I read a review of Star Trek: Into Darkness a year or so ago in which Todd McCarthy said of J.J, Abrams’ direction that “[o]ne feels the dedication of a young musician at a recital determined not to make any mistakes.” After watching tonight’s satisfyingly solid episode of Doctor Who, I think I understand what Mr. McCarthy felt.
As with last week’s premiere, “Into the Dalek” has the feel of an older episode of Who; it tells a conservative, stand-alone story in which the Doctor and Clara come across a Dalek that has allegedly “gone good.” Surrounding them is a cast of suspicious-yet-compliant characters whose involvement with the Dalek is mostly circumstantial, but they learn a great deal about the universe, themselves, and of course the Doctor as they search for the reason that a member of a hate-filled race of organo-synthetics would suddenly develop a moral conscience.
The strengths of the episode are largely what they were last week: it’s a self-contained episode that requires no previous viewing and resolves its conflict thoroughly; it carries a solid core of plot and theme that are each well-developed; the conclusion of the episode is dramatic, satisfying, and completely within the rules the episode sets for itself. This last marks the most noticeable, and the most welcome, change from the past two seasons. Co-writers Steven Moffat (who doubles as showrunner) and Phil Ford keep the science real (immunobiology this week, class) and the time travel out of it–almost completely, this episode, save for a few lighter moments.
They keep it simple, they keep it moving, and while it doesn’t do anything spectacularly, it does everything competently, which is an assurance we haven’t had in a while. I laughed, I understood what was happening, and I had a good Saturday night with my wife, watching the Doctor solve other people’s problems.
A few other notes from the episode: we get another tease of the mysterious Missy, who is given about as much time as a Harold Saxon poster. We get to meet Daniel Pink, a soldier whose past is a subject of interest for his students as it is for Clara, and whose future remains to be seen (we’re of course all but certain we’ll get to see it). Clara, by the way, makes another strong appearance as the Doctor’s “carer,” and whose character seems to have undergone a considerable rewrite this season–her interactions with this week’s supporting cast and with the Doctor all build consistently from last week’s, and her development as a sort of retrograde stranger to the Doctor after his regeneration continues to pay dividends as an asset to the story.
I could go into specifics about Capaldi’s second episode as the Doctor. I won’t. I don’t have to–he just rocks. He’s funny, severe, intense, and utterly, utterly familiar.
8/10 – “Into the Dalek” showcases tight plotting, a simple, solid story, and a fun adventure that offers yet another perspective into the Doctor’s unending war against the Daleks. It won’t make new fans of the show, nor will it enter the ranks as an all-time great episode, but it shows more of the return-to-form that this season’s episodes have now enjoyed in both its accessibility and its intelligent take on science fiction.