THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE
TV EPISODE "THE BEAST BELOW" AND PRIOR TO THE AUDIO NOVEL "APOLLO 23."
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
The Doctor has been summoned by an old friend, but in the Cabinet War Rooms far below the streets of blitz-torn London, it's his oldest enemy he finds waiting for him.
The Daleks are back – but can Churchill be
in league with them?
17TH APRIL 2010
It’s a British thing, Doctor Who; one of our proudest institutions. And Mark Gatiss’ latest script may be one of the series’ most adorably British yet. Here we have two cultural icons, equal and opposite – the very tough and very real erstwhile leader of the nation, and the machiavellian, fictional monsters that were inspired by the horrors of the war that he had to wage. Not too shabby a start, it has to be said.
The initial hook of Victory of the Daleks is incredibly alluring. In fact, taking that distinctive metal war machine, painting it khaki, sticking a Union Flag on its dome, “blacking out” its dome lights, and then putting it to work for the British Army as an “Ironside” is so tempting a proposition that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before now. That said, I understand that Justin Richards’ graphic novel, The Dalek Project, would have trodden vaguely similar ground, hence its shelving upon the announcement of this televised adventure.
“I am your sol-dier.”
Having the Daleks pretending to be subservient to humans is a far less creative conceit, though much to my surprise the old ‘Power of the Daleks’ ploy was raced through quickly, serving as an enticing hors d’œuvre rather than the main course. Even so, Gatiss ekes every ounce of excitement possible out of the device – some of the eleventh Doctor’s finest moments to date are to be found within the opening fifteen minutes or so of this episode, as his fervour increases to the point where he has to start bludgeoning the tea-proffering Dalek with a comically-oversized wrench.
Prior to watching Victory of the Daleks, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the titular tin-pots as Gatiss had never been charged with their care before, but one thing that I was banking on was a memorable portrayal of the renowned Winston Churchill. Naturally, Gatiss didn’t disappoint; in fact, he excelled himself. His script instantly captures the hard-headed, larger-than-life figurehead. Here Churchill is imbued with the all the traits that one inevitably associates with him, including his gift for a wry turn of phrase, which actor Ian McNeice (Rome, Doctor Who: Immortal Beloved, Valkyrie) wields with relentless relish.
“If Hitler invaded hell, I would give a favourable reference to the devil.”
But what really impressed me was the character’s effrontery. Presenting Churchill as a long-standing acquaintance of the Doctor’s (as established in Terrance Dicks’ novel Players) allows Gatiss to flood his script with lots of witty banter and what appear to be running jokes between the pair – the numerous ‘TARDIS key’ skits are great fun especially. This lends the story great pace too, as instead of having to convince a pragmatic wartime leader of his credentials, the Doctor is able to launch straight into an ill-mannered debate with him about the nature of his “Ironsides.”
Furthermore, as Gatiss’ previous scripts for the series have demon-strated, he has a hell of flair for bringing alive even history’s less explosive moments, and so it is little surprise that Steven Moffat chose him to write a script set during the Blitz. The ensuing episode of Doctor Who Confidential confirms the author’s fascination with the period, something that I think is reflected in some of his ‘little’ characters, such as the lady who loses her lover at the end of the episode. He also recreates the Cabinet War Rooms with cons-ummate aplomb, aided by some evocative design from Edward Thomas’ team, and some suitably grainy Andrew Gunn direction.
Inescapably though, irresistible images of spitfires in space will linger with viewers for far longer than the deft little touches – images that speak for themselves, really, and that I can only throw a flood of fawning adjectives at: breathtaking, magnificent, inspiring, perhaps even provocative.
Now in the general run of things, any episode that features a dogfight between a squadron of spitfires and a Dalek saucer is going to struggle to leave the viewer with a more enduring image. Victory of the Daleks, however, manages to top its own awe-inspiring action scenes with a reveal that manages to be as a colourful as is it is cold.
“Behold the restoration of the Daleks! The resurrection of the master race!”
In terms of screen time, it doesn’t take long for the Daleks’ stratagem to become clear. The “I am your sol-dier” business was simply a rouse to lure the Doctor to Earth so that he might identify his oldest enemies and, in doing so, activate their “progenitor,” giving rise to a whole new race of Daleks. A race of “pure” Daleks.
