After the Doctor saves a soldier in the midst of a battle against the Daleks, he finds himself caring for a Dalek prisoner so damaged that it’s turned good. He and Clara and a military escort are miniaturized and sent inside the Dalek to repair it. After repairing it, the Dalek turns bad again, putting the medical team inside and the military base outside in extreme danger. The whole ordeal leaves the Doctor questioning whether or not he’s a good man. Clara meets a shy, handsome fellow teacher and asks him out.
Rusty the Dalek
Journey Blue and her brother are in the midst of battle with a Dalek warship. Her brother is dead, but the Doctor saves Journey an instant before her ship blows up. She takes him to her command ship, the Aristotle – which is a hospital ship, since in the future medical titles are associated with the military – and asks him to examine a damaged Dalek prisoner. The Doctor calls him Rusty. Rusty is so damaged that it’s apparently turned good and believes, after witnessing the birth of a star, that it is futile to destroy because life will always renew itself. The Doctor takes a leap of faith and agrees to miniaturize himself and repair Rusty. But when he finds and repairs the radiation leak inside, Rusty’s other functions begin to operate properly and he turns on the humans. Clara reactivates Rusty’s suppressed memory core and the Doctor links with Rusty to show him the beauty of the universe. Instead, Rusty sees the hate that he feels for the Daleks and makes the destruction of the Daleks his new mission. Rusty saves the humans and returns to the Dalek ship to continue his new mission from within.
Any interaction with the Daleks leaves the Doctor questioning himself and how he relates and compares with the Daleks. The Doctor asks Clara before their adventure if she thinks he’s a good man, and she doesn’t know. The Doctor doesn’t either, but rather than giving in to his hate of the Daleks, he lends Rusty his help and trust. When Rusty turns bad again, the Doctor is almost pleased with himself for being right about the Dalek’s inherent evil nature. Clara tells him that they haven’t learned that Daleks are always bad, but that they can be good. While Clara activates Rusty’s repressed memory banks, the Doctor tells Rusty that after he met the Daleks he always used to think of “Doctor” as simply meaning “not Dalek”. He links with Rusty to show him the wonder and beauty he feels for the universe, but what Rusty finds instead is the Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks. The Doctor is appalled and ashamed, desperate for the Dalek to find something else inside him more than hate. The Doctor says that “victory would have been a good Dalek.” Rusty tells the Doctor that he is a good Dalek – which harkens all the way back to season one and the Ninth Doctor’s first encounter with a Dalek after the Time War (Dalek, S01.E06). The Dalek asks him what he should do and the Doctor tells him to kill himself, rid the universe of his filth. The Dalek responds that the Doctor would make a good Dalek. Apparently not much has changed for the Doctor. He’s still struggling against his hate for the Daleks, giving them the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately wishing they’d all just die – just like the Daleks want all other species to die. The Doctor goes away feeling that he might be a bad man after all. Clara tells him she still doesn’t know if he’s a good man, but she knows that he tries to be a good man, which is really the point.
On a side note, I love how serious this new Doctor is until you get him excited about something. The bit at the beginning when he encounters the Molecular Nanoscaler is brilliantly funny. First he’s excited by the very existence of the equipment, but then the practical application of a miniaturization machine occurs to him. He gets this gleam in his eye that borders on maniacal and asks with barely restrained excitement, “Are you going to miniaturize me?” My brain imagines and inserts a childish gasp of wonder before the question. He’s like a kid in a candy shop, hoping against hope that he’s going to get the treat he wants.
Rather than living with the Doctor in the TARDIS like so many of his companions do, Clara has her own life – her own house, her own job, and perhaps now even a boyfriend. Clara is a teacher at the Coal Hill Secondary School (which, in case you forgot, happens to be the school that the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan attended way back at the start of the show in 1963), and a new teacher has attracted her attention. His name is Danny Pink, an ex-soldier with a traumatic past, and a terribly shy person. He obviously fancies Clara, but keeps instinctively turning down her offers to get together. Clara is persistent and smart, however, and gets him to agree to go out for a drink with her. Their potential romance may or may not have anything to do with Clara’s potential departure at the end of this season.
For Clara’s part, when she last saw the Doctor she had sent him for coffee in Glasgow…three weeks ago. To the Doctor’s credit, he did get the coffee. When he picks her up she climbs aboard the TARDIS like it’s any other lark, but quickly realizes that there’s something different. She knows the Doctor so well – has known him really his entire life, through every single regeneration, her being scattered throughout time – that she just looks at his face, unassuming as it is, and knows that something has him scared. And she knows she’s the one keeping him in check, she knows her role. She’s his “carer”, which to the Doctor means that she cares so he doesn’t have to – which is partly correct, since she’s the compassionate human interface between him and other people – but it’s more than that. She takes care of him, schools him when he needs to be schooled. When the Doctor resignedly leans back, wallowing in his own smug satisfaction at being proven right about a Dalek once again, she gives him a good smack across the face. This absolutely stuns the Doctor, like a child who has been scolded for something he doesn’t quite understand. The Doctor is so stuck in his hatred for the Daleks that he can’t see what Clara can see so clearly – that the damage could have done anything to the Dalek, but the Dalek was good, and could be good again. And it’s that hatred – and to be fair, partly the Dalek’s programming – that sets the Dalek on a mission to destroy Dalek-kind.
Missy and the Promised Land
So it’s pretty clear at this point, brief as the scene was, that Missy and the Promised Land (great name for a band) is more than just a whimsical one off scene from the first episode. Dead people – or at least people who somehow, directly or indirectly, die because of the Doctor – end up in this ethereal utopia. Missy calls it Heaven – which in Britain is apparently a sunny English garden with bottomless tea refills. Still, despite the idyllic setting (or maybe because of it) there seems to be something a little more sinister brewing underneath the surface. Missy is a strange, creepy person for starters. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think these people are in Heaven, and I don’t think Missy is their benevolent hostess, or that the Doctor is her boyfriend, for that matter.
I did just want to mention how pleasantly reminiscent of earlier Doctor Who this episode was. I haven’t really cared for the feeling of the series of late, with over complicated, all connected epic seasons long story arcs that somehow give the episodes an inconsequential, over important feeling. Its everything and nothing at the same time. I noted the connection between this episode and the season one episode Dalek. The two are very similar on a lot of levels – in many ways it is sort of a rehashing of that episode, which doesn’t mean that its not worth re-investigating with a new Doctor who is 1,100 years older – but they style of storytelling is also very like how the series used to be seasons 1-4. That is, the adventure itself was more or less self contained, with a focus on character development over complicated storytelling. The story is simple and effective, the adventure both fun and frightening, with the relationships and struggles of the characters taking precedence over mythology. The last time I saw anything remotely similar in the show was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (S07.E02). I’m hoping this the start of a trend.