Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Doctor Who - "Victory of the Daleks" (5x03)

I'm a bit behind on this week's Doctor Who, thanks to my trip to C2E2, but I'm caught up on it now, and it was quite an enjoyable episode, but as with seemingly every TV review I've been writing recently, I've got a couple of overarching concerns.

My major concern has nothing to do with the quality of the episode itself, so much as the use of the daleks, who have always been positioned as the ultimate foe for the Doctor, and were treated perhaps a bit too casually in this episode. The big concern with any arch foe is that the more times you use them where neither side actually wins the less potent the relationship is. This is a big problem in comics, where it's tough to find a new spin for the latest Batman/Joker or X-Men/Magneto fight. But, it's equally a problem here.

In the Davies era, apart from the dire “Daleks in Manhattan,” the way to keep things fresh was to raise the stakes every time they appeared, starting with one Dalek in “Dalek” to the galaxy spanning battle in “Journey's End.” It generally worked, and unlike a lot of internet critics, those epic Dalek finales were among my favorite episodes of the series. “Parting of the Ways” in particular was absolutely dazzling, and “Journey's End” was the hardest hitting emotional moment of the series to date.

So, I was happy to see the Daleks, and I think this episode did a generally strong job of keeping them menacing and interesting. My concern is that once again it was about the Doctor trying to eliminate the Daleks forever, something we know is not going to happen. Why not do a story where he just accepts that the Daleks are there and fights them one battle at a time. No one out there thinks that the Doctor is going to win the final Dalek battle in a one parter that's the third episode of the season. Similarly, the whole blowing up the Tardis gambit didn't work, since we know that wouldn't happen. The episode ultimately was about setting up future Dalek stories, so I would have preferred an approach a bit closer to “Dalek,” where the menace is more in theory than in practice.

That said, my concerns here were primarily about the use of the Daleks themselves. The episode itself was pretty strong. The Daleks versus WWII era bombers space battle was my favorite moment of the new series to date, and captured that manic pulp excitement that the show does so well. The Star Wars parallel jumped out to me, and it worked there.

I also really liked the beats surrounding the scientist struggling to find his humanity, and the way that Amy helped him rediscover the person he was. It was a really satisfying moment in the story, and a great moment for her as a character. This Doctor seems harsher than Tennant, and Amy is bringing a softer approach. It's a dynamic reminiscent of the Eccleston era, when Rose was helping the Doctor find his heart again. But, this Doctor seems even more full of anger, and I'm curious to see how that's going to develop over the course of the season. So far, the emotions this series have been more hidden than in the Davies era, which is partially why I haven't responded to it as much, but I'm eager to see how they develop the character.

This was actually my favorite episode of the season to date. It was the most consistently strong and had some great character bits. I particularly liked the tease of the crack in spacetime at the end, and how that's been playing into the overall season arc. And, next week looks like it should be full of great stuff, as Moffat revisits two of his classic episodes on the series.

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