TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Tibbles and the Daleks #1: Dante’s Dalek

The one where I give you hell. That’s a pun. It’s funny.

Hello there. Have you got a moment for our lord and savior, series 8?

I’m not really joking there, in all honesty. I do genuinely believe that series 8 is the absolute pinnacle of the show, modern or classic.  It’s down to a lot of things, really – the fact that the Moffat/Capaldi/Coleman team is almost impossible to top; the fact the whole series is focused around strong themes and arcs, with each and every episode having a genuine, interesting role in the wider scheme of things; … Really, it may just be because it proved Steven Moffat’s writing could really pay off, that his strategy of radically altering the show and its paradigm every series was actually a good idea. As much as I liked the Matt Smith years, and I did, and I’m not alone in this, they were a bit of a dangerous experiment, that sort of spiraled out of control around 2011 and never quite regained their poise – they also marked the rise of the anti-Moffat crowd, and of the onslaught of sometimes relevant, and sometimes asinine criticism that rained on the man’s head. And the 2014 series feels, maybe more than any other, like a direct byproduct of criticism, a reaction against something – not in a bad way, mind you. It still tells its own story, and, I’ll argue, it does so amazingly well. But that story is a dark one, based around constant accusations leveled at the ethos of Smith years, and really, at the show in general – it’s all about deconstruction, about toppling down the tropes and clichés of Who to take a peek at what lies underneath, this fragile, troubled core of wonderful humanity. “Listen” – outside of being, you know, the best Who story of all time, and that’s not just me and Scarves who say it, but also Paul Cornell, so we’re in good company – is all about that: going beyond the story, beyond the tapestry of Moffat mannerisms, to get to the point, the literal center and starting point of the Who narrative, the moment where the Doctor, as a character, is forged; and that moment is an act of pure compassion, an open, beautiful gift of human warmth.

I really really like it. As you may have noticed.

Interestingly enough, though, it does also feature a Dalek episode. A very, very good Dalek episode, actually – not counting Big Finish, I could make a serious case for Into the Dalek” being the best of them all; with only “Dalek” and “The Parting of Ways” standing as worthy contenders. Which is a bit odd, in a sense. Daleks are ideological creatures, see? In a fundamental way, they embody a message, a text. And that message … Well, it’s not always that interesting, for starters, but more than this – it doesn’t necessarily gel well with what series 8 wants to accomplish. And yet, it works. Let’s talk about it.

I’m not a Dalek fan. At all. You see the little #1 in the title? I’m basically going to do an entire series about how I’m not a Dalek fan. Be afraid. But yes – I don’t especially care for the little pepperpots that arguably made DW into the pop culture juggernaut that it currently is. The Cybermen are built on fear of technology, of uncontrolled mutability, and thus are timeless: as long as there is new technology, you’ll have new ways to write them. Think about it: in 2006, they were this sort of big scary masses embodying the uncontrolled multiplication of technological devices; in 2013, they started looking like they were designed by Apple and became these sort of Borg-like, always evolving creatures that can change the way they work on a whim, like they were downloading new apps to their mainframe. But the Daleks are built on the exact opposite: the fear of fixed, frozen belief, of unflinching, inflexible, fanatical devotion to a single cause. It’s a pretty grim view of things, actually: they are so far removed of everything that resembles our concepts of good and evil that the only way they can approach those is through a defect, an industrial accident. Which makes them scary; at least in the post-World War context in which they were created. But which also creates a problem: all their stories, at the end of the day, look a little bit alike. Daleks can’t be changed, and if you can’t change the antagonist, you can’t change the story you tell. The very question of the hypothetic mutability of the Dalek morals has become a bit of a cliché now – New Who has done its job on the question, time and again. Point is – there’s a limited supply of Dalek stories, and I am very afraid we are running out of those; the extreme overuse isn’t helping either, whether you buy into the theory that the Nation Estate has a deal with the BBC forcing them to use the tin cans once a year.

I mean, imagine a world where the Daleks end up winning. Except don’t, because you cannot: their supremacist crusade can only lead them to mutual destruction, be it through civil war (“Remembrance of the Daleks”) or suicide (“Dalek” – a story that actually reads like the final hurrah for the iconic monsters; shame it wasn’t, because they really would have ended on a high, and wonderfully bleak, note). In a time where we ask of our pop culture villains to be morally complex, to have ambiguity and layers, the simplicity that powers the Daleks also makes them look flat and uninspired. Sure, we get fascist and terrorists today, defenders of nihilistic destructive beliefs; but their ideology is at least anchored in real-world elements, even if these elements are bullshit. The Daleks are an ideological construct, tyrants of the abstract – a contradiction in terms?

