Monday, 15 September 2014

Victory of the Daleks written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Andrew Gunn

This story in a nutshell: The Daleks are Churchill’s secret weapon against the Nazi menace…

Cheeky Chappie: Bravo to Matt Smith who is working his ass off to make this awkward material come to life. Taken as a whole Victory of the Daleks does offer him a fair amount of scope, from outright rage to defiant heroism. I would say that he is very good at delivering the latter but still has yet to find a comfortable way to display anger. He just goes for it with the spanner and the result is a reminder of McCoy's inability to play hysterical emotion. Nobody can top Colin Baker in that field. It's the natural theatrical genes. I think it is rather wonderful that the Doctor is on such good terms with Churchill (check out Terrance Dicks' novel Players to see a previous encounter between the two men) and I wonder how many other famous historical figures he has this kind of bromance going on with. He admits he has just started running the TARDIS in. You can really see the difference between Smith and Tennant’s approach to acting in the scenes where the Doctor tries to convince Churchill about the nature of the Daleks. Smith plays it very gently and calmly whereas Tennant would have been all wild eyed and feral. Both are valid approaches but Smith's is the less invasive. When Smith loses control and batters the Dalek casing with a spanner it is the sort of thrilling anger we have never seen from this Doctor before.The Daleks are everything he despises. His jammie dodger trick delights, I love the idea of a man who is willing to take on three death machines with a biscuit. There are few moments where Gatiss forgets himself and he writes for the 11th Doctor like the 10th (‘Don’t mess with me, sweetheart’ would never be said by Smith later in the season and his ‘You’re brilliant’ is a replay of a scene in Journey’s End). I don't know that Gatiss ever quite got the hang of writing for the 11th Doctor (or as a friend of mine said recently whether the 11th Doctor is a definable character in his own right) - here he is still constructed out of leftovers from his predecessor and come Cold War and The Crimson Horror he has surrendered to little more than a handful of quirks. Night Terrors is probably his best stab at the incarnation (focussing on his attraction to young child in trouble which kicked off the era) and even that is far from the 11th Doctor's shining moment. Destroy the Daleks or save the Earth – the script makes it abundantly clear that the Doctor will do anything to finally rid the universe of the Daleks but the only thing that could turn him away from that is his favourite planet in peril. When trying to convince Bracewell to live the Doctor manages to capture the joy and the madness of being a human being (I love his reaction to the name Dorabella). At the end it is pure fury as the Daleks once again live to fight another day but Amy manages to remind him of what a fabulous job he has done. And that fury lacks conviction. He’s always worried about the Daleks.

Scots Tart: One of Amy’s best showings in her first season because she isn't portrayed as a morally corrupt, self centre harpy but a generic companion providing adequate support for the Doctor. This was the point however where I realised that we didn't know anything definable about Amy as a character and that she was severely lacking in the identification department compare to her predecessors in the Davies' era. Amy is positively orgasmic with excitement at turning up in the cabinet war rooms. She gazes out at the blimps and bombs with awe, history happening right in front of her. Real focus is given the fact that Amy doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion, the first big indication that something is wrong with this companion. Poor, naïve Amy actually marches up to a Dalek and interrogates it (‘Love a squaddie!’ made me wince). Amy gets to be thoughtful, sensitive and resourceful...what a shame they couldn’t keep this up. When it comes to convincing Bracewell not to crack open the planet Amy mentions fancying people that you shouldn't and this might be a back door reference to the shocking moment that was to come at the end of the next story. This is her wake up call that this life is dangerous.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If Hitler invaded Hell I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.’
‘Would you care for some tea?’
‘KBO of course. Keep Buggering On.’
‘I don’t care if you are a machine Bracewell. Are you a man?’

The Good Stuff: I realise Ian McNiece is offering up a parody of Churchill (like the Doctor of series seven, this is just a series of gestures that constitutes a definable shadow of the man in question without any of the depth) but he’s so cheeky and likeable that I can’t quite bring myself to disapprove. Compared to the treatment they gave Hitler this was positively authentic.  Bill Patterson is an actor I have long admired and he gives a superb performance in this story, I’m really happy he has finally made it into a Doctor Who adventure. Gatiss might be a little short on logic (a little?) but he does know how to construct an entrance for the Daleks and watching their bolts of energy launch into the sky and blow the bombers up is a reminder of glories past for the nasties. You can see how Steven Moffat might have been seduced by the idea of the Daleks turning out to be Churchill's secret weapon, it is such a delicious concept that it breaks my heart that they didn't run with it for the entire episode. There are a number of memorable visuals where we get to see the Daleks going about their business in the background and the Doctor watching on suspiciously. I love the moment the Daleks drop their façade and we cut to the saucer in orbit, unlike most Dalek stories that follow a predictable path I had absolutely no idea where this story was heading (which is a very exciting feeling for a change). You can see the director trying desperately to make the mundane set that the Progenator Daleks are created in more exciting than it is by fluidly swinging the camera back and forth to give the bubble bath toys full exposure. The new Daleks destroying the old ones is a visual representation of the Moffatt regime wiping away the Davies one. Unfortunately it was not a move for the better. The entire sequence of talking Bracewell out of detonating is one of my favourites of the season; the performances are sublime, the music hummable and it captures some real emotions. Bracewell’s freedom is very sweetly played too. I think these moment all come down to Patterson being a fine actor. The ominous crack in the wall makes another appearance. Something is officially going on.

