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April 18, 2010

The Jammy Dodgems

I've heard people claim that television can put at least ten pounds on you but this was bloody ridiculous. The wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong everything. A parody of an icon. A perverse travesty that mocked the cherished memories of an entire nation. Yes, I'm sorry but Ian McNeice looked more like Churchill the nodding dog from the insurance adverts than the stoic Churchill who saved us from the Nazis. I've seen slimmer Slitheen!

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

Review by Neil Perryman

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was six or seven years old, there was a merry-go-round outside the entrance to Coventry's Indoor Market. You know the sort of thing: for tuppence you could ride around in a tiny plastic car, boat, plane, fire engine, bus or Dalek. That's right, a Dalek. A bright red one. You could actually sit inside it, pretending to exterminate your mum as you hurtled round in circles at one mile an hour. It was great. 

Except it wasn't. Thanks to ineptitude, ergonomics or canny copyright avoidance, this Dalek didn't look quite right. Sure, it had a dome, some lights and an eye-stalk (which you could yank up and down) but the proportions were completely skewed. The back wasn't slanted at the correct angle while the head was far too pointy and the neck much too narrow. It was a close approximation of a Dalek but it was still a cheap imitation masquerading as the real thing. Even at the age of seven I sensed that this was intrinsically wrong.

RolykinThis sense of wrongness can also be applied to the Dapol and Rolykin Daleks which I steadfastly refused to covert as a child. They may have appeared Dalekesque, in an amateurish slapdash way, but at the end of the day I'd managed to build snow Daleks that looked more authentic.

So how did this new design ever get past the drawing board? And did Raymond Cusick sigh enough times to power a small wind turbine last night?

Look, I'm a fan of the colourful Cushing Daleks just as much as the next ming-mong, and if you want to colour-code the buggers then knock yourself out, but turning them into ugly dodgem cars is a step too far. You painted an old one camouflage green and it looked great (and sufficiently different enough to be interesting) so why muck about with an iconic shape like this? It's iconic for a reason. 

It's the unwritten rule - you can upgrade the Cybermen and you can fiddle with the Yeti; you can even make the Silurians look like the Jem Haddar if you really have to, but the design of the Daleks should remain sacrosanct. Treat yourself to a Special Weapons Dalek if you really have to play around with perfection (he was a fat bastard too) but for the love of Pertwee, stop this madness now.

Did Raymond Cusick sigh enough to power a small wind turbine last night?

Victory The RTD-era Daleks looked perfectly fine to me: sturdy, metallic and threatening. They can even freak you out with nothing more than a cup of tea. These new inflatable versions look bouncy and plastic. Take the neck, which now looks like it's made out of cheap rubber. It reminds me of one of those toys where you'd lick the bottom of it and then plunge down the springy head bit until, after an interminable wait, it would spring back up again, launching itself into the air. As a 40 year old man I am happy to wallow in nostalgia when I watch Doctor Who, but not for novelty toys that I can barely remember, let alone describe.

The only mildly interesting element of the redesign is the eyeball in the eye-stalk. It's just a pity that I didn't notice this detail until Steven Moffat pointed it out to me on this week's Confidential. Maybe it's because I watched the episode in SD (the HD transmission was inexplicably delayed by the football) but they still looked like pretty lights to me. And the optic nerve can't go all the way up because you can see right through the plastic bits!

Another revelation from this week's Confidential is the fact that they had to redesign the Daleks because they were originally made to complement Billie Piper's eye-line. Are you absolutely sure it wasn't Billy Hartnell's eye-line, as I'm pretty sure he was around first. And since when has the height of the Daleks been an issue anyway? When has anyone ever said to you "I'd be scared of the Daleks, if only they were a wee bit taller"? Their short stature adds to their menace and overall character (they are little Hitlers after all). Now we are supposed to be frightened of them because they they've got shoulder pads and platform heels.

And forget the old jokes about them not being able to climb stairs, this lot will have a job getting through your average door.

forget the stairs, this lot will have a job getting through your average door...

Victory3 In fact, these Daleks look like they've been designed with the comfort of the operator in mind. The humpbacked look with the flat back may result in a much smoother ride for the person inside (and Dave Prowse can have a go now, which is nice) but screw the bloody operators. I'm sorry, but I honestly don't care if they end up with hernias or slipped discs if it means I can have the old ones back again. And am I the only person who finds it telling that the official BBC gallery showcasing the new Daleks doesn't include a single image where you can see their fat arses?

I just find it ironic that Steven Moffat, a man who appears to be obsessed with the TARDIS sporting the right sized windows along with the right grain of wood in just the right shade of blue, would do this to me.

The Daleks have even got their own ranks now so Character Options can market them more easily. We have the Supreme Dalek (he's a white supremacist, don't you know - oh please yourself), the Scientist, the Strategist, the Drone and - wait for it... the ETERNAL! 

Sadly, Mark Gatiss couldn't think of more than four names for his new army of Daleks so Steven had to come up with that one. It must be bloody hard work writing for Doctor Who so who could possibly blame Mark for getting stuck on four. Let's see, how about the Engineer, the Warrior, the Suicide Bomber, or the Chef. Just off the top of my head. But then again Mark can't even come up with a proper name for a lady, the poor sod.

I just hope that Moffat is lying through his teeth and curls and there's a bloody good reason why the orange one (at least I think it's the orange one) has been saddled with such a stupid name. Otherwise they may as well have called him the Benny.

