Will be relaunching the review section with reports from LONCON 3
Review of 2nd episode of the 8th Series of Doctor Who : Into The Dalek (SPOILERS)
Having almost given up on the revived Doctor Who series with its poor design, absurd plots, lack of internal logic, generally bad acting and unsympathetic characters, I was hoping for a lot from the 8th Series. True, there had been some improvements with the arrival of Matt Smith, as well as a handful of good stories, even one or two great ones, but this was always an exception to the rule. So the return of the series was awaited with anticipation as news of it was released.
The first episode was no disappointment and allowed Peter Capaldi to begin to establish himself as perhaps one of the best Doctor Whos in many years. The show’s production values seem greatly improved, and we have a proper Tardis console at last. Most importantly, the story while not perfect was very entertaining, and well thought out for once, with only a couple of moments straining credibility. Many of the show’s stock characters were welcomely improved, with the exception of the ludicrous Strax, even Clara was less annoying than usual and seemed to be developing some kind of a deeper personality. But the show was Capaldi’s, who deployed his impressive acting ability to portray a much darker and more ambiguous Doctor. The only real failure was the dire new theme music and loss of the time vortex credits.
However the highlight of the new series, so far, was not its opening episode, but rather the second one, which I would argue puts the series on a whole new level. This view is not universal and critiques of the episode have varied widely, though most have bee very positive and think this view is justifiable. But to elucidate more will need a closer examination of the show.
The episode opened with some pretty good Star Wars type effects as a Star Fighter is chased by what looks like the entire Dalek fleet! The humans are refered to as ‘rebels’, suggesting the Daleks have already invaded Earth, or at least most of Earth Alliance territory. The first puzzle here was when exactly was this? But I think several things in the episode give the answer, the Daleks are clearly Time War, or rather Post Time War, Daleks, Davros’ reconstructed bronze ‘flying Daleks’ (the telly tubby Daleks restricted to leadership positions on New Skaro thankfully), while the uniforms of the humans are almost identical to those of Nightmare in Silver, set in the 62nd century, several years after the Time War according to most chronologies. Though we seem to be in the midst of a Dalek War rather than renewed conflict with the Cybermen, so it is probably just prior to this story. The high technology level (routine miniaturization) supports that dating, as does the lack of the Church of the Mainframe, last seen wiped out by a Dalek incursion on their flagship near Trenzalore at the end of the Time War. We are probably looking at somewhere around the late 50s in centuries (the Time War being generally thought to have ended around 5400 AD). Which is the first thing that impressed me about this episode. Any self respecting Whovian, aware of the non Canon audio material, would instantly realise this must be a version of the 6th Dalek War which began in the 55th century (according to the chronology rigorously reconstructed in Ahistory), in which our Galaxy is almost completely taken over by the Daleks (Empire of the Daleks, Series I). The writers and production crew are obviously very lucky or well clued up in the mythos (and I think the series has reached justified Tolkien status by now). The plot is not identical by any means, just the timing of the war and its general characteristics, but the timeline has been changed twice since these audio stories were written, so historical consistency is not expected (even if the TV production crew respected them, instead of just using them as inspiration, as they often have in the past). One thing that is interesting though is that the conclusion of the Empire of the Daleks introduced ‘Rebel Daleks’, who joined forces with humans against the Dalek Empire (albeit in this version from another universe), which is very pertinent to Into the Dalek as we discover. This metaanalysis may change as the series storyline develops, particularly with Moffat in charge, but it certainly made this story fit into the Whoniverse more properly for me.
But then came problematic issue one, the Tardis materialises around a human solder in the scout craft just as it is destroyed by the Daleks. What??? The Tardis didn’t even get the right planet or time period most of the time in the good old days, how did he manage that? Of course its now much more accurate and tends to go where its directed, with boring accuracy. But that degree of fine tuning, just as the ship has exploded and the pilot cast into the void of space an instant before death? I remembered in the past when similar precise jaunts were performed, even in the mid 70s Pertwee era, perhaps the shorter the journey the less room for error even then, but even so its seems risky to lower the screens that would normally exclude the matter of the area jaunted into, yes its a more or less a void this time, but could also contain anything on a microscopic level. But I accepted with some reservation the Doctor knows how to fly a Tardis now, and had presumably been observing events here for some while before performing the manouvre. Perhaps even observing her death minutes earlier and changing her timeline using scanned coordinates and background data. This is one of the things with the new series, there are unshown events that you just have to imagine, like the Dinosaur brought to Victorian London in the first episode (confirming anything touching the Tardis when it dematerialises goes with it, even if raising its own problematic issue there!). This is consequence of packed 45 minute stories, rather than the traditional four or more 20 minute episodes. Something I still find an issue, and would hope for more double episode stories, even with this longer episode length.
The scene quickly shifts to the Battleship the Star Fighter was heading for, where we meet the very authoritarian ‘rebels’, and recognize with the Doctor the subplot drawn from Fantastic Voyage. There were at least three movie ripoffs in this story, but thats fine if done well, and was here. Its also a traditional Dr Who trait, what were the Ice Warriors if not the Thing From Another World, or the Daemons if not Quatermass and the Pit, not too mention the whole Quatermass vibe of the early 70s.
