After being absent from the writer’s room for several seasons now (making a major guest appearance in “The Lazarus Experiment” in the meantime), “Victory Of The Daleks” is the first episode Mark Gatiss has written for Doctor Who since Series 2, and thankfully it’s a massive improvement over “The Idiot’s Lantern“, being on par with his first effort, “The Unquiet Dead“, from Series 1. Mark Gatiss loves a good period piece, taking a nostalgic look back on important periods in human history, and he always tries to tackle a different genre whenever he returns to write for the series, so “Victory Of The Daleks” is Doctor Who’s own take on a 1940’s wartime movie. Both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss consider it to be a rite of passage for a new Doctor to face their oldest enemies, so “Victory Of The Daleks” is the Eleventh Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks.
Back in Series 3, Russell T. Davies decided to position the annual Dalek story a lot earlier in the season than usual, because he had a different endgame villain in mind for the finale for a change. Steven Moffat decides to take a similar approach with Series 5, and he would go on to do the same with many of his seasons as Doctor Who’s showrunner. One major difference between Steven Moffat and his predecessor, when it comes to how they handle the show, is that Moffat seems to consider the Daleks to be significant members of the Doctor’s rogues gallery (and he treats them with respect as legacy villains), but he doesn’t treat them as the primary antagonists of the franchise by making them the final boss villains of every finale.
Nearly every Moffat season gives the Daleks their spotlight episode early on, so the finale can either focus on someone else – like the Silence, the Great Intelligence, the Cybermen or the Master – or have them be part of a league of villains that the Doctor has to face. So the Daleks definitely hog the villain spotlight a lot less in the Moffat era than they did in the Davies era (though this also has the added side effect of them losing some of their menace). As the first Dalek story in this new period of the show, one of the most notable things about “Victory Of The Daleks” is the effect it does and doesn’t have on the rest of the Moffat era in hindsight.
Picking up a hook from the end of “The Beast Below“, the Eleventh Doctor is summoned by his old friend, Winston Churchill, to come take a look at something unusual, and his cheery mood is immediately ruined when he discovers the Daleks have managed to infiltrate the British army, by pretending to be Britain’s new line of defense against the Nazis. The Doc knows they’re dangerous and that they cannot be trusted, so he tries to expose them, or better yet, bait them into exposing themselves. The Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks seems to have persisted into his new regeneration, eating away at his judgment despite his best efforts to stay calm and rational, and like in the last episode, Eleven’s temper eventually gets the better of him. He full-on explodes at them in frustration, playing right into their hands. From there, he’s basically running damage control for the rest of the episode by confronting the Daleks on their ship and holding them in a stalemate.
The Eleventh Doctor is a pretty confident character (some might argue that he’s even overconfident), but here Matt Smith gets to portray a more vulnerable side of him as he desperately scrambles for any kind of control while he’s fighting a losing battle. Eleven is given his first real taste of failure when he can’t stop the Daleks from escaping at the end, having to prioritize the safety of the Earth and everyone living on it over them, and he does not take it well. He’s horrified to think the Daleks are free to cause even more damage in the cosmos, because of his moment of weakness, but there’s nothing he can do about it now except move forward and try to be more careful the next time he comes across them. He also has another pressing matter to contend with: Amy seems to have forgotten everything that happened in the Series 4 finale, and the Doctor is convinced that there’s no way that could happen naturally.
Taking her second trip in the TARDIS this week, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is still in awe of the whole time-traveling experience: she got a nice, good look at humanity’s future in the last episode (the perils, the pitfalls and the promise), and here she gets to see history playing out before her eyes, the classic human struggle against adversity. Amy is naturally unfamiliar with the Daleks, and she has no personal stakes in the Doctor’s conflict with them at first, so she’s basically just along for the ride, taking the Doctor’s word for it that they’re dangerous. She’s pretty confused by Eleven’s vendetta against them – after all, she’s never seen her Raggedy Man hold a grudge and behave irrationally like this before. When the Daleks drop their nice guy act, the Doctor does everything he can to keep her out of the line of fire (and considering the London Blitz is still going on at the time, safety is a relative concept), which tells her that things are really serious. Amy starts to get a better idea of his history and what his life was like before he met her, so she has a lot of new things to consider about the Doctor and his hang-ups by the time this episode is over.
While she may not seem like the type, Amy is a major history buff and she’s thrilled to meet a famous figure like Winston Churchill. The two of them work together and pool their strengths quite well: Amy is a clever, resourceful woman who has plenty of fighting spirit, and the prime minister admires those traits about her. It’s Amy’s idea to recruit Professor Bracewell and enlist his help with fighting the Daleks, and later, it’s Amy who helps him to overcome his programming as an android, by embracing the human instincts and human emotions the Daleks gave him (she tries the same trick again in the finale, with another robotic character who’s struggling against his programming, and it goes a lot worse for her).