And it all started so well. The first ten minutes of Victory of the Daleks are quite delightful. It borrows liberally from The Power of the Daleks, not that I've seen it of course, and I certainly can't be arsed listening to it, but every fan knows the drill by now: Daleks show up, Daleks pretend to be nice, Daleks turn out to be evil, blah blah blah. The premise has always sounded fantastic and now we get to see it play out for real on the telly and it's brilliant.

they may as well have called him the Benny...

Victory4 The incongruous sight of a Dalek doing the filing and making a cuppa is creepy and exciting. The way the Doctor chews over the best way to exposure them as they silently glide around keeping tabs on him is thrilling stuff and I was hoping that this, along with Churchill's thirst for victory at any cost, would be the main thrust of the story. I thought we'd end up with the Doctor going up against Churchill, sacrificing a city to a blitzkrieg just to keep the time lines and his arch enemy in check.

Sadly, the Dalek's real motives are totally bonkers. But that's entirely consistent with their modus operandi so I'll let that slide. But just to get it straight: three post-Time War Daleks turn up in a flying saucer in the 1940s with a cunning plan. We have no idea how they survived the last purge, why they are so poorly staffed or where they got this Progenitor from because this kind of thing is entirely consistent with a show that occasionally feels as if it's been designed to keep Lance Parkin in a job.

No, it's the pickle that they've managed to get themselves into that's the real issue for me. They have a machine that can kick-start a pure Dalek race and yet they can't turn it on because they aren't pure Daleks. This makes perfect sense from a usability point of view because it would stop people dressing up as Daleks and switching you on. Because then you'd have to kill them all. Oh, wait...

Victory5 No, it's far better to wait for some real Daleks to show up first. Even though they don't exist. Technically. Oh, but just in case that doesn't work you can always bypass the genetic detection lock with the word of a doctor. I'm not entirely sure if it has to be the Doctor as I can't see how the machine could possibly figure that out from a voice recording (especially of this incarnation), but it must be that or the surviving Daleks would have built an android copy of the Doctor to provide said testimony. Wouldn't they? It's not as if they haven't had any practice in this department and if I know the pure Daleks of old he wouldn't even have to look that much like him.

Instead, they have to come up with an incredibly convoluted cover story - just to get the Doctor's attention. Why not just hover over the Moon with a big sign saying "We Are The Daleks" on it. He'd have heard about it sooner or later. How could it have been quicker to build a perfect android with perfect human memories just so they could get to someone who has the Doctor's phone number. Or were the Daleks forced into this charade when the Doctor didn't turn up on time? That's an hilarious thought in itself. I can seeing them picking straws as to which ones would have to have the paint jobs.

Patterson does an OK job as Bracewell. It's difficult to pull off five seasons of Battlestar Galactica in ten minutes, but he makes a good fist of playing the angst over discovering he's not the man he thought he was, and the "we created you" line was deliciously played.

I'm not sold on the resolution to the bomb, though. Sounded a bit... fairytale.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. I still enjoyed this episode and while I certainly won't be revisiting it any time soon, I was entertained from start to finish. And I think I know why.

It's the very same reason why I managed to sit through The Creature from the Pit the other day. All four episodes. Yes, I know it's a bit crap and it doesn't really hang together but it's got Tom Baker in it and whenever Tom Baker is on screen I'm entranced and enthralled. It's exactly the same thing I get with Smith, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record he keeps the whole thing afloat with yet another thrilling performance.

it's difficult to pull off five seasons of Battlestar Galactica in ten minutes...

Victory2 There are too many stand-out moments for me to mention; I could wax lyrical about his hand movements for hours.

It was a risk to show the Doctor standing down some Daleks armed with just a biscuit and yet Smith pulls if off; only Troughton and Baker would have gotten away with something as silly as this. His delivery of the lines "Don't mess with me, sweetheart" and "I was promised tea!" were just sublime and he's probably the best Doctor ever.

Sadly, Neice is too much of a parody for me to really engage with him. Looking back now I can barely remember what Churchill did in this episode beyond wobble his chins and reel off the expected cliches. Gillan holds her own as Amy Pond but she doesn't have a great deal to do, although she does make the leap that eventually saves the day, which is nice. This is because the Doctor is too busy having a sub-Genesis of the Daleks dilemma which isn't much of a dilemma at all

Smith's not infallible either. In Confidential he declares that spitfires in space could only happen in Doctor Who. Er, sorry but that's bollocks. Star Trek, maybe. Red Dwarf if they had the budget. But Doctor Who? I'm don't know about you but dogfighting in space is probably the last thing I think of when I think about Doctor Who, let alone anachronistic ones involving hastily cobbled together technology.

And forget the crack in the fabric of the universe (not that they're flagging it up or anything) what's the deal with the recurring Star Wars meme? We had trash compactors and "you're my only hope" last week, and now we've got Return of the Jedi reactors going bang, hands getting cut off at the wrist and the Daleks entering hyperspace. It must mean something...

But by far the most interesting development is the fact that Amy Pond has a hole in her mind. A Dalek shaped hole. But the real question is whether the rest of humanity can remember the last several thousand alien invasions or is Amy special in some way? Is all this happening in a parallel universe and the Doctor somehow slipped through the ominous crack during his regeneration (which might explain everything I've just moaned about, including Winston's chins) or is it an attempt to severe all ties with the RTD years, which managed to turn 21st century earth into a one-stop knocking-shop for extraterrestrial invaders?

And here's a surprise - the Daleks win. Well, it would have been a surprise if Moffat and Gatiss hadn't told everyone in the Radio Times"We will return" they brag at the very end. No shit. Probably in episode 12 if the template holds. Or maybe they'll return to Skaro, notice their reflections in their mirrored halls and then they'll LOSE SOME F*&KING WEIGHT. 

No, not that Skaro, silly. The other one.

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