A Good Dalek

A Good Dalek

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.

the doctor is rightFor 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.

S01, E06 -- "Dalek"
S01, E06 — “Dalek”

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.

S08, E02 - "Into The Dalek"
S08, E02 — “Into The Dalek”

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?

am i a good manThe Dalek answers the only way he knows how. You’re a good dalek. You’ve chosen to be good despite the hatred and rage that’s been building up inside you for two thousand years.

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.

a good dalek is possibleYou 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.

6 thoughts on “A Good Dalek

  1. Excellent analysis. I think you’re reading just the right amount of material into what the writers meant— I also think that it’s an awesome thing for the show that they actually delved into the doctor’s emotions and try to change him. All of New Who thus far has felt like a yippy-skippy adventure where the Doctor is basically Superman— good, capable, with excellent hair— but with a really sad past that he’s basically repressed, so no one gets to know about it. This Doctor doesn’t think of himself that way. His past informs his present much more directly, and instead of cavorting about doing deeds of righteousness with occasional consternated faces, he’s trying to figure out who exactly he is. Less Superman, more emotion. They’re making the Doctor human and at the same time suitably alien. I love it.

    Anyway, I like your analysis. Good post.

    1. Thanks! :) I would argue that some episodes have delved into the Doctor’s emotions etc fairly deeply — the problem lies in the fact that they’re then skipped over and ignored from that point forwards, as though it was enough just to talk about them once.

  2. Hi Miriam! Found this post via the link you added on Engie’s blog, and can I please fangirl with you now??

    I think there should have been more of a reference. I mean, there’s 7 series in between S1 and S8, so will everyone remember? I don’t know.

    But at the same time I LOVED IT. I didn’t realize the change of wording until you pointed it out *coughMoffataddaflashbackcough* but I think it’s so cool. This reminds me of 9/10 and what they’ve done, but somehow, 11’s character development didn’t lead up to this point, which makes me sad. :( I mean, it references 10.2/TheDoctorDonna/The10CloneThing/TheParallelUniverse10 and what he did at the end of that episode, and obviously 9’s you would make a good Dalek thing, but 11? I can’t think of a specific time. I’m really glad that Moffat finally is returning to the type of Doctor Who I love *coughthreeyearsreallycough*, and CLARA IS A DEVELOPED CHARACTER. WE MUST THROW A PARTY.

    I agree with what you said in your review on Engie’s blog, I held on to Clara in Series 7b because everything else was just awful. And I actually skipped much of Series 7a because there was nothing there, and Amy was irritating me SO. MUCH. I was thinking earlier today that we like characters with arcs becoming better (Rose becoming a sort of independent Doctor figure by Series 4, Martha knowing when she’d be better off on her own, Donna… well, Donna. I miss Donna. :'( ) I’m glad Moffat’s finally realized that, and I think I just didn’t like Amy because she just got WORSE; more and more clingy to the Doctor/Rory. But I’m so glad Clara’s finally going to be 3-D! I missed that about Doctor Who. And yes, I know this was half a rant, but I am tired.

    It has been a pleasure fangirling with you. *bows*

    1. Hello! Yes, you’re welcome to fangirl on my blog, it’s what I do. I definitely think that it was an interesting episode for character development. Today’s, which I’ve just watched, was entertaining and feel-good, but I felt it had slightly less depth to it. Still, I enjoyed it. I liked basically everything, until the final thirty seconds or so. But I’m going off topic. Hi. Nice to meet you.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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