"She's my... not my assistant, what's the word?" "Carer?" "Yes, she's my carer: she cares so I don't have to."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Clara find themselves inside of a supposedly good Dalek. First appearance of Danny Pink.
REVIEW: While getting shrunk and injected into an organism or machine is a fairly silly notion in SF, it's a good old Doctor Who tradition. It started with a TARDIS malfunction back in the Hartnell era (Planet of Giants) and has popped up several times since (Carnival of Monsters, The Armageddon Factor, and very recently, Let's Kill Hitler, et al.). Inside the Dalek's closest cousin, however, is The Invisible Enemy, in which the fourth Doctor and Leela (or really, they're temporary doubles) were miniaturized and injected into the Doctor's own brain so they could face down an alien virus. While walking around a mechanical construct seems more realistic than the surreal imagery The Invisible Enemy sometimes gave us, the "anatomy" is just as absurd - light impulses traveling down the eye stalk, big buttons you can slap to restore repressed memories, that kind of thing. The wrinkle is that this is apparently a "good" Dalek, by which we can only mean it's on our side. It's still filled with hatred, still a killing machine. It just wants to destroy other Daleks, that's all. A malfunction made it experience the beauty of the universe, and now it wants to stop Daleks from destroying that beauty. Is that doing bad to do good? It's an ambiguity mirrored in the Doctor. When he fixes the Dalek, it makes the Dalek evil again and start killing people. He's done a good thing that resulted in a bad thing. When he asks a man to trust him, while knowingly allowing him to be killed, he saves everyone else's lives. He's done a bad thing to do a good thing. Doc10 would have made the same decision telling the victim he was sorry, so sorry. No "human" niceties with 12. And it's his own hatred of the Daleks "Rusty" takes away from their mindmeld, reinforcing the killing machine's evil strain and destroying any chance that other Daleks can be "turned". He made it an ally, but couldn't save its soul.
Absent the lunacy of the post-regenerative story, Capaldi's Doctor is cool and collected, doles out quick and acerbic wit, and shares an electric alien-ness with Tom Baker's portrayal of the fourth Doctor. We're definitely in "you're a beautiful woman, probably" territory here when it comes to Clara, and he can't even be counted on to recognize any given human being. His callousness is born of pragmatism, but also from an inability to empathize with human emotion. And it scares the hell out of him. What would it be like to lose one's moral compass? Not gradually, through experience, but suddenly, as if from head trauma? That's why the Doctor needs Clara to evaluate him, to keep him on the right track, because he doesn't trust himself to. He wants to be the man he once was, the man who went to Skaro and saw evil and was repelled by it, but finds that evil in himself now. The Dalek reflects it back at him, and we get a shade of Doc9's own hatred of the Daleks (in "Dalek") with a similar line about being a "good Dalek". The Doctor has always been a killing machine; it's just that he's been on our side. I don't think we've seen such grave doubts in him before though. The new dynamic between the Doctor and Clara is that she's his TEACHER, not the other way around, and it's my very favorite thing about Season 8. The big hero moment isn't when the Doctor convinces the Dalek to "turn" - a Pyrrhic victory at best - but when Clara tests him and asks if he's learned the right lesson from these events. No matter how brilliant, the 12th Doctor is still a child, at least emotionally and morally, and every voyage through time and space with Ms. Oswald is a field trip. Love it.
And it all harks back to the inception of the series in 1963. There too the Doctor traveled with a pair of teachers, and though the program didn't stress the point overtly, they too taught him how to be "human". It's notable that Clara works at the same school and that in this very episode, she meets a maths teacher, Danny Pink, with whom she has an immediate attraction. He fills Ian Chesterton's spot to her Barbara Wright (maths for science and English for history), and like Ian, Danny has known military service. Unlike Ian, and this is 50 years of our own time passing, he also has PTSD and woman-induced anxiety. (Not surprisingly, Moffat writes the courtship as if these two were Susan and Steve from Coupling; your mileage may vary.) We're going to see a lot more of the school as their relationship progresses, in line with the theme of Clara acting as the Doctor's tutor. Danny's history as a soldier will also feature prominently, and in this episode, the theme is broached through a different soldier with a colorful name - Journey Blue. At first, she's just the umpteenth target of the Doctor's criticism of the military mind (forcing her to use "please" as an alternative to gunpoint is a nice bit), but by the end, she's become something more. Like the Dalek, she's a reflection of Doctor's own sins. When she asks to come along, the Doctor rejects her, but in the context of the story, he might as well be talking to himself. Clara has no such rule regarding soldiers, but then, how could she when she willingly stays by the Doctor's side. The compassionate soldier is her type.
THEORIES: "Nobody guards the dead", the Doctor says. Foreshadowing the finale? Tying in with the Missy subplot and how she's having tea and crumpets with all the souls the Doctor's touched? One question: What great thing will the Doctor do to honor Gretchen Carlisle's name? He made a promise to keep her name alive in tribute to her sacrifice, so I'm keeping my ears peeled for something called "Carlisle" in the show's future.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - More Heart of Darkness than Fantastic Voyage. The premise may be a little silly, but the story takes us into the Doctor's psyche and redefines his relationship to the companion. Capaldi is proving a force to be reckoned with.