To be fair, Steven Moffat did take counter-measures to avoid Dalek fatigue as soon as he got into the lead writer chair. Good thing too, because outside of their series one outings, it’s fair to say they were not used at full capabilities by Russel T Davies – they starred in some really dire stories (Helen Raynor’s series 3 two-parter, gawd), and, worst of all, had a tendency to be little more than war machines shouting very loudly, and getting defeated in increasingly preposterous ways. I mean, it makes sense – one always enjoys mocking a tyrant a bit. Look at America right now. But still, it’s not the most dramatically satisfying thing to do. Henceforth, a few measures were taken. The first step was to actually let them win, in the aptly named “Victory of the Daleks” – although you could argue that the episode was so focused on checking those little boxes that it actually forgot to be good, and you would be right. That episode emphasized their cunning and strategic spirit – a good move on the whole –, and brought the infamous Technicolor Power Rangers redesign – which I absolutely love, they look fabulous as fuck, and I won’t hear otherwise –.

And then, a very interesting pattern emerges in the next stories. For the first time, maybe ever, the show actually became interested into the Dalek civilization. The Dalek way of life. “Asylum of the Daleks” gave plenty of little teases about how they treat the sick and the injured members of the species, and about their political regime, with the introduction of the Parliament of the Daleks (still an immensely strange, potentially hilarious, and definitely fascinating conceit). Hell, it even gave us a lesson in Dalek philosophy when Mr. Squidface the Prime Minister started blabbering about hatred being an equivalent to beauty like a blobby, angry Hegel.

And then, in 2015, you have the opening two-parter of series 9, “The Magician’s Apprentice” / “The Witch’s Familiar”, which, besides taking us through a tour of a Dalek city, and studying their relationship to their creator Davros, describes at length how their mind concretely works.

And of course, sandwiched in the middle, stands “Into the Dalek. And if I went through all this long historical reminder, it was just to get the Dalek part of the episode out of the way. Because “Into the Dalek” gets it. It’s the best Dalek episode of the revival (well, I’m not really sure myself that it is, but let’s just go with it for the article, just for provocation’s sake, shall we?) precisely because it’s not really a Dalek episode. You don’t want to take the Daleks at face value in 2014. In 2005, okay, why not, just shift their moral absolutism from a political to a religious basis and Bob’s your uncle. But in 2014, I think people have realized that fascism, that the concrete block of human evil, is not this big scary thing you face, but a something that comes from the inside. A cancer of democracy, a cancer of the mind. Who cares about those born fundamentally evil, about the “Evolution of the Daleks” bad guys? We know that the real monsters are those that give up their humanity, screaming in the cage of their own mind, trapped behind bars of cold, forged hatred – the ones we glimpse at, too briefly, at the beginning of series 9. You’ve got to go past the simple stage of the construct, go beyond the Dalek, and into the Dalek – which necessarily means going away from the Dalek as a clearly-cut bad guy that occupies a clear antagonist space in the story, the little shouty robot that shoots lasers at the brave hero. You can try to mix a more straightforward portrayal of the Daleks with this notion of an evil within, mind you, as with the  the Clara plot in “The Witch’s Familiar”, which is really set-up here for the first time, with the introduction of the Cortex Vault, the little device that converts all emotion into hatred and acts like a chaperon for pepperpots. And, well, as much as I like “Into the Dalek” you don’t escape the “Daleks being ruthless killing machines that mow down tons and tons of soldiers” scenes. I don’t like those. They’re boring. Even though those are, at least in the technical sense of the word, pretty well-devised scenes that strongly bear the mark of Phil Ford, who co-wrote that episode with Moffat – you can really feel the similarities with “The Waters of Mars”, his other Who script. But still “Into the Dalek” gets it – because those scenes are basically just window-dressing: they’re nice to look at, but they don’t have much to do with the actual plot. It’s not like “Power of the Daleks”, which basically stops all its fascinating thematic exploration in the last episode to push a big “stop! It’s killing time!” button, that’s all I’m saying. And yes, we’ll get to that one. Remember, three parts.

So, what is “Into the Dalek”? Well, it’s a character study. It’s a morality play. And above all – watch out kids, this is the pretentious part –, it’s a re-interpretation of your good old Dante-esque “descent to hell” tale.

