Is it possible, though, to make a Dalek…good?
That’s what the Doctor will try to do in this week’s episode, Into the Dalek. It also helps him answer another question: “Am I a good man?”
Peter Capaldi establishes what kind of man the 12th Doctor will be: a blunt, honest, but flawed, man who does his best to be a hero. The script by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat has some really great lines, and a story that starts as a remake of Fantastic Voyage but ends as an attempt to reform the ultimate in evil.
The story begins with Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), a Resistance fighter, trying to escape from a Dalek ship. She is barely rescued by the Doctor, who’s carrying coffee Clara asked him to get…three weeks ago. She points a gun at him, saying her brother died. He calms her down, and gets her back to her command ship, the Aristotle. “Dry your eyes, Journey Blue,” he says, “Crying’s for civilians.” He’s found by her uncle, Morgan Blue (Michael Smiley), who tells the Doctor he needs to cure a special patient…a damaged Dalek (voiced by Barnaby Edwards).
The show then cuts to Coal Hill School, where a teacher is calling roll call to some “cadets”. He is Danny Pink (Samuel Andrews), a former soldier and new teacher. He’d rather not talk about what he did in battle, but he sheds a tear now and then. He tries to ask Clara out for a date, and eventually succeeds. However, the date will have to wait because the Doctor shows up, asking her to help him.
Before that, the Doctor asks her “Am I a good man?” Clara says she doesn’t know, and he admits he doesn’t know either. What he will do may not give him a definitive answer.
When the Doctor sees the Dalek again, he is stunned to learn that it wants to destroy its own kind. He calls it “morality as malfunction”. He, Clara, Blue, and fellow soldiers Ross (Bradley Ford) and Gretchen (Laura Dos Santos) are miniaturized to get inside the Dalek. It’s a unique opportunity to explore what the Doctor calls “the most dangerous place in the universe.” However, as the soldiers try to set up cables to climb down, it sets off Dalek anti-bodies. They target Ross, and the Doctor gives him something to swallow. Whatever it was, the anti-bodies still kill him. The Doctor says he did it to save all of them, because Ross was doomed anyway. Is that the action of a good man?
They eventually discover the Dalek, who is called Rusty (a callback to the Cyberman head called “Handles”), is suffering from an internal radiation leak. It helped Rusty discover beauty in the birth of a star. Once the leak is sealed, it goes back to its evil self, letting the other Daleks know where the Aristotle is located. Very quickly, the Daleks exterminate with extreme prejudice.
Clara is upset, wondering what was the point. “What difference would one good Dalek make?,” she asks. “All the difference in the universe,” the Doctor says. He still thinks he can revive Rusty’s memory of that star, and make it reject its evil side. Blue doubts it will work, but Gretchen is willing to sacrifice herself. As the anti-bodies are about to kill her, she is rescued…by Missy of the Netherverse (Michelle Gomez). Naturally, she offers tea. What will Missy do with a soldier and the Half-Face Man from last week? Good question.
Back at the ship, Clara gambles on the Doctor’s idea by fiddling with wires to reawaken Rusty’s suppressed memories. While this happens, the Doctor recalls how his meeting with the Daleks 50 years ago on Skaro made him understand what he should be. He also says, “The Doctor is not the Daleks,” even though their histories have been intertwined for decades.
Clara manages to reboot Rusty, while the Doctor merges himself with it. Rusty is able to discover beauty in the universe. However, it also discovers the hatred the Doctor has for the Daleks. It convinces Rusty to kill the other Daleks. Even the Doctor admits this is no victory.
The story ends with the epitome of irony. As the Doctor hoped he’d make Rusty a good Dalek, and maybe all Daleks eventually, it says to the Doctor, “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.” Blue later asks the Doctor to let her join him, but he declines because although Blue is a good person, she is still a soldier.
After the Doctor is called a good Dalek, does that mean that he is not a good man? Clara has the answer: she still doesn’t know but “I think you try to be, and I think that’s probably the point.” Once again, a new Doctor’s second story is the one that sets the tone for him and the relationship with his companion. Clara understands the 12th Doctor a little more, while she’s still a part-time companion. Still, it looks like her new role is to be his carer, and maybe his teacher, too.
Clara is whisked back to school, where she meets with Danny again. He asks if she’s prejudiced against soldiers, and she says she isn’t. It’s not as if he’ll wind up in the TARDIS…right?
Long-time fans may have suspected it would never have worked. The Doctor humanized some Daleks in 1967 in what was supposed to be the final battle, but wasn’t, and passed up a chance to stop the Daleks from existing in 1975. Trying to save someone’s soul by giving him one may work for vampires, but not Daleks.
Next week: the Doctor lands in Sherwood Forest, and clashes with robots. Oh, and Robin Hood, too.