Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Andrew Gunn
The Doctor and Amy visit Winston Churchill and discover Britain’s newest weapon against The Nazis–The Ironside. Or as The Doctor knows them, Daleks.
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favorable reference to The Devil.”
How great do those Daleks look?
Yes, I’m talking about the WWII Daleks.
Okay, here’s the deal with Victory of the Daleks and why I think it is a decent, although not great, episode. It has all the hallmarks of a checklist. First, Dalek merchandise sells, and while we are currently in a bit of a financial bother, every dollar counts where BBC Worldwide is concerned. It makes total sense that, with a new Doctor, a new Dalek would be commissioned. Steven Moffat doesn’t own Doctor Who, nor does he call all the shots. The BBC can still demand something. Thus, it makes total sense for the BBC wanting new Daleks for new merchandise. That’s one of the dominant fan-theories for the redesign. So, this is item one–BBC Mandate.
Item two, we have the Russell T. Davies continuity of The Daleks. More specifically, we have had four years of “there-are-no-more-Daleks,-oh-wait-here’s-another-survivor”. The show cannot do this anymore. The Daleks must either go away or they must have a story explaining their re-emergence as a power in galactic history.
Sure, we would like to have a better story than this, but if the BBC mandated a Dalek story, then Moffat must produce a Dalek story. Not wanting to sacrifice all story-telling credibility, he would have to address Item Two from above. Given how tightly Moffat likes to plot things, it makes perfect sense for him to regulate this less-than-desirable story to a single episode. This way, it creates less damage for the series-arc and can quickly be left behind. Plus, we can get a few Dalek cameos in the series finale just to help showcase the new design, whether we like it or not.
Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but the above scenario is what I think happened. I could be completely wrong, but I think the story we get certainly fits.
So, how does one go about writing this particular story with these particular mandates? Mark Gatiss is a fan-favorite writer from the wilderness years of Doctor Who, so he is a perfect choice (plus, he and Moffat are working on Sherlock together, so they understand each other). Gatiss, being a giant Who nerd, seems to have chosen Power of the Daleks as a template. Well, more than a template, actually. He’s blatantly re-adapting it without making it completely obsolete. Power of the Daleks is one of the best Dalek stories, it shows how the Daleks go from complete disadvantage to advantage using nothing more than cunning, and it is a lost episode. Only the die-hards will make the obvious connections. The new generation of fans don’t need to know about Power, and if they ever go back and listen to the audios, then they will see it as an in-joke.
Victory of the Daleks is significantly different from Power in that The Daleks in that the Daleks were not discovered, they were supposedly invented. This is a significant change. Bracewell believes he created The Daleks, when in reality, they created him. This isn’t the first time The Daleks created a humanoid robot.
We learn in this story that Amy has no memory of The Daleks. This references both Doomsday and The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. Steven Moffat is already attempting to undo certain elements of The RTD era. I don’t know if he means it as a criticism of what came before, but I do know he once made comments to the effect of setting Doctor Who back in the universe where it started. I don’t know that he did this, per se, but he has written out a large chunk of RTD Dalek continuity. I’m rather curious what he will do with the pepperpots, but am more than happy to let them be off-screen for a season or two.
I can’t help but wonder at times if Steven Moffat (at least where series five is concerned) is attempting to “one-up” Russell T. Davies. Is he attempting to “do Davies better”. There are quite a few coincidences between the RTD era and Series Five, elements that could be perceived as showing RTD how to do things “properly”. For example, we have a feisty red-head who is a runaway bride. We have a goofy boyfriend who is threatened by, then later “improved by” The Doctor. We have a companion who falls in love with The Doctor. Turn Left gave us a threat as indicated by stars extinguishing, something that also happened in The Big Bang. Refugees fell through rifts and cracks in time (Gelf and Vampires-fish-people). There are many revisited elements between School Reunion and Vampires in Venice (which we’ll address later). We have a series-ending that involves the destruction of all reality. We have a series-long arc setting up a deus ex machina, although in the case of Series Five, the reset button is set up quite a bit better than RTD usually set things up. These may be nothing more than coincidences, but Moffat is definitely using Victory of the Daleks as an opportunity to begin re-writing continuity, primarily the continuity of the last five years. He doesn’t completely reject it, but he does seem to say it no longer matters if it is there. So, in this case, perhaps Series Five is a bit of a patch-up, like one would do when buying a previously owned house.
