Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Promise vs the Reality 4

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

Journey's End was the last Dalekcentric episode of the David Tennant era of Doctor Who. At the conclusion of the story the Daleks were all killed off. Again. By the time they came back (and who would have ever doubted that they would?) the Doctor had regenerated into Matt Smith, and behind the scenes Russell T Davies - writer of Bad Wolf, Doomsday, and The Stolen Earth Dalek stories, among many others of that era - had regenerated into Steven Moffat, the acclaimed writer of The Empty Child and Blink.

Would a new team, both in front of and behind the camera, do something different with the Daleks, or would it be more of the same sort of thing, to inevitably diminishing returns?

With that question in mind, here's the trailer:

It starts with the Doctor and Amy meeting Winston Churchill, and he has something to show the Doctor: "Our new secret weapon."
Before he even finishes the word "weapon" we see it is a Dalek.

"This is one of my Ironsides," says Bill Paterson. The Doctor looks more confused than scared, as though he was expecting a manny in a wheelchair and hasn't had time to adjust his expectations. Despite this, it does make it clear to the viewer that the mannys have no idea what a Dalek really is.

"I AM YOUR SOLDIER" says the Dalek, in such a way that can only possibly be a reference to the long-lost Doctor Who story Power of the Daleks. In that story a group of mannys find some dead Daleks and bring them back to life, but they don't know what the Daleks really are and try to use them for their own purposes. The Doctor can't convince them that the Daleks are baddys because they are pretending to be harmless. "I AM YOUR SERVANT" they say.

Back in the Victory of the Daleks trailer, Winston Churchill says "they will win me the war." It is now looking very much like this story will be taking the concept of Power of the Daleks, but transplanting it from the planet Vulcan in the future to the second world war. Given how good the plot of Power of the Daleks is, the added tension of similar events taking place at a crucial moment of history, this has the most amazing possibilities for drama. Especially when you consider that the Daleks were originally analogous to the Nazis; the actual baddys in world war 2.

The Doctor punches Bill Paterson in the face, which is a violent act that is quite out of character for the Doctor. It raises the question of what would cause him to punch a manny in the face. But let's face it, with the prospect of an updated remake of Power of the Daleks already on the cards, anything else in the trailer is just an added bonus.

Planes flying in space shooting pewpewpew guns at a Dalek flying saucer - that looks exciting.

"I am the Doctor, and you are the Daleks!" The Doctor sounds defiant here, as you would expect him to be when faced with the Daleks and contrasting with how confused he seemed earlier in the trailer.

"BEHOLD, THE RESTORATION OF THE DALEKS" says a Dalek (maybe the leader of the Daleks?) and then we see that something is about to come out of a Stars-in-Their-Eyes smoky doorway. We get a close up on the Doctor's face to see his reaction instead of seeing what comes out. The Doctor looks mildly concerned by what he sees, which is a bit of a disappointing way to conclude the trailer, but who cares when we are promised Power of the Daleks-style action next time?

So, what was Victory of the Daleks really like after all that?

If, like me, you think that a pretty much straight remake of Power of the Daleks (made with all the modern TV techniques that simply didn't exist back in the '60s) could make for one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, then the addition of the second world war setting with all its inherent high stakes dramatic potential and relevance to Dalek/Nazi symbolism ought to make it even better.

And yet, the reality of Victory of the Daleks is that it squanders all of its potential in order to be little more than a toy advertisement for the range of new Daleks.

Shit new Daleks.

The plot with Daleks-pretending-to-be-Ironsides, Winston Churchill thinking they are a secret weapon that will win the war while the Doctor knows they are really Daleks and baddys, lasts for almost no time into the episode, without even the time spent on the scenes to build any suspense properly.

It seems as though the story is in a hurry to get past this bit and on to the scenes it wants to dwell on, the introduction of the new Daleks, which (to add insult to insult) are supposedly the 'real' Daleks, while the other Daleks, i.e. the ones that look more like proper Daleks, are not. This makes no sense.

But sense is not something we get from the rest of this episode, which has as its climax the Daleks activating a bomb inside Bill Paterson's chest, but he is able to defeat the bomb and stop it going off by remembering fake memories. This is completely stupid. The story is beyond redemption by this point.

Victory of the Daleks is one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever, when it could have been one of the best.

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