After my verdict on Peter Capaldi’s first episode as the Doctor (he was fantastic, but the episode itself a bit inconsistent), there is everything still to play for with this series.
As I said last week, I have a lot of hope for Capaldi’s tenure in the role. He’s an excellent actor, with a great range, and who brings a distinctly different feel to the role than his immediate predecessors. That said, a good actor isn’t enough; he will need the supporting cast, the writing and the direction to make a victory of it.
Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a risk putting the Daleks in Capaldi’s second episode. They are pretty iconographic of the series, but they have been a little overused since the reboot, and have lost a bit of their fear-based charm.
So can Peter Capaldi weave his magic with the Doctor’s old foe, and make them fresh again?
The episode opens with two humans in a ship fleeing a Dalek fleet. In vain, except for the sudden arrival of a man in a blue box. He only manages to save one, a soldier called Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), and returns her to her uncle Col Morgan Blue. The rebels have a damaged Dalek in captivity, who seems to recognise the evil of the Daleks, and wants a doctor. So the Doctor collects Clara, and heads on a fantastic voyage inside the damaged Dalek, to find out what is wrong and fix it.
This is a very busy episode, with plenty going on in terms of emotional depth and action both. Unlike last week, it hangs together much better as an episode, without the odd and abrupt changes of pace.
The idea behind the story is a fascinating one, reminiscent of the episode “Dalek”, during Christopher Eccleston’s tenure. The idea of a good Dalek throws into sharp relief both the idea of an entire race being evil, and the morality of the Doctor, who holds a powerful hatred for his enemy. It’s a great attempt at a deep morality episode.
And for the most part it works.
When Capaldi does conflicted it comes across much more strongly than Matt Smith did, more in line with David Tenant’s final appearances and grapples with the rights and wrongs of his power. Does the Doctor’s hate for the Dalek’s make him a bad person? “I don’t know” seems the most appropriate answer really.
Of course, whilst we have the serious and philosophical aspects, there is still the trend of the ridiculous which makes this show Doctor Who. It is heavy in homage, when the Fantastic Voyage-esque plotline, where the Doctor and co crawl through the internal workings of the Dalek (nicknamed “Rusty”), and the echoes of Star Trek when the Doctor himself enters the Dalek’s consciousness.
Bringing back the Daleks was a risk. It works, not because of the Daleks themselves (though, actually, their not looking like Fisher Price interpretations is certainly a help), but because so much is unspoken about what is going on. Who are the rebels? What is the situation? Are the Daleks back as a pan-universal threat?
The day may be saved, but it’s less of a victory than the Doctor wanted; and there is still what looked like a gargantuan Dalek fleet out there. If the writers and showrunners want the Daleks to be scary again, then they need to linger, which means more needs to be made of this without overblowing it. One of the things I did really like was the hint at something grander, such as who these rebels are; and this needs not to be filed into the draw of unrealised plot elements.
We’re still in early days, and Capaldi’s Doctor is still taking shape. I can’t shake the feeling that the initial decision to bring the Dalek’s into episode two was flawed, though it wasn’t badly executed in the end, and we have gained deeper insight into the twelfth Doctor. That can only be a positive development.