‘Into the Dalek’ is about good soldiers vs bad soldiers.
The pain of being a good soldier, the pain of the memories which a good soldier has, vs the anaesthetised mind of the bad soldier.
But, of course, what do we mean by terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’?
For the army, a ‘good’ soldier is a soldier who obeys orders without question, kills without hesitation, and doesn’t let themselves be haunted.
A ‘bad’ soldier is a soldier who thinks about, and makes decisions based upon, things other than the orders of a superior… perhaps leading to their inability, or refusal, to kill on command.
In a soldier, morality is a malfunction. A good soldier is a ‘bad’ soldier. Because good people can’t do a soldier’s job, which is to fight and kill.
At least, that might be how the Doctor would put it, in his simplistic way. The Doctor doesn’t like soldiers. As in ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ he is rude and patronising to the soldiers he meets as a matter of course. He refuses to take Journey Blue with him because she’s a soldier.
But the soldiers on the Aristotle are rebels. They are specifically described as rebels. Rebels against the Daleks. The Daleks, who are, for whatever reason, inherently evil. This is fuzzy (it still may be because of technological control of the brain) but, at the end of the day, Rusty reverts to type. He realises that life is beautiful and unstoppable, that the Daleks are the enemies of life, and his response is to decide that all Daleks must die. Because he’s a Dalek, and that’s how Daleks think. So, contrary to the Doctor’s hopes, there’s no saving the Daleks… which makes Rusty pretty much right: they’re beyond saving, so they must be fought. Which is what the rebels are doing. So Rusty kills all the Daleks… which is a BAD THING judging by the Doctor’s defeated frown (though quite how any of them would have survived if that hadn’t happened escapes me).
So, once again, as in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, we have an episode which says one thing about warriors while showing us another. Soldiers are scary and irredeemable… umm, even the ones who rightly rebel against unappeasable and unsalvageable aggressors.
See, I have no problem with the soldiers on the Aristotle. They’re rebelling against the imperialists of the universe. I’m supposed to think they’re wrong or suspect for shooting to kill? When you’re in an army fighting aggressive imperialists or fascists, you’d better obey orders and shoot to kill. That’s what the soldiers of the International Brigades did. That’s what the Red Army did when they drove back the proto-fascistic West-sponsored Whites. If the Whites, or Franco’s troops, or the Nazis, are advancing on you, you want an army that’s ‘good’ at what it does to come and fight them.
Of course, Danny is a former soldier… and Clara doesn’t reject him the way the Doctor rejects Journey. She, despite her copy of the Guardian, rises above the kind of knee-jerk, right-on disdain for soldiers that (supposedly) so many people have, like the Doctor.
So there’s some nuance, right? Taken with the fact that the Doctor’s prejudiced hatred of Daleks is what turns Rusty into a Dalek-killer, and Rusty’s remark that the Doctor is a good Dalek (however we want to take that), a considerable amount of ambiguity has been created, yes?
And anyway, the Doctor has a bloody cheek being so arsey with soldiers, considering that he ended the Time War by… oh no, hang on, that got fixed last year didn’t it.
It really isn’t possible to just talk about ‘soldiers’ as if all soldiers are the same, as if all armies and their objectives are morally equal. This is obvious. It’s a commonplace of our cultural discourse actually… trouble is, it sits alongside the assumption that ‘we’ are always the ones with the moral superiority, which is sadly rarely true. But it could be true, theoretically. It isn’t logically impossible to have soldiers who are both ‘good’ and good. It’s just that, by a morally and politically realistic evaluation of the world, that doesn’t apply to ‘our’ soldiers. Our rulers pretend it does. ‘Our’ media pretends it does. But it doesn’t.
Presumably, Danny was fighting for the British Army in Iraq or Afghanistan. Which makes him a soldier in the army of a technologically-superior imperialist aggressor.
He’s a good soldier because he cries when he thinks of the people he killed. Maybe he’s even good because he stopped being ‘good’, i.e. he became ‘bad’ at his job because he found a moral objection to it (I guess we’ll see) but he isn’t anything like the soldiers on the Aristotle, the ones I had no problem with. He wasn’t a rebel. He wasn’t in the Iraqi resistance. He wasn’t someone exercising their moral right to use violence against the people attacking them and occupying their country. He was, presumably, in the occupying force. He claims that there is a “moral dimension” to soldiering as he practiced it. In other words, there is a moral dimension to being an aggressor, invader and occupier on the orders of an imperialist hegemon.
So, as always, ‘we’ are the good guys, by definition. The ambiguous investigation of the ethics of warfare collapses back into bog-standard liberal hand-wringing over the niceties of what we do in the course of being the goodies. How terrible it is the bad things happen when we try to help.
The truth is, we in the aggressive neoliberal imperialist countries… we are the Daleks.
And we’re not good. Though we are ‘good’.