The Will to Destroy, Composing, 15/08/2017

I’ve been looking back through the old posts for my book of essays on Capaldi era Doctor Who, and I wanted to talk about “Into the Dalek.” I remember the general reaction to this story as being fairly muted.

A lot of my original review of "Into the Dalek" consisted of my own
quick takes on the successes and failures of Dalek stories throughout
the history of Doctor Who. Short form – Dalek stories work when
there's something more interesting than Daleks in them, when the
Daleks act as a catalyst for a more multidimensional narrative that
is the part of the story we can actually give a crap about.
The Daleks are creatures of hype, at least in popular culture. Every time they appear on contemporary Doctor Who, they seem also to get a Radio Times cover. If not that, they end up on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine. So the reception of a Doctor Who Dalek story always runs the risk of underwhelming.


Then it turns out that the storyline is kind of bollocks – a riff on Fantastic Voyage? Seriously? – Returning to The Invisible Enemy as a well worth drawing? Holy fuck. Plus, the characterization is utterly non-existent.

The letdowns can keep you from seeing what was good about the episode, because Dalek stories are connected with such hype.

It didn’t help that Daleks were portrayed at an operatic pitch for so many high-profile episodes of the Russell T Davies era. I feel like one of the reasons Steven Moffat began shifting Daleks away from the centre of Doctor Who adventures throughout his tenure was to make the ‘ordinary Dalek story’ a conceivable story choice again.

Mainly, however, this is a post about how I’ll update those original Doctor Who reviews from 2014 for the current version. There are two directions I could do with “Into the Dalek.” One is to follow along with the ideas of my first review, discussing different ways to make the Daleks actually interesting in a story.

Because it’s really easy to write boring Daleks. “Exterminate!” is all the characterization you need to do. Your entire episode’s plot consists of running away from Daleks and blowing them up. These stories haven’t been exciting to most people since the 1950s.

Another aspect of the Capaldi era that I want to explore in Essays
Critical and Temporal
 is the possible meanings of Peter Capaldi's
hair throughout his era. His rather conservative haircut of the first
series slowly grows into a wilder mess. It seems to parallel the
development of his character in a similarly relaxed direction. As I
remember from an insightful Gareth Roberts tweet, it was only by
his last year in 2017 that they finally wrote Capaldi's Doctor as the
Doctor instead of some angry old man.
But most of my initial review stuck to looking through examples from the show’s history, mining them for good and bad ways to approach Dalek stories. Useful, interesting, but I don’t think as interesting as it could be.

No, what I want for the book version of the “Into the Dalek” essay is to meditate a little longer on the core philosophical conflict of the story itself. Dalek nature is the totalizing will to destroy – so I’ll explore what it means to will destruction, whether Daleks are a death drive in the Freudian sense or something far more horrible.*

* Hint. It’s totally going to be more horrible.

I also want to explore what a profound transformation Rusty makes of his own nature in “Into the Dalek.” He understands the radical principle that there can be an exception to that totalizing will. The central confrontation of the story is the Doctor pushing him one step further in the argument – that an exception to the totality proves its falsity.

If there’s at least one thing not worth destroying, then nothing is worth destroying. At least not as a Dalek does, as an existential mission.

Some potentially deep philosophy going on here.
• • •
If you want to support some of that potentially deep philosophy in this book project, you can start giving to my Patreon. I’ll post a rough budget for the Capaldi Era book project – probably by September. It’ll lay out some basic costs: buying quality copies of the episodes with creator commentaries, printing and production costs. I’ll probably claim the cost of my InDesign subscription for the time I’ll be assembling the book.

Claim? What do I mean by that? You’re my (potential) Patreon supporters. Not my tax accountant.

Anyway, if you like the sound of my project – Essays Critical and Temporal: Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who** – you can subsidize it with regular donations to my Patreon. Perks, thanks, and gratitude galore.

** Working title. You like it? Let me know.

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