The heartbeat of the saucer all but grinds to a halt, before kicking in again full force as the new Dalek race glides out from inside the “progenitor.” Within moments, their khaki cohorts have been disintegrated with some awesomely destructive new weaponry, and the Doctor finds himself starring at a quorum of bulky, economy-sized Daleks, whose liveries boast almost as many colours as his old patchwork coat did. Let the merchandising frenzy begin...
Just as the new TARDIS exterior wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of the 1960s Dalek movies, at a first glance these new “pure” Daleks also look to have been torn straight out of them. Indeed, when I first saw three politically-charged Daleks donning the various covers of this week’s Radio Times, I simply assumed that they’d dug out some old shots of the Amicus Daleks to tie in the with election. However, though the inspiration for their design clearly came from the old Peter Cushing movies and the oft-lauded comic strips of the same era, these new Daleks are more than just modernised versions of some 1960s movie props. They have eyes in their eye stalks, for heaven’s sake; actual, living eyes. It’s unconscionably perverse.
“Extinction is not an option. We shall return to our own time and begin again.”
What I find most impressive of all though is their imposing size. Unlike their smaller, scheming forbearers, these Daleks make no bones about being great big metal war machines. These things are as tall as most humans - perhaps ever taller – and they’re dauntingly chunky too. Even their voices are bigger somehow, Big Finish head honcho Nicholas Briggs once again demonstrating his versatility.
And whilst as a grumpy old adult, I do prefer the dull and neutered tones of Daleks past, the spectrum of vibrant, primary colours boasted by this new lot are sure to appeal to younger viewers. Indeed, I suspect that if I were twenty years younger, Victory of the Daleks would’ve had me racing for my crayons. What’s more, the significance of the differently coloured casings (as explained by Gatiss and Moffat in Confidential) should allow for some interesting experiments in Dalek characterisation in future episodes, and sate many a fanboy’s hunger into the bargain. The yellow Dalek has a particularly tantalising soubriquet...
“What does hate look like, Amy? It looks like a Dalek. And I’m going to prove it.”
Turning to the Doctor, as ever his oldest foes really bring out the best in him, dramatically speaking. So early into his reign, Matt Smith is given the opportunity to play the Doctor with staggering gravitas – the infamous “Jammie Dodger” scene is one of the most agonising and enchanting that I’ve ever seen in the series. It’s such a suggestive biscuit, with that little red button sat in its middle; trust Gatiss to turn it into one of the Doctor’s biggest bluffs. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – here Gatiss has his lead man throwing punches, wielding wrenches… he’s even quite coy about saving the world, for once. And I love how he calls Amy “Pond”.
For her part, Karen Gillan has slightly less to do than in previous weeks as this is very much the Doctor’s tale, but she still shines through her dealings with Churchill and especially Bill Paterson’s Professor Bracewell, who is this episode’s unsung star. Once Bracewell’s true nature had been revealed, I kept expecting him to deteriorate into an irredeemable, tragic mess, but instead, much to my delight, Gatiss has Amy reach out and remind him of his humanity, and in doing so save the world.
“Have you ever fancied anyone you shouldn’t? Hurts doesn’t it? But kind of a good hurt…”
Amy also finds herself in the middle of a challenging little conundrum, as Gatiss’ script reveals that she has never encountered the Daleks before. This is odd - even taking into account humanity’s predilection towards cover ups and D-notices - given that the Daleks once stole the Earth, moved it half way across the universe and then ravaged it. I’m very interested to see where the writers go with this for two reasons: firstly, it’s an interesting development that I’m sure is tied in with these ‘cracks in reality’ that each episode presents. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, had Amy remembered the Daleks, then she’d have been a little harder for the audience to relate to; a little too far removed from the life that we all know, which it’s her job to represent. If I were in Moffat’s shoes, I’d want to start my run with a clean sleet, and I wonder if this little reveal is a precursor to that…
In summary then, Victory of the Daleks is an unyielding delight; a sepia-tinged world illuminated by colour and spectacle. And when it ended, I couldn’t believe that it had. I found myself frenetically checking my watch, expecting to find that only twenty-three minutes had elapsed. But end the episode had, and in victory. Victory for the Daleks. Victory for Mark Gatiss. Victory for the toy manufacturers. Victory for Doctor Who.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
I do love Mark Gatiss’s work. He has to be one of my favourite authors, both within Doctor Who and without. So it was something of a disappointment when his World War II-era script was dropped from the fourth series line-up. Thankfully though, he’s had the chance to visit the era again, in this absolutely cracking Dalek episode.
