Monday, April 19, 2010

Victory of the Daleks Review

After a very strong start to the new series, in story, tone and acting, Victory of the Daleks was very much a stumbling block for yours truly. While Beast Below was right on so many levels, Victory of the Daleks was wrong in just as many.

I'll presume you've watched the show if you have any inclination of reading this review, so I'll get to the meat and bones of my contentions.

People have said their major issue with the story was its pacing - it felt rushed and too packed. I would agree with this somewhat. The pacing was very fast, but for me, that can be a natural part of contemporary Who - the problem I saw was the ingredients to the fast pace were what let the story down. There was so little characterisation, relying on the caricature of Churchill to fill that void - and a robot tragedy whose human persona we never got to know to really invest in.

Some have gone on to say that this should have been a longer story - or even this is an example why 45 minutes isn't enough for a Who story. I disagree again, largely I think 45 minutes works really well - and in the case of Victory of the Daleks, I don't think length would have helped - there simply wasn't enough there to begin with.

I could see the opening 15 minutes being expanded to a full episode; the mystery behind these British "war machines", the Doctor's suspicions, his allies ignoring him etc, to end on the reveal they are indeed the enemy of the allies - I certainly could see RTD taking that approach. However, what followed, in my eyes, couldn't sustain another episode. The new Daleks seemed to serve no function other than to show over a new design, one of which didn't see to add to their malevolence even if it did add to their bubble bath container marketability. The Doctor did very little but stand around for the most part, the Daleks did little more than that, and the allies pretty much ran back and forth between two rooms charged with motivating plot that really talking to each other.

But for me, the biggest bone of contention I had with the episode wasn't the new Daleks - yes, I must admit from a design concept, their new build looks geometrical unbalanced and awkward, but one can get used to it and when one does I'm sure it will become the norm. What I found deeply disappointing was how the Daleks were treated. Where was the fear?

Yes, in this respect Doctor Who has gone back to its roots and undone what RTD had done exceptionally well with the Daleks - he made them scary and formidable. With RTD, the Doctor was scared of the Daleks - even in Evolution of the Daleks, arguably the weakest RTD episode for the Dalek the Doctor seemed very aware of their threat and their legacy. In Victory he seemed more pissed off they were still around - he didn't seem scared of them any more, and confronting them with a jammy dodger, while quite funny, again, did to the Daleks what Douglas Adams did when he pointed out they couldn't follow him up into a small vent shaft (Destiny of the Daleks) - it mocked them. To me, despite their bombs and exterminations, they didn't carry any presence in themselves - possibly because they were kept too far from the action. Without humans to fear them face to face, without the Doctor showing little more than nonchalance and annoyance, the Daleks seemed no longer the big bad race. I forgot they had brought the Time Lords to their knees, they were just intergalactic bullies - very much as they were in the old show.

The cast did a good job, though I felt Matt Smith seemed somewhat restrained, be that of his own choosing or the direction, I don't know. I didn't feel the passion and fear of the Daleks from him - he felt too much in control and I think for such a vulnerable, gentle Doctor, that didn't feel right against such a mortal enemy.

With the line about Amy not remembering the Daleks we have a further issue - how far is Mr Moffat going to go in restarting the franchise? For many Doctor Who WAS RTD's era - how far is that going to be negated? Too early to tell, but I'm personally concerned. I can understand why from a writing perspective one would want a clean slate, but there's always that question as to whether any writer of a long running franchise has the right to make sweeping retcons to the past? Does it fly in the face of those who have supported and lived those adventures - suggesting they never happened, simply because it makes for an easier future? I could be doing the team a great disservice with such a sweeping presumption, but I have to say its an issue that this episode made me consider.

There have been bad episodes of New Series Doctor Who for me - The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, Lazarus Experiment.. all of which weren't badly written just lacked anything to engage me personally. Victory of the Daleks (and I'm sad to say this as I enjoyed the author's Unquiet Undead and his fantastic book, Nightshade) just failed on levels beyond whether I was bored or not. It just didn't work. The Daleks are hard to write for, but I think if a Dalek episode is to succeed, they must engage actively in the story and they must be feared. Victory of the Daleks failed on both counts.

I still have faith that Moffat and his team will deliver some superb goods this season, and with this episode getting a wonderful Audience Appreciation of 85, I'm clearly in the minority which is excellent (as I'd rather people enjoyed this story than shared in my irritation). Victory of the Daleks is however an indication that despite being in solid hands, there are times when the show does not live up to the expectations it has brought upon itself.

- Laredo Lowtide

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