The Doctor and Clara are shrunk to a tiny size (even smaller than the benighted 3.75″ action figure range) and enter the most dangerous place in the universe, a Dalek, to see why it has turned good and become Death to the Daleks most vocal fan.
The eyes are the window to the soul, as Cicero kind of said and many other people have expressed down the centuries. The Dalek’s eye is more of a doorway for the Doctor and his allies to enter the Dalek in the Twelfth Doctor’s sophomore adventure. The Dalek’s anti-bodies look just like eyes, as they judge the interlopers non-Dalek and turn them into food. Clara’s blouse is covered in eyes; she is not part of the Doctor’s and the soldiers’ life-long war against the Daleks and sees what they cannot. She also a lot of insight into the Doctor, and mildly reprimands him for having an intractable view. Finally the Doctor stands in front of the huge Dalek eye and lay his own soul bare.
There is more theist stuff here than usual. Religious soldiers have been regular feature of Steven Moffat’s tenure. The soul is spoken about as fact here, but mainly described as the part of you that grows and learns from experience and memories. The dictionary holds both the ‘immortal’ religious sense of the word, but also “A person’s moral or emotional nature or sense of identity.” Either fits here. I’m pleased that it isn’t the Doctor saying “God help us”. I really dislike in Asylum of the Daleks and Day of the Doctor when the Eleventh Doctor and the War Doctor say “For God’s Sake.” Favouring one of hundreds of religions on one of millions of planet undermines his ‘citizen of the universe’ mystique.
The mind’s eye is another powerful element at play here. Rusty (and by extension all Daleks) repress those memories of beauty which could stop affect their hate-filled rampage through the cosmos. This episode cannily kept reminding the mind’s eye of Star Wars, bringing forth warm feelings of association like a neuro-linguistic programming trigger. To wit, Lieutenant Blue’s ship being run down by the Dalek saucer, the protein chamber being like the Death Star garbage compacter, the spaceship hidden in the asteroid field and the anxious troops waiting to be boarded.
There may well be beauty in a new star being born, but, like the eponymous Dalek, I found the destruction depicted here stunning. The battle scenes are beautifully realised, never have the Daleks looked so great, even down to a more rapid rate of fire from their guns. An easy fix to make them a more credible threat, but something that has gone on in every story as they have taken ages between firing a shot.
I really like what seems to be the Twelfth Doctor’s musical theme; a much slower melody than I am the Doctor, but epic and grand. A bit reminiscent of the Batman’s theme from the Dark Knight movies. It plays when the Doctor makes the connection and links himself to Rusty’s mind.
I’ve seen a few comments on Twitter around not ‘getting’ Peter Capaldi as the Doctor yet. I personally find him extraordinarily good. The key line here is what at first sounds like a glib, throw-away response to Clara’s cheeky suggestion that she’s the Doctor’s carer:
“Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”
The Doctor seems to be once again be aloof and detached from the death around him. It adds an alien quality to the character that reminds us of his great age and the amount of death he’s witnessed. It’s a character trait that very much harkens back to the twentieth century run of Doctor Who, but has been largely absent since 2005. Think of his reactions to death in stories like The Pyramids of Mars or The Horror of Fang Rock. But it seems that this is to be directly addressed in this series, as the collateral victims of his exploits are being (time-?) scooped up by the mysterious Missy.
My wife watches new Doctor Who with me on broadcast, and a minor example of the many ways she makes my life utterly complete is being a barometer of casual viewer reaction. This was not one that engaged her, and she put it down to the new incarnation’s coldness and lack of empathy. Her favourite incarnation is Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. It already feels impossible to imagine his successor playing match-maker as we saw in The Lodger or giving World War Two children a Christmas treat like The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.
Just as the Doctor isn’t quite how he sees himself when the Dalek looks into his mind, I wonder about my own cold, fanboy heart that I relish the Doctor being kind of a bad-ass and eschewing the overwrought sloppiness that has become the default over the last few years (it’s not that I haven’t still enjoyed them, but I’ve seen the Doctor’s angst as a bit of a sop to get the Twilight generation watching. It’s a good idea to get Danny Pink on board to handle this kind of stuff; like how Ian and Stephen used to handle the physical stuff for the First Doctor). I like my hero unfettered by it all as he is here, but I have to ask, “Am I a good fan?”
Originally published on my Doctor Who blog: Trap One