Season 31, Episode 3 – Victory Of The Daleks, by Mark Gatiss

April 18, 2010

by Martin Odoni

That title isn’t just cheesey and generic, it’s also a little meaningless, as this battle appears to have been a draw. Still, seeing the Daleks mostly get thrashed all the time, I suppose holding the Doctor to a stalemate may count as a victory of sorts.

This story is somewhat likeable, but all-in-all I thought that it was all very silly. From colour-co-ordinated Daleks, to threatening the would-be world-conquerors with a jammie dodger, to yet another of those interminable “why-don’t-they-just-shoot-him-instead-of-standing-around-for-ten-minutes-needlessly-explaining-their-dastardly-plans-to-him-in-intricate-detail-including-light-show-presentation-with-Microsoft-Powerpoint?” scenes, to the truly ridiculous (if spectacular) contrivance of Spitfires that can fly in outer space, the whole thing had a distinct smack of Mark Gatiss wanting to hold a Star Wars remake at Duxford airbase.

In its defence, the episode may have been just a silly as Evolution Of The Daleks was a couple of years ago, but this time at least it was a story that was clearly conscious of its own absurdity, and so never took itself too seriously. It also managed to progress itself fairly soundly. Just about. Sort of. Ish. That meant it was able to be fun without seeming self-indulgent or pointless. But it still has to be seen as a hangover from the RTD era, as it’s one of those all-too-frequent episodes of NuWho that can only be enjoyed by not really thinking about what you’re seeing too much. That of course is the motivation for Murray Gold’s deafening scores; they’re so loud and so overwhelming to the senses of the audience that it’s very difficult to keep your brain switched on.

The performances were generally a bit iffy. To my eyes, Ian McNeice looked more like Leo McKern than Winston Churchill, and sounded even less convincing. Matt Smith’s performance was his weakest so far. He wasn’t helped by the very strong impression from some of the lines that the script was written for Tom Baker, and there were times when he seemed to be thrashing about trying to get hold of the personality he was meant to portray. On the plus side, I thought Karen Gillan was probably at her best here, and so it’s a pity that she was a little underused; Amy’s role seemed chiefly to be “Stand-next-to-Churchill-and-sound-panicky-like-a-stereotype-companion-from-a-Barry-Letts-story-a-lot”.

Couldn’t stand some snippets of dialogue in this. Worst ones were undoubtedly, “We’re sitting ducks!” which is a cliche that belongs firmly back in 1980’s cartoons where it should have died a justly-uncelebrated death, and “Oi, Churchill!” which is one of those irritating pop-culture references that I had hoped the series would get shot of now that RTD had left. Still, at least it was a whole lot subtler than Barbara Windsor’s “GEH OU’A MA PUB!!!!” in Army Of Ghosts.

On a more positive note, the Daleks’ plan was quite clever and well worked out, and the ending in some ways was also a plus, in that it avoided yet another re-run of almost every Dalek appearance since the revival of the series. Most of the time, the Doctor triumphs and the entire Dalek race is wiped out in one fell swoop, except just one of them manages to find a trapdoor to quietly escape through on the last page of the script, and the entire race is eventually revived from there. This time, the battle is a stalemate, and all the Daleks escape loudly, proudly and openly.

There was some interesting development of the Doctor’s personality at the end too. What wasn’t openly stated was that the awful dilemma he faced was one he faced before. In the Time War, the Ninth Doctor had to choose between destroying the Daleks and saving Gallifrey. On that occasion, he chose destruction. This time, with the Earth imperilled he chose mercy. His terrible anguish in the aftermath was almost certainly born, at least in part, from the rekindled memory of the war.

So underneath all of the silliness the episode has its depths, which is something Gatiss can usually just about manage. But in the end, it’s the silliness that really prevails. It’s just another of the many recent Dalek episodes that have been badly-contrived self-parodies.

It brings me back to the point I’ve been making for a while that the Daleks really need to sit out a couple of years. As no writer at present seems able to come up with a sensible idea for including them in a story, why not just leave them out? They’ve been in every season since the revival, and the only two worthwhile episodes they’ve been in during that time are Dalek and Daleks In Manhattan (and the latter was ruined by the really daft second part). I get the feeling that the only reason the series keeps bringing them back all the time is because it thinks it has to, which is not a good reason at all. Overuse is wearing out the ideas for them, while also making them less scary; when you see them every year they become too familiar to be startling anymore.

It’s likeable enough that it scrapes a 6/10. But it’s easily the weakest episode of the season to date.

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