“Victory of the Daleks”
April 17th, 2010
On the one hand, writing this review seems a little silly: I know very little about the Daleks beyond their general appearance and their robotic cadence, so I can’t really tell you how “Victory of the Daleks” works in terms of returning the alien race to the world of Doctor Who. However, on the other hand, the whole point of this episode is a sort of rebirth, a Dalek renaissance designed to reassert the function of this particular arch-nemesis, so while I cannot judge the story for continuity I can judge how well the episode sets up the Daleks for their likely return in subsequent episodes.
“Victory for the Daleks” replaces last week’s futuristic setting with an historical glimpse into the London Blitz, and does not really switch up much else: the formulaic structure of the series is readily clear but also fairly effective, managing to continue to throw in some small characters beats and some fun standalone elements within an episode which primarily continues the series mythology.
The end of “Victory of the Daleks” confirms what we presumed last week: the Attraxi are following the Doctor through time, searching for something which is most definitely not Prisoner Zero. The crack in the side of Starship U.K. was pretty subtle, but there was no missing the crack in the wall of that bunker, and this sort of subtle serialization is a nice way to keep building suspense even if the story completely changes between episodes. Note that it’s meant only for us: while subtle bits of character development like Amy’s attraction to the Doctor are there for both of the characters to see (or choose not to see), the cracks are there entirely for our benefit.
By comparison, the Daleks were largely there for the benefit of the Doctor, or at least they are for now. For those in the audience who don’t know about the Daleks, the Doctor’s reaction really lays out the basic facts: they’re an alien race with no conscience whose desire is to eradicate humanity and all other forms of non-Dalek life forms in the universe. The parallel between the Dalek semantics (“Master Race”) and the World War II setting were not unintentional, and for those of us without a sense of their history it was very clear from how seriously discombobulated the Doctor became at the mere sound of their lasers that this was something to fear. That this was still possible when the Daleks are more uncanny than terrifying demonstrates how strong Matt Smith really is in this role: while Amy tries to playfully reason with the Daleks, the Doctor is not in a joking mode, and the whole Ironside/Dalek charade is something he doesn’t entertain for even one second (even if we’re entertained by the Daleks making tea).
Note that, like with the mystery onboard Starship U.K., the initial mystery completely evaporates once the big picture becomes clear: once we discover that there is a Dalek ship nearby, and that their plan was to lure the Doctor into identifying them as Daleks so that their (if I have this right) last pure sample of Dalek DNA would be able to verify their identity despite their impurities, the episode becomes about gravity bubble-aided dogfighters in space and the birth of a new race of Daleks more powerful and more colourful than the one which came before. Throw in the Doctor having to make an impossible choice between the destruction of the Earth and taking care of the Daleks once and for all, complete with the Daleks’ robotic false creator turning into a bomb and being talked down by Amy’s talk of love, and you’ve got the traditional Doctor Who structure on a slightly larger scale.
I thought the hour could have done more to emphasize the threat of the lights turning on in London (the lone officer watching on the rooftop didn’t quite cut it), but on the whole I think it did a good job of leveraging both world and series history in relaunching the Daleks. While some fans are questioning the choice of the bulkier, coloured bodies, not to mention the slightly less tinny, and thus slightly more menacing, voices, they are a strong foil for the Doctor’s innate desire to value human life over all else, and the potential for them to return in the future bodes well for Moffat’s run. I think it’s too early to tell whether these new Daleks will live up to what fans are looking for in terms of either nostalgia or an evolution of their place in the franchise, but as someone without those hangups I’m really curious to see where they turn up next and what kind of plan they’ll concoct, which seems like the kind of anticipation that the show wants to create with these recurring villains, and which demonstrates the ultimate success of “Victory of the Daleks” for this new viewer.
- I got an almost video game-esque vibe from the different coloured Daleks – makes me think of them like Mega Man boss battles or something, so I wonder if they’ll return one at a time and take different strategies to diversify.
- Really enjoyed Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill, which is the sort of historical figure that lends itself to this sort of light period piece. I was also intrigued to learn that he will be playing the role of Illyrio in HBO’s Game of Thrones, the adaptation of a Song of Ice and Fire – perfect casting, I’d say.
- There’s a point where Karen Gillan will have to be a little bit less wide-eyed in her performance as Amy Pond, but she’s so gosh darn adorable that she could remain wide-eyed for a very long time before I ever truly considered it a problem.
- I’m supposed to be confused by the idea that Amy should remember the Daleks (from an attempted attack on Earth during her lifetime, I presume) but doesn’t, right? Does this imply that there is something strange going on with her memory, or rather that there is some connection with the Attraxi that we don’t quite understand? Either way, the little hints are going to add up to something eventually, and the show’s having enough fun along the way for me to be able to sit back and not obsess over it.