Doctor Who – Victory Of The Daleks

OK, this is weird…
For the first time ever I find myself actually having enjoyed an episode of the Welsh Series rather more than most people, rather than sitting there spitting bile while everyone else goes “SQUEE!”

Victory Of The Daleks was far from a great story, but its main problem was that it clearly should have been an old-style four parter. You can even see exactly where the cliffhangers would be – first reveal of the Daleks, Doctor threatens to blow up Dalek ship with him on board, Doctor given the choice of whether to save Earth or destroy the Daleks. In this scheme, the ‘running around corridors episode’ would have been replaced with the ‘Star Wars space battle’ episode, but that’s the only real difference.

Unfortunately, in cutting the story down to 45 minutes, most of the narrative glue has been lost, and only the big set-pieces remain. Now this is a criticism many – not least myself – have made of Russel Davies’ stories, but the difference – and it is a big one – is that Davies’ stories are just fundamentally incoherent. I challenge anyone to say, for example, what *actually happened* in New Earth.

On the other hand, stick in two lines of explanation – literally two lines – and the whole story here made sense. You just have to say “We just need to get his positronic brain to override its self-destruct program! We need him to *WANT* to live!” or something. And quite frankly, that’s a leap of logic it’s easy enough to make by yourself. Yes, it’s a plot hole, but it’s just a hole, not the kind of black hole of plot that sucks all narrative coherence into itself that Davies used to specialise in. (I also suspect that it’s something that we’ll be coming back to in future episodes, if my guesses as to the overarching story of this series are correct).

More annoying is – as my friend Stu (who loves Spitfires almost as much as he loves Daleks, and who was practically orgasming in anticipation for this episode, but still felt it fell a little flat) pointed out – all the pilots were presented as ‘tally-ho! Chocks away!’ types, with no representation of the real mix of classes that did that job. I’m less bothered about the caricature of Churchill, because we were never, realistically, going to get anything like the real man (simultaneously a war criminal himself and the person who probably did more to save Western Europe from dictatorship than anyone else), but really we could have had at least a token Cockney or Northern pilot (and, indeed, it would have been a *VERY* good idea to have a Polish one, given the Polish contribution to the Battle of Britain and their current demonisation).

And I’m still not at all happy with the Doctor’s characterisation – he hasn’t got one. Much like Tennant, Smith is doing a brave job at trying to breathe life into a generically-written character (though some of the lines in this, oddly, sounded written for Eccleston). The character of the Doctor is the big sticking point for me with the Welsh series as a whole – no-one involved seems to have a handle on the character at all, and they seem determined to make him into the hero in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or something – turning the character who should be closer to Obi-Wan or Gandalf into Luke Skywalker or Frodo. (Of course, he should not be Obi-Wan or Gandalf either, but they’re a much closer first approximation).

But with all this, there’s still some good stuff in this episode. In particular, the production design. While I’m not completely sold on the new Dalek designs, the Dalek *spaceship* was perfect – reminiscent of TV Century 21 and the Cushing films, while not actually sharing many design elements with them. And Gatiss can write Dalek dialogue properly – unlike pretty much every writer for the proper series, who would resort to Davros monologuing for the last decade or so of Dalek stories. And the battleship-grey wartime Daleks were wonderful.

In fact, I suspect the production design was one of the reasons this made me feel much better about the programme than everyone else I know, and this is really the nub of the matter. It looked *cheap* in many ways – but in the *right* ways.

The budget for Doctor Who has been cut this year, but you’d never know it by looking at the big set-piece special effects pieces in this – the space battle stuff looks good, and the new Daleks must have cost close to a million quid to produce. The way the budget cut appears to have impacted most severely is that the story here was entirely centred around a few big sets. I’d have to watch again to be sure, but I think there was *NO* location/outdoor filming whatsoever here – everything was done in studio. And there was no real attempt to hide it – London, with the lights going on or off, looked like a painted backdrop.

Now, Doctor Who – the proper series – was part of a long line of British TV drama that was more theatrical than filmic – what Americans would refer to as a ‘TV Movie’ would be referred to as a play in the UK until well into the 80s – and the strengths and weaknesses of that kind of technique led to a particular kind of writing – dialogue-heavy, reliant on implication rather than action – which you can see in everything from sitcoms like Porridge or Steptoe & Son to drama like I, Claudius or Boys From The Blackstuff.

That kind of dialogue-driven writing is what I, personally, miss from TV today (and the lack of it is the main reason I don’t own a TV). Not just the ‘great TV dramatists’ like Bleasdale or Dennis Potter, but even people like Bob Holmes (who, when not writing for Doctor Who, was writing for everything from Blake’s Seven to Juliet Bravo pretty much interchangeably) would write like this as second nature, and it’s something that was lost in the late 80s.

