21st Century Doctor Who Reviews: Victory Of The Daleks

Cuthbert Cringeworthy from The Bash Street Kids. Zilly from Dastardly And Muttley. Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Some of the biggest wimps known to humankind. Quaking, weedy scaredycats who would run a mile even when faced with the prospect of visiting the zoo. But never in this Petrified Parade would we include... The Daleks???!!??

The evil pepperpots are forces for fear and terror throughout the galaxy. They rewrote the Intergalactic Guide To Fiendish Deeds. They are so racist that even Alf Garnett would blush. They'd shoot you even if you gave them a fancy birthday present in a colourful box and bow. In short, the Daleks are the perfect baddies for Doctor Who, since they stand for every force of evil in the universe.

Problem is, they've had a bit of a bumpy ride ever since Doctor Who came back to our screens in the 21st century. Christopher Eccleston's first season got the idea with two great stories, Dalek and Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways. The following season nearly got it right with a big face-off against the Cybermen, but that got shunted off into the background to make way for Rose's temporary goodbye. After that, things got more problematic with the Manhattan two-parter (a well-meaning but silly fudge) and the Stolen Earth shebang (glossy, action-packed fun that contained a baffling Reality Bomb plan). In both of these stories, they were bigged up as terrifying threats, but in the end they turned out to be both easily defeated and a bit stupid.

Now take those two problems, multiply them by 50 billion and you have the real issue with Victory Of The Daleks.

For a Dalek story, Victory Of The Daleks hasn't had a good time of things in fan reviews, on fan forums and on social media. It's regarded as a story that initially holds out a great deal of promise and then descends into incoherent gibberish.

Admittedly, the initial idea of apparently subservient Daleks in wartime Britain is a nice one, and one that harks back to the Troughton days. The most obvious homage is The Power Of The Daleks – like the classic Troughton opener, the Doctor tries and fails to convince people that the Daleks are not quite the benign servants that they claim to be. Incredibly, a gaggle of Daleks (christened Ironsides here) have been drafted in to help the war effort – the result of an apparently amiable chap called Edwin Bracewell. Plus, these Ironsides even have the same sort of catchphrase as they did in Power – just swap “I am your servant” with “I am your soldier” and you get the idea. There's also a bit of Evil Of The Daleks creeping in here with a throwback to which Daleks liked nothing better than a game of trains – as opposed to being masters of the universe.

While the set-up's a good one in theory, in practice, it falls short on a number of counts. The first is that compared to Power, it's a pale imitation. The 45-minute format allows for pacy action and quickfire thrills and spills, but its limitations are exposed when it comes to telling a gripping story like Power. The slow-burn, six episode of Power meant that the tension slowly grew over the course of two and a half hours, gearing up like a coiled spring to the intense drama of the final act.

Victory Of The Daleks, on the other hand, lacks the claustrophobic terror because it only has less than 10 minutes to reveal that the wheelie bins are terrible forces for evil. That's no time at all. It's one of those stories that would have oddly worked better as a two-parter, with the first episode having a bit more space to build up the drama a bit more. As it stands, the big reveal of the Daleks' real nature is sloppily over and done with in a flash. There's a reason that Power Of The Daleks still has the power over 50 years after first broadcast and Victory doesn't. Some may think that six episodes of adventure is too much to take, but when it comes to telling a dramatic story, it has the edge because it has far more room to breathe than a hasty three quarters of an hour.

Following on from this, another issue with Victory is that it's a bit predictable. The Doctor's ineffectual protests work well, thanks to some suitably tortured acting from Matt Smith. But inevitably, the Daleks reveal their true nature after the evil meanies have received the Doctor's 'testimony' (read on). Bracewell then turns out to be an android, although oddly, none of his co-workers seem that surprised at this revelation.

The problem is, after this promising set-up, the whole thing falls apart like smoke. The scene which contains the Big Reveal is rushed, and already the alarm bells start ringing. The action's so hurried, it's as if the BBC had accidentally speeded up the tape during transmission. Two faceless grunts are gunned down in a nanosecond – there's absolutely no tension prior to this. The exterminations are over and done with in a flash – inevitably, none of the other characters get the dreaded Death By Egg Whisk. And then the Daleks simply scarper off back to their ship. End of.

And there's the biggest headache of Victory Of The Daleks. A Dalek story tends to be judged by how ruthless the metal meanies are. Genesis Of The Daleks. Remembrance Of The Daleks. The Daleks' Master Plan. Three good examples of the pepperpots at their fire-spitting best. And then think of Destiny Of The Daleks or The Chase, in which they are reduced to silly figures of fun. Victory Of The Daleks can now be added to this list, since everything about the Daleks' portrayal in this story is wrong. No longer terrifying monsters, they are mostly electronic infodump machines, explaining their latest great plan to the Doctor.

Which is naturally a bit rubbish. For starters, why do they need a voice sample of the Doctor in the first place? The amount of times they have met their arch enemy, you would have thought that they'd managed to nab some sort of sample for their Greatest Hits Of The Doctor collection. The whole point of getting the Doctor's voice-print is to restore the Daleks to their pure selves. They want to restart the progenitor so as to bring back the pure Daleks, although given what they look like, this isn't much of a plan.