To use the correct vocabulary and not get my arse mentally kicked by my beloved Literature teacher, Mrs. D., one should actually say it uses the classic ancient-world formula of katabasis. A term that basically means “the action of going down”, and that is used more specifically to speak about a descent into hell. Except of course, Ancient Hell is not our Hell. If you go and read back the Odyssey, you’ll find, in the eleventh book, that it’s basically just an empty, neverending place full of nothingness, and haunted by the shadows of the living that can be called forward through a series of rituals and sacrifices called nekyia. It was Virgil, many centuries later, who actually started to paint Hell as being a geographically organized place, with different sections (which is why he pops up in the works of Dante later on, naturally). You add a little bit of Christianity, you wait until 1320, and Bob’s your uncle – here’s Dante and thirty cantos that go even further in the detailed geographical stuff.

But Dante changed the rules in different ways. Prior to that, really, katabasis was a plot point. It’s almost like a video game, really. To proceed in your quest, you need information, so you go and ask a dead person: that might be Tiresias the Seer in the Odyssey, or Aeneas’ father in the Aeneid. And there’s this sense of it being a threshold, of course, a rite of passage for a hero whose power, in the diegetic world, increases with time – not dissimilar to the “Belly of the Whale” stage in Thomas Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:

The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshipper into a temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same. That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. The devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”

But with Dante, that trope becomes charged with very heavy moral connotations. The Divine Comedy has this little theatrical thing (it ain’t called comedy for nothing), this little element of morality play inside it. It’s an organic evolution from the mystery plays. The moral element is present both at a micro- and macroscopic level: the bulk of the book is made of encounter with sinners, of confrontations with those – that is the specific level –; and, as a whole, said book is a journey of self-discovery for this speaker that has lost his sense of self, and his moral compass.

And “Into the Dalek takes that conceit, and runs with it. Not only that: it actually plays with it. You’ve got a Dante-like dynamic ,with two main characters, a master, a spiritual being of high intelligence (Virgil / The Doctor) and a human, more driven by emotion, a “carer” (Dante/ Clara).

But it subverts that dynamic: Clara the human is a teacher, and, halfway through the episode, she takes control and leads everyone towards the solution. That moment where she takes control is directly, physically represented on screen, by the slap she gives the Doctor. Granted, it is an out-of-character moment, and the episode does suffer slightly for it (although it is a bit of an old trope, the master that slaps the student in order to establish a clear sense of hierarchy: think a lot of martial arts flicks, Tarantino’s Kill Bill, or, for a very weird and fucked-up take on the concept, Takeshi Miike’s Visitor Q) – but it works as a symbolic reversal of authority that show how intertwined and complex their relationship is: the pre-established power dynamics don’t apply, and the boundaries between the roles of Doctor and companion grow ever weaker – which is of course one of the central conceits of the Clara/Twelve relationship, that will later drive episodes such as “Flatline”, “Death in Heaven”, “Face the RavenorHell Bent.  It also kickstarts the use of katabasis as a recurring motive throughout their era: it might not be the first one, the dive into the depths of the restaurant in “Deep Breath” preceding it, but it’s the most blatant so far. Which of course means it ends up foreshadowing the other two major uses of such a device: the Nethersphere in the finale of series 8, and the Doctor’s quest to rescue Clara in “Heaven Sent” / “Hell Bent”, that takes him both through a metaphorical hell and through the deep, haunted caves of the Cloisters – and that’s not even touching on the episodes that only echo that theme in more superficial ways, like “Flatline”, which also concludes in an underworld where the main character learns something about herself, or “Time Heist”, which is all about getting deeper into the vaults of Karabraxos. Really, there’s something to be said about Clara’s apparent link to this concept: she is, after all, a character with strong ties to the ancient world, both by her name, derived from the Latin adjective clarus, a, um – meaning “renowned” or “famous” –, and by her love of Marcus Aurelius, evoked both in “Day of the Doctor” and in “Deep Breath”; and a character marked by death – her mother’s, Mrs. Maitland’s, and, of course, eventually, Danny’s.

