5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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VICTORY OF THE DALEKS
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK
Goddammit! Noooo! Not so soon! We do not want, only three episodes into the Moffat regime, to be sitting with our heads in our hands as the final credits roll. Why can’t he live up to the promise of The Eleventh Hour? Why?
The good stuff, what there is of it, is all in the beginning. The uneasy relationship, camaraderie tinged with threat, between Churchill and the Doctor is interesting, and we love Matt Smith’s delivery of “I’d like to see you try”. (On the other hand, though, the threat aspect never comes to anything, and it’s rather too exact a copy of the Third Doctor’s relationship with Earth in general and the Brigadier in particular.)
World War II and the Daleks are a pairing that’s practically inevitable, given how often parallels have been drawn between the Daleks and the Nazis over the years. The emergence of the Khaki Dalek is shocking, and the following scenes of the nice Daleks bearing files and cups of tea are wonderfully creepy. Terrifying, too. It’s like standing next to a Yeti whose power source has been removed: safe on the face of it, but your lizard brain can’t hear that. And besides, you never know.
The mystery of how a human scientist could have “invented” the Daleks is also genuinely intriguing. The case Churchill makes, with the blueprints et al, is satisfyingly unassailable. And the Doctor’s attempts, first to persuade Churchill to destroy them, and then to find out what’s going on from the Daleks themselves, are riveting. This might have been the first episode shot, but Matt Smith is faultless from the off. His kinetic performance when he dashes the Dalek’s tea tray to the floor then lays about it with a spanner could have been embarrassing, but instead it’s believable and powerful. We even felt slightly sorry for the Dalek.
And then Bracewell gets his hand blasted off for the Big Reveal: the Daleks created him, not the other way around. Which is sheer brilliance.
But that’s it. Might as well pack up and go home now, because the other 28 minutes are utter dross.
“I was their plan”. Oh, Doctor, if only it were that simple. If it were, we wouldn’t have to sit through the Daleks explaining it for hours. They do go on. Yap, yap, yap. But they can’t get around it, because the plan is both frantically complicated and massively stupid.
Let’s see, now. They escaped the last Doctor-initiated onslaught, because let’s face it, no matter how hard you try a few always get through. Then they get this Progenitor thing. Somehow. From somewhere. Moving quickly past the huhness of that, then: so they’re all set to start spewing out the master race when they find they don’t qualify.
Bummer. OK, no problem. They know someone who can write them a reference. And how lucky is it that a…machine? Thing? which can’t recognise their lowly, base DNA is willing to accept the word of their greatest enemy?
Still, we’re not out of the woods yet. We have to get him there first. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the simplest way out of this dilemma would be to set up shop and start doling out your usual Daleky goodness. Word of this would be bound to get around, because it always does, and when the Doctor turned up he was bound to address you as a Dalek at some point. What’s more, by simultaneously attracting the Doctor and purveying evil, it’s a delightfully efficient way of carrying out your mission statement.
You would think that, but then you’re not a Dalek. If it’s not a tasty blend of sneaky and dastardly, it’s just not going to cut the mustard as a Dalek plan. So instead, you invent an android who can invent you. Yes. Except that he doesn’t really, because then you wouldn’t have been around to invent him in the first place.
Then, after going through the enormous faff of fabricating your android and planting the memories in his brain not only of being human in general but of running you up as well, you wait for Churchill to call the Doctor, because…because…despite going to enormous trouble to look sweet and tame, you still somehow look suspicious to Churchill. Suspicious enough to call in a time-travelling alien for a second opinion. So the Daleks want to look like allies, but their whole plan depends on them not looking like allies. That’s convoluted beyond belief. To be fair, the Daleks have always had ludicrous plans, like tooling round the universe using the Earth as a convertible, but that’s no reason to encourage them.
So it’s up to the Dalek ship we go, with the Doctor protecting himself from extermination with a Jammie Dodger. Primo wheeze, we agree, but that’s the only good thing about this sequence. It’s all so talkytalky, and you never have the slightest fear that the Doctor’s in any danger, which considering he’s surrounded by killing machines which are the embodiment of hate is a bit of an achievement, really. And remind us again: just why are the Daleks explaining all this to the Doctor?
And then the toy ad. Buckets of dry ice, Murray heavy on the brass, and some really, really ugly Day-Glo Daleks. What, other than about the merchandising opportunities, were they thinking? We don’t care about the colours: they’ve done that before, and they're not important anyway. But they’ve taken a design classic and crapped all over it. Yes, Daleks, your bums do look big in this. In contrast, the other Daleks out-styly them even with a khaki paint job and a Union Jack slapped on the front.
But it’s OK, because they’re bigger now than they used to be. Bigger is always better, right? And how many times did people giggle and point at the old Daleks, instead of being terrified by them, because they were too titchy to be scary? Oh, that’s right: none.
Another tiny sparkle of light amongst the gloom: the Doctor’s “Don’t mess with me, sweetheart”, then it’s back to the Cabinet War Rooms to pick up the Daleks’ transmissions. Why they’re broadcasting their chat with the Doctor we have no idea, but hey, everybody wants to be famous these days. Then the Doctor disrupts the Daleks’ shields so the Spitfire can shoot at them: shame he didn’t think of that before two men were killed, isn’t it?
