Victory of the Daleks – my SPOILERY thoughts, let me show you them

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

To be fair, I never did expect a lot from this episode. Dalek stories are notoriously difficult to get right. There’s a very large element of giving Joe Public what he wants and expects about them – screaming invective and portentious twaddle of a vaguely eugenic sort. And, preferably, a bit of spectacle. Neither, in my view, make a good episode. 

Here we see them somewhat cynically attached to the other DW crowd-pleaser, the celebrity historical. The overall effect was closer to a commercial for a new brand-stretching line than a compelling drama. Even the setting – possibly the best-realised aspect of the episode – was borrowed from the familiar form of stiff-upper-lip, terribly plucky British war movies – Millions Like Us and In Which We Serve come to mind. Yes, the Cabinet War Rooms setting was nicely done, but Churchill was less than convincing, reduced to his best-known mannerisms. He didn’t speak a single realistic line of dialogue, suggesting that the character was the sum of his famous speeches. Compared to the earlier evocations of Dickens and Shakespeare this was lazy writing. In both the aforementioned cases, underneath the metatextual jokes, there was a genuine sense of an encounter with the Doctor propelling the historical character to a new level of creativity. That was entirely absent here. 

I never really felt that either MS or KG had much faith in this script, and frankly I can see their reasons why. They both had formulaic roles to play – Amy’s place as the slightly quirky lens through which the Doctor is humanised worked beautifully in TBB but, this time, seemed to come out of left-field. I really don’t like the implication that she fancies the Doctor – it is OOC and please, if we must open a Pandora’s box, could it be a different one this time around?

But Matt Smith struggled the most. I find the praise that people are heaping on his acting in this episode frankly baffling. He didn’t engage me for a moment. In his defence, he was saddled with an inadequate script and a difficult doublethink to pull off. The problem is, the only thing that makes the Daleks interesting to anybody over the age of seven now is the backstory built up over the last four series, a backstory that, for understandable reasons, Moffat’s Who is resolutely ignoring. And you can’t have it both ways. If the Eleventh Doctor is to spring from our screens fully formed and behave as if the whole of the Time War and its consequences is finished business, then he can’t talk about his history with the Daleks with any conviction whatsoever. This is more than an elephant in the room, it’s a whole herd of them trumpeting – an impossible position for an actor to be in. No wonder Smith behaved as if he was posing for a publicity photo-shoot all through the Dalek scenes.

The budget cuts are beginning to show – some of the special effects on view here, particularly the bomb in Bill Patterson’s chest, were just laughable. That wouldn’t have mattered if the story and the performances were more convincing. I’m not going to join the chorus of disapproval by pointing out all the holes in the plot – mainly because it was so threadbare that it would disintegrate at a touch. Put it this way – if you want me to squee about a dog-fight in space, please don’t distract me by making me go WTF? Where did that come from?

Amy functions well as spunky eye-candy for the heterosexual male viewer (and to be fair, that’s the equivalent of David Tennant for the opposite sex in some people’s view). But I’m slightly wrong-footed by the way we’re supposed to pick up the unspoken messages between them when their relationship is still not completely established. With Martha, for all the limitations of that characterisation, there was a logical narrative progression linking the first few episodes. Here, an extended period away from the screen was mentioned but no emotional ground was laid to help us work out what, precisely, the nature of their relationship was by this point.

I’m still reserving judgement until I’ve seen the upcoming two-parter, because the River Song story is so close to SM’s heart and his concept for the show that we can reasonably expect him to pull out all the artistic stops. I liked TBB, with a couple of reservations, and I’m well-disposed towards Matt and Karen, though I couldn’t avoid thinking how differently the Tenth Doctor would have handled the closing moments of VOTD (incidentally, we’re going to have to come up with a new acronym now, aren’t we, unless we specify Kylie or Winston?). But if we get any more turkeys like this one, I can see viewing figures taking a nosedive that isn’t entirely explained by the evenings getting lighter.

The pepperpot transmitter was cute, though. Finally, S5 has spawned a fanfic in my fevered brain – I can imagine 10.5 having a hissy fit when he seems one on the kitchen table next to the chips that Rose has brought home from work. I suppose that’s progress .

