purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
Like The Beast Below I thought Victory of the Daleks was very uneven, and uneven in a similar way, which is interesting since it comes from the pen of a different writer. However I also thought it was a bit clunky in places and its good bits were not as good as the good bits in The Beast Below. That said, I'm a little mystified by claims I've seen made elsewhere that it is the "worst 45 minutes of TV even seen". I don't think it represents even the worst episode of NuWho. That said, having read such opinions before I viewed it, I may have approached the story with sufficiently low expectations that I was pre-disposed to be pleased by almost anything that appeared competent, let alone bits that were thoughtful and interesting.

What strikes me most on thinking over this episode is how terribly static it is. It predominantly takes place on just three sets and with very little difficultly it could have been filmed back in 1963 (the spit-fires in gravity bubbles would have had to go, but since the meat of those scenes take place as a conversation over the radio with the Doctor that could have been made to work). Within the action taking place on those three sets the biggest special effect is the Dalek extermination effect, invented in 1963.

I commented last week that The Beast Below seemed to lose it's energy in the exposition scenes at the end. Victory of the Daleks had the same problem, very rapidly losing drive whenever we cut to the Doctor confronting the Daleks in their saucer. However it had the added problem that that set was visually extremely dull and the Daleks themselves are, frankly, a lot less interesting in dialogue heavy scenes than real humans. Many people have commented that they see echoes of Troughton in Smith's performance. I find that comparison very interesting, in particular that I don't think the Troughton Doctor would have confronted the Daleks like that. He'd have been hiding in plain sight behind a control console and deducing their plan from the over-heard conversation. That scene struck me very much as one that was written with the Tennant Doctor in mind and it didn't really work in the hands of Smith.

Up until the Doctor rushed off to the Dalek saucer, the story had been trundling along in a pretty promising fashion. I liked the set up and the little touches of set-dressing, like the WWII style poster promoting Daleks. The setting might have been recycling the basic premise of Power of the Daleks, but since that was broadcast in 1966 and was a good idea, I think a little recycling is forgiveable. Less forgiveable is recycling the Doctor's reaction to the Daleks from Dalek - although I do realise that at the lower end of Doctor Who's age range (8 year olds, I believe), even Dalek was transmitted an age ago. However I was intrigued by the notion I briefly entertained that, as NuWho has completely reinvented the Cyberman origin story, it was also going to reinvent the Dalek origin story with the Doctor actually responsible for their evolution from simple servants to inter-galactic menace. However, it was not to be.

The comparison to 1960s 'Who, and Power of the Daleks in particular, is interesting. Conventional wisdom states that much early Dr Who was padded and there is certainly a tendency to imply that a modern 45 minute episode can easily convey as much story as the traditional 100 minutes over 4 episodes. Power of the Daleks had space to tell a story in which the power struggles and factionalism of the humans surrounding the "new" Daleks contributed significantly to the success of the Dalek plan. Victory of the Daleks had no time for this, moving swiftly from basic scene setting, to the reveal of the Dalek plot to the dramatic resolution and in doing so it lost a lot of potential interest. Churchill was never really the threat he might have been to the Doctor's attempt to resolve the situation and, as a result, seemed a little wasted - colourful set dressing. The same was happening to the minor characters, like the woman who's husband/boyfriend is lost in the final scenes. Her concern never really contributed to the story at all, for it to be more than throwaway glibness about the horror of war, it needed to be feeding into Churchill's determination to use the Daleks, and hence his efforts to obstruct the Doctor. Somehow, that story, which I'm sure would have been there in better traditional Who stories just vanished in this. I do know Power had 6 episodes and hence three times the time that this story did, but I still think it makes an interesting comparison, especially in the light of the less adrenaline-junkie and more dialogue-based stories Moffat seems to be serving up. It is the frequent lack of supporting characters with their own distinct agendas that is one of the things I miss most about classic Who, in this new era.

Then, like with The Beast Below, we have an attempt to tie the plot climax and the emotional climax together. And... err... yes... that was a bit of a mess wasn't it? All the "think about being human" stuff did rather get pulled out of a hat, in the way Davies era stories tended to pull Dei ex Machina technobabble plot resolutions out of hats. You can see the shape of story they were aiming for, but here it didn't work. Again more space for character interaction, a bit more bickering among the humans in Churchill's bunker and between the various humans and the Doctor might have gone a long way to fix this, allowing the idea that Bracewell had some inherent humanity at war with his Dalek programming to be hinted at.

On more minor matters, I continue to like the way Amy is being written and used, as a bolshy, more humanised Doctor, but I am hoping that not all the stories will be constructed with an "Amy saves the day" moment. I don't like the new Daleks. I'm not going to harp on about betrayal of my childhood. I actually love the multiple colours, I've been a Who fan a long time, and so I guess I've absorbed some of that 1960s assumption that if you could see the Daleks in colour then they would be in bright primary ones. However I don't like the line. Daleks used to have quite a graceful aesthetic from dome to floor which is now rather blocky and brutalist and that sums up my feelings about this story. There is something rather elegant and graceful lurking around the fringes of Victory of the Daleks but what we got was, structurally speaking, a bit blocky and brutalist.

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