(For those who are interested, you can see the precise moment this skill got lost if you compare series two and three of Red Dwarf. The first two series of Red Dwarf are the kind of TV show I’m talking about – quite close to Steptoe & Son In Space, a dialogue-driven sitcom based around two or three grey sets. From series three onwards, the show is closer to modern ‘cult TV’, and it slowly lost the wit and intelligence that had driven the first two series in favour of catchphrases and explosions).

That’s a skill that’s lost now – British TV has changed so much as a medium that one simply can’t imagine anything like the programmes that are routinely trotted out as ‘classics’ ever getting commissioned – but seeing that ‘theatrical’ look immediately made me, at least, feel far more at home with this episode than with the previous ones, and more willing to forgive its faults. And maybe, if they have to stick to low budgets, the writers will have to relearn the lost skills of TV writing.

There’s a lot more to say about this – we can now see running themes in the series (choice is the recurrent theme so far, and for the second week in the row the Doctor has done bugger-all, leaving Amy to save the world) and we can speculate about things being set up for future stories (in particular, one line makes me think that Amy is a robot), but those things will be more interesting to talk about when the series is completed, rather than a quarter of the way through.

At this point, I’m still not at all sure if I like this new series. But that’s a hell of a lot better than the absolute hatred I felt at this point in the first two Tennant series, so that’s an improvement. I’ll give it at least a few more episodes, but it still doesn’t feel like Doctor Who to me. But it doesn’t feel too awful for what it is, either…

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20 Responses to Doctor Who – Victory Of The Daleks

  1. Ryan Cullen says:

    The roof top scenes were filmed outdoors as there were fan photos taken from the ground on the internet a while back.

  2. B.B. says:

    I haven’t even seen the episode yet and nevertheless I find this review extremely convincing. And you’re damn right that the Doctor hasn’t got a characterisation. I’m not even sure Eccelston had a characterisation; just an accent and a brilliant brood. The actors work by repeatedly pushing one’s “that’s a cool line” button: but such button pushing can’t work for long.

    Then again – perhaps I’m too old for my opinion on this to be valid. Yes – I must bear this possibility in mind.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      No, I think your opinion is entirely valid. I think almost all of what I liked about Eccleston’s Doctor came from Eccleston’s performance rather than the scripting…

  3. Mary says:

    Mwah ha ha…..

    Your journey to the dark side is almost complete :)

    Mary x

  4. Tom Evans says:

    Something to chuckle about …

    • Nathan says:

      Ha

      Though as an american who grew up in the 90’s I got a very Super Sentai vibe from it.

  5. Nathan says:

    I agree on Chruchill, but at least he wasn’t *entirely* standing around and repeatedly acting like Winston Churchill, maybe its just me but I liked the whole thing with him and the TARDIS

    also big agreement on the Daleks. First time in NuWho I felt the Daleks had a solid plan.

  6. colsmi says:

    First off, I thought this was a terrific review. You know me well enough to know I only speak as I find. And I was GLAD to find a review posted here, because as a bloke lacking in a detailed history with Dr Who, what gets written here helps me feel alot more grounded in what I’m watching.

    A few points. I thought the chemistry between the Dr and Amy really suffered in this episode compared to the previous two. I may be wrong – may very well be wrong – but was this one perhaps shot before the first & second episodes? If I had to, I’d bet on it, because the Dr is a far less sure take on the character – I do believe there is a character there, but I was less convinced here – and he simply doesn’t have the strength he shows in the first two episodes to believably face down the Daleks. (This wasn’t helped by the direction, which even allowed the “I thought there’d be food.” line to get lost in a general munching sound.)

    On the issue of Eccleston’s Doctor’s personality. As someone who’s had some experience around the issue of PostTraumaticStressDisorder with some folks in my life, I’d be willing to bet that Eccleston’s Doctor had it. The PTSD haunted his every step, from his disconnection from the world in “Rose” & his loneliness, to his terror in the Dalek episode, to his slowly regaining his confidence in “The Dr Dances”, and finally to his inability to return to his genocidal ways in his final appearance – I’m sure I can be shot down over this, and even if I can’t, a traumatic stress condition doesn’t constitute a personality, but PTSD does actually swamp personality & let’s face it, the Time War & the destruction of his home would give anyone trauma. I think his Doctor was a far sicker bunny than I’ve heard most refer to. That’s why I loved him as a Doctor more than any other.

    Finally, I was disappointed that Amy seemd to be indicating that she still fancied the Doctor at the end of this episode. I thought the lines about “very old and very lonely” last time had killed off the possibility of Amy and the Dr being lovers, or Amy wanting him as such, leaving him as a very strange and very ancient character and her as his friend and admirer. I was pleased to see that. I could do with a break from the lovey-doveys. It’s disturbing, given that we’re in a country where even consensual relations between teachers and students under 18 or before they leave 6th form are – rightly- frowned upon. More than 900 years between Time Lord and Young Woman surely constitutes abuse. Unless it’s Eccleston, who was so fried and so lonely that part of me thought Rose was not just something of an equal, but also necessary too.

