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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Doctor Who S34E2: Into the Dalek.

Doctor Who
Series 34, Episode 2
Into the Dalek.

If there's one problem with writing these reviews so long after the episode airs – a problem that won't be the case from next week onwards, when they'll be going up on Mondays – it's that I get the unfortunate chance to see what arguments fans are having and to, usually, more or less, be amazed at the mental acrobatics people do to justify poor writing choices. In this case, the death-defying feats consist mostly of either denying the Brigadier existed, or downplaying him to someone the Doctor secretly hated.

To be honest, 'mental acrobatics' seems to be the theme of this week's episode. Not because of the Fantastic Voyage-esque plot of shrinking small to enter a Dalek: That's ridiculous, but it's a very wholesome, Doctor Who kind of ridiculous that knows just how silly it is, and I approve of that. I'll admit it wasn't the most interesting plot to me, especially as I think by about ten minutes in everybody watching knew exactly how it was going to end, but it was fun.

Oh, Daleks.

What I'm really thinking about is the amount of hoops Messrs Ford and Moffat fling themselves through to push a somewhat bizarre agenda. “Look,” they seem to rasp as they shove earnestly emotional soldiers from multiple time periods at us, each one either with a tear in their eye or apparently perpetually on the edge of weeping, “soldiers are people too.”

It's a message delivered with all of the grace and subtlety of an anvil, as our writers practically frame soldiers as a marginalised, oppressed group, with new character Danny Pink mournfully remarking that he thought Clara might have a rule against soldiers (bonus points to Jenna Coleman for playing Clara as being as confused about that line as I was), while elsewhere the Doctor spins off on rants at poor, beleaguered future soldiers struggling to hold back their fountains of tears.

It's also an entirely unnecessary agenda, because soldiers aren't a marginalised, oppressed group. Ford and Moffat frame the entire message of the story in the same way that a children's television program might frame a story about racism, despite the fact that a difficult but high-prestige career choice with a culture of awed praise built up around it is not really comparable to being demonised for your skin colour in a country in which multiple political parties dedicated to hating you exist. 

I mean, I'm not saying I'm surprised Moffat doesn't understand the
difference, but ...

Another gaping issue with it, of course, and one I touched upon earlier, is that this episode it's apparently the Doctor's turn to be completely out of character. Yes, the Doctor has a marked distaste for guns – something Moffat often seems to forget. Yes, the Doctor is often uncomfortable with working with military organisations. No, the Doctor does not hate all people in the military, nor does he view them as unfeeling monsters. The Brigadier was a close friend of his. He quite happily worked with Jack and Martha after they joined military or paramilitary organisations. The Brigadier was a close friend of his. Almost once every series, he perfectly cheerfully and happily works with military groups. The Brigadier was a close friend of his.

If you're wondering why I keep cycling back to that last point, it's because a) It's an important one, because no matter how reluctantly the Doctor was working with UNIT, his reluctance stemmed mostly from a desire to travel the universe again, and any issues he had with them were institutional and not individual, and b) It is enormously disrespectful to the late Nicholas Courtney to have both fans and the writers of the show apparently simply pretend his character didn't exist.

This episode is a vast improvement over Deep Breath, though: For one, Clara is actually in-character here, the pod person that had taken over her body having been presumably expelled in the period between episodes. Always a plus, having the companion actually act like themselves. Secondly, there are some great supporting characters here, like Journey Blue (who I would have loved to see join as a companion, but the chances of Moffat giving a woman of colour a companion role were always more remote than the furthest reaches of Antarctica), and the episode actually passes the Bechdel Test, a rarity for Moffat-era Doctor Who. Thirdly, it has a plot. A coherent plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

Also, confusedrageClara.

Admittedly, large swaths of that plot were taken from the episode Dalek, with more than one scene seeming to have been lifted wholesale from that episode. I'm not the only one who has noticed that by any stretch of the imagination, although opinion remains divided over whether its a loving homage or a staggering lack of original thought, with myself firmly in the latter camp, as homage implies a degree of respect for Russell T. Davies that I don't believe Moffat actually has. 


I did like Danny Pink, who will apparently be a recurring character, too. I dread any further messages Moffat might attempt to drive down our throat using him as a cudgel, but his actor is very good and his character seems likeable. 

Did he have that shirt custom made.

So, ultimately, a watch-able but rather strange episode, pushing a message that there was really little need for, and attempting to tread moral ground (can a Dalek be good?) that was treaded several series ago in a much better episode. I've been rather negative these past two weeks, and I would apologise for that, but unfortunately I'm not given a tremendous amount of choice when what's being offered right now is so poor.

Next week, we're headed back into the past again, where the Doctor will be teaming up with Robin Hood, as written by Mark Gatiss. I like Gatiss as a writer, I really do, and the Doctor and Robin Hood working together seems like a gloriously fun idea, so I look forward to seeing how that one turns out.

Oh, hey, the Great British Bake-Off is on tonight. Neat. 

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