Review: Doctor Who – 5×3 – Victory of the Daleks

Defeat for quality writing

Victory of the Daleks

In the UK: Saturday 17th April 2010, 6.15pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 1st May 2010, 9/8c, BBC America

Just goes to show you – Steven Moffat isn’t infallible. He might be showrunner, but when he’s given a piece of tatt by his bestest Whoer pal Mark Gatiss that was left over from the Rusty years, he’ll still try to use it to save himself a bit of time. Oh, and to get some new merchandising opportunities up and running.

Cue, Collectibles of the Daleks!

Plot
The Doctor has been summoned by his old friend Winston Churchill but in the Cabinet War Rooms, far below the streets of blitz-torn London, he finds his oldest enemy waiting for him… The Daleks are back! And can Churchill really be in league with them?

Was it any good?
To be honest, no, it was rubbish. I sat there twiddling my thumbs for most of the episode feeling a bit bored.

Now, it was a Mark Gatiss script, so I was kind of expecting this. His Idiot’s Lantern wasn’t the most engrossing of all episodes, although his Ecclescake one wasn’t too bad.

But this had the air of something that had once been two parts, condensed into one part, the entire second part having been changed to cope with the fact it was in a different season altogether from the one intended. The result was that none of it worked.

Holes
So we get the Doctor and Amy turning up in wartime London at Winston Churchill’s request. Within minutes, they find out that Churchill has recruited Daleks to their side, thinking them to be the robotic inventions of some Scottish scientist or other. Except he’s not a scientist, he’s a robot, and the Daleks aren’t inventions, are they?

Then it turns out the Daleks were really just setting a trap for the Doctor so they could be sworn in as real Daleks, rather than half-Daleks since they’re genetically impure, and wake up some proper Daleks who could rejuvenate themselves into super, colour-coded Daleks with sleek new looks.

Then the Doctor has to decide whether to save the Earth, since robot Scottish scientist has been set to self-destruct, or destroy the Daleks. The Doctor chooses to save the Earth by making the robot think he’s human, except he can’t do it because he’s alien, so Amy talks about fancying the wrong person and that appears to work and the mechanical self-destruct stops working. Meanwhile, the Daleks escape somewhere.

Stop me if this is making sense. Because it doesn’t. Not in the slightest. The Doctor goes wandering around shouting “the Daleks are evil” at every possible opportunity, trying to get him to shoot him (because we all know that works out well). When they’ve got him to confess to being the Doctor and admitting they’re Daleks, do they shoot him? No. Even when his jammy dodger bluff is exposed, do they shoot him? No.

When robot Scottish scientist is exposed as an agent of the Daleks, does he get shot? No. He just gets to wander around the place with a gun. If the Daleks could always resurrect themselves in shiny new cases, why they hell didn’t they just do that years ago?

Why doesn’t the Doctor simply ditch robot scientist in outer space with his TARDIS? Why does the self-destruct stop simply because the robot thinks he’s human? Will it start up again? Will he age? Will he get nicked by Torchwood and used to create a bomb and blow up the Earth after they’ve come back a bit pissed from the pub? How easy is it to build anti-gravity bubbles and lasers, fit them to spitfires then send them into outer space? Why is this a good plan? Why does the robot scientist know how to do all of this anyway?

No fun either
Significantly, this is Doctor Who
so expectations of things making too much sense are always going to be a little bit doomed. It’s just best to sit back, relax and let the fun wash over you, assuming the plot isn’t so catastrophically flawed that suspension of disbelief is impossible.

But there was nothing else really to excite. The dialogue was bereft of any sparkle whatsoever – and that, at least, was one thing Rusty was good at with the rewrites – so Matt Smith and Karen Gillan literally have no way to be interesting, beyond moving their eyes about a bit wildly. The budget’s so low now they can’t actually make anything too exciting happen on set and even the CGI space battle with spitfires failed to inspire. There was no tension built because everything was pretty much revealed by the midpoint. Supporting characters, particularly Ian MacNeice’s Churchill, were limp, poorly characterised if at all, and just there to speak in plucky tones.

Now, it wasn’t so awful that blood came out my ears, which could happen with many a Rusty script, and it certainly wasn’t Daleks in Manhattan bad. It was really just dull and a bit pointless, beyond

a) giving you some more Daleks to buy come Christmas time (assuming that’s your thing) – and isn’t it nice that the Daleks were so interested in colour schemes?
b) making sure Matt Smith and Karen Gillan had met the Daleks this season.

It was also semi-fun to see the Daleks have a scheme that worked.

Series arc
The series arc – cracks in the universe, etc – did at least get an effective nod this ep, with Amy Pond adding to the interest by not remembering the Dalek invasion at the end of Journey’s End. But that was probably the most interesting thing about the episode.

Oh well, Weeping Angels and River Song take on Aliens next week – fingers crossed everyone!