    I liked your suggestions, Mr A, for how some of the plot holes in last episode could be sealed off. I wasn’t sure that the script & especially the too-broad direction gave the piece the depth you saw in it – I’m amazed that this series is playing so “young”, when the older-aimed – for whatever it’s faults – RTD series had no problems attracting the younger viewers. I wouldn’t be surprised if some older fans weren’t drifting away. I have no problem with DW being a kid’s programme, but so far, there’s not much to hang onto as a older bod. And I would say that this series aims alot younger than alot of old DW I’ve been watching recently as catch-up. I’m happy for each show-runner to have his own take, the property will be there when they’re over. But it does feel a touch too young.

    And I shall return here to pursue my catch-up studies in DW-grasping.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you. Means a lot coming from you.

      I agree about the lack of Doctor/Companion chemistry in this episode, though that may just be because they spent the vast majority of it apart.

      I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said about the Eccleston Doctor. The problem is that the worst aspects – and not the best – of that characterisation were carried across to Tennant (and now, it seems, to Smith).

      I *absolutely* agree that someone in loco parentis, many centuries older than the person he’s with, *OF A DIFFERENT SPECIES TO HER*, and with absolute control over her life should not even be *THINKING* about a sexual/romantic relationship. It’s just wrong – although I make an exception in the cases of Romana (same species, closer in age) who he was obviously in love with, and Evelyn (from the audios – it’s never made clear that they’re in a romantic relationship, but at the same time a lecturer in history, close to retirement age, seems far more the Doctor’s equal…)

      As for the ‘youngness’ – I always liked Douglas Adams’ quote that Who should be ‘intelligent enough for the children, but simple enough for the adults’. I think much of the Welsh series fails the first part of that…

      • pillock says:

        At least it’s not as bad as vampire stuff — “hey, I’m hundreds of years old but this sixteen year-old girl’s kind of hot…oh did I also mention I’m DEAD.” It just seems wrong, doesn’t it? Also the “good” vampires’ habit of getting blood from the blood bank is a particularly egregious sort of moral cowardice…oh, so you won’t kill yourself, but you can’t face killing other people directly, even if they’re bad people? Simply rob from the blood supply so perfectly innocent people who’ve been hit by cars have to die so you can feel better about yourself! Easy.

        I think you also have to figure most of these vampires are illiterate, eh? Hard to form relationships in the 20th/21st century under such conditions. “You don’t have to feel ashamed because you can’t read and write.” “No, it’s not that…you see, I’m a vampire.”

        “Could you pick up Jimmy from work?” “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to drive a car…I’m a vampire.”

        “Just think of all those celebrities, you can’t tell which ones are Scientologists, I mean Tom Cruise obviously, but…I mean, Courtney Cox? Is she one? What about Danny Glover?” “Hmm, yes, interesting, but unfortunately I don’t know who any of those people are due to my BEING A VAMPIRE, actually.”

        No, I don’t know how I got onto this either.

        • Mike Taylor says:

          Assuming you’re talking about Angel, it’s made explicitly clear that he gets his blood from a butcher. It’s not human blood.

          (Oh, and Spike, who was also a vampire, drove a car.)

          • pillock says:

            That’s true, he did!

            Now how did he learn how to do that?

            But I wasn’t thinking so much about the Buffy/Angel stuff…I think there’s a good amount of plausible deniability in there, actually…

      • Colin Smith says:

        Hello Mr A

        I’ve been thinking about what you wrote & I think that – after not a little what-do-I-dwell-on-I’ve-got-insomnia brooding – that you’re right about this episode being a story that would have functioned better as a old-style four parter. You’re right that the obvious missing and necessary narrative-connecting-tissue could then be permitted to exist among the water-cooler moments. (For example, we can have the space-faring Spitfires shown in the first episode, set up as being close to test flight status in the second, and so on – er, didn’t one survive, by the way? What happens to that tech?) And I was thinking what a terrific writing exercise that would be for anybody needing an exercise to stretch their writing-structure bones. It’s an exam question for a very long exam: “Transfer the 1-hour episode to 4×30 minutes episodes, deciding on which act-structure you feel is most appropriate etc etc”.