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39 thoughts on “Victory of the Daleks – my SPOILERY thoughts, let me show you them

  1. I just posted my own reaction to this episode and yes, not impressed over here either.
    though I couldn’t avoid thinking how differently the Tenth Doctor would have handled the closing moments of VOTD
    What do you think his reaction would have been? I agree that it would have been vastly different (more of a personality difference than a Doctor difference, though) and am interested in your take.

  2. Haven’t seen the episode yet. I am curious — I keep reading stuff about Daleks and how terrifying they’re supposed to be. Does anyone else find them more amusing than terrifying?
    I think the most interesting thing about the Daleks is, as you said, the history that’s been established in the last four series. The episode Dalek, was good because of the Doctor-angst, IMO. So, what, they’re ignoring all that now? Hmm.
    For some reason, I wasn’t feeling any great urgency to find this episode. I watched a bit of The Eleventh Hour last night on TV. I recorded it as well — it will be nice to see it on a large screen. But yeah, no huge NEW EPISODE MUST SEE IT NOW feeling from me about this one.
    I can imagine 10.5 having a hissy fit when he seems one on the kitchen table next to the chips that Rose has brought home from work.
    LOL. YOU HAVE TO WRITE THAT!!

  3. You’ve saved me the effort of writing further about this sad little episode. 🙂
    I really don’t like the implication that she fancies the Doctor – it is OOC and please, if we must open a Pandora’s box, could it be a different one this time around?
    I’m really hoping this was a misdirect, and Amy wasn’t referring to the Doctor at all. She’s got two boys at home–Rory and Jeff. Maybe she’s betrothed to one and fancies the other?
    Smith behaved as if he was posing for a publicity photo-shoot all through the Dalek scenes
    I’ve been watching some of the old Confidentials, in which we see actors having to play important scenes to a greenscreen and a tennis ball on a pole. I am more impressed than ever with Tennant and Eccleston, who seem able to bring out all their big Shakespeare guns without anyone to play to. Smith’s less experienced, and it showed in his Dalek scenes. He was reading to the camera the whole time.
    But I blame the director entirely. It really did MS no service to be shown from Dalek POV, which required him to literally act to the camera. And this Doctor is meant to be more reserved, to hide his thoughts and emotions in contrast to Ten, which ties the actor’s hands. How do you show emotional engagement with an emotionless enemy when you’re someone who hides your emotions? What do you have to bounce off of? And then he was shot in that big empty room exactly as if he were doing a fashion shoot. (Good catch, there. I was trying to put my finger on what that looked like, & that’s it exactly.) A more experienced TV actor than Smith would have found those obstacles hard to overcome.
    an extended period away from the screen was mentioned
    Was it? I missed that. So how long have they been traveling together now?
    I’m not too worried. There are plenty of feeble episodes in Ten’s tenure, and a couple of clunkers in Nine’s. I suspect that the young kids in the audience are ecstatic about the Daleks, and when it comes to Daleks it’s all about the kids, so OK there. I still think the season will find its feet.

  4. Even as a kid I thought the Daleks were hilarious. I know Tennant has talked about watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa, but I never found it scary, but great fun.

  5. an extended period away from the screen was mentioned
    Yeah, Winnie said he’d made the phone call to the Doctor a month ago – although that’s a month in Earth time, not in the Doctor’s timeline, because he seemed to think he’d turned up more or less after getting the call.
    Late again. Something. Is. Up.
    You know, for all that I agree with you about the problems with this episode, I still liked it. It was daft and silly and engaging – and I thought the pacing was okay until we got to about the last ten minutes and I wondered “what are we going to do now?”
    I thought Matt was generally good although yes, there were times his inexperience showed through. I can’t remember who the director was for this one, but if it was one of the regulars, then they should have helped him out a bit.
    Is Moff ignoring the Dalek backstory? The events of JE are specifically referenced in this episode (I know he didn’t write it, but presumably he either asked Gatiss to make sure it was there, or didn’t veto it when it was put in) – Eleven talks about saving reality, and how he’d banished the Daleks to the void in the past, and the Time War got a mention last week. And of course, there’s the big question as to why Amy doesn’t know what a Dalek is when not that long ago, they transported the Earth half-way across the Universe.
    And speaking of Amy, I’m completely with you about her, too. People are raving about her, but I just don’t get it. I don’t feel any connection with her at all – to my mind she’s little more than a cardboard cut out even after three episodes. What a massive contrast with Rusty’s companions who were drawn, admittedly with fairly broad brush-strokes to start with – but nonetheless drawn quickly and effectively and which gave the viewer something to latch on to. I keep hoping to see something which will justify the Doctor’s faith in her and enable me to revise my opinion of her as an annoying, self-centred brat, but nothing so far.
    Oh, and she’s saved the day twice now. Let’s just rename the show Amy Pond and be done with it.

