DOCTOR WHO - VICTORY OF THE DALEKS
There was a girl I used to know
She dealt my love a savage blow
I was so young, too blind to see
But anyway, that's history
You say I always play the fool
I can't go on if that's the rule
Better to jump than hesitate
I need a change and I can't wait!
Deep in the night, it's all so clear
I lie awake with great ideas
Lurking about in No Man's Land
I think at last I understand
"History never repeats"
I tell myself before I go to sleep
"Don't say the words you might regret
I lost before, you know I can't forget."
The Doctor and Amy arrive in blitzed London where Professor Bracewell has built two "Ironsides" that can wipe out the Nazis, and no one has any problem with that. The Doctor does - the "Ironsides" are simply Daleks painted green and acting stupid. But no one knows who the Daleks are, so he alone has to try and prove how freaking dangerous they are. Which turns out to be a mistake, because the Daleks need the Doctor's seal of approval on record before they can redesign the brand template and create a new race of merchandising, er, Daleks. With the mighty destructive powers of a jam biscuit and some spitfires that work in space, the Doctor... ensures this story is completely-self-contained and has no immediate bearing on anything else.
A script by Mark Gatiss. Oh, let joy be unconfined.
In fairness to MG (who else do we know with those initials, hmmm?), as an actor he's quite good. The only time he's given a bad performance is in You Know What (Equity Card), which suggests maybe his talent had left the room completely for the duration. As for his writing, well, I didn't mind Nightshade - the worst bits oddly enough involved trying to characterize the Seventh Doctor and Ace - and it was David Walliams who ruined Phantasmagoria. Invaders of Mars was ultimately crap, but if I'm fair I can't see anyone making anything decent out of the "hilarious" idea of real Martians invading during the Orson Welles crisis.
As for his TV work...
OK, I have mentioned in passing posts I tend to visualize the writers as wierd avatars - Chris Chibnall as (occasionally) Morpheus from The Matrix, Robert Holmes as Zaphod Beeblebrox albeit with the heads of Avon and Vila... well if I were to think of Mr. Gatiss, it would be... Mr. Gatiss. Sitting at an ancient typewriter, not doing anything, but with a strange contended smile on his face. Lost in the sheer joy he is writing for a show that once had Jon Pertwee in it.
It's ironic that Mad Larry loses it over Gatiss, considering they are incredibly similar. They both hate working with other people's formats, instinctively rebel, and have pissed off people it would be stupid to piss off with ill-thought comments. Plus the fact I don't find either of them half as amusing as they claim to be. To misquote the Second Doctor, "Give Lawrence Miles control of Doctor Who and he'd fill it full of Faction Paradox!" but "Give Mark Gatiss control of Doctor Who and he'd fill it full of Quatermass!"
From the very beginning I'd disliked The Idiot's Lantern for its strange rejection of anything we'd call plot and drama. I once said "it had no purpose other than filling the time slot", something I stand by. Behind-the-scenes-details (including the abandoned "comedy" ending that may have had something to do with MG not writing for the show again until the regime change) made me dislike it even more. RTD's original idea for the episode was a 1960s rock and roll story with Rose meeting her grandmother when she was young and cool. MG refused and instead wrote a story set in the 1950s, rejecting every possible connection to Doctor Who 2006. No mention of Mickey, and even the obligatory Torchwood was jammed in at the last minute. It was as if Gatiss simply didn't want to write for Doctor Who, and even the main characters were there under sufferance. MG has gone on record he deliberately refused to plot out half the story on the grounds he just wanted Quatermass imagery (the faceless zombies clenching their hands apparently - oh, well, a visual reference to something 97% of the human race haven't actually seen justifies everything, doesn't it?). "Why should a story made sense?" The Idiot's Lantern seems to ask. "Why should characters stay true to themselves when they can change completely for the sake of some rubbish gags? Bishop becomes a non-functional moron and Eddie Connolly becomes a psychopath just so we can do jokes about 'Colour television!' and 'You should see my mother in law!' The line-by-line reuse of the last episode I wrote means nothing!"
