Saturday, April 17, 2010

Victory of the Daleks: Bomb The Base

'Time to roll out the secret weapon.'

Well, that was odd. Jolly odd. I don't think I've been quite as ... oddified by a Doctor Who episode in a good couple of years. I mean, I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong. It was right big fuck-off, kick-ass Dalek story with lots of stuff blowing up and all that. Massive, load, shouty, hard, silly and fun. Yeah, I'll have some of that any day of the week.

It had some heart to it as well; in that one of the oldest Doctor Who conceptual staples (love always conquers hate if compassion is thrown into the mix) formed the basis of the episode's denouement. And, again, Matt and Karen were bang on the nail from the first moment to the last. The former got to display more moments of white-hot anger to go with last week's sample ('Shut it!'). He also had a few beautifully reflective moments (best bit: Asking Amy 'what does hate look like?') and he was, at times, almost poetic when dealing with his mortal enemies ('You are everything I despise. The worst thing in all creation'). Plus, the bit with the Jammie Dodger®™ as a self-destruct button was fabulous. And, anybody who can get away with a line like 'don't mess with me, sweetheart!' without any obvious irony when facing with half-a-dozen Daleks is all right as far as I'm concerned. Amy, for the second episode running, provided an interesting human edge (and a humanising edge, for that matter) to the Doctor's harsh, logical uncompromising approach to universal moral certainties. And, she's lovely.

So, that was all great.

And then you had - for once - some quite interesting Dalek dialogue. Stuff that actually sounded like it should be coming from whatever bubbling little green blobs of hate are inside that pepperpot. This ranged from the funny ('+++ I AM YOUR SOLDIER +++') to the near portentous ('+++ THE EARTH WILL DIE, SCREAMING +++') with quite a lot of Naziesque ranting in between. Add some really rather clever and subtle on-going hints about 'the cracks in time' from the opening episode of the series having had significant effects on humanity's timeline and it's clear that Moffat and his team are building something here. The episode also featured what I believe to be the first use of the word 'buggering' in Doctor Who's history. Which, if for no other reason than it'll piss off the Daily Scum, was a definite punch-the-air moment.

I could handle the - often shamelessly - patriotic elements; that kind of goes with the genre clichés that Mark Gatiss was playing with in his script. The dislocated adaptation of the iconic Iwo Jima photo image to a bunch of Dad's Army squaddies, a union flag and a London rooftop could have, in lesser hands, fallen flatter than Dresden after Bomber Command had finished with it. Mercifully, it was done with respect and dignity. Unlike that previous joke, I'm sorry to say. Don't know where that came from. This was, as Mark said in the Confidential episode which followed Victory of the Daleks, probably the last 'good' war - in so much as it was one that needed to be fought, whether we wanted to or not. There was a genuine sense of ordinary people coping with horror, grief and loss that shaded the episode in a way which, I believe, those who lived through the war would not have disapproved of. That, within seventy years of those horrible events, the era can be used as the basis for 'entertainment' but without demeaning or making light of the seriousness of life in Britain in 1940-41 is, I think, something that the production team should be congratulated on. Then again, this is something that British TV had managed for decade. Wasn't it Alan Coren who once noted with regard to Dad's Army that, in 1940, 'a nation of Corporal Jones's were the only thing that stood between Britain and Dachau.'

I liked the nods to Doctor Who's own past ('the final end', the allusions to The Power Of The Daleks and, especially, Ace's Remembrance Of The Daleks 'racial purity' speech which was refashioned into a jackbooted rant of Aryan chest-beating by the new, chunky, 'pure' Daleks. If the Daleks had boots, of course. Or chests for that matter. In a story about rage, in all its various forms, that felt curiously fitting and, conceptually, imporant. I liked all the war movies references too ('Broadsword to Danny Boy!') in what became, for a few minutes in the middle, rather magnificently, a Doctor Who version of The Dambusters or 633 Squadron. (If they'd, you know, been set in outer space and had the budget of Star Wars.)

And yet, there was still something holding Victory of the Daleks back. A restraining hand on its (metaphorical) shoulder that I wished had been removed and let they thing just go, full pelt, wherever it needed to. It was a short episode (just a smidgen over forty minutes), it was rather oddly structured, with the big dog-fight battle mid-episode, a false climax ten minutes from the end, and then (for the second week running) a lot of talking as we headed towards the credits. Good talking, mind. Liked the wrap up, liked the stuff with Bracewell (the excellent Bill Paterson), very much enjoyed Ian McNiece's nicely nuanced take on Churchill. (He got one of the episode's finest lines of dialogue: 'If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favourable reference to The Devil!') I'm really not sure what element it was - either missing or otherwise - that kept me from jumping up and down in my seat like a seven year old. But something very definitely did.

Almost, then. Almost, but not quite. Nearly the definitive early-first-season-Moffat episode to show all the kids in twenty years time and say 'Hey, I'll tell you what, 2010 was a vintage year for Doctor Who.' But, sadly, that's going to have to be held back for another day and another episode. Victory of Daleks was many things - ambitious, forceful, inventive, proud of itself and its history (real and imaginary). What it wasn't, was perfect. But it got three quarters of the way there and I can forgive then tripping over at the final hurdle.

1 comment:

Mietek Padowicz said...

I'll tell you what you were missing. When the Doctor and then Amy tried to reset the android, thus saving the Earth, it was just a bit hard to swallow that happy sunshine memories of home and the girl he left behind could overcome a bomb triggering device, however sophisticated. And just possibly you wanted the Daleks to be sent to Hell, regardless of how cool they were and you were ordering one in your head already weren't you? Also it could have have had 15 or 20 minutes more without any of us complaining.