Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Victory of the Daleks"

Update in 2018: What was I thinking when I wrote this? This episode is pretty crap. Pay no attention to the content below.

This episode is a bit like the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of Doctor Who Dalek stories: it's a bit new and different, it both refreshes the new series while still tying back to the old, and loads of people hate it for absolutely no legitimate reason. But the thing is "Victory of the Daleks" is a great episode (much like the aforementioned Indy film) and if you don't like it you're a damn bally fool. Mark Gatiss finally got to do something good with this episode and it shows. One of the best ideas which Gatiss and Moffat developed was to have Churchill and the Doctor as already friends, as they are in spin-off material, rather than trying to introduce them to each other, and it's a massive relief compared to the usual gushy introduction to a famous person which has dominated the 'celebrity historicals' over the past few series.
Then there's the mystery of the 'Ironsides'. We know they're Daleks, the Doctor knows they're Daleks, but Churchill and Bracewell think they're good guys and Amy doesn't recognise them at all. It's satisfying to see Daleks being duplicitous and sneaky again and we know there's a greater mystery at work when Amy doesn't know about the Daleks. There's some good Dalek work and you can almost believe that they've mended their ways, especially when they offer Bracewell some tea, but the Doctor refuses to let his guard down. As we've seen, Daleks don't change and it's good that the Eleventh Doctor continues to acknowledge this. It's a bit weird when he flips out and starts attacking one of the Daleks with a spanner and the rantiness of it is a little unpleasantly reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor but you can tell he's annoyed at the very least; again, the Eleventh Doctor's normally calm demeanour makes these moments of fury more effective. It's also very clever that the Daleks need the Doctor's testimony to reactivate their device, even if their plan to get him to turn up is rather convoluted.
Another way in which this episode works is that the presence of the Daleks doesn't overshadow the historical setting nearly as much as happened as when they were in Depression New York or the Cybermen were in Victorian London. They manage to merge these two elements through the use of things like the enhanced spitfires and, of course, the British disguises the Dalek "Ironsides" are wearing. The Dalek space ship looks reasonably nifty even if it is only one set and the Doctor's bluff with the jammie dodger is classic. Then, of course, we're introduced to the New Dalek Paradigm.
This is usually where most of the haters start jumping up and down and grinding their axes, but honestly I don't see what the fuss is about. The Cybermen were redesigned in a lot of needless ways as well and no one complains about that. The TARDIS looks different too; what's the big deal? It's not like the Daleks have always looked identical: they've gone through a number of small but important design changes and colours over the years. I always found the previous era's gold Daleks to be disagreeable because they were too machined and metallic. With the rivets and the golden bodies they didn't look hyper-advanced and alien, which was something the simpler Classic Series design always had and that was only due to the limitations of the time. The New Paradigm Daleks are bigger, sleeker and much more advanced-looking than their predecessors. They're satisfyingly chunky. They sort of look like they're the tanks to the gold Daleks' armoured cars as it were, and you can tell that they mean business. Regardless, the fact that they disintegrate the previous Daleks shows who's more powerful here. The thing is, unlike the Parallel Cybermen they're still the same creatures. Maybe they're in too many colours. It might have been better had the Supreme been in one colour and all the other Daleks in a uniform colour like grey, because I feel like red is a little too ostentatious for the basic soldiers, but in all honesty I don't particuarly care.
It's nice that the Daleks get their Victory as well without it being a cop-out, although if the Doctor knew the Daleks were going to activate the Bracewell bomb anyway I don't see why he didn't get Danny Boy to blow up the Dalek ship regardless. Maybe it would have caused the Oblivion Continuum to explode automatically. The section where the Doctor and Amy deactivate the bomb by making Bracewell feel emotions is interesting; I find it reminiscent of the situation with characters like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation or perhaps closer to home Kryten in Red Dwarf. It's also good that while the Doctor focuses on grief, Amy focuses on heartache, and it reinforces the idea that the Doctor is an alien who has different conceptions of what's important psychologically whereas his companion provides that human touch. Nonetheless it maybe could have done with some more explanation as to why making Bracewell feel would stop the bomb; presumably it had something to do with 'breaking his programming' and I bet the Daleks were feeling a bit stupid for building such an advanced android but at least it's a more elegant solution that the Doctor waving the sonic screwdriver around or, as Amy suggests, some kind of blue wire red wire moment. Sort of like the previous episode it seems that maybe a bit more exposition could have been useful. For instance, had those Spitfires already been fitted with Bracewell's experimental gravity bubble generators and laser cannons? Otherwise it seems like they managed to build and implement them implausibly quickly. Also, was Bracewell a replicant of a real person or were his memories stolen from someone who was not actually like him? That'd make it a bit difficult for him to return home and meet Dorabella and stuff if there never had been an 'Edwin Bracewell'. Nonetheless I'm willing to let these elements slide because the performances are all so good, the special effects for the Dalek saucer and the Spitfire are very snazzy and it's quite a well-rounded piece.
Overall I think "Victory of the Daleks" is a deeply underrated episode. It's fun, it's atmospheric, it makes a nice point about the Doctor's priorities and the need for strength in the face of adversity with the ongoing parallelism of the Daleks and the Nazis, and it takes a look at that classic sci-fi conundrum of the concept of androids and their humanity and whether being human is something biological or psychological. The Doctor clearly thinks that an android can be a human being, and much like his philosophical convictions in the previous episode it's good to see these issues raised. It's very much what science fiction should be doing, and it's easily the best Mark Gatiss episode so far. KBO!

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