Doctor Who complete reviews: Victory of the Daleks
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The evil pepperpots get a bit of a restraining bolt from murder-shy Who-runner Steven Moffat...
Cuthbert Cringeworthy from The Bash Street Kids. Zilly from Dastardly And Muttley. Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Some of the biggest wimps known to humankind. Quaking, weedy scaredycats who would run a mile even when faced with the prospect of visiting the zoo. But never in this Petrified Parade would we include...
The evil pepperpots are forces for fear and terror throughout the galaxy. They rewrote the Intergalactic Guide To Fiendish Deeds. They're so racist that even Alf Garnett would blush. They'd shoot you even if you gave them a fancy birthday present in a colourful box and bow. In short, they're the perfect baddies for Doctor Who, since they stand for every force of evil in the universe.
Problem is, they've had a bit of a bumpy ride ever since Doctor Who came back to our screens in the 21st century. Christopher Eccleston's first season got the idea with two great stories, Dalek and Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways. The following season nearly got it right with a big face-off against the Cybermen, but that got kind of shunted off into the background to make way for Rose's temporary goodbye. After that, things got more problematic with the Manhattan two-parter (a well-meaning but silly fudge) and the Stolen Earth shebang (which promised way too much but didn't quite deliver). In both of these stories, they were bigged up as terrifying threats, but in the end they turned out to be both easily defeated and a bit stupid.
Now take those two problems, multiply them by 50 billion and you have the real issue with Victory Of The Daleks.
For a Dalek story, Victory Of The Daleks hasn't had a good time of things in fan reviews and on fan forums. It's regarded as a story that initially holds out a great deal of promise and then descends into incoherent gibberish. Admittedly, the initial ideas of apparently subservient Daleks in wartime Britain is a nice one, and one that harks back to the Troughton days. The most obvious homage is The Power Of The Daleks – like the classic Troughton opener, The Doctor is trying and failing to convince people that the Daleks are not quite the benign servants that they claim to be. Incredibly, a gaggle of Daleks (christened Ironsides here) have been drafted in to help the war effort – the result of an apparently amiable sort called Edwin Bracewell. And these Ironsides even have the same sort of catchphrase as they did in Power – just swap “I am your servant” with “I am your soldier” and you get the idea. There's also a bit of Evil Of The Daleks creeping in here with a throwback to which Daleks liked nothing better than a game of trains – as opposed to being masters of the universe.
So the set-up's a good one, if a bit predictable. The Doctor's ineffectual protests work well, thanks to some suitably tortured acting from Matt Smith. And inevitably, the Daleks reveal their true colours after the evil meanies have received The Doctor's 'testimony' (read on) – Bracewell actually turns out to be an android, although oddly, none of his co-workers really seem that surprised at this revelation.
"The action's so hurried, it's as if the BBC had accidentally speeded up the tape during transmission"
The problem is, after this promising set-up, the whole thing falls apart like smoke. The scene which contains the Big Reveal is pretty sloppy, and already the alarm bells start ringing. The action's so hurried, it's as if the BBC had accidentally speeded up the tape during transmission. Two faceless grunts are gunned down in a nanosecond – there's absolutely no tension prior to this. The exterminations are over and done with in a flash – inevitably for this season, none of the other characters get the dreaded Death By Egg Whisk. And then the Daleks just piss off back to their ship. End of.
And there's possibly the biggest headache of Victory Of The Daleks. A Dalek story tends to be judged by how ruthless the metal meanies are. Genesis Of The Daleks . Remembrance Of The Daleks. The Daleks' Master Plan. They're three good examples of the pepperpots at their fire-spitting best. And then think of Destiny Of The Daleks or The Chase , in which they're reduced to silly figures of fun. Victory Of The Daleks can now be added to this list, since everything about the Daleks' portrayal in this story is wrong. They're no longer terrifying monsters, they're mostly electronic infodump machines, explaining their latest great plan to The Doctor. Which is naturally a bit rubbish. For starters, why do they need a voice sample of The Doctor in the first place? The amount of times they've met their arch enemy, you would have thought that they'd managed to nab some sort of sample for their MP3 collection.
The whole point of getting The Doctor's voice-print is to restore the Daleks to their pure selves. They want to restart the progenitor so as to bring back the pure Daleks, although given what they look like, this isn't much of a plan. Yes, the new breed of Daleks now look like they've been designed by a classroom full of slightly demented colour blind kids. They look a bit like Dalek rides that you'd find at the fair, great big overgrown multicoloured dustbins for kids to ride around in. Quite why the Daleks think that this new generation are in way superior boggles the imagination, although in their defence, they can now completely disintegrate their targets as the old Daleks find to their cost. The idea of pure Daleks has always been toyed with in Doctor Who, and tallying with their racist ideals – Remembrance and the Eccleston finale are good examples, but in Victory, their reasoning just seems a bit too vague. And considering that Davros – er, the Dalek creator – was responsible for the new breed, just how much more pure do they want?
"Quite what Davros would say of this wussy new breed of Daleks is anyone's guess."