  6. Late again. Something. Is. Up.
    I have a working theory about this. Time seems to be flowing… incorrectly. Moffat could be dealing with the effects of the Time War on the flow of history. The implications of time travel held no interest for RTD, but Moffat has built several episodes around it now, and I could see Moffat coming to grips with what he might see as the big unanswered question of the RTD era — what, exactly, does a “Time War” mean? Prisoner Zero talked about the cracks; maybe they’re two versions of history colliding? The Doctor’s responsible for them, but he just doesn’t realize it because he’s “inside” the damage; he can’t see that anything’s gone wrong.
    And of course, there’s the big question as to why Amy doesn’t know what a Dalek is when not that long ago, they transported the Earth half-way across the Universe.
    There is the possibility that the Doctor assumes that Amy is from the present day (or near-present day), but doesn’t actually know. So she could be from pre-2005. It’s a possibility.
    There’s another possibility. The Doctor pops out for five minutes, and turns up twelve years later. The Doctor pops out again for a run around the moon, and turns up two years later. In neither case did he plan for the passage of time; in fact, he’s not aware of it. What if time is flowing differently in Leadworth because of the cracks? It’s become some sort of temporal bubble, and it’s insulated from the rest of history.
    As for backstory and the like, I think some things are being done with this season to reassure viewers that they are, in fact, watching the same program they’ve watched for the past five years, that the wholescale changes behind and in front of the camera haven’t turned the series into something that’s not Doctor Who anymore.

  7. It didn’t work for me either; I have too many issues with this episode:
    1) It seemed to be not so much an episode in itself, but more of a continuity tool to set up things for later on: the return of the daleks as a proper race, Amy not knowing the events of The Stolen Earth, etc; too many things going on, they asphixiated the story. Which really surprised me, considering this was a Mark Gatiss script.
    2) I seem to recall this was a script Gatiss prepared for the Tenth Doctor Series 3 or 4. This would explain why there was so little room for Eleven and Amy to shine; this story wasn’t meant for them.
    3) Also, there was so little chemistry between Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. I would like to take a look at the shooting schedule and see when was this filmed; I bet it was early on. It seemed like neither Matt knew who the Eleventh Doctor was supposed to be, nor Karen was familiar with Amy. Both seemed very uncomfortable. Kind of like what happened with the regeneration scene from The End of Time Part Two. It was underwhelming back then, but seeing it now, I have to admit that there was very little of the Eleven from Eleventh Hour. It seems to be that Matt’s take on the Doctor kept evolving with the shooting; it wasn’t really there when they were doing End of Time and Victory, but judging by what was seen in Eleventh Hour and the Beast Below, by the time they got there his idea of what he wanted the Doctor to be was much more clear.
    Anyway, after a superb first episode, a very good second one, and knowing next week will bring back Moffat and River Song, I’m still confident about the future of this series. As malsperanza remembered, it’s not like the previous series were free of clunkers.

  8. I’ve been watching some of the old Confidentials, in which we see actors having to play important scenes to a greenscreen and a tennis ball on a pole. I am more impressed than ever with Tennant and Eccleston, who seem able to bring out all their big Shakespeare guns without anyone to play to. Smith’s less experienced, and it showed in his Dalek scenes. He was reading to the camera the whole time.
    Dalek scenes are not shot to greenscreen – they use a real model with someone inside. Billie Piper remarked on how large and intimidating they are on set. So no excuses there, I’m afraid.
    It’s true that, given what he’s done on TV so far, MS probably isn’t experienced at emoting to greenscreen, but frankly he’s got the best job in British telly so if he can’t acquire the skill there’s something wrong with the direction.