This vision of hell also takes shape through Ben Wheatley’s absolutely stellar direction. He’s probably the biggest name to ever work on a Who episode, with several high-brow, critically acclaimed hits under his belt (High-Rise is really good, by the way, go see it) – and it shows, because, for my money, it might be the single best directed piece of Who out there. Look at this shot of the soldiers going through the blue-tinted mist to enter the Dalek, passing this symbolical gateway – it’s so beautiful! There’s a reason why it’s the site’s banner. There’s not much point in getting into every single idea of the episode, so let’s focus on its main visual focus, the eyes – everything is circular here, eye-shaped. There are eyes inside of eyes: you enter the eyestalk and then are tracked by cameras whose footage is watched by the eye of a mutant. There are eyes on Clara’s shirt – a great bit of costume design. It references series 8’s constant preoccupation with looking, changing your perspective on things, mirrors and duplicates, of course (and really, these patterns are everywhere, from the Doctor gazing at his reflection in the premiere, to the final shot of “Listen”); but it’s also a symbol of surveillance, of vigilance – and indeed, in the episode, the Doctor and his gang are under constant scrutiny, both by Rusty and by the medical crew of the Aristotle. In that way, the episode references an entirely different Dalek story, “Revelation of the Daleks”, which was also quite focused on camera footage and surveillance, and well, promised in its very title something fundamentally visual: a revelation is, etymologically, the unveiling of something, it clears the view. But who’s watching here? There’s Rusty, waiting at the center of it all, like Orcus on his throne – still emphasizing the mythological and ancient nature of the story; to quote Aeschylus’ Eumenides: “Hades, mighty god of all the dead / judges mortal men below the ground /His perceptive mind records all things”. Or it could be a reference to the idea of the Eye as a symbol of the Conscience, coming to haunt you; a way to transcribe the moral nature of the story in visual terms. This are your morals, this is the test you face, and it’s all recorded: be warned. That’s a visual idea that already inspired Victor Hugo for his poem La Conscience, in The Legend of Centuries, where Cain, after the murder he committed, is being stalked by a giant eyeball (“Et quand on eût sur son front fermé le souterrain / L’oeil était dans la tombe et regardait Cain”). Oh, and all of it is also a bit of Missy foreshadowing: she is after all also the one who is waiting, sitting among the dead, and the one that watches the heroes with a malevolent eye (see the end of “Flatline”). Her appearance here is pitch perfect. It’s one of Michelle Gomez’s creepiest moments, and it’s placed so well. You have an especially gruesome death scene, and it immediately cuts to the Nethersphere (unlike “Deep Breath” or “The Caretaker”, where the afterlife bits happen in the coda). And of course, you transition from a metaphorical hell to a counterfeit heaven. The symbolism. God, the symbolism.

The really clever part, though, is that it’s not the human that’s “lost in the middle of a dark forest“, but the Doctor, who questions his morality, and cannot find an answer. That’s the whole genius of putting this episode in second position in the series, really: it really kickstarts the whole “good man” arc, outside of giving the casual viewer the great thrill of an immediate confrontation with the iconic Doctor Who nemesis. The way it does it did draw some interesting criticisms, though. I would tend to agree that the first Clara / Doctor scene in the episode, in which that famous driving question that will keep echoing all throughout the series is asked, is written in an oddly clumsy way. It’s a very series 8 kind of clumsy: Who had never been that metatextual and thematically-driven, and you can sort of see that the writers have troubles communicating their ideas to the audience. Really, most of the less popular episodes of series 8 fall into that category because they do not succeed in articulating their points well enough: “Kill the Moon” or “In the Forest of the Night” are pretty fascinating pieces, really, and honestly, really strong episodes of television once you’ve accepted them for what they are, but they’re also absolute clusterfucks. “Into the Dalek”, interestingly enough, almost falls into the opposite category: it might explains its stakes and conceits a bit too much. I am pretty sure that the “good man” question was only supposed to be asked at the very end of the episode, after the whole situation is dealt with, which would make a lot more sense, and that Moffat or Ford moved it earlier in an effort to make the themes of the story more accessible. Points granted for the intention, points taken for the inorganic writing, I suppose. Keep in mind, though, that it’s still an episode that still manages to combine literature, myths, religion, and hardcore sci-fi (it is, after all, also a riff on Fantastic Voyage) in an almost fluent way. That’s some pure Who syncretism, and, honestly, that’s what I look for in the show.

But, let’s get back to our good ol’ moral stuff. The inside of the Dalek is not so much a deadly labyrinth, but more of a theoretical exploration of the Doctor’s morality, each room and each trap telling us something about him : first there’s his lack of empathy when the soldier gets killed, then there’s Gretchen who dies – and that death is commented upon in a really interesting way.

“GRETCHEN: Tell me the truth. Is he mad, or is he right? I’ve come this far. Probably going to die anyway. Wouldn’t mind something to do for the rest of my life. Is he mad, or is he right?