Now, Gatiss does tend to err towards the spooky side of things in his works, so I did wonder how he’d handle an out-and-out sci-fi baddie like the Daleks. On the other hand, he’s an old hand at period settings, so I was confident that at least that side of the story would be skilfully covered. In the event, he totally nailed the Daleks as well. Quite rightly recognising that the metal menaces were Nazi ciphers in their original few serials, Moffat and Gatiss drag them back to their roots and pit them against the best of British during the London Blitz.
“I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks!”
Taking his cue from the lost classic The Power of the Daleks, Gatiss makes his Daleks sneakily subservient characters, apparently helping out with the war effort. It’s a great idea, leading to memorable moments such as a helpful Dalek offering tea to his ‘superiors.’ The Daleks just look great when covered in khaki and embossed with a Union Flag - although my favourite addition is the little blackout covers on their light bulbs. It’s in the chara-cterisation that these Daleks truly succeed, though, expertly manipulating Churchill into summoning the Doctor, simply so that their own technology will recognise his testimony that they are, in fact, Daleks. It’s a great idea, with the crippled, hybridised, post-Time War Daleks desperate to restore their species.
On the other hand, I’m not totally convinced by the new Daleks. Big, butch and pure they may be, but they just look a bit plasticky to me. I understand that they were going for a Cushing movie sort of vibe, but it’s been taken a bit far, especially with the super-bright colours. Yellow is just not the right colour for a Dalek. However, I do love the booming voices, and I’m especially fond of the organic eyeballs embedded in the stalk. I’m sure that, by the time of their inevitable comeback, I’ll have grown to love them, but for now I prefer the bronze versions. Still, it’s satisfying to see them escape to cause terror once more. Hopefully, this will be an end to the habit of wiping the entire species out before conveniently reviving them, again and again and again.
“Observe, Doctor: a new Dalek paradigm.”
Enough of those pepperpots. Where this episode really impresses is in the human characters, from the entirely believable background staff in the War Cabinet to the mighty Churchill himself. Ian McNeice is just perfect in the role. Churchill died nineteen years before I was born, yet his voice is utterly familiar to me. He’s an immortal part of our national identity, for all the controversy and discussion of his methods. McNeice reproduces him marvellously, producing a fine, faithful character. I could happily see him again in a future episode, perhaps after his defeat in the first postwar election. He could become a sort of period Brigadier figure. I also liked Bracewell; a wonderfully optimistic character, the android servant of the Daleks who rediscovers his humanity in adversity. I almost didn’t recognise Bill Paterson wearing a grin - he normally plays such dour characters - and he brings the part to life beautifully. And again, he could return - perhaps working in a post office one day. After all, he’s unlikely to get any older, so he could turn up in almost any time zone from the 20th century onwards.
Once again, both leads impress. I’m going to stop gushing about Smith’s Doctor, for fear of becoming boring, but I will just say how much I enjoyed his angry baiting of the Daleks in this episode. And you’ve got to love anyone who addresses a Dalek as “sweetheart.” Karen Gillan makes the most of her scenes here, limited though they are as the Doctor takes the focus in the latter part of the episode. The Doctor and Amy are brought into direct contrast in their approach to Bracewell’s salvation. While the Doctor tries to access his humanity by speaking of the pain of mourning, Amy has more success by focusing on unrequited love. It’s a fine way of displaying why the Doctor needs a companion; although he has some insight into human nature, his alien origins, and the damage done to him by war, mean that he is always outside true understanding.
“Don’t mess with me, sweetheart.”
There are some fabulous moments in this episode. I love the Doctor facing down the Daleks with a Jammie Dodger, and pretty much any scene involving both the Doctor and Churchill is a winner. After a definite Star Wars-feel last week, the series totally outdoes the movie franchise by taking actual spitfires into space, fighting a gigantic flying saucer. Absolutely marvellous.