  9. Well, we might well have got self-pity (“They always survive and I lose everything” DIM/EOTD) or (if it didn’t conflict with the not wanting to die) he could have gone suicidal. I think he might well have thrown himself on their mercy, “Take me! Kill me! Anything but the Earth!” – as in JE when he thought Davros had killed Donna. Not exactly logical since without the Doctor the Earth is toast anyway, but the Daleks never did bring out Ten’s inner Spock. Or, again like JE, he could have just been paralysed (as he was by Davros’s rant about companions turning into weapons). I definitely don’t think it would have taken a few words from Amy to cheer him up – there would have been far more lingering shots on his tormented face.

  10. Is Moff ignoring the Dalek backstory? The events of JE are specifically referenced in this episode
    I think he’s overlooking the emotional impact of the backstory, presumably because he wants to draw a line under the RTD years. But it’s very difficult to invest in the scenes when the Doctor faces Daleks (or, presumably, to know how to play them) if all of that off-limits. And it’s not as if we didn’t get some reaction, but it just didn’t feel appropriate – hitting them with a spanner out of nowhere is very different from Nine’s visceral loathing in ‘Dalek’ followed by his disturbing pleasure in torturing the single Dalek – which actually prompted complaints and the order of a script revision at the time from the POTB.

  11. I like the “time flowing incorrectly” theory. I’m beginning to wish they’d be a little bit more subtle – even in S1 we didn’t see BAD WOLF every week. I rather hope it’s connected to WoM because there’s no point in reiterating that fixed points mustn’t be touched if we never get to see what happens if they are tampered with.
    Apparently the old TARDIS set hasn’t been taken apart yet, and there’s a reason for that. Hmmm….

  12. Oh yes, I’m not giving up yet. BTW, Doctor Who Magazine have done a detailed guide to every series of New Who so far, including day-by-day shooting scripts. I am a bit worried, on that note, that the crash of the Byzantium and the introduction of River Song was the first scene they ever shot.
    Have you read “The Writers’ Tale?” Gatiss was treated rather shabbily by RTD, who turned down his WW2 script at a late stage of development. I wonder if Moff felt he owed him a chance. Having said that, with the exception of “Unquiet Dead” in S1, I’ve not been impressed by Gatiss’ earlier work for DW.

  13. Dalek scenes are not shot to greenscreen – they use a real model with someone inside. Billie Piper remarked on how large and intimidating they are on set. So no excuses there, I’m afraid.
    Mm, even so, I don’t put the blame on Smith. Having a model on set with someone shouting out the Dalek’s lines helps with getting scale and eye lines right, but it doesn’t give anything back. It must be hard enough when actors do pickup dialogue shots or scenes without the other person there, and I know it happens all the time in TV and movies, but not usually for a full-length extended scene. It does make me admire Eccleston’s work in “Dalek” even more. Put it another way: writers should avoid giving a single character a long, pivotal, emotional scene with no other actors but Daleks.
    It worked in “2001,” where the scenes with HAL depended entirely on the voice actor, and the evil computer was disembodied. Those scenes were awesome. Maybe it’s a mistake to have shots from the Dalek’s POV. And the antic short cuts and fancy angles and Matt’s jumping about just dissipated tension, though I supposed they were intended to liven up an otherwise static scene in which the Daleks inexplicably talk to the Doctor instead of killing him. (Let me pause in my Evil Plan to explain my Evil Plan to you. Cue Jonathan Pryce’s rendition of the Master.)

