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Victory for the Daleks, but certainly not for the viewers.

April 18, 2010

Well, that was poor. After everything I said last time about how impressed I was with the series and the writing and all the rest of it, that episode (Victory of the Daleks) was really rather bad.

Let me set the scene. The previous episode ended with a phone call from Winston Churchill summoning the Doctor to WWII. Amy’s expression as she says “Winston Churchill for you…” is rather good, but I did notice at the time that the Doctor didn’t explain how it was so easy for old Winston to get hold of him when everyone else found that so difficult when they tried it. Suspend the disbelief, I thought, and wait until next week. I was expecting some explanation of that point, and none came. I would let that go, but unfortunately for me I was also expecting a good quality mid-series Dalek episode (i.e. one that isn’t a season finale), and I certainly didn’t get that. Surely after the travesty that was Daleks in Manhattan they’d have put more effort into a story involving what are supposed to be the Doctor’s deadliest villains. Maybe someone could also have said “no hang on, surely an extra-terrestrial spitfire is a bit much?” Sadly though, given how the rest of the episode went, I think that scene was the closest we got to fun. All 50 cringeworthy seconds of it.

So where to start? Well, the new Daleks look much worse than the old ones. Technicolour does not a scary adversary make. And the way they justified bringing them back! “One ship escaped”? Oh of course it did! Sadly now not even Moffat can convincingly bring those things back without demeaning them. For such a worthy adversary of the Doctor you’d think they be more creative than just saying “we fell back through time.” It’s almost as bad as when they went all Voldemort to bring John Simm back as the Master. Not quite that bad, but almost. The only redeeming thing about the way the Daleks escaped was that at least next time we see them (which we will, probably in an epic battle with the universe at stake or something) they won’t have been resurrected again. On top of the new Daleks I didn’t particularly like the android man, and despite how cool the spitfires looked in the trailer they required more suspension of disbelief than I could muster.

However, the thing that annoys me the most about that episode is that, when you think about it, the idea isn’t awful, it was just badly executed. They could have made it a 2 parter, they could have introduced a backstory to better explain how the Daleks ended up on Earth in WWII, they could at least have introduced that poor crying girl who’s boyfriend obviously died near the end. Loads of it they could have elaborated on and didn’t, and the episode was so much worse for it. In particular, there was no reason for it all happening during WWII. It could literally have happened anywhere, on any world, at any time, but they set the story there, seemingly just to get Winston Churchill involved. The problem with this lack of establishment is that it gives the episode very little foundation on which to build a convincing story. I’d have liked them to explain why it was Earth, why it was WWII and why it was Churchill. With that in mind, excuse me while I indulge myself, and see what you think of this for a revised plot backstory:

In his travels the Doctor has at some point met Churchill and given him technology that can contact the TARDIS. Pick a reason for this, I’m not fussy. Maybe Winston came across something alien and not very dangerous, maybe not even anything to do with the Daleks at all, but it’s something that the Doctor couldn’t move at that time, so he had to leave him with an ‘it’s ready for collection’ button. That’s the first idea that sprung to my mind, but seriously anything will do, just find a reason for Winston to have that magic phone. Thus when the Doctor and Amy arrive and she asks him how Churchill contacted the TARDIS (which, as I’ve said above, I’d like her to have done anyway), he explains and fills everyone in on why we’re all in WWII. That way, when the whole ‘testimony’ thing happens and the Doctor realises that it’s him the Daleks needed, he also realises that that’s the reason they came to Churchill – because he had that magic phone.

Look at that, I’m not even a writer and I’ve already explained the first half of the plot with more backstory than that episode did. Sorry if I sound a bit ‘cleverer than thou’ there, but given how good the writing’s been so far, and how simple I just found it to come up with something resembling a backstory to that episode, it wouldn’t have been hard for them to have done the same. That makes me very frustrated.

As for the ending, I think that was the worst bit. If you’ve seen it you’ll know why – whoever decided that you can stop an android-bomb going off by persuading it it’s a human shouldn’t be allowed near a writing desk anymore – but the bit that annoyed me the most about the scene was when Amy joined in. She asked the android (I forget his name) about fancying someone he shouldn’t, and looked at the Doctor while saying it. It stank of soap-opera almost as much as Martha’s infatuation with the Doctor did, and that’s saying something. Also, the part afterwards when they’re telling him he’s not going to be deactivated is cringeworthy to the point that you want them to turn him off just to end the scene. It tied the episode up with too much light-heartedness and emotional waffle considering the Doctor’s greatest enemy is properly on the loose again.

I’m getting more scathing and bitchy than I want to be now, which I don’t like doing because I still like Doctor Who. I’m just very disappointed with that episode. Even the crack in the wall at the end was somehow too obvious, especially as that’s the third time we’ve seen it, very clearly, in as many episodes. However, on the bright side at least now the only way is up, and since next week’s episode sees the return of both Dr River Song and a Weeping Angel, both of which I enjoyed last time we saw them, I’m going to set my expectations in middle gear rather than at rock-bottom. ‘Til then, here’s my favourite bits from that episode.

  • I’m liking the TARDIS interior a lot more after the first time I saw it. I did think it was a bit cluttered but now I’m used to it I think it’s pretty good.
  • The Dalek serving tea was rather good, if a little creepy.
  • The 1940s British accents get me every time.
  • The actor playing Churchill was good, can’t fault his performance. On top of that, acting in general was pretty good so at least they’re doing something right.
  • The jammy-dodger. ‘Nuff said.

Update: I’ve just remembered about how Amy couldn’t remember the Daleks invading Earth in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. Obviously there’s something more going on here than we realise just yet, and it’s to do either with the Daleks themselves, or with all the humans (or just Amy) forgetting about them. Maybe that’s why this Dalek episode was so early on, so they can explore that strand more throughout the series. Another one to watch I think.

Update 2: After some reflection my initial reaction may have been a bit abrupt. It did nicely re-establish the Daleks as a force to be reckoned with, much moreso than any of the season finales they were in did. Thus as a means to a re-establishment of a reputable villain, that episode served a purpose. I’m still unlikely to choose to watch it again (at least more than once), but on reflection I no longer think it was awful, just that it was one of those filler episodes they sometimes have to put in. Now, onwards if I may, for the real point of this second update is to bring this to your attention. That, dear readers, is a very clever conspiracy posting discussing plot arcs that I hadn’t even considered before, far beyond there just being cracks all over the place. I’ll let you read it for yourselves though, don’t want to spoil the author’s thunder.

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