  • Maybe I have my critical faculties reduced by the fact that I am so excited that Saturday evening has turned back into Family Dr Who Watching which I’ve missed over the last year that I dont’ really care even it is it is a bit crap. I loved the dalek offering tea, and I liked the robot, and I don’t understand science so when it doesn’t make sense I can just say oh well never mind. But I appreciate all the wise words of everyone else who has their critical faculties and scientific knowledge perfectly well tuned. I DO think the River Song ep looks awesome. Sorry MG didnt’ turn out so well as am big fan of his (I think watching Confidential he’d just got totally hung up on his fascination with Churchill which maybe unbalanced it) – I quite liked The Idiot’s Lantern, but really loved The Unquiet Dead, so I think he could do better. Maybe he wasn’t given the chance here. Holding out for River next week…

  • “The Unquiet Dead” is one of my favorite eps of the series, so I was disheartened to see this from Gatiss. Just the production of the Spitfire refits demanded a two-parter and without that, it all falls apart.
    Biggest problem for me was Ian McNiece as Churchill. I just didn’t buy into it. I like him a lot as an actor, and even though I hate recasting, I’d like to see him bring back Rumpole. But he was wrong for this part.
    Still… it’s going to provide fodder for a Toobworld theory, one that I used once before with ‘Children of Earth’ – just as Bracewell’s continued presence on Earth will be used. (You can probably guess where I’ll be going with that…. Cha-chung!)
    Speaking of Bracewell, the Doctor really should have taken him along in the TARDIS, and dropped him off on a planet that would be on a par with the level of his technology. (Maybe even to the same planet where he SHOULD have taken Adelaide Brooke!) Although his character could show up again in the future, where he could be used to bootstrap the tech level against his will. Did the Doctor really think the threat of that black role would remain safe on Earth?
    Thinking that Bracewell could potentially last thousands of years made me think of him as the Demon with a Glass Hand – especially when his own got shot off.

  • Three strikes and you’re out, Mark Gattis. I agree that “The Unquiet Dead” was okay, but his other two Who episodes have been lamentable.
    Yes, this was a two-parter (but thank God it wasn’t) which was rushed to the point where it felt more like a trailer. And ehere did those Spitfires come from?
    The Power Rangers Daleks were bizarre, like a very bad acid trip.
    It’s a shame, because the episode began well and Matt Smith continued to impress.
    I suppose that it was no worse than “Daleks of Manhattan”, but I felt more disappointed because the new Moffatt era had raised my expectations.

  • Poly

    Without repeating what most people say, yes, it was disappointing, furthermore I am not feeling the Matt Smith love as strong as most people. When he has something to do, he is fine. But too often, he disappears into the background.
    And talking about the character, or character development, of his Doctor, this is the second episode in a row that this Doctor did almost nothing. If he was a well establised Doctor, that might have been ok. But so early and our relationship might not recover.

  • SK

    Disappearing into the background is good, though. It’s very Doctorish. One of the most annoying things about Tennant was the way he had to always be centre stage, to make every scene about the Doctor.
    The Doctor should operate in the shadows, on the edge of things, only stepping forward occasionally to push and prod events — until the climax, when it all spins out of his control and he has to improvise madly.

  • bob

    Toby: ” the Doctor really should have taken him along in the TARDIS, and dropped him off on a planet that would be on a par with the level of his technology. (Maybe even to the same planet where he SHOULD have taken Adelaide Brooke!) ”
    Ha!
    I agree with Poly that there is a problem with Matt Smith’s Doctor being weak and not just in the script but I also think the actor has failed to make his performance unique or memorable. SK’s comment is interesting… but I just don’t buy a useless Doctor any more (surely that hasn’t actually been the case since the First Doctor- I wouldn’t lay the blame at DT’s feet). He’s become more than that and you can’t reset the clock so easily.

  • SK

    Useless Doctor? Not at all. I’m talking about a very useful Doctor whose weapon of choice is his mind, his observations, and his planning. And I’m thinking mainly of the seventh Doctor.

  • stu-n

    “I just don’t buy a useless Doctor any more (surely that hasn’t actually been the case since the First Doctor”
    The 10th Doctor did nothing more often than not, if you look back.

  • stu-n

    “The 10th Doctor did nothing more often than not, if you look back.”
    Argh, sorry, that should have been the 9th. Eccles.

  • bob

    “Useless Doctor? Not at all. I’m talking about a very useful Doctor whose weapon of choice is his mind, his observations, and his planning. And I’m thinking mainly of the seventh Doctor.”
    Hmm, in episode 2, Amy solved the episode when the Doctor was limited. In episode 3, again, it was Amy that solved how to stop the bomb. The Doctor seemed pretty useless to me.
    I think the ninth Doctor managed to solve the episode each time… I think solving the episode and saving the day are different things. Often the Doctor allows others to actually do the saving but he’s the one that figures out how it needs to be done (and apparently manipulates them into doing it). In these two episodes, he didn’t do that.
    He was great in episode 1 though.

  • Well, it is quite fun to come back to the fury of fandom after a bit of a break. Neil turned to me me immediately after the ep and said ‘well, that was a bit crap’. I’m not sure I agree, but the weaknesses were more visible.
    I loved ‘The Unquiet Dead’ so was more than happy to see MG given another chance to make up for the far weaker ‘Idiots Lantern’ (which was a good premise relatively poorly carried out; I didn’t like the hooked on ‘social values’ issues and the family dynamics, but they may have been more of a RTD thing…?) But I agree this didn’t live up to expectations. Still, a friend described it as ‘Star Wars meets the Blitz. F*king fab’ so clearly not everyone was disappointed. I’ll try and get round to more commentary soon.

  • Electric Dragon

    “Star Wars meets the Blitz”
    And therein was the main problem. Rob, you said this had been on the shelf for a while – I suspect it had been on Gatiss’ shelf in some form even longer. Like, since he was 12. “Churchill! And Daleks! And Spitfires! In Outer SpaceTM! I’ll fit a plot around it later.” Only he never did.

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