Dalek episodes are notoriously hard to write. After "The Daleks" 1963/4), it's a little hard to say whether anybody got a good story without resorting to making them, either, the generic monster of the week, or by giving them some bizarre new twist. To write the Daleks are they first appeared seems to be too challenging, and with the possible exception of "Remembrance of the Daleks" (1988) and "Dalek" (2005), the stories have been either of the two above categories.
"Into The Dalek" gives us a new spin. Phil Ford and Steven Moffat (interesting to note that Moffat is getting co-writing credit for this episode) have woven an interesting tale which probably couldn't be done with any other monster. Not so much the Fantastic Voyage aspect of it, but certainly the idea that the Daleks are set in their ways and can't be changed. Equally, although the Dalek-is-actually-good idea is a bit of a 'bizarre new twist', it's a little better thought through than Russell T Davies' 'god Emperor' or Helen Raynor's 'human Dalek' ideas. Ford and Moffat have come close to writing a bloody brilliant Dalek story. But given Moffat came close with "Asylum of the Daleks" (2012), perhaps that's not surprising.
And perhaps it's also not surprising that it doesn't quite hit the mark. Certainly the Daleks are brutal killers with no remorse, and their massacre of the human army is exactly as it should be. But it's a little difficult to believe that one Dalek is able to then destroy the Dalek taskforce. When the Dalek says "We are under attack. From a Dalek!!!", it's difficult not to imagine the Dalek adding "Again!!". I understand that in the leaked version there is a scene where the Dalek returns to the mothership and self destructs. I think, maybe, it would have been better if the Dalek had done that to destroy the taskforce. It would have been slightly more believable.
And slightly too much like "Dalek". There are a lot of similarities between this story and the original new series Dalek story, not least of which the episode starts with the Doctor meeting a Dalek, effectively chained up. The human army getting massacred also harks back to that a lot, but in truth I suspect this is less a lack of originality and more a case of deliberate mirroring. What makes this obvious to me is that the Dalek turns to the Doctor and intones "You are a good Dalek", which is so close to what the ninth Doctor was told, it has to be deliberate. Both stories use the Dalek, not only as a vicious enemy that plagues the Doctor for all time, but as a mirror for the Doctor himself, to see what he is. To actually make the Doctor question "Am I a good man?"
Clara finds the question difficult to answer, and it's hardly surprising. The Doctor has an alien morality and without someone around to reign him in, is prone to being quite cold and brutal. Whether it's the sixth Doctor flippantly commenting as two men drown in acid thanks to their actions, or the eleventh Doctor leaving Solomon to die by his own torpedoes, we have certainly seen the Doctor not lift a hand when death stares someone in the face. However, on both those occasions, the Doctor was facing down a foe. When the Doctor's military accompaniment is attacked by Dalek antibodies, the Doctor gives everyone hope, just before the antibodies slaughter him. It's a callous moment for the new Doctor, and one which sits a little uncomfortably for me. Capaldi is giving a brilliant performance as the Doctor, and I like that Moffat and his writers are pushing the envelope with the new Doctor, but they are treading a fine line, and it's important not to step over it.
Capaldi, is, of course brilliant. Jenna Coleman is as well, and when she slaps the Doctor, I have to say I felt it was thoroughly deserved. I know that some corners are already criticising Moffat for it (though why they think the other producers, director and actors wouldn't stand up to him if they thought it was inappropriate is beyond me), but there are times when it seems that the Doctor needs to be brought back to Earth with a thud. Clara is developing into a very able companion, and her relationship with the new Doctor is nice. Her relationship with Danny Pink on the other hand seems...tacked on. Presumably the story with Danny is going somewhere, but at the moment it seems shoehorned into the episode. With more appearances of Coal Hill School, incidentally, there's a strong part of me that hopes we might get a cameo from Ian Chesterton at some point.
Additional cast members Zawe Ashton and Michael Smiley are also worthy of mention. Smiley delivers a rather dour performance, but it is effective and believable, while Ashton, on the other hand, is fantastic as Journey Blue. From the outset she is extremely engaging and likable, and at the end you can't help but want the Doctor to say yes to her, and for Ashton to join the TARDIS crew. The Doctor's response to her being a soldier is more than a little hypocritical, and I can't help but wonder what it would be like for Clara to have Journey around as a constant companion while she comes and goes as she pleases.
Ben Wheatley gives this episode a real shine, and it moves along at a better pace than "Deep Breath", although the action sequences still felt a little ponderous. It will be interesting to see if a new director can find a better balance than Wheatley has. That aside, the rest of the episode looks beautiful, and is framed really well. As such, the series is finding its feet and starting to run. I suspect this will be a series which will pay off if you continue to watch, but if you aren't prepared to watch a few episodes, you may miss something special.