The Real McCoy: This is precisely the sort of thing I think they should have been doing in 1987, a contemporary setting and a Doctor and companion team that are actively driving the plot in smart ways. Instead what we got was a clownish Doctor looking like a tramp bouncing around a quarry with a reject from Dynasty, trying to pull off her explosion of ginger curls and avoiding rainbow bubbles littering sad skeletons over the surface of the planet. After the PR fiasco that was Trial of a Time Lord the show needed to remind the audience that it could be taken seriously again and this kind of sharp characterisation for the Doctor and Mel would have been just the ticket. I love the idea of the two of them working independently to uncover the mystery of War Fleet and the Xenos Corporation, the Doctor dressing as a businessman and doing the capitalist bit and Mel's technological knowledge being brought to the fore. Listen to how McCoy growls that a Dalek is a bubbling lump of hate, he sounds as though he loathes to even mention them. When the Daleks don't offer him a reception party he is appalled, he expects to be expected! Does the Doctor have a right to complain if he isn't interested in politics? Does the Doctor know better than the average man on the street? The Daleks think that without the Doctor their enemies will give up all hope and stop resisting, they have truly bought into the myth that he is symbol for their cause. Alone and defenceless, that is when he is at his most dangerous. He gets by with a little help from his friends.
Computer Programmer: The Doctor suggests Mel avoids bumping into somebody she knows since they have landed one year into her future - it could lead to some awkward questions. Mel, a computer programmer from Pease Pottage scores 'fairly adequate' at computer games. But then she doesn't like to be the sort of person that is good at computer games. It would seem that 'have you tried turning it off an on again?' is the standard IT response the universe over. In Mel's experience things that seem too good to be true usually are. Mel never gives up, she never surrenders and she is smart enough to think outside the box and play the Daleks at their own game, by refusing to behave in a way that a character in a computer game would. The best computer hacker there is, apparently. She can't see an international network catching on somehow and declines Brinsley's offer to try it out.
Standout Performance: Mary Conlon gives Sheila Handcock a run for her money as most terrifying impersonation of Margaret Thatcher in Doctor Who. Her closing line is just perfect. Prime Minister of the Daleks? She has all the credentials.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Ambition is not a dirty word' - the 80s in a nutshell. Mind you 'All we want is a deal' from strikers to the management is another familiar trope of the decade. 'Would you a Prawn Cocktail?' from a Dalek pretty much completes the eighties love-in.
'Daleks invest and return!'
'Given we offer full employment and prosperity, even a trade unionist would be hard pressed to find something to moan about' - Skaro, living the entrepreneurial dream.
'Good grief. Who needs Daleks when you have politicians?'
'You're taking innocent children and using them as your killers?' 'They enjoy it. They find it amusing. Addictive. They are as good as Daleks.'
'People don’t care. They don’t care if their petrol is provided by an oppressive regime, or if their oranges are grown by a country with apartheid. They just want to be allowed to get on with their lives' - a frightening truth when it comes to the masses in a progressive society, I'm afraid.
'Too much hate will kill you, every time.'
