clear- Into The Dalek is one of the worst Doctor Who episodes made since the revitalisation, just below Love and Monsters and around Belly of the Beast. It truly is bafflingly bad given the amount of talent behind the production with co-writer Phil Ford having produced great work both for the franchise and beyond and Wheatley having done a fantastic job on last week's episode. Quite how it managed to end up this bad, from the production design to the narrative flaws, is something worthy of a university level examination.

If you honestly want to see any aspect of this type of story done well, Doctor Who has no shortage of tales for you to choose from. Even without resorting to other episodes Prisoner of the Daleks, The Only Good Dalek, Jubilee and Children of the Revolution all immediately spring to mind. All do a vastly better job than this episode handling the problems of a dalek prisoner or the idea of one potentially turning good, and none have even a fraction of Into the Dalek's failings. 

Skip this one without hesitation and do not reward such poor quality television with your attention.

1 comment:

  1. I personally don't see Capaldi's Doctor being a sociopath as a character assassination. The personalities change with each incarnation. This is one is supposed to more darker if I recall. Hell, wasn't Sylvester McCoy's Doctor kind of dark as well? I can't remember.

    But yeah, bad episode.

    On another note, I liked Love and Monsters :(