Doctor Who, "Victory of the Daleks"

Category: , By Rev/Views

This is mirrored from the original post of my review over at

Doctor Who is an iconic British television institution; the titular character has been through many different incarnations, aided many allies and faced countless foes. But the most iconic and haunting of all his enemies are, of course, those terrifying salt and pepper pots: the Daleks. Representing the worst of human nature, the urge to destroy anything which is different from the perceived norm of humanity, they are genocidal creatures which have faced the Doctor many times and survived.

For me the two iconic Dalek stories from the first seven incarnations of the Doctor include "Remembrance of the Daleks," a seventh Doctor story that shattered the biggest protection a child hiding behind the sofa had. It gave us Daleks that were able to travel upstairs – something that was used with great effect in the ninth and tenth Doctor's encounters with them. The second story is none other than the fourth Doctor's six-part serial, "Genesis of the Daleks," which contains that defining moment of mercy on the Doctor's part, refusing to commit genocide and wipe out the Daleks even though it would save millions. Instead he spared them proclaiming that "out of their evil must come something good".

Skip forward to the 2005 episode "Dalek" in which the Doctor encountered a single Dalek in a collection. It should remain relatively fresh in the memories of most people who saw it, so I think it'll suffice to say that it was one of the most potent episodes of the ninth Doctor's short time on the screens and the end of the episode made the eventual series reveal about the surviving Daleks a great deal stronger.

The Daleks are as essential to Doctor Who as butter is to bread, so Eleven's first encounter with them needed to be memorable, strong and also avoid the terrible mistakes that occurred in the two-part episodes "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks". Russell T. Davies had the Daleks limping from one encounter to the next, seemingly destroyed on several occasions, only to pull more of them out from his hat. Now, I'm not going to dispute the fact that the return of Davros in "The Stolen Earth" was a brilliant moment and was one of Rusty's better series-end stories, but he did have the Daleks seemingly wiped out time and time again. So much so that, if the British public didn't know that Doctor Who always means Daleks, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Journey's End presented us with the definitive end of them.

Moffat has chosen to deal with this issue early in Eleventh's time on our screens, giving us "Victory of the Daleks" as the third episode of the series and effectively re-establishing the Daleks as a credible and serious threat to life, the universe and everything. But he goes further than that in the episode, and Mark Gatiss's script delivers everything you'd want from the episode and more besides.

"Victory of the Daleks" was a fun and energetic episode that had huge helpings of goodness for us to consume. Starting with the wonderful Ian McNeice giving a great performance as Winston Spencer-Churchill and moving quickly forward, developing in an unexpected direction, one that I must admit I was a little surprised and delighted with. The story looked set to be one rotating around the dilemma of using Dalek-like machines called "Ironsides" as weapons against Nazis and it quickly revealed that they were in truth Daleks masquerading (the obvious reveal); but then the story went one twist further, revealing that the Daleks were doing this in order to lure the Doctor and bait him into providing a testimony, one that would allow them to use a progenitor and rebuild their race from the start.

Once again Moffat shows his ability to steer the story in an unexpected direction and make it feel believable. In the series opener he gave us a Doctor with a plan, a back up plan and then another half dozen alternative contingency plans to work with. Now he's given us Daleks that are able to use the Doctor's predictability about certain things and turn it to their advantage.

But he did more than that. In one fell swoop this episode rose up to match a past episode with a similar title ("X of the Daleks") and also took a huge step towards returning the Daleks to a more iconic appearance. Rusty's Daleks were a bronze (except when painted military green), busy affair; Moffat's new Daleks are a cleaner creation, coloured in a bright, solid and shiny style (available in a range of colours for the fashion conscious! Just like your phone!) that harkens back to the Daleks of the last century. Mind you, that's hardly surprising, I mean Moffat did write a Dalek into his 1990s relationship sitcom "Coupling". The man is an unashamed "Who-aphile" and we're all very fortunate he's at the helm of the show now.

Matt Smith's performance as the Doctor continues to grow, but I did feel there were a few moments in this episode where he wasn't as solid as he had been in the previous two and he didn't deliver his dialog with as much conviction as he could have. Then again, he did face of against the Daleks while armed with nothing more than a Jammie Dodger and how can you not love someone who does that?

Speaking of the Jammie Dodger, it was nice writing to have the Doctor improvising such an iconic and highly British biscuit as a detonation device in order to bluff the Daleks and encourage them to monolog their (relatively) evil plans to him. The audacity and inventiveness of the man knows no bounds!

Likewise it was a great moment to have the newly created 'pure' Daleks kill the last of Russell's creations – wiping the slate clean and sending the Daleks forward ready for later confrontations. It was also a good touch to have them see through the biscuit bluff (which is what I'm going to now call any similar situation on television) and also have a plan which relied on the predictability of the Doctor's nature in order to escape and rebuild their race.

"Victory of the Daleks" is an episode designed to acknowledge the past of the show while also setting things in place for the future. It was an episode that felt weighted in the history of Doctor Who without being overburdened by it.

In short, it was a huge success as an episode and the best work Mark Gatiss has written for the show to date.

Other observations:

  • OK, the "space Spitfires" were just ridiculous, but I still felt fantastic watching them make attack runs on the Dalek ship. And they were explained in a reasonable fashion within the context of the episode.

  • I really enjoyed the Daleks playing dumb in the early parts of the episode. It's a shame this one wasn't a two-parter as well because I just couldn't get tired of seeing Daleks carrying box files and cups of tea while mugging their innocence furiously.

  • Amy didn't have that much of a role in this one – there's too much history between the Doctor and the Daleks to give her much room. But she did have a strong moment at the end in the conversation between the Doctor and Bracewell. The Doctor attempted to connect with Bracewell via the medium of loss and sorrow, but Amy understood the situation better and was able to bring Bracewell to recall one of the strongest human experiences, unrequited love.

  • I like and appreciate the way that the episode bent viewer expectations, giving us a Dalek victory over the Doctor that was entirely complete, in an entirely unexpected manner.

  • I'm not sold on this 'cracks in the universe' metaplot. I didn't mind the 'why doesn't Amy remember the Daleks' exposition. But seeing the cracks at the end of each episode feels like the kind of obvious plot bludgeoning that Russell T. Davies used to employ.

  • Jammie Dodgers! iPod Daleks!

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