CLARA: Hand on my heart? Most days he’s both.

GRETCHEN: One question, then. Is this worth it?

DOCTOR: If I can turn one Dalek, I can turn them all. I can save the future.

GRETCHEN: Gretchen Alison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me.

DOCTOR: I will do something amazing, I promise.

GRETCHEN: Damn well better.”

It’s like people that die alongside the Doctor pass a bargain with him: I’ll die, promise it’s for a greater cause. Alasdair Wilkins’ review at the AV Club (I quote him a lot, you may have noticed; that’s because he’s great, and you should read him; also he bribed me) elaborates on that point far better than I could ever do, so I won’t drone on about it – but let’s still point out that at the same time, the Doctor says he doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.

“DOCTOR: Recreate that moment. You need to get up there, find that moment and reawaken it.

CLARA: Me?

DOCTOR: Yes, you. Good idea.

CLARA: How?

DOCTOR: Haven’t the foggiest. Do a clever thing. And then once you’ve done it, the Dalek will be suggestible to new ideas. It will be open again. And I will show it something that will change its mind forever

JOURNEY: What?

DOCTOR: Not a clue. “

So why can he speak from a position of superiority? How can he ask someone to sacrifice his or her life? It’s, once again, the beginning of a running thread that will keep going all throughout the series: that arbitrary side of the Doctor’s morality fuels “Kill the Moon”, and meets strong counter-arguments in both “Mummy on the Orient-Express” and “Death in Heaven”.
And of course, the episode concludes on the face-to-face with Rusty. Moffat absolutely adores playing with duplicates and reflections of the Doctor: series 7 is a long succession of those, for instance – series 8 takes a subtler approach, by rather having the Doctor face key, symbolically charged moments of his personal history, the best example being of course the call-back to his childhood that concludes “Listen”. And here is where most people get confused: the episode ends up quoting “Dalek”, which might lead some to believe it’s just re-treading past plot and character beats with lesser impacts. But, if you actually pay attention to the speech the Doctor addresses to Rusty once he faces its body, you’ll find out that the episode references “The Daleks“, much more than “Dalek“.

DOCTOR: See, all those years ago, when I began …
(The Doctor is using his sonic screwdriver to cut through the flexible tubing covering a set of neurones, then pulls them apart.)
DOCTOR: I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. And then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot and I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

The Doctor, here, is saying he wasn’t the Doctor before he met the Daleks. That first encounter made him the man (well, man, it’s all very complicated) he is – which is, in a way, a nice bit of metatextual commentary: it was, after all, the Dalekmania that allowed the show to keep running strong. But, and that is, at its core, the key question, that drives the episode, is being the antithesis of evil the same thing as good? Doesn’t the Doctor, in the end embodies the same moral absolutism than Dalek, but in a different way? Is he not, after all, a “good Dalek”, as in, a benevolent one? The question asked is the same than in “Dalek”, true, but the meaning is entirely different: Rusty does not praise the Dalek-like abilities of the Doctor, the word “good” is not used in its performative sense, but in the moral one.

And this is why “Into the Dalek” “gets it”, as I said before. Because it understands the true, genuine appeal of the Daleks: they’re Who history. They’re a central part of the show’s mythology. As antagonists? Well, they’re kind of boring, really. But as a living representation of the show’s past? As a way to show the Doctor confronting his demons? Now that is a good way to use them. Functionally, they’re not really anything more than the “monster under the bed” in “Listen”. No, actually, that’s a bad simile. If we’re doing “Listen” comparisons, then they’re not the monster, they’re the barn. In this episode, they become a place, a setting: a setting that embodies the show’s history and past; and a setting that can be used, a threshold that can be crossed. It acknowledges that the Daleks are from the past – and by doing just that, it makes them relevant again. That’s what Thomas Campbell said with his whole Belly of the Whale concept: once the threshold is passed, the identity of the hero is forged anew. Entering the Dalek, gazing into the Nietzsche-like Abyss, is the first step into Twelve’s long reconquest of his identity, of his title of Doctor. The Dalek is after all a place of worship, just like Campbell’s symbolical space: it is holy ground for the Whovian, one of the emblems, the insignia of the fandom; and the tubes and fluids and flesh of the creature become the raw materials for a gothic cathedral. A raygun gothic cathedral.