        In your reply to my comment, you mentioned that you objected to the PTSD-like component of the Eccleston Doctor being carried over, and that’s helped me put my finger on why the Tennant years were somewhat wearing for me, though I admire the actor and several episodes. The problem was that the PTSD arc was resolved. Eccleston may not have been able to destroy the Daleks & all the human race there too, which challenged his sense of his own bravery, but he redeemed himself by saving Rose at the cost of his own existence, and he knew that Rose loved him, which was important to the poor lost man too. (Though I agree as you know with a general BAN on old-Time-Lord/Nubile human relationships) Eccleston’s death was sad, he had regrets, but he was whole again. And yet keeping that trauma in the next Doctor despite the closure of the business before meant that the series was doomed to turn the angst over and over and again for our sympathy and indulgence, but it couldn’t ever be resolved because it already had been. If RTD wanted, the Dr could show as much sorrow and loss as he liked, but not that particular and redundant extreme. And am I mistaken, being a latecomer, but are the problems of the previous Dr usually carried over to such a degree as between Eccleston & Tennant?

        Finall y – I won’t make a habit of this rambling on, haven’t I hope in the past – but I too am a big fan of the old-school writerly tradition on British TV. It is, by extension, a love of writing rather than the “effect of writing”, a love of what words and discipline can achieve rather than an awareness that “x” + “y” = “water-cooler moment. It’s strange that the one place that that tradition survives is on US TV, in the HBO series such as “The Wire” & “The Sopranos” & the first 4 series of “The West Wing”, all of which are effectively & successfully in the British tradition, and most of which owe a debt, often stated by the creators, to “I Cladius”. Perhaps if the money really does run out further for TV, if the splintering market means that big productions become impossible, we may return to the days of live TV, of claustrophic & clever productions based on the word & the craft of trained rather than wanna-be actors.

        I shan’t make a habit of this. But I appreciate being made to think. My best to you, in your unexpected-by-many hour of possible Liberal triumph.

  7. Justin says:

    I may not know much about Doctor Who, but when Red Dwarf comes up WE ARE IN MY HOUSE, and I totally agree with the sentiment about the changeover from series two to three.

    I watched the DVD extras, and the cast and crew went on and on about how glad they were for series three to be able to redo the production design and leave the ship more and have adventures. It’s somewhat disheartening to find out that this version of the show is the way Red Dwarf was *intended* to be, and that the version that I prefer was, in essence, a compromise because of the limitations of budget and special effects. Personally, I think nothing inspires creativity like frustration, but then again I’m not the one having to produce a half-hour science fiction sitcom for television.

    I still enjoy from series three on – I’m not made of stone – but what I loved about those first two series was explaining to people who’d never heard of Red Dwarf that it was a science fiction show in which one of the episodes was all about the main character trying to pass a chef’s exam so he would outrank his irritating bunkmate.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I absolutely agree. I can find odd things of value in Red Dwarf as late as series six, but the only ones that *matter* are the first two, where they were working against restrictions.

  8. Charlie Squadmore says:

    Spot on.

    This was rushed. Moffat is trying to cram too much stuff into too little TV. This should have been at the very least a two-parter.

    As it stands, it felt more like an over-kinetic extended movie trailer. I sincerely hope the production staff aren’t deliberately trying to do this on purpose, (you know, for the attention-deficit-disordered youth market). I hope it’s just a case of working out the kinks.

    But as it stands, I’m beginning to lose faith. Are we going to have to go a whole season before they figure out how not to suck?

    The really frustrating thing is that both this and the last episode would have been amazing if they’d slowed down long enough to do the show justice. The stories, the set designs, the actors. . , they have all the right pieces, but they’re killing it all by rushing along like maniacs!

    What the heck is going on here?

    I’m really feeling bummed out about this.

  9. Aaron King says:

    I have been a huge fan of Doctor Who and Star Trek since I was a boy. I have to say the new series of doctors has been awesome. The Daleks are better than ever and the stories have never been better written. I just wonder how long something this good can go on. Hopefully so my descendants can enjoy the charm and adventures of the last Time Lord, The Doctor!

  10. Alex Wilcock says:

    A pleasure to read! As you know, I’m considerably warmer towards Russell’s Who than you are, but I agree with your tone here in general ;-) I loved the talkiness of it, too. Excellent point about Polish pilots, though – shame.

    The odd thing is, on first watching, I enjoyed this one much more than the first two, despite thinking the Doctor (sans jammy dodger) rather less interesting. And despite thinking the new Daleks look terrible from the back or side (hunchbacked, or bums so big they split their panels? I assume they’re designed to slot into something, but for the moment, the silhouette’s a mess).

    In the meantime – and to Colsmi, too, without your detailed grounding in Who – I’d be interested to know what you make of my latest: a mini-review of every Dalek TV story, complete with my attempt to write like Terrance Dicks on the history of the metal fiends:

    http://loveandliberty.blogspot.com/2010/04/daleks-top-twenty.html

  11. FredH says:

    Possibly I’m being That Guy, but I was annoyed at the ease with which the Spitfires’ pilots adapted to spaceflight (before being blown up, of course). Maneuvering outside an atmosphere–even assuming the hastily-installed tech made it *possible*–would be wildly different from what the pilots would be used to, and it’s not as though they’d have had time to train for it.

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