The next step is the fantasic voyage into a very atypical Dalek, one that wants to destroy the Daleks. An initial problem with this raised by some was the presence of robotic antibodies inside the Dalek shell. Why did it need those some have asked? But I had no problem with that, a cybernetic species waging great battles throughout at least three galaxies for over four thousand years is going to meet a variety of enemies, including that staple of Sci Fi the invading parasiting alien, it makes sense that Daleks would at some stage design defences against these inside their shells.
However a deeper problem raised by some with more justification is the ‘moral position’ of the Dalek and its relation to its damaged state. In simplest terms why would a damaged Dalek become ‘moral’, implying this is some defect. But that wasn’t the case at all, Daleks do not turn moral. What had happened to ‘Rusty’ related to an early experience in which he logically concluded that the Daleks not only could not win, they were an antithesis to the very creative force that constitutes a living universe, and so in that sense were ‘evil’, using Time Lord / Human moral concepts. The logical responce to this for a Dalek would be to change sides. There is also the possibility of some slight ethical awareness given that Daleks are mutants and probably still mutating, genetically and psychologically, and some of their ancestors may have even had human genetic material (the New Paradigm Daleks used pure Dalek DNA to create themselves, but also seem to have recruited surviving Daleks from a variety of sources in creting their new empire). So the more Daleks there are over a long epochs the greater the chance of genetic and psychological change producing novel traits of all kinds. This would of course have to be guarded against and the story makes it clear that memory and emotion filters have been added to the electronic parts of the Daleks brain to prevent such change. It is not stated when this happened but it could well be a recent modification to the Time War Daleks. It is rather similar to Cyberman technology and perhaps was adapted from them following earlier conflicts with them. Some have had problems with this argueing that Daleks are just mutants in ‘travel machines’ not cyborgs. But it was stated as early as their creation that their organic brains were symbiotic with the ‘battle computers’ in their shell, so were always partly cybernetic, its where their superior logical ability comes from, and have been constantly upgraded ever since. The filters were the main thing damaged in this Dalek, who had earlier experiences that had left a cosmic impression on him (similar in some ways to Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner, another great conscious ripoff by the writers, even down to the choice of Blade Runner like background music).
A more subtle objection to this is that if the damage had prevented the filters blocking the Dalek’s ‘enlightenment’, and the Doctor knew that, why did he think repairing them was a good idea? Was he still dozy from his regeneration, over optimistic about the Dalek’s capacity to change, preoccupied with his own moral dilemma, or even already sent Clara on her mission to deactivate the filters once the Dalek’s life was saved? All or any combination of these is possible. But he does succeed in restoring this enlightenment to a now healthy Dalek. It’s just he now underestimates the Dalek’s basic ‘hatred’ and destructive drive, which is cleverly remanifest with the Dalek’s perception of the Doctor’s dark side. His insightful perception of the Doctor as a ‘Good Dalek’ gives him new context and he trundles to probably change Dalek history forever.
An aside here leads to a minor quibble some of us initially had in which ‘Rusty’ single handedly defeats a unit of seven Daleks. Was he the Clint Eastwood of Skaro? Perhaps or perhaps the surprise plus the terrible shooting displayed by these Daleks helped him considerably. There is also the possibility that this was a major historical moment, in which case it was a ‘fixed point in time’ which cannot be altered or in this case prevented, due to the Limitation Principle. But again this took some imagination and background knowledge that not every viewer has. Though at least its logically coherent.
The primary thrust of the story was its ethical reflexive nature however, ‘Rusty’ wasn’t the only moral agent being delved into or it seems even the only ‘Dalek’.
It was a very introspective episode. This I found very interesting, not only for its exploration of Dalek psychology, but primarily for the Doctor’s introspection. For too long in recent Doctor Who a moralistic frame has been developed, one not too different to the Christian dualism of Good vs Evil, even including ideas not to different to ‘original sin’, in the ‘creation’ of our Universe involving ‘the Beast’ in later stories and spin offs. This was an alarming trend that could be arguably seen as dangerous ideological element of the series (given the damage that divisive moralistic religion has done to the world). It was not always the case either, particularly in the Hartnell years when the Doctor was quite capable of killing ‘lesser species’ and teaching the arts of war to the pacifist Thals. Even in his more idealistic mode in the 70s he was not adverse to morally dubious acts at times and there was a degree of moral ambiguity. Perhaps this is what has led the 12th Doctor to his current introspection. In this respect the story disrupts the simplistic moral turn with some highly ethically ambiguous revelations about the Doctor’s dark side, in both recent and past behavior, as well as the degree of possibility of ‘Good Daleks’. Even though the Doctor is still on the ethical higher ground, and things don’t degenerate into pure ethical relativism, the boundary between him and the Daleks has been disrupted and his simplistic moral perspective has been revealed as an outer layer over a darker interior. Just as a Dalek can have an inner morally aesthetic experience distorted through layers of mutated neurology and conscious malignancy. We can perhaps also see the moral element of the narrative history of the Whoniverse as being seen through the eyes of the Time Lords, some of whom seem to have a very moralistic ideology within their culture which simplifies and distorts an ambiguous ethical reality to some extent. The Time Lords themselves hardly being angels and we have seen ‘benign’ Daleks before in the Evil of the Daleks. The Doctor’s ethical introspections could go anywhere though, perhaps he need to find his old ‘Tibetan’ Time Lord mentor K’anpo Rimpoche to sort him out.