The Daleks' ridiculous plans don't stop there. The robot Bracewell is left as a deadly Plan B bomb – but they don't reckon on the fact that if someone gets through to Edwin's memories and humanity, then the plan spectacularly fails. And sure enough, Amy manages to get through to the Bullseye Prize Dartboard heart of Bracewell – hey, those memories of a dalliance with his fancy woman Dorabella do the trick. So again, it's a mind-bogglingly stupid plan.
Meanwhile the Daleks have forced The Doctor into an ethical dilemma – either save the planet from doomsday or let his deadliest enemies trundle off into the sunset. Inevitably, the Daleks live to fight another day – OK, so the new Doctor gets his first taste of defeat, but as I said at the start of the review, it just feels like these new Daleks are wimpy cowards. It's as if they expect The Doctor to say: “OK, I'll give you a head start of one minute, and then I'm coming to find you!” Quite what Davros would say of this wussy new breed is anyone's guess. He'd disown them quicker than you could sneeze.
So an ill-conceived plan and a lack of scares don't exactly bode well for Victory Of The Daleks. It's got the promise of a good old fashioned wartime sci-fi thriller, but there's very little that's actually thrilling about this one. Again, we're in Moffat's world now, and that means that his crack team of writers can't include a barrage of scary deaths. So when you've got a race like the Daleks who do nothing but kill, this is something of an obstacle. The deaths of the two guards are blink 'n' miss it and lack the chills of past demises such as Solomon, Lynda With A Y or Dr Singh.
"Director Andrew Gunn again manages to work wonders with an undercooked script"
Admittedly, there's more going on here than there was in The Beast Below. There's a great big Star Wars-style battle in which the Spitfires do battle with Dalek ships. It's well realised on screen and director Andrew Gunn keeps the pace speeding along with some excellent visual effects and good camera shots. In fact, Gunn again manages to work wonders with an undercooked script. He manages to establish a good deal of tension in the early part of the story, mostly through subjective Dalek POV shots and some interesting camera angles - most notably the slightly distorted close-up of The Doctor's face with the Dalek hovering silently in the background.
His casting's generally very good too, even if ,again, the characterisation's not quite up to the mark. The warden's a shouty old goon, while we're asked to feel sorry for Lillian and her loss at the end, despite the fact that she gets zero character progression. The portrayal of Churchill by Ian McNeice has also come in for a fair bit of stick, but I still quite like it in its own gormlessly rambunctious way. Churchill is very much written as a rather broad stereotype, full of blustering clichés and propaganda. It seems a bit unlikely that Churchill would accept the Daleks at face value too. Surely he would have checked, double-checked and triple-checked that they were safe protectors as opposed to vicious destroyers?
"A well-judged, thoughtful performance from Bill Paterson, and probably one of the best of the season"
Bill Paterson steals the show though as the robotic Bracewell. It's a strong performance that never lapses into mechanical cliché. It's nice that we get to see at least some sort of journey – from his initial enthusiastic delight at the invention of the Ironsides through to the horror that his whole life has been a sham through to the rather touching sequences in which he's allowed to live (even if that last sequence does go on a bit too long – blimey, take the hint mate, you've been let off the hook). Overall, a well-judged, thoughtful performance from Paterson, and probably one of the best of the season.
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan also do well, although they do get mixed fortunes this time around. The Doctor's initially reduced to shouting and yelling like a loon in the first half of the story, and there's still the feeling that these shouty confrontations are better suited to the Tenth Doctor rather than the new kid on the block. Matt Smith still does a good job though, and his confrontation with the Daleks proves that he can provide convincing authority when required. Oh, and holding the Daleks at bay with a Jammie Dodger is as Doctor-ish as you can get.
Amy again helps to save the day with the humanity that didn't quite come through in her first episode. She manages to save Bracewell from self-destructing with a quick misquote of The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen In Love' (and also manages to get a sly 'Oy Churchill!' into this episode too). Along with finding a way to thwart the Daleks' plans by shutting down the power, this is another instance in which Amy's established as one smart cookie who's just that bit more than your average strippogram. Mind you, she's evidently a bit less clued up when she's asked about the Daleks. Despite the big events of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, Amy's still none the wiser. It's an intriguing bit of mystery, which along with another crack in the wall, proves to be part of the bigger picture that Moffat's aiming for this season.
"The real downer about Victory Of The Daleks is that after a promising start, there's hardly any tension or any attempt to scare the kids"
It's difficult to work out whether Victory Of The Daleks needed another part or whether it needed a script overhaul prior to going before the camera. The story rushes along at such a pace that the 45-minute format seems too much of a limit. And there's no denying that the script needed a lot more attention, given that the Daleks' plans make little to no sense this time around. As mentioned in the last review, there were issues with the scripts for this one and The Beast Below, and in hindsight, the plot holes loom large as a result.
But the real downer about Victory Of The Daleks is that after a promising start, there's hardly any tension or any attempt to scare the kids. It's well made and reasonably diverting TV, but considering that Doctor Who is always meant to send kids behind the sofa, then Victory fails on this count. When the biggest weapon in the scares arsenal fails to terrify, that's a sure sign that something's wrong with this picture. Wimpy Daleks? Oh, please...
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