It’s not just the end for the Daleks. It’s the final end. Now with three times more endiness! But didn’t we say the Daleks were sneaky? Bracewell turns out to be powered by a Bollocks Continuum, which makes the Doctor's forehead all creasy as he works out what to do about it. Meanwhile, the audience is yawning: not only are we perfectly well aware that he’s not going to endanger the Earth, we also know that even if he did pick exterminating the Daleks instead he’d only balls it up and let some of them escape, because he always does. Also, Daleks? Sneaky? Did anyone really believe they wouldn’t detonate Twiki? Not quite “Have I the right?”, is it?
Then it’s a really horrible bit where again the Doctor misses the mark and Amy, with all her wise, warm etc humanness, has to take over for him. We hate this thing about the Doctor outsourcing all the girly feeling stuff. What, the Doctor is Mr Spock now? We’re not going to rant on again about how unDoctorly it is, but it is. The Doctor may not always see things the way a human does, but he’s perfectly well-armed in the insight department. We know they’re all different, but that’s ridiculous.
What’s more, they ladle on the slush by the tankerload. Murray even sticks a woo-oo in there. And on top of all that, it’s ridiculous. You can turn off a bomb by making it think about its crush? We know they did it in Dark Star, but yeah, right. We know Moffat’s stuck on this fairytale thing, and he’s made his opinion about as clear as it could be that this Doctor is Peter Pan to Amy’s Wendy with the flying/nightdress scene in The Beast Below, but he hammers it home again here, because if Bracewell believes in fairies he’d better clap his hands and be quick about it.
And the Daleks get away. Matt Smith’s reaction to this is fantastic, and we should feel more. Or something at all. But we don’t. He wasn’t this upset when he let them go before, so why get frothed up about it now? Also, despite their efforts to throw in emotion-eliciting figures like Breen worrying about her boyfriend, the whole thing is utterly uninvolving. The lack of a real threat from the Daleks is a lot of this, and the caricature of Churchill doesn’t help: did they really have to put a cigar into virtually every shot?
Now it’s time for some flag-waving, by jingo! And by that we mean a real flag, really waving. Dear God. But it’s in keeping with this series thus far: in contrast with Russell T Davies’s urban landscapes, this is a Doctor Who absolutely soaked in nostalgia for a quasi-mythical Britain of yesteryear. English villages. A far future Britain which evokes the 1950s. The good old Blitz. We’re not entirely comfortable with this, for reasons which it’s probably premature to articulate, but we’re keeping an eye on it.
Then Amy makes the Doctor look like an idiot again when he doesn’t notice Churchill’s lifted the TARDIS key. Twice in one episode is a good two times too many. And we’re off to see Bracewell, in a wincingly protracted scene that again gets out the slush bucket. Were they running severely under or something? Considering it’s a story which yet again stuffs too many ideas into too short a time, it’s a crying shame that they wasted the running time they did have on this. And why are they encouraging Bracewell to find the post office and Dorabella? When he gets there, he’s going to find a completely different dude behind the counter dishing out stamps, because these aren’t his memories. WTF?
Ugh. What a mess. Too much stuff, not enough time: the ambiguity of Churchill’s position on the Daleks, for example, completely thrown away. Rooms full of people, and none of them matter a damn to us except a caricature and a robot with a silly redemption scheme. Do we care about the men who die in the Spitfires? Do we care about the boyfriend who didn’t make it? No.
Plot stupidity in general. Too much space given over to going wow! You’re the Doctor! Wow! You’re Winston Churchill! And none of it reels you in at all. Even Karen Gillan, overplaying the cheek, isn’t as good here as she becomes when she settles into the role. The Doctor is clearly always going to be the saving grace, and this episode is no exception, but even he can’t pull this back from the brink of disaster.
MORAL: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Rather than us getting used to them, the credits are grating on us more and more. Who knew the space-time continuum was so… fluffy?
CAN I SWAP THIS FOR THE LEOTARD AND WHITE STILETTOS?
Poor Amy, what a hideously unflattering skirt. Better luck next time.
It’s nice historical attention to detail that Churchill pronounces Nazi Naa-zee. Shame they weren’t so careful with the barrage balloons. The point of them was to damage aircraft when they collided with the cables, so they had multiple cables going down to the ground. They’re shown here, however, with a few cables tethered into one just under the balloon.
21 GUN SALUTE
Why has Churchill got guns trained on the TARDIS anyway? Who’s he expecting to emerge? Also, Army Of Ghosts much?
AWEE WI’ YE, HEN
Can we give the Scottish thing a rest now? Please?
DARKNESS AT NOON
Wait a sec. One minute we’re up on the roof in the plain light of day, the next, with no indication of time elapsing, it’s the middle of the night.
How much do we want that “To Victory!” Dalek poster?
ROYALE WITH CHEESE
Lots of references in here. Power of the Daleks, Dark Star, Quatermass, Where Eagles Dare, 633 Squadron, Star Wars (again) - why not concentrate on your own story? God knows it needs it.
LIKE A BOMB ABOUT TO GO OFF
So they discover Bracewell’s a Dalek-manufactured android, right? Isn’t a bit heedless of the Doctor to just rush off in pursuit of the Daleks and leave him there?
The Doctor and the Supreme Dalek are in different places when we see them on the ship and when we see them via the broadcast. On the ship, the Dalek looks uncomfortably jammed against the ceiling fixture.
MAN OF STEEL
So Bracewell’s metal all over, the way his chest is? Dorabella (lamest joke ever?) is going to get quite a surprise on their wedding night.
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK