Like last week's, I enjoyed this week's Doctor Who
more on a second viewing. Unlike last week's, I didn't actually expect to.
After a few years away from the show, Mark Gatiss returns to write "Victory of the Daleks." It's a bit of a weird one before it even starts because it's very much common knowledge that Steven Moffat wanted to give the Daleks a rest before having Matt Smith's Doctor face them, and that this episode is here because BBC higher-ups insisted on it (what with the amount it costs them to license the Daleks, it would seem to make sense to use them as much as possible; there's flaws all over that but you can see where it's coming from.) Since he's been lumbered with them though, it's interesting to see what task Moffat has really
given Gatiss here, namely to create a whole new origin story for them, to apply to their stories from now on. I'll come back to this, but it's what made me think I wouldn't be too impressed on a second viewing: I wasn't fussed the first time I watched the episode, but the ending got me so excited it cast a rosy tint over everything that came before. I figured now that was out of the bag, the ep wouldn't stand on its own terms.
In fact, as with last week, knowing the whole picture before going in made me enjoy the story a lot more. It does
come across, on first viewing, as being rather fragmented, but those various parts that don't quite add up to a whole are pretty awesome in their own right. First of all there's the whole surreal strand of the Daleks being ultra-helpful and making cups of tea for people, but the best moment of this is a line I missed the first time (this happened quite a lot, so I wonder if those famous dodgy sound levels people are always complaining about were at work here?) When the Doctor starts smashing the Dalek with an oversized spanner, it replies with: "You... do not require tea?"
Lots of other nice lines in the episode, one of my favourites being the Doctor's response when Churchill comments on his regeneration: "I've had some work done." And Churchill is completely au fait with regeneration, meaning the Doctor has met him in at least two previous incarnations. An interesting little variation on the theme of the Doctor meeting a historical figure and fanboying them, to have him already on friendly terms with them. I've seen a couple of people comment that they didn't like Ian McNiece as Winston Churchill; he does seem rather chipper all the way through, but then that does
fit in with an overall theme in the episode of his being slightly Doctorish himself, the figure who has to inspire hope towards victory. I was perfectly happy with the performance myself, but then I have
seen McNiece play Churchill before, on stage in Never So Good
. Another exciting guest star is Bill Paterson, from The Crow Road
and Sea of Souls
. Rather stupidly, the BBC released an image of him with his robot hand blown off before the episode aired, so the twist about his character was pretty easy to guess. Still, nicely done.
Obviously I can't not mention the spitfires-in-space sequence, which incidentally brings us our first on-screen deaths this year, and once again in a non-Moffat episode. It's one of those annoying things where I was slightly angry with myself for enjoying it, because of the rather large leap of the imagination that required Bracewell not only to devise the gravity-bubble technology (which is fair enough, it's established he has non-human knowledge implanted in his brain) but to adapt and affix it to spitfires in a matter of minutes. But still, the Star Wars
esque sequence was bloody
cool. And finally (finally about the story on its own terms in any case) we have the solution to the exploding Bracewell. In week 1 the Doctor came up with the solution, in week 2 it was Amy, this week it could only be done by the two of them together: The Doctor to figure out that triggering Bracewell's humanity would override his function as a living bomb; and Amy to actually find what that trigger would be, since more than any Doctor since Tom Baker (Eccleston had it to an extent but Smith's already overtaken him in this respect) Eleven is very clearly not human
. So he might know that humanity is the key, but being able to access that humanity is a little beyond him.
So taking the episode on its own terms, I actually came out of it with only minor niggles and lots of things to like. But like I say, what gets me really excited is how "Victory of the Daleks" fits into the overall plan. I think these first few episodes will be interesting to watch after a couple of full Moffat/Smith seasons have aired, because I think they're still continuing the work done in "The Eleventh Hour" of providing the show's mission statement (I know from Series 1 DVDs that Moffat has known Gatiss at least since they both wrote for the show in 2005, if not longer, so it makes sense that he would entrust this continuation of the mission statement to him.) What's really exciting is how we leave the Daleks at the end of the episode. I actually liked the way the Daleks were reinvented in the RTD years, but the trouble with the "last remaining Dalek/group of Daleks" thing is it suffers badly from the law of diminishing returns. Even that might not have been so bad if they hadn't returned every year, I think half the reason people got sick of them was the endless "they're definitely all dead forever now... oh wait here's another one." So giving them an ending where they can go off, create more Daleks, and spread around the Universe causing havoc like they did before 2005 means we can have future Dalek stories without the tortuous explanations every time.
Then there's the Dalek redesign, which seems another bone of contention on t'internet. I must say the "fat arse" Daleks didn't really register for me, but the colour scheme of course did. They do look a bit like a marketing ploy to sell more Daleks and make kids collect the set, and for all I know it could, like the episode itself, be a decision that was made above the writers' heads. But at least the writers found a reason for it, it's just a shame it wasn't made clearer in the episode itself. (I think this may be one to lay at director Andrew Gunn's feet, as on a second viewing I noticed that the Dalek Supreme does indeed list the five different colours as reflecting rank or purpose: Scientist, Strategist, Drone, Eternal, Supreme. But the opening lines of the Supreme's speech are talked over by Amy, and on first viewing I thought it was just listing the Daleks' general qualities as it sees them.) Certainly, knowing that this is the model for Dalek armies to come feeds into the idea that there's going to be more of them, spread out across space, and from now on we won't need a convoluted reason to have the most iconic villains of the show return.
And finally, continuing the mission statement about what kind of Doctor this is going to be. Smith himself continues to channel various earlier Doctors while settling into it as his own man, but here it's where Gatiss and Moffat take him that's interesting. There's touches of the Fifth Doctor in how abruptly Eleven turns on the Dalek in the War Room, but from the writers Davison's legacy is most apparent when the Daleks do what the title promised, and defeat the Doctor. Last week we had him coming close to making a huge mistake, this week he loses a major battle (winning a smaller one, by stopping Bracewell from exploding, is good enough for everyone else of course, but not for him.) This is very on-theme with the new credit sequence and the TARDIS battered by lighting-bolts: This Doctor is not
a safe one to travel with. The other intriguing thing is of course Amy not remembering the Dalek invasion of Earth. Of course, with the TARDIS' timekeeping being all over the place, he may well have picked her up in the 1990s and not realised it (although I'm assured by people on Team Who
that Rory's name badge in TEH
was a mistake and not a clue; but then Team Who would
say that...) but after the mystery created around it this week, a time mixup would be a bit of a lame explanation. I like the idea that there's a reason Leadworth seems a bit too
idyllic and there's something weird about the whole village. But I love the theory that Amy herself is at the heart of the cracks in reality, and that the Doctor, to some extent at least, knows this - with this idea of him not being entirely
trustworthy, how good would it be to see him take a leaf out of Seven's book and be using his companion for reasons she herself is not aware of?