Thursday, 17 May 2012

Doctor Who Review: Victory of the Daleks

I was less than impressed with the episode this story followed, The Beast Below, so I was reasonably hopeful when I heard this one would feature the Daleks. However rubbish a story with the Daleks is, it still has them, and they are always very entertaining. I mean, how could you mess up the Daleks? Well, I’m not sure how or why, but they managed it in this episode.

To begin with let’s think of this as a story in two halves. Part 1 is up until the new Daleks appear, Part 2 is after. Part 1 is very good. The Cabinet War Rooms are a very cool location and looks very convincing. The characters are brilliantly acted and very well rounded, especially Churchill. Ian McNeice had played Churchill before Doctor Who and it really shows here as he knows exactly what he’s doing giving both a moving and a hilarious portrayal. Bracewell is very interesting, the regulars do their jobs well, especially Matt Smith when conveying the anger of the Doctor and even minor character like the woman who loses her boyfriend are well done if a little underdeveloped. The Daleks as the obedient soldiers is a nice homage to Power of the Daleks and is incredibly creepy as we know at some point they’re just going to snap. It also allows us to see the Doctor in a different light as he tries to convince everyone the Daleks are evil when everything seems to point the other way, we’ve never seen the eleventh Doctor as frustrated as he is here before. Basically it’s a very good build up for a brilliant scene where the Daleks reveal their plan and how they’ve tricked the Doctor. One problem with the scene though is they have a perfect opportunity to kill the Doctor but don’t take it, for no reason at all. But hey, we can let that go for how good the rest of the story has been so far. The action then moves onto the Daleks’ spaceship, which is basically an empty room, but for the position the Daleks are in, all broken down, in this story, it kind of works. We hear more details of the Dalek plan, which was to build a new set of Daleks and there is some nice interactions between the Doctor and his enemies, especially the hilarious jammy dodger moment. All this leads up to a door opening to reveal the new Daleks. Now, I will admit, this half is very good. It’s not the best Dalek story, but it’s nice to see them being smart instead of just mindless killers, it has some very good acting and it’s got an intriguing plot. However all this would go to waste, if the buildup had been for nothing or for something rubbish. And, unfortunately this is the moment where Part 2 starts and everything goes very wrong.

Spitfires as spaceships, Bracewell is a bomb that gets deactivated by love, the Doctor leaves the Daleks so he can go back to Earth to deactivate the bomb and it ends up being Amy who does it so the Doctor just wasted his one chance to stop the Daleks. The Doctor isn’t that bothered about the Daleks escaping. All these things seem strange, out of character or over the top. Although this is a story about a time traveler fighting aliens on a spaceship who build an android who hangs out with Winston Churchill, the first half was relatively serious and grounded. The second half just goes mental and the change in tone is jarring and doesn’t work. It’s almost like the set-up was written first then the writer, Mark Gatiss didn’t really have a way out of the situation he’d devised, and the pay-off is just a disappointing mess. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s not very exciting and it doesn’t live up to the expectations the first part of the story creates.

And of course, I couldn’t go through this story without mentioning the worst thing it does. Change the Daleks. First, why? Steven Moffat’s only reason seems to have been because he could. This is not a good reason. The Daleks have never changed as radically as they did here before. Sure they’ve changed colour, and little details have changed but the biggest redesign ever done before was in 1965 and that was just to add the slats on their sides. So to make such big changes just for fun seems wildly irresponsible. Add to that in story, the Cybermen’s design doesn’t make any sense and they actually need to be changed, then why change the Daleks? No reason (except to sell toys). So what went wrong? The new eye is static, so has less expression than just a light. They’re too tall, Daleks were never supposed to tower above you. They are now very plastic-y which means they seem less like the metal war machines we’ve seen before and more like toys. The colours. I don’t mind a coloured Dalek but these ones are too bright and look cartoonish. The gun is the same length as the arm. The arm’s for touching things further away, this is why it’s longer, now it doesn’t make sense. You can see through the top section. They have a weird hunchback which ruins the sleekness of the design. And the slats have been removed so the proportions are all off, the bottom half looking far bigger than the top. Basically they do everything wrong, and for no reason. While this isn’t really a fault with the story of this episode, it does ruin any tension in the second half, as I find it completely impossible to take these cartoonish monstrosities seriously.

In conclusion then, the first half is a brilliant build up to a second half that completely fails in almost every way. It’s not the worst story ever, because this is a lot to like at the start, but as the story goes on, it loses these good ideas and becomes rather lucklustre.


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