An objection to that could be the question, is a children’s program the right place for a moral and existential exploration, or don’t its adult fans simply want to return to the simple world of their childhood. But I would say yes to the first and no to the second. In today’s world it is essential to highlight ethical reflection whereever possible at any age. I think many of us who have grown up with the series are also aware of that fact and realise it is far deeper than just a children’s show. Today the series appeals to all generations on many levels and long may it do so.
You mentioned Fantastic Voyage, but forgot Carnival of Monsters, and The Invisible Enemy!
Good point, though all that was alien technology not human, I’ve only seen humans miniturize doods in The Ark and that was in the far future, so this is pretty advanced tech. Though they also had time travel by the 50th century…
And does plagiarising self count as plagiarism
Review of 8th episode of the 8th Series of Doctor Who : Mummy on the Orient Express (SPOILERS)
Another mixed episode, enjoyable in the main, but a little slow, could have been much better if they forgot the melodrama and used the Mummy more with a bit of added suspense. Yes, I know it was just a 66 second killing machine, but better use of the sarcophagus and other ploys could have heightened tension a lot. And perhaps not shown it so soon, let us see through the eyes of the other passangers at least once, to draw out the mystery. But the Orient Express setting was very good and obviously drew much from the Horror Express movie. And Clara looked attractive for once as a flapper, the haircut suited her far more, though she was extra annoying this week with her whinny negative attitude.
The Mummy was very well done too, very spooky. But what exactly was it? Yes I know it was all revealed at the end, in a way, but it left so many gaps, again we were invited to use our own imaginations as what was really going on on, mine picked the simplest Whovian explanation, this was Osirian technology, how many other aliens use pseudo-Egyptian technology!? GUS seemed to know that too, his statis device in the baggage compartment was an Egyptian sarcophagus (also second hand Osirian tech?). We know the Osirians can raise the dead and use them as slaves, just as they did in Pyramids of Mars, and they even killed the same way, with a clasping of the head. Open and shut case! This guy was just a bit old, 5000 years to be precise, given the age of his legend, and was being barely held together by his tech and once fashionable bandages.
A train in space though? Actually, I had less problem with that than old series sailing ships or new series spitfires, this was clearly at least 7014 AD and probably later, the Earth legend was over 5000 years old and doesn’t exist yet! This was well advanced enough to mock up a segmented space craft with some custom design and state of the art holography. And it was on ‘hyperspace rails’, well okay lets pass over that bit. It also meant the Osirians were active on Earth 5000 years earlier and long forgotten. In fact for readers of the Dr Who comic A Fairy Tale Life, with its theme park technology in the middle of the 78th century Earth Empire, it made a lot of sense, Earth is uninhabited then and the subject of much nostalgia. This train was clearly part of that commercial nostalgia, used to trick people into an added isolated lab to analyse the Foretold and it parchment/ beacon / flag. It was a very human operation if a ruthless one, but then the Third Great and Bountiful Empire was pretty ruthless and tyrannical. GUS was a very British computer as were the all too human passengers and crew, typified by the well cast, Frank Skinner, not the world’s best actor, but good in the role and at least he didn’t mention football. And we didn’t have the pompous Brave New World types of the distant future, further anchoring this in an era only a couple of millennia after the Time War and the subsequent Dalek Empire and New Cybermen. This speculation may be proved wrong of course by later scripts but at least is makes sense.
Which is more than can be said for some of the later developments. The Mummy idea was a cool one, but the details as they emerged were less well thought out. The 66 second kill window was, we were told, due to the phasing of matter, the spook was not in phase with the others so not interacting or visible, whatever that means. I took it to be equivalent to the sideways in time aspects of Many Worlds model Quantum Mechanics, the Mummy was shifting into a little alternative universe of his own, and was gradually pulling his victims into phase with him so as to kill them with little interference. In such a world he could perform miracles too and would be inescapable. The perfect assassin from those clever Osirians. Whose time and space teleportation technology could have easily pulled this off. A nice trick too, no wonder it baffled the best brains. But why the victims were still visible when the Mummy killed them doesn’t make much sense if they were then in the same phase space as the Mummy! But I’ll be generous and assume this was one of those weird superpositional things that is conveniently beyond mere human minds. But what was really silly was that this supertech, unstoppable assassin could be destroyed simply by telling it the war was over! As the Master would say, that’s the oldest trick in the book Doctor… But life is full of ironies!
That said I found it very enjoyable and once again Capaldi stole the show, though I think he needs to man up and give Clara a slap! I enjoyed his retro Hartnell get up and the Baker jelly babies, he really is synthesising those classic tropes. Not the best story of an excellent season but a very good one.
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