Sunday 18 April 2010

Return of the Master Race

BBC One – 17th April 2010 – 6:30pm
Written by: Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Andrew Gunn
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Ian McNeice, Bill Paterson, Nicholas Pegg, James Albrecht, Susannah Fielding, Colin Prockter, Nina De Cosimo


[SPOILER ALERT] Having taken writing honours on his first two episodes at the helm, for episode 5.3 Stephen Moffat handed scribing duty to a man well known both outside and within the Who-niverse. Renowned for his role in surreal black comedy The League of Gentlemen, Mark Gatiss has also penned two other new Who adventures (“The Idiot's Lantern” and “The Unquiet Dead”), as well as starring as the unstable eponymous scientist in “The Lazarus Experiment” in 2007. This time around, Gatiss is charged with his most challenging task to date: finding a viable excuse for bringing back the Doctor's most distinguishable foe for the umpteenth time. That's no mean feat...

Following directly on from the telephone tag at the close of last week's (personally) disappointing space adventure, “Victory of the Daleks” sees the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) return to Earth and return in time – to the Second World War! Summoned to the Cabinet War Room by his old chum and PM Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice), the travelling twosome are introduced to the Allied's latest secret weapon in the war against the Nazis: Professor Edwin Bracewell's (Bill Paterson) Iron Sides. But you, I and the Doctor - though, curiously, not Miss Pond - know them better as encased alien foes who-just-won't-stay-dead, the Daleks.

The Doctor is quickly and physically incensed by the Iron Side's refusal to acknowledge their true identities as they mill around the squaddies serving tea to the troops (!), until his testimony triggers a Progenitor Device which unlocks the dying race's DNA and allows them to return to their flying saucer and repopulate the Dalek species (in snazzy multicoloured form), turning on the humans they used as bait to lure the Doctor to unlock the key to their survival. Impressive.

It was a fantastic twist to reveal Prof. Bracewell as a robot created by what he believed where his creations and indebted with a life of false memories, leading to suicidal thoughts – in a pre-watershed family show! Props to Gatiss for an original and credible concept married to an energetic script which sizzled with humour, horror, brains and adventure, without feeling weighed down in any one area. The episode could have fallen flat on so many levels, but it was a roaring success. A standout moment for sheer entertainment value was the Doctor's threat to blow up the Dalek's ship by pushing the TARDIS's self destruct button: “Alright, it's a Jammy Dodger - but I was promised tea!”

The visuals of a blitz-ravaged London were stunning, and the climatic space battle as the Allied spitfires bombarded the Dalek saucer was exciting and vibrant (if a little ridiculous: early 20th century human guns defeating a merciless time-travelling alien enemy?!!). One small worry I am left with concerning future instalments, however, is Amy's role: for the second week running she has been of questionable value to the story until she saves the day with a brilliant last minute solution which even the super-intelligent Doctor hasn't thought up. I like her zesty characterisation and rapport with her childhood idol, but it will become far too predictable if this plot device is employed every week.

CR@B Verdict: A well-balanced and spirited return to form after last week's stumble, and possibly the greatest Dalek story of modern Who. A definite victory for Mark Gatiss: “Ex-cep-tion-al!”


  1. Interesting to see how people can have entirely opposed views on entirely the same things :-)
    I thought the 2nd episode was quite good actually, and this one a bit more 'meh'. Must say that having viewed this episode twice now, makes it look better. The first time around things went a bit too quickly for me, and I didn't understand what the doctor's testimony meant to the Daleks. Second viewing cleared that up, which instantly makes the episode a couple of points better.

    I agree that it's best that this 'Amy saves the world after the Doctor does the footwork' won't become a formula. The only formula allowed for this show should be "something bad happens or is about to happen" and "all is well again". Anything in between should keep us entertained, not just waiting for the same repeated formula.

    That said, maybe the fact that Amy is saving the day twice in a row could have something to do with whatever is the cause of her not remembering the Daleks. In that case, it's only intriguing of course ;-)

    Is it possible that she is more than just a human? Could she, like professor Bracewell, have memories 'injected' that are not really hers? Or is her memory of the Daleks just sucked through the crack in the wall, or, as one person on Twitter commented: was she just watching the X-Factor while the Daleks invaded earth ;-)

  2. Another thought: Looking at the storyline in the 1st episode compared to those in the latter two, I can't help but thinking: why don't they make all the episodes 65 minutes instead of 45, so they have time to properly tell the story... I'm sure it would improve the overall impression.

  3. @Anonymous

    I really enjoyed this episode as a piece of entertainment. In that sense I didn't pick up on the flaws or inconsistancies that long-time Who-fans may have done because I wasn't looking for them. Last week's episode was simply too indebted to a plethora of other films/TV for me to enjoy it in its own right. Everything had been done (and better) elsewhere. But, yeah, everybody seems to have differing opinions on Dr. Who: The Marmite Era, lol.

    Clearly there is *something* up with Amy/no memory of the Daleks/this reappearing crack. i like your idea of these memories being sucked through the crack...

    Unfortunately I feel having her save the day in these early episodes is just a way to integrate her characeter and make her more useful and, therefore, likeable to the critical fanbase. That is rather cynical of me, however, and she does seem to have won over the majority (myself included) already.

    If she was watching X Factor, at least we'd have some idea of what YEAR episode 5.1 was set in!! :-b lol.

    Hour-long episodes would be fine by me, but there was a rushed feel to the conclusion even in The Eleventh Doctor; must just be the Doctor's style!!