It's almost as if MG was trying to recreate the Doctor Who of his childhood, where characters were paper-thin and nothing had much thought put into it. In any case The Idiot's Lantern stands as one of the few... perhaps the only... NuWho episode that could be completely erased from history and no one would notice. You need the Cybermen and Ood stories on either side, and even 'seemingly-disposable' tales like The Shakespeare Code or The Doctor's Daughter have an impact on the series that follows. There has never been another mention of the Wire, of the Connelleys, of anything in that story. It might as well not exist and my gut feeling is that is precisely what the author wanted.
My conclusion from all this is that MG has some small talent as a writer, but he needs RTD or Moffat giving them the brutal Douglas-Adams-style "you don't leave here alive until you write us something good" treatment. The Unquiet Dead was pretty decent, when MG had to reintroduce time travel, the Celebrity Historical, and keep the main characters in tune with what had gone before. He had no obligations for his next script, which was notoriously self-indulgent and awful.
Now, I can't honestly say that any good bits in Victory of the Daleks would have been down to rewrites from Moff. But I can say the good bits would be the ones Moff would have been the first to check. The Doctor's confrontations with the Daleks, the final scene with Amy, all that would be the first to be scrutinized and I'd have be thoroughly assholed to say they were anything below "quite good". But the rest?!
Winston Churchill for example. What do we learn about him as a person? The phrase "fuck all" springs instantly to mind. There's no emotional journey like there was for Dickens. Churchill is a stubborn, ruthless, cigar-smoking charmer. The end. Does he ever regret going ahead with a Dalek alliance? Does he even notice the two men that die directly because of his stupid and avoidable mistake? After all this mess you'd think he'd learn to stop trying to get alien technology to quick fixes, but Churchill has no moments of doubt or introspection. He is thoroughly two-dimensional. The one the Goodies met who happened to look exactly like Adolf had more personality to him than this bloke. Thank freaking Christ they got Ian McNiece to tackle the role, as his performance gives the sole hint there is anything behind those eyes - and he and Matt Smith wordlessly establish the relationship of two people who simply get on together too well for them to be enemies, no matter what circumstances push them into.
And as for Amy! I don't know what's worse, the crap she is given in some scenes or the fact the quality see-saws. At times it's like Eric Saward writing for Mel - Amy gets to summarize the plot like she's reading a DWM archive: "It's right in front of us, staring us in the face, a gift from the Daleks!" rather than simply shouting, "Let's see if Bracewell's got any decent ideas!" as the fiesty and blunt redhead we know would. Her characterization seems to dip between this and some kind of charicature of Jamie, who approves any kind of course of action if it's championed by a fellow Jacobite (a very bad charicature, as anyone who's heard The Highlanders will know).
I might have been able to survive this poor treatment, but it keeps swinging back to Moffat quality, taunting me like a mirage of an oasis. The final scene where Amy realizes the stuff with the evil monks was not a one-off, but they bump into nasty monsters a lot, oh, make me weep tears of blood! And of course the brilliant bit where the Doctor and Amy look out upon the burning wreckage of London, after their "WW2? Awesome!" tourism bits, and the Doctor quietly describes the horror simply as "history".
And then we get Mr. Gatiss himself as an RAF pilot in a spitfire named after a Rob Shearman script, treating the Dalek menace with less reverence than the bombers in The Seeds of Doom who save the Earth from the Krynoid (which has killed almost the entire cast) with jokes about chop suey. I mean, I wouldn't have minded, except it's just not really funny. In fact, the obsession the last few stories has had about the United Kingdom is getting disturbingly secular and I for one am glad the next few stories are set on alien worlds and Venice. I also note that when Moffat does a story about the British, it's about their cynacism, corruption and cruelty and their blind stubborn stupidity. Gatiss does a story where no Brit can do any wrong, and even a Scot (an android who thinks he's a Scot) will selflessly sacrifice himself to keep Union Jacks flying. The only bad humans are the unseen Nazis. Very deep. Gatiss' casual monologue in The Lazarus Experiment about living during the Blitz sums up the horror of wartime better than this entire story. And why? "My ambition was to do a 45-minute Bank Holiday war movie," Gatiss surmises in Confidental.
...that's what you define as "ambition", is it?
"It isn't the place to examine the character, because Doctor Who's an adventure series."
...it's easy to see why his attitude annoys some, isn't it?
