[This is a review of Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
In week two of Doctor Who season 8, the newly-transitioned Capaldi takes a bit of a backseat to a fun tale which further explores the inner workings and morbid philosophy of the Daleks. Meanwhile, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) meets the Math teacher at school, Danny (Samuel Anderson), who we will soon see much more of as the season continues.
“Into the Dalek”, written by Steve Moffat and Phil Ford (The Sarah Jane Adventures), is an Innerspace-inspired adventure deep into the heart of a malfunctioning Dalek named Rusty - who, after seeing a star being born (following a few blows to the head), vows death to all Daleks because, as it turns out, resistance to life is what’s really futile. To quote the solider, Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton): “We had a good Dalek and made him bad again, that’s all we did?” Fortunately, good things can come in small packages, or simple stories, as is the case with this episode.
What this week’s episode lacks in touching scenes with a T-Rex, it makes up for by focusing much of the episode on a single theme (“Dalek”), which allows audiences to simply sit back and watch an in-depth exploration into an important character from the series’ mythology. The Doctor has never been inside a Dalek before, as is said in the episode - and for a new actor portraying everyone’s favorite time traveler, there’s no better way to endear viewers than to allow them to join in on the Doctor’s excitement as he further explores the depths of his nemesis’ morality.
Additionally, with the single focus for this episode, the subtle changes that Capaldi is bringing to the character are easier to see; thanks to bit of help from Rusty, the Doctor is able to clearly define that yes, while he is a good man, there’s much darkness within him that’s softening his empathy. This element is still slowly building; however, from what we’ve seen in these past two episodes, a Doctor unintentionally allowing emotions to fall to the wayside will be exciting to see reach its heights.
That said, there’s still more than enough room for fans of the series to demand more onscreen, and it wouldn’t really be a surprise if a few viewers were left unhappy with this week’s outing. Unlike Matt Smith, Capaldi was never really given the chance to truly “become” the Doctor at the end of his premiere episode. So, for much of this season, audiences will have to allow (hopefully) compelling tales to help carry their excitement while waiting for “the moment” of Capaldi’s Doctor to occur, and expectations are that it will. When that will happen, however, is unknown.
When it comes to Doctor Who season 8, we’re still missing the overall story-arc of what’s occurring, which makes it difficult to truly feel a connection with the new Doctor. We’re not sure what he’s going through and, like Clara, are unable to identify with him and what he’s looking for. All we know now is that the Doctor, in this form, is not final – yet the series does little to make this fact absolutely known. Cult shows thrive and survive on expectation and anticipation, and right now Doctor Who is surviving because fans are expecting something fantastic to occur - not because they know it actually will.
Even so, two weeks in and Capaldi has been gifted a strong story to help build up his Doctor, which is all that could be hoped for following last week’s premiere. This show still may not feel as familiar to fans as it has in past seasons, but as more and more episodes are released, there’s hope that Capaldi will be able to establish himself more as the Doctor. Fingers crossed that next week’s trip to Sherwood Forest doesn't upend it all.
Doctor Who returns next week with "Robot of Sherwood" @9pm on BBC America. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: