While getting coffee for Clara, The Doctor uses the TARDIS to rescue Journey Blue, a soldier fighting the Daleks, from her exploding spaceship. Returning her to command ship Aristotle, he avoids being executed as a Dalek spy by agreeing to treat a Dalek that has malfunctioned and ‘turned good’. The Doctor retrieves Clara from Coal Hill School, where she has just set a date with maths teacher and former soldier Danny Pink, and they set off in the TARDIS for the Aristotle. On the way, The Doctor asks Clara if he is ‘a good man’ but she does not know.
The Doctor, Clara, Journey and soldiers Ross and Gretchen are miniaturised to go inside the Dalek whom The Doctor has nicknamed ‘Rusty’. They are attacked by Dalek antibodies and Ross is killed. The Doctor seals the radiation leak causing the Dalek’s damage, which provokes Rusty to lead an attack on the Aristotle. Gretchen sacrifices herself so The Doctor and Clara can recover the memories that made Rusty ‘good’. Linked in to The Doctor’s mind, Rusty destroys all his fellow Daleks. The Doctor refuses Journey as a companion because she is a soldier. Clara tells Danny she is not so prejudiced.
The script for ‘Into the Dalek’ is much tighter and more coherent than ‘Deep Breath’ though there is far too much time wasted on talking about The Twelfth Doctor’s moral ambiguity. The sparse storyline and reduced number of characters helps enormously, and even the extraneous cut-away to Missy in the ‘Promised Land’ season arc is kept to an absolute minimum. The miniaturisation idea, liberally borrowed from the movie Fantastic Voyage and previously used in the Tom Baker serial ‘The Invisible Enemy’, works well although the unique jeopardy of the situation is occasionally forgotten about and it becomes just another labyrinth.
As with other Dalek episodes in the Moffat era, the use of The Doctor’s most iconic adversaries is fairly incidental. There’s no longer any continuity between the Dalek stories and often it feels like they are metal MacGuffins moving the plot along on castors. Though The Doctor talks about his first run-in with The Daleks, there’s a very fractured sense of the Dalek mythology. They seem more like abstract philosophical concepts of good and evil than fully-realised antagonists. The captured and conflicted Dalek storyline is perhaps a little too close to 2005’s Dalek and was arguably done far better then.
‘Deep Breath’ was a bridge between the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi eras but ‘Into the Dalek’ gives us a much better idea of how the series will progress. We see that The Doctor will be dropping by Coal Hill School to whisk Clara away to the universe rather than her being a permanent resident of the TARDIS. With the introduction of Danny Pink, we get a link with contemporary earth and possibly a new companion. It looks like we’re only going to get glimpses of Missy and ‘The Promised Land’ in each episode, until at least the season finale.
This is also the first time we’ve seen The Twelfth Doctor outside of his post-regeneration haze, and he shapes up to be a deeply pessimistic and cynical incarnation of the character. The Doctor seems terribly fatalistic about the inevitability of Ross’s death and the impossibility of a ‘good’ Dalek, also notably less certain of his own moral authority. Consequently, Clara has to become more confrontational with The Doctor, which hits the viewer hard when she roughly slaps him across the face in a moment of callous disinterest. She also starts to function as the antidote to The Doctor’s increasingly judgmental attitudes.
The second story featuring a new Doctor is usually where we see what we’re going to get from the character but Peter Capaldi came in so strongly with his abrasive and strange portrayal that there’s not much work left to do, and The Doctor’s sinister side seems to have peaked in this episode. Rather ‘Into the Dalek’ is a chance to get back to more rugged storytelling and pure action after a ponderous and arty season opener. I’m not angling for a return of the Russell T Davies-era where Daleks were overused and all-consuming, but I do think that the stories they feature in could be more quintessential to the Daleks and their history in the series, rather than having them as a piece of metal to hang a premise on. Overall, ‘Into the Dalek’ is very satisfying sci-fi but doesn’t do much for The Doctor or The Daleks.