What's deeply amusing about this episode of Confidential is, just after Moffat and Smith big up Gatiss for his attention to detail and historical accuracy, the man himself then gives us a guided tour detailing just how bad Victory of the Daleks is on those terms. Where's the smokers? The panic? Everyone clutching guns? Amy complaining about the stinking nicotine? Everyone being sick to death of what an asshole Churchill was in real life? And that table with all the figurines on it? Never existed in the War Room, as big a lie as robots making the tea. This is coupled with Gatiss' public reluctance to deal with anything "important" like Daleks - indeed, for such a fanboy Gatiss' only attempt at such "epic" straights was an annual story where the Tenth Doctor met the Gelth. Cause, you know, it would never be on to bring back old monsters like say, the bleeding Macra, would it? That would never happen...
Onto the the Daleks, and I'd like to take this point to bitch at all of fandom rather than the author - why is it we (and yes, I include myself here) always seem to rave about stories where Daleks act wierd? Presumably it's because we detest how lowbrow those stories are when Daleks glide around the place slaughtering people. Yet, what was the very first story to do that? Power of the Daleks. The one that gets lauded for the comedy of Daleks constantly biting their tongues as they brag about how good they are ("DALEKS ARE BETTER... ER, MORE USEFUL THAN HUMAN BEINGS!") as being somehow deep and meaningful drama. But why should we be so impressed (by which I mean we damn well are impressed) by a story where Daleks wander about offering tea and biscuits? You call that wierd? RTD had them as suicidal fundamenalist TV executives running Big Brother! Surely THAT is a benchmark for wierd, if not "fucking deranged"! Yet for our love of Daleks acting wierd, why is Helen Raynor's story (you know, the one where the Daleks hardly kill anyone, don't say "Exterminate" and has Dalek Kahn watching the sun go down from the top of the Empire State Building... which he built) not rivalling City of Death as the best story ever? Big Finish have had Daleks turning into giant wasps, become best friends with the Thals, using themselves as building materials, trying to conquer the universe through Dapol action figures and unleashing 28-Days-Later style zombie viruses. And that's just the stories with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa!!
Looking back at it, it's a struggle to see the Daleks ever acting normal. I mean, their very first story has them effectively running the Bates Motel where people check out, get shoddy service and never leave - and their doomsday plan had to be changed from dropping The Bomb to putting Homer Simpson in charge of their nuclear power plant. Their first story, remember, has a sequence where Daleks take drugs and have LSD freakouts!
So, yeah, seeing a Dalek doing the filing should NOT be so mind-blowing as we have seen one one of them working a ticker-tape machine in 1963! THE DALEKS ARE MORE SURREAL THAN TOM BAKER SNORTING NAPALM! WHY DOES NO ONE EVER NOTICE THIS?!
I was a bit confused by the Daleks in this one. Just where are these survivors from, anyway? They're not "pure" Daleks, suggesting they somehow might be ex-Big-Brother contestants that escaped the Bad Wolf. They definitely have a death wish. Yet there are just as many hints they might be another band that escaped the Time War, while the Doctor treats them as the last remnants of the Crucible force - in which case, how did they survive being blown up by Donna? And since they were grown out of Davros' smoothe chest, surely they'd be purer than the new blokes? There's also a bit too much vagueness about their plan: did they deliberately seek out Churchill to get the Doctor's testimony? Was it all a lucky coincidence and they were initially planning to trick Britain into building a new Dalek army? Are the two Ironsides actually robots and the one on the saucer the genuine article? If these Progenitors can create whole new species of Daleks... why weren't they used? (Yes, I know they were all apparently "lost", but surely they should have been used beforehand!) Why on Earth are they so damned difficult to use that you need your mortal enemy around to switch it on? Who exactly did they expect would try to use it? Thals in Dalek outfits? And how come the new Daleks know all about the old Daleks' plan, but not that the Doctor's been threatening to blow them up for five minutes?
As for the new Daleks... well, I do get the feel "merchandise" was the tone meeting for them. I mean, we're clearly not going to see them again this year, Moffat admits he doesn't know what half the newbies actually do, so they've wasted a lot of money redesigning the Daleks (which means all the CGI flying Daleks are stuffed as well) in every way and then not used them. The only logic is to sell a new range of Dalek toys this Christmas, while keeping the others around as "classic". I'm not sure I like the new types anyway, with them being all top heavy, limbs the wrong length and with fat arses. The Power Ranger colour schemes don't impress either and, if we're honest, Rob Smernoff should sue as they've nicked his idea.
Speaking of ideas used in Victory of the Daleks, it is about time someone put their foot down and defended the Virtual Series 4 of Doctor Who. A bunch of fans with too much time on their hands and some script-writing software churned out fourteen episodes of not-quite-as-good-as-the-real thing that was slightly-too-obsessed with sequelizing Season 3. Nevertheless they were the ones that got their first with
- a Christmas special having David Morrisey as an alien-or-human fighting Cybermen in a historical setting
- Martha Jones hooking up with Tom Whatisname and summoning the Doctor back to Earth to deal with an emergency in a pre-credit sequence (even down to the "we called in our best expert" "who? Oh ME!" gag)
- the Master returning with Lucy Saxon and finding out the cause of the drumming was a pissed-off returning character who would destroy the whole universe
- the return of Rose Tyler
- a crossover with Torchwood
- the redemption of Harriet Jones
- a story of evil shadows in a library with a new companion
- the truth about what the Doctor did to the Virgin Queen
- the Tenth Doctor showing his new companion around Ancient Rome
- the Silurians coming back
- flashbacks to the Time War
- the Tenth Doctor regenerating at a cliffhanger but still being in the next story
and most relevant of all, a story where the Doctor and Winston Churchill discover Dalek technology is being used by the allies to win the war by creating super-soldiers (reverse-engineered from the detritus under the Empire State building)! Axis of the Daleks by Paul Robinson and Daniel Loach, culminating with the Daleks teaming up with the Nazis and this brilliant scene:
Dalek Caan moves into the warehouse whilst the tanks line up outside on the concrete outside - his turret spins as Braun enters the warehouse from the corridor. Braun has a look of determination on his face.
BRAUN: Caan! A word.
BRAUN: I spoke with the Doctor on the way back.
CAAN: That was a mistake. He will have poisoned your mind. He wishes the Reich to fail...
BRAUN: The Reich? Or just you?
CAAN: We have the same aims. We are the same.
BRAUN: We are not the same.
CAAN: ...no, I am better.
With that, Braun believes the Doctor.
BRAUN: Tell me, what do you intend to do once we have taken over the world?
CAAN: Help you dominate.
BRAUN: Why would you do that?
CAAN: I am a Dalek. We also believe in racial purity - anything not like us must be exterminated.
BRAUN: But we are not like you.
CAAN: We are the same.
Braun nods, pretends to shake off his suspicions and even manages to crack a smile.
BRAUN: Of course you are. I'm sorry that I even doubted you. You've been a great help to the Reich - the Fuhrer himself speaks very highly of you. (salutes Caan) I will be back soon.
Braun marches out of the room, stopping in the doorway to look back at Caan, showing he's still suspicious, before exiting. After a second, Caan begins to laugh hysterically - the lights on his
CAAN: I - am - victorious.
Can anyone really look at that and not begin to wonder?
Probably less of an influence, but no less uncanny is the Trenchcoat tale The Locust Method. Except it's the Cybermen controlling scientists, dying out and creating a new species at the same time.
But you know, of all these version, I find it disturbingly easies to imagine Victory of the Daleks as a Pertwee story. Imagine it: the Doctor and Jo Grant* return to UNIT HQ and find the Brigadier has met some friendly aliens called the Trods who are willing to defend Earth from nasty threats like the Silurians. The Doctor realizes the Trods are evil and after about six episodes, lots of dead tramps, a minor government conspiracy and - of course - discovering "Bracell" was the Trodos word for "Master", there's a noble self-sacrifice, the Trods flee and everyone beats up Mike Yates for being a poof. OK, maybe not that last bit.
Trouble is, it's a story I probably wouldn't have minded watching...
Next Time: "A stone angel amongst stone statues."
Seriously, is it Paul McGann saying that line? PRS is back and as insufferable as ever, and even throwing herself out an airlock won't rid us off the cow! And a single lonely assassin is conveniently on the loose. Your challenge, Moff, is to make anyone give a crap about what happens next...
* She's coming back, you know. No joke, they are bringing Jo Grant back. To television. In an RTD script. With the Eleventh Doctor. And Sarah-Jane Smith. I think it's fair to say I was expecting the Cyberman/Dalek war long before something like this could happen.