But, back to the episode. The basic plan of the Daleks (sounds like an episode title) seemed to involve three Dalek survivors trying to convince The Progenitor that they are, indeed, Daleks. Being Dalek technology, it does not recognize their altered DNA (Are they the Daleks from Parting of the Ways with their human/Dalek DNA? Are they the Daleks from Journey’s End, who are cloned from Davros?), so they need a testimony that they are Daleks, and who better to give that testimony than The Doctor, the greatest enemy of The
Daleks. Once this plan is revealed and The Progenitor activated, the episode starts to lose something. The World War II setting is really incidental. It could have been Rome. It could have been Alexander The Great’s Greece. It could have been Daleks at The Battle of Hastings posing as gods. Instead, it is WWII, a cool setting in general, but wouldn’t we rather see Daleks fighting with The Nazis or Daleks involved in a WWII story that makes the setting a major point of the plot? Perhaps The Daleks see The Nazis as a human version of themselves and want to use them to help conquer the planet? I don’t have any real suggestions, but it seems to me that we’ve wasted both an opportunity for an historical about Churchill AND a story about Daleks involved in World War II, rather than Daleks just trying to rebuild their army with a glorified cloning machine.
Honestly, by this point, I hardly see the need to criticize the rest of the episode. It hardly matters, the dogfight in space, the disarming of the Bracewell bomb. By this point, the story has already shown its stripes, and those stripes don’t seem to want to be taken too seriously. Don’t think I am attacking Gatiss, because I’m not. Writing is hard work and screen-writing has to go through many people, from producers to editors to directors. Quite a bit can change from page to screen. In addition to this, if my theory of the conception of this episode is in any way accurate, Gatiss did a good job of plotting and writing a story that probably, initially, wasn’t really wanted. Even convincing Bracewell to go against his android nature and use his happy thoughts to disarm the bomb works as a type of thematic foreshadowing to the series finale where Amy remembers The Doctor. Is it magic? Yes, but Steven Moffat doesn’t seem to have a problem with magic in Doctor Who, so long as it is set up in advance. Judging by fan reaction in general (to magic, not this episode), I think the majority would agree.
And no, I don’t much care for the new Daleks. They look too plastic and bulky. Not sure about the colors. I would like to see them in a different design with the colors before making a final opinion on that.
So, in the final analysis, did I like the episode. Inexplicably, yes. Sure, I have problems with it and I don’t think it is anywhere near as good as it could have been. But for some reason, I still enjoyed it. Maybe it was down to the performances.
Addendum. I thought of this last night while I was trying (unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. One of the recurring elements in this episode is Churchill pleading with The Doctor regarding The TARDIS. Churchill wants to win the war and knows The Doctor has technology that would enable a victory. Even after The Daleks leave, The Doctor dismantles the spitfires. “It’s now how it works,” The Doctor continually chides Churchill. This attitude seems in stark contrast with the rest of the Moffat era (up to this point), which makes a big deal about time being re-written. Is this a contradiction? Perhaps not. Theory number one is that The Doctor’s continual insistence is a character stance. At this point, The Doctor doesn’t know history can be re-written, so Victory could indicate his old belief, which is about to be challenged and changed. Theory number two is that the rest of the Moffat era will show that time can be re-written, but HISTORY cannot. Thus, in Victory, we are being told that Earth history cannot be re-written, but future history (and fictional present history) can. If the former theory is true, it isn’t quite clear enough to come across. If the latter, it is also not clear, and a heavy-handed way of addressing the old dilemma in Doctor Who of “if history can’t be changed, why does the Doctor interfere with future-history and change it all the time?” Surely all the alien planets The Doctor visits have their own history? If either of these theories are true, I don’t think they work, but I prefer the first one, even if it doesn’t quite come across.
I also couldn’t help but wonder if, in allowing Bracewell to escape in the end, The Doctor was already planning on visiting a time when Bracewell died to make sure the technology that made him was disposed of properly. We’ll just assume that he does.