We were mesmerized by your blurring
between the outreached hand and the unreached breath
and the cold intake of our infernal gasps
there is so little left outside the pain of your guts
gurneying me and them to our tabliture
death before we even hit the brain cells
with our codeine induction into hieroglyph records
vinyl synchs of that tap tap tap when the black warps
and your eye bulges out into
the remaining space we had
to become a part of you without showing
we already knew our way around.
Dalek episodes are hard, because Daleks are commonplace. A Dalek has to appear in every series of Doctor Who for contractual reasons, so the modern era of Doctor Who has been making the best of it and trying its best to be very creative with Daleks. Usually this has meant changing the nature of the Daleks in some way so that the Daleks, while still clearly being Daleks, are refreshed in some way. Whether making them mad scientists searching for a genetic future in the “Daleks in Manhattan” two-parter, media moguls in “Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways”, the undead in “Asylum of the Daleks”, or plotting appeasers in “Victory of the Daleks”, the formula has generally been to give the Daleks a twist to make them interesting. There are rare exceptions of course, “Dalek” was pretty straightforward for the most part, and many of the “event” episodes like “Journey's End” or “Time of the Doctor” have used the Daleks just as Daleks because the huge emotional events going on around the Daleks made any sort of twist distracting. While the conceit of into the Dalek could be called a twist, the story is strangely straightforward, and has a lot more in common with “Dalek” than it does with any other Dalek story of the modern era. That is to say that while the story seems to lead with the twist of Rusty being a “good moral Dalek” the episode's big turn is that no, he isn't. At least temporarily.
The episode goes through a lot of ideas very quickly: Soldiers, their roles, and the Doctor and Clara's relationship to them. What it takes to be a good man. What it takes to be a good Dalek.
Whats interesting here is that being a good Dalek is redefined. Its not just “What does it take to be a Dalek that other Daleks can really get along with” but “what could make a Dalek good?” strangely, the episode poses three answers to the question, and doesn't side with any of them.
1. There is no such thing as a good Dalek.
2. A good Dalek would be able to see the beauty in life and creation.
3. A good Dalek is defined by where it directs its built in tendency to destroy, rather than by the fact that this is built into it.
Points one and two are fairly straightforward, and Doctor Who has covered them before in various ways, but three is an interesting and new one. Rusty looks into the Doctor's mind and sees perfect hatred, and decides that the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks is the new ideal he need to live by. Rusty's decision to hunt down the Daleks is maybe for the wrong reasons, but Rusty also saw why the Doctor hated the Daleks, its not like the Doctor was without reason to dislike them: they're genocidal maniacs. If Rusty got rid of them, wouldn't that be a good thing? Or would a ruthless quest to destroy them be just as wrong? Its the sort of question about the Dalek's nature we haven't gotten since the Tom Baker classic “Genesis of the Daleks” and its a welcome one.
Aside from the Daleks, we also see Missy return briefly ushering someone into heaven, and have yet another segment on the importance of breathing (that one must stay breathing regularly to not die when being shrunk) which makes two for two on the breathing motif. Heaven being a recurring theme here makes me wonder if the breath has to do with the breath of life itself, with breathing being the thing that marks one as living (though that does leave Mr. Half-Face-Top-Hat-Robot from Deep Breath as being not alive, technically).
I really loved Danny Pink, and I can't wait to see more of his character. Positive portrayals of people dealing with mental trauma or PTSD is always okay in my book. Cheers to him. Danny's presence also underlines something about the episode: the Doctor is not always right. In fact, the Doctor gets this episode tremendously wrong and without Clara would have gotten everyone killed. In the same way, the Doctor gets wrong that someone being a soldier makes them an inherently disreputable person, and the episode sides with Clara. This was a bold move, and I'm curious how the “Doctor is wrong” and “the Doctor doesn't like soldiers” plot-lines will play out this year
Finally, from the 5 year old in me, this episode had some of the most intense and pretty Daleks-blowing-up that have ever been put on film, and that's worth something in itself!