Doctor Who – “Victory of the Daleks”

“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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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.


Filed under Doctor Who

15 responses to “Doctor Who – “Victory of the Daleks”

  1. Tim

    About Amy not knowing the Daleks, there was a mass invasion of earth by them back in the season 4 finale. So, yeah, she should know who they are. I kinda suspect, though, that the concept came from necessity; they needed the companion not to know the Daleks to ease their re-introduction. (Although I suppose Churchill fills that void here). Hey presto, new arc element. This episode was messy, but fun messy and a pretty great British ’40s adventure pastiche.
    So far, I’m really digging the slightly lower-key nature of this season, although I’ve heard complaints that The Doctor isn’t actually doing that much in each story- which, is sort of valid. I suspect that’ll change.

    • tabernacle

      It’ll be interesting to see–if we ever return to Amy’s present–if other people do remember the Daleks. That is, whether everyone missed it–something about alternate timelines or the like–or just her.

  2. belinda

    I was thinking that Amy’s lack of knowledge of the Daleks will eventually have something to do with the cracks in the wall. For me, it seems more deliberate and that something in time has changed that caused Amy not to ever have heard of the Daleks (perhaps it might explain why the Doctor took so much longer than intended to get back to Amy in the first episode).

    I’m a little surprised at the different colors of the Daleks (which honestly, made me think of designer vacuum cleaners instead of menacing creatures) – aren’t Daleks well known for being very uniform and all the same (so much that they didn’t even recognize the former batch of Daleks because their DNA is a little different)? It’ll be interesting to see if the red one has a different personality to the blue one.

    It was an all right episode – it was good, but didn’t really knock my socks off too much, and am a bit dreading the developing romantic undertones between the Doctor and the Companion (Man, I still miss Donna in this regard. She wanted to travel with him forever, yet they were just friends, best friends, but nothing more). I didn’t think Moffat would go back to the Dalek well this soon in the new series (and also a returning alien in the next episode, it seems) – I’m kind of hoping we’d get a really cool new alien soon instead.

    • 3v0n0

      When it comes down to it, the daleks were in black and white the first time they were introduced in 1963, so who knows what colors they really were.

      I found it extremely ironic to have the daleks, who were originally created for the show as an allegory to the Nazis, to find themselves in the war on the opposite side of the Nazis.

  3. This was my least favorite episode so far this season. It just seemed like this was changed from a two-part to one-part episode late in production, leaving Mark Gatiss, normally a fine writer, with no choice but to shoehorn everything in. (The next two weeks are a two-part episode, so comparisons in structure, and subsequent effects on the content of the episodes, could be interesting.)

    For example, we got a few characters that, given more screen time, could have been really emotionally established (the relationship between the spitfire pilot and his girlfriend and the character of Captain Childs being particularly overlooked). Of course, like you said, this episode was all about the Daleks, but it (which you’re probably unaware of) was the only one-off episode featuring them since 2005’s “Dalek”, in which there was only one of the race to contend with.

    I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the past episodes “Blink” and the two-parter “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” in preparation for next week, if at all possible — it’ll give you more of an idea of the Weeping Angels and River Song’s identity.

    • Yeah, I heard the word “Blink” in the preview for next week and presumed that part of this week’s homework will be catching up on some of Moffat’s past work.

      Not a bad assignment, I’d say.

      • deborasouza

        Outstanding episodes that will not only make the next two-parter a pay off and give you more of a sense of what Moffat likes to bring to the table (bringing fear into the ordinary, for instance), but also show you how the series is like when it fulfills and exceeds it’s promise. Enjoy!

      • “Blink” is a fantastic episode that doesn’t necessarily need all sorts of backstory to appreciate or have the wits scared out of you. Bonus: Carey Mulligan!

  4. As a long time “Doctor Who” fans I loved every second of this one. Best story the show has done since “Blink” and best use of the Daleks since “Dalek” back in 2005.

    To see the Daleks up to their old cunning ways again was a treat and there were echoes of the cunning, duplicitous Daleks from the two Troughton stories here–not just killing machines who show up and create havoc and terror. Seeing the Daleks manipulate humanity to bring the Doctor into a trap to recreate themselves was superb and seeing the Doctor forced to choose between stopping them or saving Earth was a nice echo and call back to Tom Baker’s “Genesis of the Daleks.”

  5. TheMasterDS

    The different colored Daleks reminded me of action figures. They’re alright I suppose, don’t really have a problem with them, except I don’t see how they’re different from the old ones yet and why an episode had to be spent introducing them.

    That said, it’s good to have a Dalek episode that doesn’t end with the extinction of the Daleks. Pretty much every other time the Doctor has run into them he’s killed them all by the end of the story.

  6. amanshu

    I’d just like to point out that the Attraxi aren’t responsible for the cracks in time and space – Prisoner Zero just used one to escape through. In fact I seem to remember he even taunted the Doctor with the fact that he didn’t know where they came from.

    • Tom

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure the cracks are caused by something we don’t know about yet. They probably have something to do with Amy’s forgetting about the Daleks. I’m hoping it’s a massive series reboot, where all the humans forget about the various aliens they’ve seen, because lets face it, RTD did end the world quite a lot of times, to such an extent that humans were basically saying “oh no, more aliens…again.”

      Also, I’m happy to see the Daleks could be menacing again, which seemed impossible after Donna made them all spin around in circles. That was a monster-killer right there.

      • Agreed. It does seem like the cracks in time and space just HAPPEN to be there in the wall, and like “Bad Dog” followed Rose and the Doctor around in 2005, leading to the finale. I can’t wait to find out what the Pandorica is and why “silence will fall”!

  7. Evamarie

    The Daleks made me think of Power Rangers… Go Go Power Daleks anyone?
    Other than that, I was happier than I thought I’d be with them. I love the Daleks (sometimes even more than the Doctor) but I was a little concerned it would be “oh great, another Dalek episode” – but the ending completely changed that. I also enjoyed the Daleks serving tea and their deceitful nature. I’m glad that they may finally stop making Daleks out of humans.

    Myles, you should watch the ending of Season 2 and well all the ones before it (except Love and Monsters, skip that, dreadful, and adds nothing. “Fear Her” wasn’t much better, but tolerable) to get a sense of the Daleks and what they took from the Doctor. Uh… they also first show up in like season 1 ep. 3? with Eccleston. The series has been playing with the idea of Daleks/humans for a while. Sometimes the Daleks become a bit more human, and sometimes the humans become a bit more Dalek. I, personally, was happy to see them wholly monstrous and awesome.

  8. The cracks:

    My impression is that the Doctor is investigating the cracks rather than the other way around — or at least the TARDIS is following them. Which would explain why it turned up a month after Churchill’s original phone call and why the Doctor seemed to desperate to visit Starship UK and go off alone beyond curiosity. Don’t forget the shot in The Eleventh Hour when he has the crack on a monitor which he shuts off before Amy can see it.

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