Amongst all the wrangling over relationships, sometimes it seems something is lost from Doctor Who. Whether Rory is jealous of the 11th Doctor, or Rose snogged Mickey, the 9th Doctor, the 10th Doctor, Captain Jack, a sad Dalek, the 10th Doctor again, and his clone, whether the Ood loved Donna (because nobody else did) or how Clara felt about her old young Doctor and her new old Doctor, is all very engaging. But at its heart Doctor Who is a rip roaring, mystery packed, old fashioned Sci-Fi adventure. Did Leela ever have emotional issues with Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor? No, she threatened to cut out the hearts of his alien enemies. Did Ace ever go on a date instead of going with the Doctor to dynamite some alien oppressors? Of course not.
Into The Dalek begins with a classic space battle, a lone Combined Galactic Resistance fighter ship pursued by a giant Dalek Saucer, like a Cylon Basestar harrying a tiny human Viper fighter ship in Battlestar Galactica. The Doctor rescues one soldier, Journey Blue, and is roped into a mission to save a potential ally and a very unusual patient; an injured Dalek that has decided Daleks are the enemy.
Back on Earth there’s a little relationship drama, as Clara has an awkward meeting with new math teacher at Coal Hill School, ex-soldier Danny Pink. But the Doctor needs her, and soon enough she finds herself with the Doctor surrounded by heavily armed soldiers, being miniaturized in a medical molecular nano-scaler as part of the mission, like the 1996 film Fantastic Voyage, to go inside and save the only good Dalek. Like (but not quite like) the team of scientists lead by Raquel Welch and Stephen Boyd, they are attacked by hovering electronic eyeballs equipped with energy weapons that turn a team member to dust – Dalek antibodies. They escape down a chute and end up literally in the belly of the beast, a gooey human sludge in the Dalek’s protein store, in a scene reminiscent of, amongst others, the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.
The Doctor needs to know why the Dalek changed. The Dalek, whom the Doctor dubs Rusty, with its overriding electronic processing centers damaged by radiation, is so moved by the memory of seeing a star born, after the millions of stars destroyed by its kind, is so overwhelmed by the moment of beauty, a symbol of life’s continuous regeneration in the face of destruction, it comes to the conclusion that Daleks are the enemy. “Resistance is futile.” It declares, in a reversal of the line from the Borg, the non-Swedish humanoid assimilating implacable cyborgs from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Resistance to the never ending cycle of life returning, life prevailing is futile.
After the Doctor seals the breach in the Dalek’s radioactive power cell, Rusty immediately reverts to its exterminating ways. It breaks free of its restraints and starts rampaging through the corridors of the resistance ship Aristotle, those hit by its energy weapon, glowing so brightly before they vaporize you can see their skeletons, not unlike the blast of the Martian weapons in the 1953 film, loosely based on the H G Wells novel, The War Of The Worlds.
Rusty communicates with the other Daleks, who start to board the Aristotle. The Doctor seems rather self-satisfied in proving that there are no good Daleks, until Clara reminds him in no uncertain terms that he is sometimes wrong, that what they learned today was that a good Dalek was possible. Concluding that if he can turn one Dalek, he can turn them all, that what changed the Dalek is still there, locked away in its memories. In a race against time as the Daleks attack he sends Clara to re-awaken those memories in the Dalek’s cortex vault, a reversal of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Dave removes murderous computer HAL’s memory modules one by one.
One soldier has to sacrifice herself for Clara to get to the cortex, and she asks the Doctor to remember her, to do something good in her name. Vaporized by Dalek antibodies, in a startling twist she finds herself with the mad seeming Missy, who seems to be collecting those killed around the Doctor, welcomes her to heaven, and offers her tea.
With invading Dalek’s melting the door to attack the resistance soldiers, like the electrifying, suspense raising, door melting scene in the classic 1956 film, Forbidden Planet, (and many others), while Clara re-awakens the Dalek’s memories, the Doctor connects his memory to the Dalek’s, not unlike the Vulcan mind-meld from TV’s original Star Trek.
In the Doctor’s memory the Dalek sees the beauty, the divinity of the universe, but it also sees the Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks, and seeing that becomes not a good Dalek but an evil, Dalek hating Dalek. It destroys the attacking Daleks, the miniaturized survivors are recombobulated, the Dalek goes off to continue its Dalek destroying mission after sending a signal indicating the Aristotle has self destructed, Journey asks if she can travel with the Doctor, and he rejects her because she’s a soldier.
Clara is back in time to go out for a drink with Danny, a character with his own as yet unknown dramatic back story, and we’re left after the action maelstrom, intrigued on many points, Journey, Danny, Missy, and with the question, asked by the Doctor himself at the beginning, is the Doctor a good man?
And I suppose, with such unabashed, rollicking Sci-Fi adventure, we can allow that a little relationship drama centers things with some empathy, with a very human heart.