The new breed of Daleks now look like they've been designed by a Blue Peter competition winner. They look a bit like novelty Dalek rides that you'd find at the fair, great big overgrown multicoloured dustbins for kids to ride around in. Quite why the Daleks think that this new generation are in any way superior boggles the imagination, although in their defence, they can now completely disintegrate their targets as the old Daleks find to their cost. The idea of pure Daleks has always been toyed with in Doctor Who, and tallying with their racist ideals: Remembrance and the Eccleston finale are good examples, but in Victory, their reasoning is too vague. Plus, considering that Davros – er, the Dalek creator – was responsible for the new breed, just how much more purity do they want?

The Daleks' ridiculous plans don't stop there. The robot Bracewell is left as a deadly Plan B bomb – but they don't reckon on the fact that if someone gets through to Edwin's memories and humanity, then the plan spectacularly fails. Sure enough, Amy manages to get through to the Bullseye Prize Dartboard heart of Bracewell as those memories of a dalliance with fancy woman Dorabella do the trick. Again, it's a mind-bogglingly stupid plan.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have forced the Doctor into an ethical dilemma – either save the planet from doomsday or let his deadliest enemies trundle off into the sunset. Inevitably, the Daleks live to fight another day. While the new Doctor gets his first taste of defeat, it feels like the new Daleks are wimpy cowards. It's as if they expect the Doctor to say: “OK, I'll give you a head start of one minute, and then I'm coming to find you!” Quite what Davros would say of this wussy new breed is anyone's guess. He'd disown them quicker than you could sneeze.

An ill-conceived plan and a lack of scares don't bode well for Victory Of The Daleks. It's got the promise of a good old fashioned wartime sci-fi thriller, but there's very little that's actually thrilling about this one. Given that we're in Moffat's Everybody Lives world now, that means that his crack team of writers can't include a barrage of scary deaths. When you've got a race like the Daleks who do nothing but kill, this is something of an obstacle. The deaths of the two guards are blink 'n' miss it and lack the chills of past demises such as Solomon, Lynda With A Y or Dr Singh.

On the up side, there's more going on here than there was in The Beast Below. There's a great big Star Wars-style battle in which the Spitfires do battle with Dalek ships. It's well realised on screen and director Andrew Gunn keeps the pace speeding along with some excellent visual effects and good camera shots. In fact, Gunn again manages to work wonders with an undercooked script. He manages to establish a little bit of tension in the early part of the story, mostly through subjective Dalek POV shots and some interesting camera angles, most notably the slightly distorted close-up of the Doctor's face with the Dalek hovering silently in the background.

His casting's generally very good too, even if the characterisation's thinner than a sheet of paper. The warden's a shouty old goon, while we're asked to feel sorry for Lillian and her loss at the end, despite the fact that she gets zero character progression. The portrayal of Churchill by Ian McNeice has also come in for a fair bit of stick, but I quite like it in its own gormlessly rambunctious way. Churchill is written as a rather broad stereotype, full of blustering clichés and propaganda – but little in the way of common sense. It seems a bit unlikely that Churchill would accept the Daleks at face value. Surely he would have checked, double-checked and triple-checked that they were safe protectors as opposed to vicious destroyers?

Bill Paterson is also good as the robotic Bracewell. It's a strong performance that never lapses into mechanical cliché. It's nice that we get to see at least some sort of journey – from his initial enthusiastic delight at the invention of the Ironsides through to the horror that his whole life has been a sham through to the rather touching sequences in which he's allowed to live. Even if that last sequence does go on a bit too long – blimey, take the hint mate, you've been let off the hook.

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan also do well, although they do get mixed fortunes this time around. The Doctor's initially reduced to shouting and yelling like a loon in the first half of the story, and there's still the feeling that these shouty confrontations are better suited to the Tenth Doctor rather than the new kid on the block. Matt Smith does a good job though, and his confrontation with the Daleks proves that he can provide convincing authority when required. I also chuckled at his reaction to Bracewell telling him about the name of his missus. Plus, holding the Daleks at bay with a Jammie Dodger is as Doctor-ish as you can get.

Amy again helps to save the day, managing to save Bracewell from self-destructing with a quick misquote of The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen In Love' (and also manages to get a sly 'Oy Churchill!' into this episode too). Along with finding a way to thwart the Daleks' plans by shutting down the power, this is another instance in which Amy's established as one smart cookie who's that bit more than your average strippogram. Mind you, she's evidently a bit less clued up when she's asked about the Daleks. Despite the big events of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, Amy's none the wiser. It's an intriguing bit of mystery, which along with another crack in the wall, proves to be part of the bigger picture that Moffat's aiming for this season.

It's difficult to work out whether Victory Of The Daleks needed another part or whether it needed a script overhaul prior to going before the camera. The story rushes along at such a pace that the 45-minute format is too much of a limit. There's no denying that the script needed a lot more attention, given that the Daleks' plans make little to no sense this time around. As mentioned in the last review, there were issues with the scripts for this one and The Beast Below, and in hindsight, the plot holes loom large as a result.

But the real downer about Victory Of The Daleks is that after a promising start, there's hardly any tension or any attempt to scare kids. It's well made and reasonably diverting TV, but considering that Doctor Who is meant to send kids behind the sofa, then Victory fails. When the biggest weapon in the scares arsenal fails to terrify, that's a sure sign that something's wrong with this picture.

* How do the Dalek tales of the '70s and '80s fare? Find out in five big old books on classic Doctor Who!


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