The new Doctor whisks Clara from Coal Hill School into a deadly war between humanity and the Daleks. But all is not as it seems with one unit of the Skarosian Empire, as as The Doctor delves into the mysteries within, he discovers new answers about his latest Regeneration... spoilers, of course, beyond the cut!
For all the explosions and whizzbangs involved, Phil Ford's script is much more cerebral than it is action-thriller. In all honestly, as an episode it's kind of a mixed bag - Fords opening 30 minutes feel like they go by with very little actually going on, only for it all to suddenly go 90 miles a minute in the last 15 (the idea of Clara essentially switching some lights on in the Dalek's brain to save the day is... well, rubbish at best, to be honest). It falls on the strength of Capaldi and Coleman as a pairing to save it from being a plodding mess at points, and it's a shame really - the ideas involved are incredibly interesting, but it feels like the episode itself just isn't structured well enough to entirely work around them. For all those failures though, it asks a lot of interesting questions. Like Deep Breath before it, Into The Dalek is a story not so much about the threat of the week, but about perception - not just the Daleks are given a fresh look under the microscope of the audience thanks to Rusty, the 'Dalek turned good' that sits at the heart of the story, but The Doctor as well. Rusty and The Doctor are interesting mirrors to each other, characters both in search of a greater understanding of themselves in the wake of huge changes. The 'Am I a good man?' line parroted across much of series 8's pre-launch marketing sits at the very heart of this episode for our hero, and we get some interesting introspection that really starts deliver on just what The Twelfth Doctor is like... and it's honestly not a particularly pleasant discovery.
The Doctor's decision to essentially murder Ross lies at the core of The Doctor's morality in the episode, something that horrifies him and Clara as much as it makes them both realise who he really is. Into The Dalek isn't really about Daleks: it's about The Doctor. Is he good? He's killed, many many times before, bathed in the untold blood of the Time War - but he's done it to save so many more. It takes this new Doctor a slap from Clara to realise it, but the trigger mid way through the episode, having 'restored' Rusty to a complete, evil Dalek, but he comes to realise - with devastation etched across his face - that he isn't good. He just tries to be. As Clara says, it's that that really matters, but it's a formative moment for our new incarnation. This is a Doctor who is going to do everything that it takes to get the job done, even if it means losing people along the way.
Peter Capaldi once again excels alongside Jenna Coleman (and although we don't really get to know much about her, Zawe Ashton's Journey Blue deserves good mention for her supporting role) - they shine together as a pairing, and the Clara we see here feels much more on The Doctor's level than she did with the Eleventh incarnation. She's given a sense of independence not just in the framing of the series itself, her life as a Teacher very much interested in new man Danny Pink (although it looks like his past is set to clash with The Doctor in a very big way, given this incarnations steady affront to soldiers - perhaps born from those years of fighting on Trenzalore?), but as The Doctor's companion as well. Twelve completely trusts Clara, not just to do things while he's far from her side, but to remind him of Humanity. It's played as a joke near the start, the 'she cares so I don't have to', but Clara is an important catalyst in The Doctor's realisation of both his prejudices against The Daleks, as well as his realisation of just who he becomes. But it's really Peter himself bears the brunt of the episodes emotional beats, albeit in the most subtle of ways. The Doctor has never looked so vulnerable as throughout this episode - his uncertainty of who he is, his reaction when Rusty informs him at the end that he is a 'good Dalek'. This Doctor's pain, his vulnerability, is etched into his face. It's as chilling as it is effective in showing the audience just what a damaged person The Doctor can be sometimes, and Capaldi plays it wonderfully.
Elswhere, Ben Wheatley's direction continues to offer a freshened up take on Moffat-era Who's cinematic house style, but unlike Deep Breath before it, Into The Dalek feels a bit more pedestrian compared to the raw approach Wheatley had last week. It's not particularly bad, there's some bizarre tonal shifts (plus the over-use of slow motion for the Dalek attack scenes) that break up the visual cohesiveness, and his grasp of the action feels a lot more solid here than it did in Deep Breath - aided by some pretty phenomenal CG and model work - but it's a shame that Wheatley's sophomore episode doesn't quite hit the same notes. Murray Gold's soundtrack is going through some experimental phases as well - an introduction of a more synthy soundtrack is a welcome break from the sweeping orchestral movements his Doctor Who work is known for, and something I hope becomes more prominent going ahead.
Finally though, we get another zap of Missy, as poor Gretchen sacrifices herself to... go and have a tea party in 'Heaven'. So now we've established that it's not just the bad guys Missy is taking, but... who? People who've believed in The Doctor? The Half-Face Man was brought to his realisation of not wanting to go on any more by Twelve, that moment when he shows him that his quest for the promised land was derived from the humanity stuffed inside him', and Gretchen sacrifices herself on The Doctor's promise. So why does Missy want people like that? Is she building up an army of people who've trusted The Doctor? People he might have failed? We'll have to wait and see just who shows up in this mysteriously fancy and Edwardian idea of Paradise next.
Lets hope this new series can do more than ask interesting questions about The Doctor though.