“Victory Of The Daleks” is one of two ‘celebrity historical’ episodes that are done this season, with the other one being “Vincent And The Doctor“, and it takes a pretty interesting approach to the formula. Normally, these sorts of episodes involve the Doctor meeting a famous person in history for the first time, but here they’re already well-acquainted with each other, having crossed paths offscreen in one of the Doctor’s past lives, which saves “Victory Of The Daleks” a lot of time when it comes to the set-up. Ian McNeice portrays Winston Churchill in this episode, making him a pretty likable and charismatic (if at times overly hammy) guest star.
Winston is the head of the war effort right at the peak of World War II, when the Nazis are invading Britain, trying to conquer all of Europe. He’s a proud and nationalistic man, who tries to keep up morale with a good show of strength as a leader, but he’s feeling the strain of the Germans’ bombardment and even he has doubts about whether or not Britain can hold out in the long run. He’s willing to take his chances on Professor Bracewell’s Ironsides, because he wants a quick and easy way to win the war, a desire the Daleks take full advantage of. Winston and the Doctor might be on good terms, but that does not mean they’re afraid to butt heads. Churchill is a bullheaded, argumentative man who refuses to believe the worst of his new ‘Ironsides’, until they reveal their true nature, at which point he does his best to help the Doctor. He’s a tactical genius, and when you combine that with Bracewell’s technical genius and Amy’s street smarts, you’ve got a real force to be reckoned with. Ultimately, this adventure with the Doctor reaffirms his faith in the British fighting spirit, and convinces him they all still have a shot at winning the war through grit, determination and perseverance.
Another character of interest in this episode is Professor Edwin Bracewell, the so-called inventor of the ‘Ironsides’. Bracewell is a creative, genial and altruistic man, who’s glad to do his part to help end the great end war that’s terrorizing the continent – and needless to say, he really did not deserve what he goes through in this story. Professor Bracewell learns the hard way that he’s a robot, that his Ironsides actually created him to use as a pawn for their cover story, when they blow his flipping hand off. His whole life story is a lie, and he can’t even trust his own memories anymore. From there, he naturally experiences an existential crisis and starts to sink into a depression, until Amy snaps him out of his funk and convinces him to put his genius to good use against the Daleks.
The idea that Bracewell comes up with is one of those wild and impossible things that’s so crazy and so ridiculous, you would only ever see it on this show (like the taxi cab chase scene from “The Runaway Bride“): sending up spitfires in space. The dog fight that follows against the Dalek ship in orbit is like a scene straight out of an old war movie, but with a sci-fi twist to it, and I honestly love it. Shortly after that, Bracewell learns there’s a bomb inside him, wired up to explode, that will destroy the entire world, which is hardly a fun and pleasant discovery either, and he’s clearly on the verge of having another breakdown the whole time the Doctor and Amy are trying to save him and everyone else. After all the emotional anguish he went through in this episode, through no fault of his own, Bracewell finally gets his happy ending. Now that he’s no longer the Daleks’ puppet, he’s free to start over somewhere else and have his own life, which he takes full advantage of the last time we see him.
The Daleks’ villainous scheme this week involves them meddling with the outcome of World War II by getting involved, except they’re fighting on the side of the united Allies, which is a nice twist that really messes with the Doctor’s head. Since the Daleks were created to be alien analogues to the Nazis and their racist, fascist ideology, I wouldn’t have minded this episode drawing more parallels between them and the monstrous men who inspired them. As it stands, the plot is pretty straightforward. The Daleks wanted to lay a trap for the Doctor, so they meddled with history to get his attention. Then, they did everything in their power to wind him up, knowing he’d lash out eventually and they’d get what they wanted out of him. They take advantage of the war going on to threaten London, and when that plan fails, they play their last card and threaten to destroy the entire Earth (because the Daleks always have a back-up plan) to stop the Doctor from following them.
As a Dalek story, the most notable thing about “Victory Of The Daleks” is that it creates a new status quo for the Moffat era. In the Davies era, the Daleks were always on the brink of extinction: whenever a few survivors would turn up, they would always be wiped out by the episode’s end, only for another new group to surface again in their next appearance. “Victory Of The Daleks” ends that cycle. The Daleks escape and manage to permanently rebuild their empire, making it a lot easier for the show to bring them back whenever it wants to. This episode also tried to give them a new redesign, which didn’t last long. The general public felt a bunch of multi-colored Daleks looked way too ridiculous to take seriously (and I really can’t say that I blame them), so the New Paradigm Daleks were quietly dropped after Series 5 in favor of focusing on your usual drones.