  14. I think he’s overlooking the emotional impact of the backstory
    Ah, right, I see what you’re getting at now. Yes, it seems that he’s trying to distance Eleven from that somewhat, but he can’t insist it’s still the same man and the same show and then ignore that impact, can he? I said when I recapped that where Nine was visibly terrified, Ten was flippant when confronted with Daleks, but that you nonetheless knew that underneath it he never underestimated them as an enemy. Eleven seems to be scaling everything down at the moment, and while I don’t have a problem with the Doctor playing his cards close to his chest, I’m hoping that somewhere along the line there will be a pay-off to all this that doesn’t turn out to be some kind of giant reset for the next series! (Like it was all in Eleven’s head while he was stuck in bed reoovering from a serious bout of regeneration sickness!)
    On a side note, I listened to the Audio Book Prisoner of the Daleks last week. I don’t know if you’re read/heard it, but the way the Doctor (Ten) reacts to them, and the way he feels about them is incredibly well written; the deep, deep fear and loathing he has in relation them and why – and watching this episode again tonight made me want to go back and listen to it again to remind myself of how the Doctor “really” reacts to them.

  15. Well, “Victory of the Daleks” and “The Idiot lantern” fall on the unremarkable side of Doctor Who while “Unquiet Dead” was very good. 2-1 so far, so yes, Gatiss in Who hasn’t been stellar. I will always keep him on a high regard because of The League of Gentlemen, but yes, I’m not sure I will keep looking forward to more Gatiss in Doctor Who.
    I did read “The Writer’s Tale”. As a matter of fact, I’ve just looked this episode up there and RTD does not mention the Daleks, but monsters in the National History Museum and a nazi assault. Nothing like the script from VOTD yesterday, so my assumption of this being intended for the Tenth Doctor does not apply here.
    You are right about the filming schedule; the Bizantium crash has to have been filmed sometime on July 2009 while the episode yesterday was shot on August. Eleventh Hour scenes were filmed on October, so it must have been part of a later batch, and it really shows. But I share your concern, and I do hope this episode’s issues were related to a weak script rather than Matt not really knowing what to do with the Doctor (I don’t want to be too hard on Matt; I mean, he was very wonderful indeed on both Eleventh Hour and Beast Below)
    I’ve heard some rumours regarding River Song and an appearance in this serie’s finale, so she will be really important this season.

  16. Apparently the old TARDIS set hasn’t been taken apart yet, and there’s a reason for that.
    Really? I didn’t know that. Did you hear the interview SM did with Mark Lawson on Front Row recently? He said that RTD had asked if he could have preview DVDs of the series, because he wants to make sure he sees them – and Moff said something along the lines that there was one episode he HAD TO SEE – and when Lawson picked up on it, there was a very long silence and then SM said something like “why that would be, I have no idea,” in a tone of voice which clearly indicated that his tongue was lodged firmly in his cheek.
    Maybe the Doctor has to go back and cross his own timeline in order to fix something…

  17. I would like to take a look at the shooting schedule and see when was this filmed;
    “Victory” was in the second production block, with “The Beast Below”; the first was the River Song/Weeping Angels two-parter that begins next week.
    “The Eleventh Hour” was the third production block all on its own.

  18. I think there is sonething wrong with the direction. I don;’t know where thses new directors came from but they don’t seem to have a grasp of the movement and pace of action genre.

  19. Or even, not sneakily.
    It’s a classic problem of script writing: the Evil!Badguy who stops in the middle of destroying the world in order to expositate for the sake of the audience. It’s especially noticeable with Daleks because they don’t typically carry on lengthy conversations with long sentences, which means that exposition is not only implausible plotwise, but also out of character.

  20. ESPecially as later on we have that V in V trailer where Matt goes “tell me your plot – oh well worth a try”, a good line but ere we have exactly that!! it made you woncer if Moff was script diting at all.

  21. Nope, I agree with you – the underlying problems were poor writing and direction. It’s hard for anyone to emote to a roomful of psychotic pepper pots. Nine did it well in POTW but he had Jack and Rose around at the same time.

  22. You said a lot of what I’ve been thinking about this episode. This episode couldn’t figure out how to juggle the Time War continuity left behind by RTD. Smith and Gillan both impressed me in TEH and TBB, but not in this episode. Amy just wasn’t given much to do other than stand around making not especially interesting comments, then saving the day with an out-of-nowhere implication of unrequited love. Smith’s Doctor couldn’t really make me feel that the furious outburst of hitting a Dalek with the spanner was really inevitable. Throughout the whole episode, I felt like I was watching Matt Smith acting rather than the Doctor reacting. However, like you said, a weak script makes it hard to deliver a powerful performance.

