Later on you’ll be able to find me over at Musings From Neville’s Navel, where I’m going to be collaborating with Engie to review the latest episode of Doctor Who. However, I wanted to share some of my own thoughts on a specific aspect of the episode here first.
This is not a review. It is a discussion of a single line in the context of the episode and in comparison with another line from a different episode. It’s fandom meta, overly-detailed analysis, whatever you want to call it. And it is most certainly NOT spoiler-free, so if you haven’t seen the episode, you may want to stop right here.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
‘Into The Dalek’ had a fairly fascinating premise: the Doctor is asked to help a Dalek that has malfunctioned and now appears to have turned ‘good’. Morality as malfunction — a chance for the Daleks to finally develop some morally ambiguous tendencies, which I love in a villain. Because let’s face it: we know the Daleks are evil. That ain’t news, and it means they miss out on the opportunity to be as interesting as some other antagonists.
For the Doctor, this concept forced him to reevaluate the basic framework on which he’s formed his entire worldview. The Daleks are evil but he’s not a Dalek therefore he’s their enemy therefore he’s good.* He knows that he’s got something in common with them, with all the shared history their races have, but that only feeds his hatred of them.
In series one of New Who, the Doctor was told: “You would make a good Dalek.” In this episode, he was told: “You are a good Dalek.” Parallels have been identified and illustrated by a hundred gifsets already, but I see a huge difference between those huge statements.
The first is informing the Doctor that his rage and capability for genocide would make him a satisfactory member of the Dalek race. He tells the Dalek he’s facing to just die, because he can muster no compassion or sympathy for the creature. This means that he’d be a good Dalek in the sense that he would fulfil the requirements of Dalekness. (That’s a word. Shut up.) It scares him because he knows it’s true, maybe, but also because of the potentiality there: you would be. As though it might happen, at some point in his future.
The second, though, is completely different when examined in the context of the episode. I don’t think that’s just my linguisticsy brain talking. (That’s also a word. Man, you’re picky today.) The Doctor’s fascination with the broken Dalek was to see if it could be ‘good’ in the moral sense, but the only way he achieved that aim was by the Dalek looking inside him and adopting his own hatred for the rest of the Daleks. It then admits that it is not a good Dalek, despite being satisfactory: it destroys and it hates. It works, as a Dalek. But it’s not ‘a good Dalek’ in the way the Doctor means, because its morality is still based on hatred.
The Dalek then informs the Doctor that he is ‘a good Dalek’. Because he hates and he rages and inside him there is something that the Daleks can recognise as familiar, something that makes him like them — save for his outward appearance, as far as they’re concerned he could be one of them. His history of destruction makes him satisfactory. He passes the test.
But he’s a good Dalek. He’s the one with a moral compass in the way that the actual, physical Dalek isn’t. He’s the proof that a creature full of hate and destruction can be good, and that’s what the Dalek is trying to tell him.
Unlike the first time, it isn’t saying, “You’re like us, and we could make you even more like us.” It’s not mocking him in that way. What it’s saying is, “You’re the proof you’re looking for that not everything is black and white.” Blurring the division between Daleks and Time Lords because as soon as Daleks get a conscience, what’s the difference between them? Maybe it’s almost a compliment. It looked into the Doctor’s mind and it must know the question he asked Clara at the beginning of the episode: am I a good man?
Now that they’ve joined minds in that way, there’s no real separation in the Dalek’s mind between himself and the Doctor, certainly not a racial/species divide. But it’s aware that the Doctor is better in terms of moral decisions. And I think it’s fascinating. The Doctor as a Dalek who has chosen to be good: facing his own worst enemy every day and overcoming it by force of will. What does that mean for his behaviour? Is that why he finds it so easy just to destroy?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe all that’s meant by the change of phrasing is that there’s no longer any ‘would’ about it — the Doctor has already reached the stage where he’s enough like a Dalek to send this one on a rampage of destruction after looking into his mind. But somehow I don’t think so. It seems too obvious, and almost too dark. While I know this series is supposed to be going down a dark road, I like to think there’s something helpful about it. Already in this episode Clara has pulled the Doctor back from thinking that Daleks are incapable of any positive feelings whatsoever. Maybe he’s being taught the same thing about himself.
You are hatred, you are destruction, but you are good. He’s seen too many planets burning to be a human. No man can live as long as he has and do the things he’s done. So it kind of wouldn’t make sense for him to be a good man, because what man has ever had to work within that frame of reference? A Dalek, on the other hand… he could be a good Dalek.
What do you think? Am I being ridiculous in my analysis of the phrase, or did you think the same thing when you watched the episode? Let me know, and head over to Engie’s blog later to see our collaborative review, too.
*I have spent a long time looking for gifs of the the Doctor was not the Daleks scene because there was something stunning and profound about that moment, but I can’t find it. Alas. If you’ve seen the episode, though, I’m sure you know the one I mean.