PLEASE NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. OUR SPOILER-FREE REVIEW IS HERE.
It’s probably fair to say that there’s some scepticism surrounding the use of the Daleks in Doctor Who. Granted, they’re the show’s most iconic monsters, and granted, their mere presence guarantees some pretty brisk business down at Toys R Us. Yet more than once, the quality of the stories has taken second place to the desire to bring the infamous pepperpots back to the screen (with the low point being the still amazingly bad Dalek/Human hybrid).
Victory Of The Daleks, however, took a slightly different approach. Most Dalek stories have a tangible arc to them: along they come, it looks like the world is going to die a terrible death, the Doctor defeats them, sometimes over two episodes. The better Dalek stories don’t tend to do that, though. And as it turned out, Victory Of The Daleks, penned by Mark Gatiss, can take pride of place in that camp too.
It started off promising to deliver on what most of us thought we were going to get. The Doctor arrives in the midst of the blitz of London, handily taking advantage of the fact that a bit of the introductory work had been done at the end of last week’s episode. He comes face to face with Winston Churchill, who wants to steal the Tardis key, and who then reveals he’s got a secret weapon to help him with the war.
Enter, guns blazing, a Dalek, now living under the name of an ironside. A Bracewell ironside, to be exact, a seemingly loyal creature determined to help win the war. Heck, the damn things are even serving the tea at one point.
This gives us, when nobody around him understands the threat, another chance to see the pent up rage of the Doctor. We said it last week and say it again: there’s a bit of Patrick Troughton in the way Matt Smith is portaying the Time Lord, and there’s a real rawness and frustration that seems to be burning at the heart of him. It’s good to see, too, even if that big spanner thing he was whacking the Dalek with looked very fake (in an episode with much better effects, to be fair).
The supposed inventor of the Daleks here is a Scottish man called Bracewell, and at first he’s inevitably defensive of his apparent creations. But he soon becomes a pivotal part of the narrative when – once the Daleks blow his hand off – it becomes clear that he’s part of their plan. They basically planted him, as a kind of low budget Iron Man-esque creature, and they want to use him to blast the Earth to kingdom come when the time arrives to wrap things up.
What’s more interesting, though, is the Dalek masterplan here, which appears to be to resurface as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The whole Dalek vs Nazi thing disappears quickly (too quickly, to be fair – we were really looking forward to that, but compensation arrived in the form of a really fun Star Wars-esque dogfight in space), to pave the way for the resurrection of the race. As it turns out, to do that they need a testimony off the Doctor, and thus the whole reason they’ve appeared in the midst of this part of time and space becomes clear. It’s an unusual, different and welcome motivation for them.
Once they have said testimony, then the toysellers around Britain got to turn cartwheels of joy, as pure Dalek DNA is moulded to create a new collection of multi-coloured Daleks. Yep, now you can buy one to suit your mood, and match the colour scheme of your bedroom!
We’d hoped we’ve have something akin to the renegade versus imperial Dalek battles of old here, but the new Daleks swiftly disposed of the old ones, and seemingly scoffed a few pies while they were at it, given the added paunch they’re now carrying. Still, I couldn’t help but like them. They seem a bit quicker and a bit more brutal too, and their voices seem to have broken as well. You can see the marketing asking you to collect the set in different colours a mile off, though.
All this then allows the Doctor to have his Genesis Of The Daleks moment. For in a parallel to Tom Baker, albeit a bit lower key, he has the option to end the Daleks by destroying them at the expense of the Earth. Granted, Baker never had that counterweight to the argument, which makes it a lesser moral conundrum to resolve, but you sensed that the Doctor was forcibly celebrating at the end when he actually knew that he’d helped his deadliest enemies come back to life.
The rest of the episode petered out just a little, although once more it’s interesting that Amy Pond basically unlocked the solution when it came time to defuse the bomb. Assistants have saved the day on several occasions before, but that’s two weeks running now that it’s taken Amy to resolve the key conundrum. Is this going to be a running theme?
It’s only on reflection that you appreciate how much work Victory Of The Daleks actually got through. It squeezed in a full adventure, gave the show a chance to basically regenerate its prime monster, it laid down in Bracewell and the Dalek escape some big threads that can be picked up later in the series, and it also dropped some fairly big hints for the rest of the run, too (as well as tipping its hat to Where Eagle’s Dare at one point). Another crack in the wall is the obvious one, and then there’s the fact that the Doctor’s control over the Tardis’ timing is back to the olden days. Will that come back into play, we wonder?
The crucial one, though, is the fact that Amy simply doesn’t remember the Daleks, and, as was established back in the Tennant run in the Tardis, every human being should. Why doesn’t Amy? Is it just her, or has everyone forgotten? What’s caused all this? You can start your theories now.
For now, we thought that was the most confident standalone Dalek adventure since, inevitably, Rob Shearman’s Dalek way back in 2005, and we suspect that we’ll be seeing them again in the not-too-distance future. It might not have been quite the episode we were expecting to get – if someone wants to give the BBC the money to do full on Daleks vs Nazis at some point in the future we promise we’ll watch – but for the third week running, Doctor Who has served up a really entertaining episode. And in the case of Victory Of The Daleks, it might just have breathed fresh life into the famous foes too. It had us really pining for a bag of Skittles for some reason, too.
And if all that wasn’t delicious enough? Next week, the weeping angels are back. Can. Not. Wait.
Read last week’s review here.