It’s not a new conceit either, mind you. The idea of a new Doctor defining himself by going against the iconic antagonists that made the show what it is hearkens back to Pat Troughton and “Power of the Daleks”. I told you we’d be getting back to that one. It all coheres …

Another link to “Power” is the way the Daleks are used to criticize a certain social group. Here, because we’re in series 8 and series 8 is all about soldiers, it’s the military. The soldiers we see here are, in a way, a different kind of “good Daleks” .They try to be perfect, and emotionless, as Journey does by suppressing her grief over her the death of her brother and almost attacking the Doctor; they try to win by being killing machines, but they can’t ever reach that goal. The Doctor criticizes them because he thinks that’s absurd, and he delivers a great rebuttal to Journey:  the Daleks are perfect soldiers, without morality that can out-soldier everyone at every turn. What the episode starts to acknowledge is that it’s precisely because of their fallibility that soldiers are precious, and that’s what the Doctor fails to recognize: it’s because of their emotion, their promise to care for those they love, that they can protect the world (once again, you’ll take note of the great “Death in Heaven” foreshadowing). And indeed, the Doctor falls into that trap too: he thinks he must be the man who makes the impossible choices, he thinks that he must not fall into the traps that are free, cheap compassion and kindness, because those would reduce his effectiveness, but, by doing so, he’s forgetting his true, “idiotic”, innocent self. That point is elaborated further with a comparison between two soldiers (both of same played by dark-skinned actors with a really naturalistic acting style, by the way): the guy, Danny Pink, and the girl, Journey Blue. There’s a nice reversal of gender stereotypes, really, down to the color scheme – also, note that those stereotypes are also inverted in the finale, where Clara plays the Dante part and Danny the Beatrix one (or the Orpheus one and the Eurydice one, depending on your tastes in myths). Blue fails to be accepted by the Doctor because she doesn’t accept her emotions, try to play like the Daleks, whereas Pink accepts his mistakes and the emotions that come with them. Shame that Zawe Ashton’s acting just doesn’t do it for me. That little scream of frustration when the Doctor is telling her they can’t blow Rusty up is an especially low point. The most interesting thing about her is that she’s the first in that long, long series of pseudo-companions series 8 is going to have, for reasons I’m not sure to have gathered. Well, outside of the obvious teasing about a Clara departure that, in the end, did not happen. And yet, she’s earned a cult following. I don’t get it. Oh, still in the Pink/Blue parallels, apparently people find that Journey’s flirting with Clara quite a bit. Not sure I see it either.

But anyway, you’ve really got to appreciate the way the episode basically unfolds Danny’s entire character arc in a matter of seconds: he is, in his two first scenes, surrounded by children – and he is a character defined by childhood, from his lonely stay at the orphanage, to the murder he unwillingly committed, to his final act of generosity. True, maybe that breakdown thing in front of the children is pushing a little far, but I do like the fact that Doctor Who attempts a genuine portrayal of PTSD here. Also, it gives us an occasion to compare and contrast that reaction with Journey grieving her brother – she’s made of suppressed pain and passive-aggressive surges. But, more essentially, it allows the episode to subtly suggest another of the essential, driving question of series 8: how far are you going to go to protect the silent majority of innocents? And is that quest worth scarifying your innocence? Danny Pink, the Doctor, and, one has to assume, Journey Blue, all started as little kids, at one point – what led them to their paths? And who, in the end, is right?

Food for thought, uh?

But, in the end, the episode doesn’t really aim to answer those questions. It asks them, and asks them very well, but the resolution is to come later in the series. Still, Clara offers a closing statement that constitutes, on a thematic level, the climax of the episode. And, true to her connection to the ancient-world sages, it’s a very philosophical answer. Lifted straight from the works of Aristotle, who gives his name to the ship where the action of this piece takes place. The Doctor is trying to be the best version of himself possible, to maximize his potentialities (notably through maintaining a relationship with his companion / teacher, that has become more about dialectics, in the prime meaning of the concept, and less about Who-esque companionship). And that, in the end, trying to be good is all that matters. Sure, the story as a whole might be a little bit too predictable in its twists and turns, might lack that tiny little spark that creatures the most beloved of masterpieces, but you still get a nice, uplifting, inspiring message at the end, which has all the more weight after one of the darkest Who episodes of the New Show –

What more can you ask for?

More Daleks, uh?

I hear you.

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One thought on “TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Tibbles and the Daleks #1: Dante’s Dalek

  1. Pingback: TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Fall of the House of Ness: notes on “Class” (1/3) | DoWntime

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