Saturday, April 17, 2010

Victory of the Daleks

17/4/10 “Victory of the Daleks”

“There isn’t a sincere bone in your body. There isn’t a bone in your body.” –The Doctor

I had my doubts about whether one could really sink one’s teeth into a one episode historical story, though I suppose Gatiss achieved it with “The Unquiet Dead”—I also had my doubts about whether it was too soon to have another Blitz story—though I suppose it’s been five years since Rose was hanging off a barrage balloon with a Union Jack on her chest. “Victory of the Daleks” did feel a bit cursory—consider it a Short Trips short story to “Curse of Fenric”’s novel, perhaps—but it had some interesting elements.

With the TARDIS landing in the Cabinet War Rooms and with guns trained immediately on the Doctor and Amy as they exited, I thought of “Aliens of London” for some reason. I have to admit I know nothing about Winston Churchill except what I read in Players, so the characterization here left no impression either way. His insistence on trying to snatch the TARDIS key from the Doctor was vaguely amusing. I saw that the production team were at pains to show us a daytime Blitz so as to distinguish things from “The Empty Child.” The fact that Churchill knew the Doctor, had called him, and had had at least one previous encounter with him was nice, in that it didn’t invalidate Players or other previous adventures, and kept all the introductions concise. Thus when the Doctor’s reaction was extreme to the “Ironsides,” no one was carting him off as a lunatic—they were merely baffled.

The Ironsides, by the way, were Daleks, which Churchill was convinced would win the War. Certainly on the surface and considering what evidence was available, you’d be inclined to agree with him. There has been an interesting pattern developing already in the season about moral dilemmas, and difficult ones at that. Everyone insisted that the Ironsides were invented by Professor Bracewell. What followed was a very interesting parallel to the situation in “Dalek.” In that, the Time War-scarred Doctor was also in a situation where the humans didn’t know what they had—in that case, they were torturing their Dalek and it could not attack him because it was chained up. In this case, the humans didn’t know what they had, and the Daleks weren’t attacking the Doctor because they had another agenda. But on the surface, it was a frustrating and frightening experience for him, and by extension, us. “Why won’t you listen to me?” Churchill’s dilemma is different than the Doctor: the Prime Minister feels he would save countless lives by unleashing the Daleks on the Third Reich and if the Ironsides were truly what they were supposed to be, perhaps he would be ending the War early. It’s a daring idea to pit the Daleks against the Nazis when, as we all know, Daleks are Nazis.

I found it hilarious that the Daleks were offering tea. At first the Doctor’s reaction is a natural one: he think Bracewell is in collusion with the Daleks as so many other humans have thought to gain from alliances with Daleks. “You cannot trust them.” The parallel with “Dalek” goes so far that the Doctor begins attacking the Dalek physically—you can almost imagine him shouting “Why don’t you just die?!” It’s the Doctor who interestingly begins to exhibit a bit of a God complex here, and one could say he gets his just desserts for his hubris: “I saved the whole of humanity! I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks!” It’s a bit of mumbo jumbo that the Doctor’s “testimony” causes more Daleks to come spewing out of a machine, but oh well. Because at this point, the Daleks reveal themselves to have been playing a ruse on the humans, and that their creator is actually the created. That’s a very interesting reveal, not only for its post-Frankenstein implications but also because of Davros’ role. The Daleks up in space are being regenerated, so with a characteristic sneer, the “Ironsides” are transported to the space ship and the Doctor laments: “I was their plan.”

The Doctor next uses a jammy dodger (this Doctor and food, do you see a pattern?) to bluff his way onto the Dalek ship and watches in horror and fascination as the “new” Daleks emerge. From long shots, these new candy-colored Daleks are amusingly retro—they make me think of Pertwee-era Daleks. From closer up, however, their embarrassingly large posteriors just look silly. I wonder if a generation of kids weaned on the bling Daleks are going to look at these new ones and dismiss them as rubbish because, in pursuit of the retro look, they just don’t seem as threatening? However they might appear, these Daleks are pure evil—they destroy their willing progenitors, like mini-Oedipuses (Oedipi?) killing the King. They distract the Doctor by turning on all the lights in London with a satellite dish. “The generator won’t switch off!” someone cries in the Cabinet War Rooms. Indeed, this is rather a scary thought: if you’re trying to hide, being out in plain sight and unable to do anything about it is quite humbling.

Amy’s solution to this problem is to rack the alien-made positronic brains of Bracewell, who comes up with suspiciously Star Wars¬-like fighter planes. The CGI budget has certainly been spent here. Amy, as you may have noticed, has not had a significant presence in this episode. I’m not sure why this should be. Too many other characters, with Churchill taking some of Amy’s role away? While the boys in the souped-up Spitfires are trying to take down the deflector dish—er, satellite dish—the Doctor is facing another moral dilemma redolent of the one from the Gamestation in “The Parting of the Ways.” Bracewell is a bomb about to be detonated by the Daleks, killing everyone in England certainly and it is implied, the world, which the Doctor can go defuse, or he can focus his attentions on the fleeing “new” Daleks, who will go on to spread through the galaxies their evil. This being the Doctor, of course, he chooses Earth. “They knew I’d choose Earth.”

He returns to the Cabinet War Rooms and that punch is finally explained; you can imagine all the Pertwee years of arguing with people like Stahlman have built up in the Doctor and instead of yapping he knows the most efficacious way to get results is to knock someone on their back! Hold on—is that what the Doctor should be doing? Nevertheless, it does save time as the Doctor tries to hold back the detonation of the Bracewell bomb by convincing Bracewell that he is human rather than a Dalek-created android. Whaaa? Again, to me it seems a bit of mumbo jumbo. In any case, the Doctor’s attempts are fruitless compared to Amy’s—“ever fancy someone you shouldn’t? It hurts.” Sounds like something Martha would say! Fortunately for all, this is an experience Bracewell can relate to and thus he remains human and not a bomb. The Daleks have gotten away, but the Earth is okay. The Doctor kisses Amy’s forehead (like he did to Rose in “Parting of the Ways”).

Churchill tries to persuade the Doctor to put his efforts into winning the War for the Allies; “why can’t we put an end to all this misery?” It is interesting Churchill should say this and that the Doctor should deflect it with moral superiority. I don’t think the Doctor can help any more than he can stop the A-Bomb from being used. Churchill tries one more pass at getting the key from the Doctor, but Amy foils his attempts. Amy’s been given key jobs to do in this episode, but her presence has been felt much less significantly than before.

So, a story that was a bit slight but with some good ideas. I liked Matt Smith’s charisma in facing the Daleks.

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