The Bad Stuff: Why did they bother with the pointless subplot about the woman and her squaddie boyfriend? If it was to add layer of emotion to an episode that is emotionally vapid then we needed to spend much more time with her for this to have an impact. We are introduced to her at the beginning of the episode and she grieves for her lost love at the end. That's about it. Perhaps if we weren't arsing about with bubble bath toys we might have had time to make the war setting have a lasting impact on the viewer by getting closer to characters like this. The new Daleks = epic fail of the kind the series hasn't witnessed since it came back. Even Love & Monsters, which divides fans right down the middle has those who are willing to lay down their life to defend. The new Daleks were met with a practically universal critical panning and it boggles the mind that such a stylistic error could be made on a show where everything is cross examined to such an extent. The Fatleks lack any kind of menace; bulging at the sides as though the mutants inside have eaten far too many Skaro-based delicacies, coming in a variety of day glow colours and talking as though they have been suffering from mutant flu for some time. When you have a design that has successfully redefined the Daleks as a stylish, unstoppable menace why would you replace them with this? It was such a disaster that the production backtrack almost immediately and it was the first sign that perhaps the Steven Moffat era was going to be a bumpy ride. Why have we never heard of the progenitor device before? Why wouldn’t the Daleks not recognise their own kind? They’ve got bloody sink plungers and whisks! Also isn't it rather anti-climactic for these Daleks to wake up and then run away without doing anything of significance? They have single handedly taken the most frightening force in the series and gutted them of their ability to get under your skin. Spitfires in space? I know I should just surrender to the general bank holiday spectacular (if that is the right word) of the piece but logic is thrown so far out of the window that my ability to enjoy something as quirky as spitfires in space is scuppered. How were they built so quickly? How comes the regular soldiers aren't going mad for being out amongst the star firing at spaceships? You have to lobotomise yourself to such an extent that it isn't worth the hassle to find some enjoyment from this madness. ‘Do you worst, Adolph!’ – I hate these moments where the writer is desperately trying to please the audience.

Result: Another Moffat era story that has gone down in my estimation, Victory of the Daleks has not aged well at all. Maybe it has something to do with the waste of a perfectly good premise (Churchill's secret weapon) for a far more ridiculous one (the new Daleks supplanted the old ones) or maybe it is because the design of the new Daleks was so ineffective that the production team immediately tried to backtrack and return to the original, Davies ones, as soon as they possibly could. It's a wartime story being told in the broadest of strokes, lacking any serious detail or education and far more invested in the bank holiday spectacle that these sorts of films have to offer. You've got Ian McNiece and Bill Patterson, two extremely strong actors, being wasted on roles that have no great depth or lasting worth to them. Matt Smith is single handedly trying to hold the story together but he can't quite manage it this time...and he still can't portray anger with any great conviction and Karen Gillan is at her least offensive but that is because Amy is given practically nothing to do. I should point out that the first 15 minutes do show some potential but as soon as the Doctor is transported up to the Dalek ship the story dive bombs into a well of decrepitude. Remembered as the story that rivals Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks as the worst new series Dalek story, personally I would rate it lower because even the direction of Victory is awkward and unsure of itself. With a script like this to realise, I am not at all surprised: 4/10


ali said...

This was the first indication that the Matt Smith era was not to my tastes. Running a series like Doctor Who is no easy feat and yet Moffat is such a capable writer that I cannot believe he would unintentionally fudge a story so badly. What was the point? An over-elaborate and cynical teaser to disguise the return of his nostalgic Daleks? A winking nod at the utter impotence of the pepperpots waving their plungers over the years? The nigh-invulnerability of the Doctor as long as he is holding/ingesting some sort of quintessentially British item?

It's gotten to where I actually welcome Gatiss, jingoism and all, because the old dear doesn't have an insincere bone in his body.

David Pirtle said...

One of the only cringe-worthy moments from Matt Smith in his first series is the moment where, 10 minutes into this episode, he tries to ape Christopher Eccleston's venom in 'Dalek,' and he comes off looking like a kid in a Doctor Who costume. At least the story it happens in is equally sub-par. Just think of how badly it'd stand out of the rest of the story were amazing!