It’s season 5, episode 2, the second appearance of the Eleventh Doctor. And it’s already brilliant and touching. I’m watching from the beginning of the new series, and I was really waiting for Matt Smith to appear. All the wonderful stories ahead and a lot of River Song appearances. (Funny, a few years ago I was tormented by the 10th-to-11th regeneration.)
One of the touching moments of this episode:
Although the Tenth Doctor was inhumanly lonely and bitter and grew cruel at the end, the Eleventh is vulnerable and sad and torn apart in a completely new way. Earlier I haven’t paid attention to this horrible idea of what can Doctor be inside. Or how it feels. Or where that cruelty and fury came from. Oh, and I missed ‘you would make a good Dalek’. Well, it told me a lot about Last Time Lord’s essence.
And the joy to my eyes – Winston Churchill and the Dalek.
‘If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?’
In “Dalek,” the titular Dalek says that the Doctor would make a good Dalek.
In “Into the Dalek,” the titular Dalek tells the Doctor he is a good Dalek.
Let’s break this down, because these two lines and the difference between them fascinate me.
I. Why the Doctor is like a Dalek
This one is easy. The Doctor hates. He has, in his long lifetime—particularly as a result of the Time War—grown to hate the Daleks. Hate them enough that he could destroy them, hate them enough that he’s prejudiced against the very idea of just one of them ever turning good.
To the Daleks, of course, hatred is their only morality. They don’t know anything else. Three Daleks in New Who have pointed out the similarity between their hatred of all other life and the Doctor’s hatred of them: the lone Dalek (“Dalek”), the Dalek prime minister (“Asylum of the Daleks”), and now the wounded Dalek.
II. “You would make a good Dalek.”
This is also easy. The Ninth Doctor shows a vehement hatred of the Daleks. “You would make a good Dalek.” His hatred would make him fit right in with the most fearsome species in the universe.
III. “You are a good Dalek.”
Wham. By this time, the wounded Dalek has some sense of morality. The Doctor calls him a good Dalek, by which he means that the creature is a moral Dalek. The Dalek says that he is not and tells the Doctor that heis.
This Dalek doesn’t mean what the first one did. He doesn’t mean that the Doctor would make a fine, rampaging, hateful killer. He means that the Doctor is like the Daleks but moral. He means that the Doctor hates, but acts as a moral person anyway.
They’re both brilliant, beautiful lines. The first line is harsh and unforgiving, even emotionally manipulative (to throw the Doctor off as the Dalek conquers the base). The second is actual praise (a farewell to someone who tried to save this Dalek). And while I’ve always loved the first line, I definitely like the second better.
It’s a line that really makes you think, from an episode that made you think. And, really? That’s definitely beautiful.
The Doctor: All right then. If you want orders, follow this one. [pause] The Doctor: Kill yourself. Dalek: The Daleks must survive! The Doctor: The Daleks have failed! Why don’t you finish the job, and make the Daleks extinct? Rid the universe of your filth! Why don’t you just *die*? Dalek: [evenly] You would make a good Dalek
I’m going to go ahead and set this lineup as indicative of everything the twelfth doctor does right in characterization and personality compared to the 9th and 10th, and even 11th sometimes, wangsty brooding, because the Doctor is somewhat beyond angst.
Angst is a young man’s thing, and the doctor is very, very old. He’s older then human comprehension really, at this point he’s been alive longer then we’ve been believing in Christ, and in that time he’s experienced and learned so much that he really is kind of this unknowable spectacle to human minds.
The Doctor is a unique, incredibly experience, and I personally hate it whenever they try to humanize him, or even worse make him want to *be* a human. I know one of the points of the show is that humanity is special, but in the show humanity normally really, really isn’t, so it just seems wrong to me that the 10th doctor was so fixated with *being* so human-like, or that the 9th doctor spent so much time hitting on this just random British girl he picked up.
I felt it got better with the 11th, who actually seems alien in his motivations and interests sometimes, this best gotten across in his interactions with Craig in “The Lodger” and “Closing Time.” Sure it’s played for comedy here, but the Doctor isn’t interacting with humans in a normal way because he’s not a human.
Now with 12 they kicked up the nomhuman aspect immensely, thus leading to the line “You are a good Dalek.” This line is clearly a reference to the 9th doctor episode “Dalek” wherein the Dalek from the title tells the Doctor “You would make a good Dalek” after the Doctor proclaims that all Daleks are evil and the whole race should be extinct.
In the 9th Doctor story, the Doctor was completely correct in saying that all Daleks are evil. The Dalek played on Roses’ sympathy to regenerate itself and then went on a rampage killing dozens. It knowingly tricked a person t break free and kill more people, with the goal of killing everybody on Earth, and was only stopped because Daleks have this thing about being pure and it had to destroy itself because it hated itself.
In the 12th Doctor story “Into the Dalek” the Dalek pleads for medical attention as it is going to die, and it has realized the error of its ways and wants to destroy all Daleks, and though its reasons are hate-filled, it’s still protecting life, and has the potential to realize things like beauty in the future. As it turns out, the damage to the Dalek was causing radiation to leak into its brain, which is what was altering its perception, so when the radiation was fixed, the Dalek was “fixed” and went on a rampage. The Doctor eventually reunfixes the Dalek and makes it stop, leaving us with the series first morally-ambiguous Dalek, who then delivers the line to the Doctor.
In the first context, the line “You would make a good Dalek” makes no sense because the Doctor is s morally righteous in the episode. He acts as a lawfully good character who hates the lawful, even sometimes chaotic evil of the Daleks, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do since the Daleks had proven themselves to be enemies to all life and even an kind of structure in the universe that isn’t them.
In the second, the Doctor spends a significant portion of the episode doing morally-grey things, and one of the episode’s big questions is what even is a good person? The Doctor lets a man die far, far easier then he normally would, and casually takes advantage of that death while mocking the dead person, understandably pissing the dead guy’s teammates off. Then, when the Dalek is fixed on goes on a rampage, the Doctor’s response is to be smug that he was right and that all Daleks are evil, and it takes Clara smacking him to make him begin to realize he’s being a bit of a dick.
This is why the second line works so much better. “You would make a *good dalek*” means that the Doctor would make an efficient, hateful killing machine, which we all know is pretty absurd. “You *are* a *good* dalek” means that the Doctor is basically what a Dalek would be like with feelings and a moral code. Ruthless, bit of a dick, definitely not human or carrying human ideas of morality and acceptability, but not evil. The line is so much calmer in its accusation and comes at the end of a much better episode, it makes so much more sense.