As the Doctor's greatest enemy, the Daleks have proven to be rather resilient throughout the years, but they've also been relatively boring villains during the latter part of Doctor Who's run. Their hatred for, well, everything that is not Dalek, makes them master villains because it's impossible to reason with them, but it also means they're fairly one-note. They have no conscience to play to, and they cannot be persuaded by emotion. They're not sympathetic, and after years of storylines involving the Daleks, I haven't been impressed by many recent Dalek-centered episodes. So, when I saw that the Doctor was going to face off against a fleet of Daleks once again—and in only the second episode of Season 8—I lowered my expectations.
Maybe that's why I came away from "Into the Dalek" thinking it was one of the better Dalek-centered episodes in a long time. It wasn't a great episode as far as Doctor Who is concerned, but the writers managed to create a new and inventive way to bring back the Daleks by literally going inside them to find out how they work, and that puts the episode firmly in the success column for me.
As a parallel to the Doctor's ongoing struggles to know himself, the possibility of a good Dalek—one who'd turned against his own kind after witnessing the birth of a star (and experienced a radiation leak poisoning its mind)—absolutely worked. I'm just not sure the logistics of it made that much sense. I'm not a Dalekologist, but I've always assumed that the Daleks were just living beings inside giant metal tanks, for lack of a better term. The fact that they would have antibodies of any kind inside the metal portions of their "bodies" doesn't make much sense to me. I could see a Dalek shutting down sections of its robotic shell at the first sign of danger, but to paint that function as antibodies that fight infection was ridiculous. Even if it was a metaphor, it was clunky. Sure, it raised the stakes for the soldiers who accompanied the Doctor and Clara inside the Dalek while also managing to connect to Missy and her "heavenly" garden from last week, but that's about it.
It's much easier to believe that the Daleks have a computer-like memory drive that stores and records everything they see and that Clara was able to reboot it. That just makes more sense than a hunk of metal having its own biological defense system. But like I said, while the logistics were wonky, the way the Dalek storyline played into the Doctor's insecurities about whether or not he's a good man was a success. As Clara restarted the Dalek's memory of witnessing the birth of a star, the Doctor revealed the brilliance and beauty of the universe and all forms of life by showing the Dalek the Doctor's own mind. But once that link was established, the Dalek also saw the Doctor's hatred for the entire race of Daleks, and it latched on to that hatred, because that's all Daleks are. They're hateful creatures who know nothing about kindness or empathy. Their mission in life is to exterminate, exterminate, exterminate. The fact that the Dalek turned on his own kind didn't make him a good dalek, it just made him a Dalek-hating Dalek. It was still a killing machine, and even if it aided our heroes by destroying the rest of its fleet, it didn't make him "good."
And so, now that we've learned that Daleks are inherently evil and incapable of changing their ways, we're left with several questions. Is the Doctor a good man or a bad man? Can he be both? And does it matter? The Doctor asked Clara whether or not he was a good man at the start of "Into the Dalek," and she told him she didn't know. By episode's end, she reaffirmed her stance, but she also pointed out that he tries to be a good man, and that's what really matters. The Doctor's introspective journey is something I've been looking forward to seeing, because he's certainly done bad things, but he's also done far many better things. This battle over ends justifying the means, or good outweighing bad, makes him feel relateable and it makes him feel human.
Elsewhere in "Into the Dalek," Doctor Who's writers continued to develop Clara beyond her Impossible Girl title this week by introducing Danny Pink, a fellow teacher at Coal Hill School who's possibly a love interest for Clara (and future companion to the Doctor). He was a soldier, and he's going to end up traveling with the Doctor, which is why the writers had the Doctor deny Journey Blue a trip in the TARDIS for the basic fact that she's a soldier. But adding Danny to the mix, and playing up Clara's role as a teacher for the Doctor (I really enjoyed it when she slapped him and forced him to understand what they'd learned by going inside the Dalek), reaffirms my belief that Doctor Who is at least attempting to develop her character beyond her initial purpose of saving the Doctor's life in each of his previous incarnations. She feels less wooden, and I hope that trend continues next week, when we'll be meeting Robin Hood. That should be... fun? Here's hoping the guy doesn't turn out to be a Dalek.
– What do you guys think of Danny? I rather like him. And I enjoyed the episode cutting away to see what he wished/wanted to say when Clara asked him out. I think he's got an interesting backstory and can't wait to learn more about him.