There is, unfortunately, a bit of whiplash.
We go from a story that is very critical of British attitudes to one that is embracing them, and isn’t going to critique them once. We even get a shot of the Union Jack waving in the wind, and not in a ‘this is just the setting of the ep’ kind of way. It dominates the whole screen and it’s a clear statement that this is a deeply patriotic story with a patriotic message, and that feels a bit odd. I mean, if a story is patriotic, that means very little to me, so I wouldn’t have minded if it was just mildly there as a potential interpretation – but no, we get the British attitudes that Moffat shunned in The Beast Below.
I’d have been more welcoming of Gatiss’ full on approach if he’d also included some critique in there. But there is none. This is no secret – Churchill was not squeaky clean in real life. There’s a blatantly obvious critique to be made there. And that can be exemplified hugely by the fact that in this episode, he literally creates fascism… to defeat fascism. I suppose that’s actually quite a Churchill thing to do, and Gatiss misses a huge trick in playing off this and making something interesting of it. One can argue that Churchill’s use of the Daleks, in itself, is a criticism of his attitudes, and it is, and I love it, I really, really do – but what I don’t love is the fact it’s forgotten about by the end – there’s no acknowledgement from the Doctor that Churchill employed fascists, because they’re back to jovial banter in five minutes. It really needed that, just to hammer home this criticism of Churchill’s attitudes. And… the patriotism drastically needed to be toned down, because it’s so potent to the point of unpleasantry, here. Interestingly, he improves by the time we get to Empress of Mars. But until then, here we are.
I feel like, therefore, Gatiss asks a lot of very, very interesting questions, which creates an interesting premise – however, he doesn’t answer those questions, leaving the episode feeling much looser and shakier than it could. As I said, I’m a Gatiss fan, and I think this is something that he will learn from, starting with The Crimson Horror, and culminating in Empress of Mars – though we’ll talk about that later, of course. But now, it’s clear that as a writer, he still has things to learn, and he still shouldn’t be afraid of providing answers to the fascinating questions he poses. It will come, though. All in good time.
I don’t like being mean to an episode I deeply enjoyed, however.
I’m going to talk a lot about Mark Gatiss’ approach to the show with later Gatiss episodes, but needless to say, as a writer of Who, I am a big fan. I think it’s down to the sheer adoration that shines through in every Gatiss script. He loves Doctor Who, and it’s always evident – and that’s something that is lacking, actually, in some writers. That love always gives his script their own distinct charm and Victory is no exception – you can tell Gatiss was having a blast at writing the Daleks.
And through that, there’s something lovely and classic about Victory of the Daleks. It’s sort of nonsensical and contrived, and suddenly, Bracewell is a bomb. It’s mad, it’s sort of runaround-ish like Classic Who, with the villain pulling out something new every time the Doctor foils them. Normally I’d be bored to tears with that approach but strangely it works here, because it’s so obvious it becomes almost a point. And the dressed location for the Daleks’ spaceship is lacklustre, to say the least. But it doesn’t feel wrong, it works in accordance with this idea of the Daleks reinventing themselves – through the revival of the Daleks, we see a revival of the stories that they’d have starred in back during the 60s and Pertwee years, right down to the run-around structure and the slightly dubious spaceship set. As the Daleks make themselves purer, arguably we see a return to purer Dalek stories – albeit, purer Dalek stories goes hand in hand with ‘less interesting’ Dalek stories. Although, I would call the majority of Dalek stories not-very-interesting, so the fact this episode is almost a pastiche of that dullness makes it deeply fun.
It’s ridiculous, basically, and I love it.
Also, give massive praise to Gatiss for the history in this one. Give the man a historical setting and he will bring it to life with a stunning depth and richness, and realism. I mean, I am ignoring some rather horrendous comments about the casting of a black man in Empress of Mars – but ignoring Gatiss’ views on realistic casting in an episode I’m not even talking about, his scripts are gloriously vivid. The dialogue is perfect, and all the characters he creates are fantastic at bringing their historical period to life. Of course, the cast do that brilliantly as well, and Iain McNeice is superb as Churchill.
On Amy-watch this episode (which I’m calling it, because she’s one of my favourite companions ever and I like to look at how she grows and changes each episode), we don’t have much to look at. She’s sort of sidelined as ‘generic Who-girl #29’ or whatever. But there’s one lovely little line, when Bracewell is feeling sorry for the fact he’s a robot, and she says “I understand. Really, I do.” Amy has a grasp on Bracewell’s situation, and throughout the whole story – she’s the one who saves him from exploding the whole planet. And Amy relates to Bracewell in a way no other character does – and it’s not because they’re both Scottish. I think it’s because she knows what it is to feel like you are not you, to feel detached from yourself. To not know herself – and it’s another interesting sign of her mental illness, the way it detaches you from yourself and makes you feel as if you are someone else. So, that was brilliant.
There are some Gatiss episodes that I genuinely think are brilliant stories. This, I don’t think is one of them. It has some brilliant moments, but it has big problems as well. I shouldn’t love it as much as I do, but I must credit its enjoyability, of which it has in the bucketloads.
Victory of the Daleks – 8/10
- Gold’s soundtrack is superb, as always. I may reject the patriotism of the episode, but I must admit, I adore the way the soundtrack plays off that patriotism.
- The Daleks’ desire for racial purity was rather neat as well. The fact their Nazism has got so far to the point of eliminating themselves is nice – and I was glad that Gatiss didn’t avoid the opportunity of touching upon the Daleks’ need for racial purity