  23. Paraphrasing River Song…”Spoilers”
    I read today RTD is going to write the Eleventh Doctor for a Sarah Jane Adventures two parter! Really looking forward to it; having read The Writer’s Tale, I have to assume RTD must be a glutton for punishment 🙂

  24. Do you know, I haven’t got round to watching it yet (we were away at the weekend). I find both that, and the fact that I’ve just quite happily browsed this oh-so-spoilery thread, quite telling. If we were away when an ep of Nine or Ten aired I’d be hurling myself at the mediabox as soon as the unpacking was done, and avoiding spoilers like the plague. The two eps I’ve seen so far have both been perfectly good fun, and First Small Person has enjoyed them no end (he *did* watch VOTD on Sunday night, with Daddy, while I put Second to bed) but so far, I can take or leave Eleven; on current evidence it’s a kids’ show. Fair enough, and given the intensity of my emotional investment in Ten(nant), probably good for me…
    Hey, though, I did chortle when I caught a glimpse of a khaki Dalek with a Union Jack on it! Almost worth the episode for that alone surely?…

  25. “It’s hard for anyone to emote to a roomful of psychotic pepper pots”
    I *have* to nick that for an icon! May I? Pleeeease? (You can have the icon if I do, obviously!)

  26. They did scare me as a kid – which may be why they still have the capacity to scare me now if done right; as others here have said, a lot of it is in how the Doctor reacts to them. Dalek scared me rigid, as did most of Ten’s Dalek episodes, because the Doctor was terrified (as well as enraged and defiant and all the rest). Though I must admit the Dalek/Cybermen confrontation at the end of S2 still makes me hoot with laughter, that whole “Come on then if you think you’re hard enough!” thing…

  27. Didn’t her nurse fiance pull out a cameraphone in the hospital ward scene in TEH? Wouldn’t that militate against the “How do we know Amy’s ‘present’ isn’t from say 2001 rather than 2010” theory? (Shame, coz it’s a nice idea – sorry to drop that in so late in the day, only just thought of it…)

  28. Well, you said that a lot better than I did. I miss my mind, truly. Hee! But we basically touch on the same things. As you note, there is no need to talk about plot holes in a story that isn’t much of a story. I was just simply confused about where these Daleks even come from that they are impure and yet THERE. But we can set that aside in the middle of the whole “Why Bother?” of it all.
    The overall effect was closer to a commercial for a new brand-stretching line than a compelling drama.
    Essentially my feeling, as you know. That it was a glorified commercial for the “new Daleks” toy.
    Churchill was less than convincing, reduced to his best-known mannerisms. He didn’t speak a single realistic line of dialogue, suggesting that the character was the sum of his famous speeches.
    Again, complete agreement. I will say that I forgot, in my post, to put in the fact that even if the Churchill actor was competent in some settings, he would be hard pressed to make this dialogue work for him. There is no comparison to Dickens or Shakespeare as realized earlier in the series. We never engage with this character and there is no sense of an encounter with history. Even Amy isn’t allowed to process the wonder of barrage balloons. She might as easily have been at the mall.
    I will agree that she is spunky eye-candy and yes, the point that she is our lense in TBB and not so much here is well taken. Though I feel that her lens didn’t offer me any surprises in TBB. What she tells me about the Doctor is like something from a fact sheet. There is nothing new said. And even in End of Time…RTD always gave us something new. Actually, to my way of thinking there is no point in writing the same thing over and over again.
    I really don’t like the implication that she fancies the Doctor – it is OOC and please, if we must open a Pandora’s box, could it be a different one this time around?
    While RTD did do this over and over again…I had hoped that in this was one thing Moff would put a stop to in the new series. We now know that he will not be breaking free and, in fact, Amy is going to do the same boring things that everyone else has done. It was only fresh and new with Rose. It has now gone beyond tedious into trite and ridiculous. I have some small glimmer of hope that Moff means to put the whole mess to bed (without using a bed joke or metaphor) once and for all…but since he invented the sexually active Doctor…and since we now have seen clips from the appalling demise of Amy as a strong female figure into some sort of sexual object. Oh, well…why bother?
    Rae
    EDIT: To fix the broken html

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