Doctor Who: “Into the Dalek” and “Robot of Sherwood” (Season 8, Episodes 2 and 3) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Peter Capaldi as The Doctor in "Robot of Sherwood"

Doctor Who: “Into the Dalek” and “Robot of Sherwood” (Season 8, Episodes 2 and 3)

BBC America, Saturdays 9/8 Central

Sep 09, 2014 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the latest two episodes of Doctor Who then read no further.]

We're three episodes into the new season of Doctor Who, and subsequently three episodes into the time-traveler's latest incarnation. Peter Capaldi's cynical and cantankerous version of the BBC's 50-year-old hero may be a more serious take, especially compared to Matt Smith's fantastically aloof Eleventh Doctor, but the episodes so far show no sign of easing up on the rampant silliness, for better or worse. Since I missed last week's recap, I'll cover both "Into the Dalek," and this week's "Robot of Sherwood," which actually works rather well. These two episodes together give a broad perspective on the variations of episodes we can come to expect from Doctor Who. The former is a future story, presumably off-world, and as a bonus features The Doctor's arch nemeses The Daleks. The latter takes us into the past to meet a (semi-)historical figure, but also comes with a whimsical sci-fi twist.

Unfortunately, the fact that these episodes contain nearly every Doctor Who trope doesn't make them memorable or iconic in any way. Instead, we repeat ideas exhausted not just in the last 50 years, but the last five seasons, to the point that any attempt at fresh air in these stories comes off as too eager and ambitious to actually work. "Into the Dalek" is a perfect example. The Doctor has faced off with the destruction-obsessed aliens so many times they're hardly a threat, so this time Moffat takes us inside the "belly of the beast." What could have been a clever homage to The Fantastic Voyage instead turns campy, especially when every plot point just barely makes sense. The real drama, of course, comes from The Doctor's self-examination while dealing with a defective Dalek. We learn about his concept of morality, not as an absolute but in comparison to the evil he sees in The Daleks.

"Robot of Sherwood" is a more enjoyable episode by far. The Doctor asks Clara where she'd most like to go in history and her response is to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor insists that the famous archer is just a myth, but they seem to find him very easily none-the-less and The Doctor spends a big part of the episode humorously trying to prove that Robin is not the real deal. Since "Into the Dalek" was more serious, Capaldi's darker Doctor just blends into the story and doesn't give us much examination, apart from the not-so-subtle morality lesson. By stacking The Doctor up against the merry Robin Hood, the contrasts between the two become more clear and give The Doctor a more three dimensional personality. In this episode we finally get an idea not just of his identity—"Deep Breath" did a good job of covering this—but his personality. He's a skeptic, but for once he's let his massive ego out of the bag. No longer is The Doctor going to hide his cleverness, because he can't help himself. I'll probably get into a lot more of the specific quirks in this Doctor in later episodes, but there's a lot of William Hartnell's First Doctor in Capaldi's performance this week. Which is refreshing, since the character's penchant for world-weary condescension hasn't been tapped nearly enough in the rebooted series. Moffat teased that the series would take on darker themes during Capaldi's run, but "Robot of Sherwood" shows that a brighter setting might accentuate this Doctor's focus better than an episode like "Into the Dalek," where Capaldi doesn't have many opportunities to rise above the moodiness.

Once again, the character work is really the standout spectacle of this season. Clara is increasingly more useful and interesting, while we're most eager for The Doctor to save the day and get back to examining his psyche. This Doctor has a lot of potential for psychological digging, and Capaldi is more than capable of keeping us glued while sorting through his 2000 years' worth of suppressed feelings. Of course, that's up to the writers' and the direction they wish this Doctor to take. The Doctor in "Robot of Sherwood" was also a bit more action hero than we've come to expect. Let's be honest, despite all the aforementioned character stuff, the highlight of these two episodes' was Capaldi's spoon duel with Robin Hood. If I was to rate the episodes individually then "Into the Dalek" would be a 6/10 and I'd give "Robot of Sherwood" a 7/10.

Next week we should be back on schedule with regular recaps and analysis. I'm hopeful that this season's plot will start coming together. We've been teased so far with mentions of "The Promised Land" and a few glimpses of a mysterious "Missy" who welcomes the departed to Heaven. The Internet is buzzing with theories, but I'll leave it at that. (www.bbcamerica.com/doctor-who/)

Author rating: 6.5/10

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