Admittedly, the plot is rather thin, the episode being built around a series of set pieces and character moments. Perhaps it would have been worth expanding the story to two episodes, keeping the grand reveal of the Daleks’ plan till the end of the first episode. For all the feel of The Power of the Daleks invoked here, a 1960s serial wouldn’t even have had the Daleks come clean about their identities until around four episodes in. The pace of the episode keeps things spinning along nicely, with no time to get bored, but I feel more room to develop the story would only have been a benefit. Still, this is a cracking episode, excellent frothy fun and a fine outing for the Daleks.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Victoria and a werewolf! Shakespeare and witches! Agatha Christie and a giant wasp! Let’s be honest, which other show can boast episodes with pitches as truly insane and delightful as those? My appetite was whetted for all of these, and I didn’t find myself disappointed and when I heard that Mark Gatiss - a man with novels the calibre of Nightshade and The Roundheads and audio dramas such as Phantasmagoria to his name - was going to be bringing us Churchill and Daleks in a wartime setting. You could practically see the drool seeping from my chops! I came away from the episode with a far more positive reaction than most fans if the forum polls are anything to go by, and although the episode amounted to little more than a spectacular run-around… well,don’t we deserve some flashy spectacle every now and again?
I want to address the Doctor first this week purely because I said to my husband that this would be make or break week for him. Week one he was being introduced to the public so a little creative disarray is expected and week two he was settling in, but week three he is facing the Daleks and had to emerge as the main man of his show. Matt Smith has had an unfortunate job of constantly being compared to the unbelievably popular David Tennant, and he is under regular media scrutiny for taking over the job when the show’s popularity is at its height. Now to his credit I think he is doing a remarkable job. Rather than giving the audience what they expect, we have an actor in the role that is adding nuances to his performance that aren’t even hinted at in the script. I adore his general lankiness; he tiptoes about like a pixie with expressive, flapping hands and a cheeky grin. He doesn’t behave in a way that I would imagine anybody to behave and that is the Doctor.
“I wanted to know what they wanted; what their plan was. I was their plan.”
What’s more, this script allows him to play a whole range of emotions. What surprised me was how violent he was and I was literally on the edge of my seat as the Doctor picked up that wrench and began kicking the shit out of the Dalek. It is the most brutal that we have seen the Doctor be since Colin Baker was in the role. Smith has such a beautifully photo-graphable face so seeing him facing down a squad of Daleks with only a Jammie Dodger to protect him gives him the perfect opportunity to own his show and laugh in the face of ultimate evil. There were lots of touches from Smith that made this work for me; his tiny breath of ‘history’; that sharp look over his shoulder as the Dalek glides into the room; “Don’t mess with me, sweetheart”; his hilarious reaction to Dorabella…and that wonderful sigh as he admits at the climax “I always worry about the Daleks.” He gets to be bossy, confrontational, silly, clever, heroic and really funny. The fact that he fails to rid the universe of the Daleks gives him a little taste of failure too, but Amy is there to remind him of what he has achieved. And I laughed for ages when threw the gayest punch in the history of Doctor Who! There is something deeply unthreatening about the eleventh Doctor which makes him all the more impressive.
Amy gets a number of great moments too, but she is far less prominent this week. Frankly I think that Karen Gillen could just stand in the background making the tea and she could impress me! Amy taps on a Dalek’s casing like knocking on a door and accuses it of being an alien war machine which leads the Doctor to the worrying conclusion that she has no idea who they are, despite their planet-pushing antics Series 4. Firstly, this is a nice use of continuity and secondly, more evidence that all is not right with our current companion. I’m getting echoes of Charley Pollard here, and I wonder if Amy will suffer a similar fate? Amy comes into her own once the Doctor has skipped the scene, convincing Bracewell to create the outer space spitfires and stepping in to help deactivate him once the Doctor’s attempts have failed. With Gillen in charge Amy feels like a real person in every respect: warm, sensitive, sexy and sassy. I really like her too. Odd little note: my mum hates the new Doctor with a passion bordering on insanity, but is still watching because she thinks Amy is holding up the show brilliantly.
“Blimey. What do you do to the ones who mess up?”
As a Dalek story, Victory of the Daleks pushes their species’ narrative on in a very satisfying manner. One thing that I hate about returning old monsters is when they are used simply because they are popular rather than to advance their story or to add more detail to what we already know about them. Gatiss offers lots of kisses to the past from the scheming Daleks in Power of the Daleks (“I am your serv-vant!”), “The final end” (The Evil of the Daleks), the multi-coloured Daleks of the Cushing movies, and the interracial Daleks from the Russell T Davies era, but remembers that this is a new era which needs a new sort of Dalek. I find the much criticised plan of the Daleks to get the attention of the Doctor by manipulating the Second World War quite ingenious for a race who usually shoot, bomb, drop plague missiles…so I guess having the Daleks out-think their enemy is a tip to Death to the Daleks as well!