Andrew Gunn’s direction for “Victory Of The Daleks” is not as impressive as it was in “The Beast Below”, due to the underground setting being comparatively more mundane, but he still does a very good job of bringing this episode’s story to life, with a lot of visually appealing and engaging shots. Highlights include the TARDIS materializing outside of Winston’s office; the constantly moving camera that follows our heroes as they travel down the hallways of the Cabinet War Rooms, revealing it to be a very crowded and almost claustrophobic environment; that creepy, off-kilter shot of a Dalek eavesdropping on the Doctor’s conversation in the background, almost obscured from the viewer’s line of sight; and the gliding shots onboard the Daleks’ spaceship that always seem to be rotating around them and the Doctor, making the full scope and scale of the setting immediately clear.
The CGI shots from the Mill range from being decent to good this week (with a lot of green-screen used to replicate 1940’s London), and most of the episode’s special effects budget was clearly saved up for the outer space dogfight scene in the climax, where the show completely goes wild. Since this episode is something of a transitional point for the Daleks of the Davies era, and the Daleks of the Moffat era, Murray Gold revisits a lot of his previous Dalek themes from “Daleks In Manhattan” and “The Stolen Earth“, giving them darker instrumental reprises in “A Tyrannical Menace” and the title theme, “Victory Of The Daleks“. He’s always portrayed the Daleks as being pompous, sinister and unwavering in his score, and that’s certainly still the case here. The most inspired piece of music he writes for this episode is “Battle In The Sky“, where he lets the BBC National Orchestra soar with pride and vigor to represent the British air force.
After how disappointing Mark Gatiss’s second episode was, “Victory Of The Daleks” is a nice return to form for him. “Victory Of The Daleks” isn’t an exceptional episode of Doctor Who (and there have certainly been stronger Dalek stories in the series), but it is a very fun one that continues to flesh out the Eleventh Doctor’s character early in his tenure, which I very much appreciate.
* “Listen to me. Just listen. The Daleks have no conscience, no mercy, no pity. They are my oldest and deadliest enemy. You cannot trust them” “If Hitler invaded hell, I would give a favorable reference to the Devil”.
* “What does hate look like, Amy?” “Hate?” “It looks like a Dalek. And I’m going to prove it”.
* “Would you care for some tea?” That line sounds so weird, and so funny coming from a Dalek.
* “Yes, Doctor. Death to our enemies, death to the forces of darkness, and death to the Third Reich” “Yes, Winston, and death to everyone else too”.
* I laugh so hard when one of the Daleks offers the Doctor some tea and he immediately, aggressively slaps the tray away. That looked exactly like something you would see in your run-of-the-mill ‘triggered’ meme.
* “Please desist from striking me. I am your soldier-” “YOU ARE MY ENEMY! AND AM I YOURS! You are everything I despise. The worst thing in all creation. I’ve defeated you time and time again. I’ve defeated you. I sent you back into the Void. I saved the whole of reality from you. I am the Doctor, and you are the Daleks!”
* “Stop it, stop it, please! What are you doing?! You are my Ironsides!” “We are the Daleks” “But I created you!” “No. We created you“.
* “Victory! Victory! Victory!” The Daleks are so campy, and I’ll never get tired of it.
* “What just happened, Doctor?” “I wanted to know what they wanted. What their plan was. I was their plan”.
* “What’s he expect us to do now?” “K.B.O, of course” “What?” “Keep buggering on”.
* “The Progenitor has fulfilled our new destiny. Behold, the restoration of the Daleks! The resurrection of the master race!”
* “What am I?! What am I?!” “What you are, sir, is either on our side or theirs. Now, I don’t give a damn if you’re a machine, Bracewell. Are you a man?”
* “There’s a blue wire or something you have to cut, isn’t there? There’s always a blue wire! Or a red one” “You’re not helping”.
* “Good. Remember it now, Edwin. The ash trees by the Post Office and your mum and dad, and losing them, and men in the trenches you saw die. Remember it. Feel it. You feel it because you’re human. You’re not like them. You’re not like the Daleks. It hurts but you have to embrace it, that means you’re alive! They cannot explode that bomb because you’re a human being. You are flesh and blood. They cannot explode that bomb. Believe it. You are Professor Edwin Bracewell, and you, my friend, are a human being!” Again, hot damn, Matt.
* “What was her name?” “Dorabella” “Dorabella? It’s a lovely name. It’s a beautiful name” It’s hardly any worse than ‘Doctor’.
* “Stay with us, Doctor, and help us win through. The world needs you” “No, the world doesn’t need me. The world’s got Winston Spencer Churchill”.
* “It’s been amazing, meeting you” “I’m sure it has” Modesty.
* The crack in Amy’s wall turns up again, this time inside the Cabinet War Rooms. Yep, that’s definitely not creepy or ominous at all.