Great Ideas: How's this for potent imagery? A skyscraper slap bang in the middle of London in the shape of a Dalek. Bang, there's your story right there. They popped it there just to get the Doctor's attention, assuming that he would be up to something terribly devious. There is a new computer game on the market which is taking the world by storm and it is utterly anachronistic. An automatic conveyor belt producing a mass market product, 100% productivity and no human labour to hamper profitability, that's the capitalist way. The Daleks are manufacturing the games on another world and sending them to Earth. In the future the Earth will be competing against thousands of other worlds in the intergalactic market and it is going to survive in the cutthroat market of universal capitalism it is going to need financial investment, which is what the Daleks are offering. The Daleks will deal with the UK and the UK will act on behalf of the Earth, naturally. It's always fun to see the show pushing the Daleks out of their comfort zone of simply gliding around killing people and having the Daleks get a strategic foothold in the UK rather than punching their way through with military might is just as terrifying as their suspect benevolence in Power of the Daleks. In both cases they are exploiting humanity's greed to achieve their aims, a powerful statement about our need to always come out on top. The vision of the UK's future as glittering skyscrapers, palm trees and swimming pools (basically the image of Paradise Towers before it fell into wrack and ruin) is the capitalist dream. The reality is that under Dalek subjugation the Earth will become factories and ruins and chain gangs, the sort of future we saw in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Day of the Daleks. Warfleet isn't simply a game but a direct interface between humanity and the Dalek war, the people playing the game are guiding Dalek drone ships against their enemies. Somehow I think that if the kids knew the reality of the situation, they would be even more hungry to play. Warfleet is the ultimate computer game where humanity is free to kill without being killed. It's terrifying. Celia is a stand-in Margaret Thatcher ('you can't negotiate with rebels'), the mouthpiece for a whole generation of industrialists that share the Dalek ideals. Brinsley playing the game and crying 'Exterminate' with joy is a supremely chilling moment, a moment when you realise that with very little coaxing humanity can be made to behave just like the Daleks. I wish we could put Celia's supposition to the test - that the majority voice of Britain would accept the Daleks offer to turn their world into a productive, industrialist landscape. I'm almost willing to bet she is right if it meant a guarantee of food in their mouths, power for their devices, heat and light for their homes. What's even cooler than a skyscraper in the shape of a Dalek being built in the middle of London? Mel transporting said skyscraper to Skaro! A giant Dalek shaped building appearing in the city? Reminds me of a visual in Asylum of the Daleks... If the Daleks are brainwashing people to behave like them...what happens if that technology is turned back on them? All that Dalek rage and paranoia, raged to the power of ten. So much fear an anger they will literally blow their tops. Poor Michael Fish, embarrassed for the rest of his career by the Daleks.
Audio Landscape: There's no denying that Wilfred Acosta captures that energy and excitement that comes with the best computer games. The pacing helps too but the music and sound effects combine to make the action scenes explode into life with some punch. Cars passing, music thumping, cafe atmosphere, writing on paper, protestors, lift descending, water fountain, Dalek heartbeat, drones firing, extermination blasts, playing Warfleet, ships screaming through space, exchanging fire, growling taxi driving off, an explosion in a building, the internet dial up connection.
Isn't it Odd: Because they are essentially characters in a computer game, the Thals are not given much characterisation beyond what you would expect in that scenario. They're violent and reactionary and lack shades of grey. 'We must fight to the last Thal!' is the sort of dialogue we're talking about here.
Standout Scene: I really enjoyed the revelation that whilst the Daleks scheme is typically overcomplicated, it is a plan within a plan to leave Skaro undefended and open to attack. You have to give it to the anti-Dalek league, they think big. Plus the end of part three deserves a mention, just because it's so fucked up to hear Mel crying out 'Exterminate!' like a crazed Dalek.
Result: 'It is our new paradigm! To extend our influence through economic power! The power of free market!' Remember when I said that Jonathan Morris had written the type of giddy and creatively fertile Dalek tale that Douglas Adams might have concocted in The Curse of Davros? Well he's done it again in We Are the Daleks, possibly even moreso because this has a very intelligent point to make about the worst aspects of humanity and uses humour as skilful weapon to get that point across. Human greed, or rather capitalism can be both our salvation and our downfall depending on how far we let it dominate our lives and the Daleks exploit that need to have more to gain a foothold on Earth and have their wicked way. The terrifying truth that Jonny Morris has uncovered is that if you strip away our humanity and focus on our capitalist nature ('the favoured elite rules and the rest of the inhabitants become a slave labour force'), we are the Daleks. Elitist attitudes, computer games exploding on the market, worker strikes and a vision of chrome and glass...somehow Morris manages to out eighties the Doctor Who of the period and offer a peak into a world where ruthless capitalist ideals thrived, both as a dream and a nightmare. If I'm making this sound too dry then comfort yourself in the knowledge that We Are the Daleks also flaunts the gloriously offbeat premise of a computer game that is directly plugged into the Dalek War that has taken Great Britain by storm. In fact I think I would have preferred it if the story had taken a less entertaining and more scathing approach to it's psychological exploration of our baser instincts but there's no denying that the swift action and bouncy dialogue provide a rollicking good time. We Are the Daleks kicks off a new trilogy with great verve, it's wildly entertaining but like the best Doctor Who stories it also has something to say. It's a delight to have Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford back together again too, both the Doctor and Mel get a strong role in this unusual and quirky story. Score one for the main range: 8/10