The most fun aspect of this story was the metaphorical handshake between Davies and Moffat as the ultra-cool bronze Daleks of the past five years are replaced (read: demolished) by some kiddie-friendly, giant, primary-coloured beasts. Some real thought has gone into how this Dalek unit could work with a colour having a designation and their new look is gorgeously art-deco retro. They almost look a bit naff until you hear that growling voice and the director sweeps in with his camera to reveal their size and firepower. I had absolutely no idea what was going on halfway through this story, and the Daleks managed to surprise me… and that hasn’t happened in many a year. I genuinely believe that the Daleks need a little rest as they have been overused in the new series, but now when they return they can be bright, powerful and unusual. Oh, and I loved those khaki Daleks too. It’s weird how old fashioned they look next the spanking new ones!
“This is my chance. The last of the Daleks. I can rid the whole universe of you once and for all.”
Ian McNiece offers up a far more jovial Chruchill than I was expecting, but I really enjoyed the idea of a long friendship between him and the Doctor, so some mutual respect can only be expected. He looks perfect for the role and I was charmed by his stalwart English spirit. By the end of the story I was hoping for another appearance…especially when he pocketed the TARDIS key!
However, it was Bill Patterson who made the biggest impact and his character allowed this story to continue the fairytale feel of the season so far. He is a Dalek construct who was planted on Earth to pretend that he had created the “Ironsides”, and after having his robotic hand blown off by his own creations his life is shattered. It is a lovely little character strand in the episode, just like Gwen in The Unquiet Dead, that sees Bracewell consider suicide before being reminded of what a human being is. Simon hated how the Doctor and Amy deactivated the bomb but it was one of my favourite scenes in the episode, reminding him of the pain of losing his parents and his secret love of a woman. It was such a sweet moment in an episode full of bluster.
“You are gonna be so deactivated…”
Paterson gives a charming performance throughout; a far cry from the stony-faced prof-essors that he usually plays, and I was grinning from ear to ear when the Doctor and Amy were trying to indirectly trying to tell him that they aren’t going to deactivate him and he should just run along and enjoy his life. I’m not sure what the purpose of Blanche was, though, as she didn’t have enough exposure to make any impact at all. When Kathleen received a letter saying that her husband had died in The Curse of Fenric, I wept buckets but that story spent ages building her character into the story whereas the same thing happens here with Blanche my only reaction was: “Oh, I’d forgotten about her...”
The production was as striking as we have come to expect from Doctor Who in the noughties, and freshman director Andrew Gunn gives the story some real pace and excitement. This man knows how to film Daleks and he swings around them on the Dalek saucer effortlessly, framing the scenes gorgeously. Who also pitches in with another glorious concept – spitfires attacking a Dalek saucer in space, and the special effects are astonishingly good. Murray Gold’s score is far more effective than last week, although in a few places I wish he would turn the volume down a tad. The Doctor’s agonising choice of defeating the Daleks or saving the Earth is punctuated by a fantastic score (the Dalek sting from the Daleks in Manhattan cliffhanger) and the music during Bracewell’s approaching detonation had me thumping my feet!
“And if I let you go, you’ll be stronger than ever. A new race of Daleks…”
Looking at the season as a whole I think we are in fairly good shape, but I do think that we need a really meaty story next week after three fantasy tales. The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks have all had huge merits, be it spellbinding atmos-phere, a dramatic conclusion or the fantastic imagery, but what we really need is a knockout drama which can stand up with the classics. Next week looks as though it might fulfil all those criteria and then some, and with some time to breathe in a two-parter, I think that Moffat may be about to deliver his next masterpiece...
What surprised me most about Victory of the Daleks was just how much like the classic series this felt for me. Historical characters, colourful Daleks, an unpredictable Doctor and an emphasis of adventure over character. A run-around this might be, but it is a masterful example of its type and terrific fun to boot.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This episode suggests that Churchill and the Doctor have crossed passed previously, and on more than one occasion. Their first meeting (from Churchill’s point of view) is documented in Terrance Dicks’ novel for BBC Books, Players.
Furthermore, this episode reveals that Amy cannot recall the 2009 Dalek invasion of Earth. As would be explained later in the season, this is linked to the cracks that are appearing in reality. Such a crack can be seen in the Cabinet War Room’s wall as the TARDIS dematerialises.
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