This week’s Doctor Who episode saw the eleventh Doctor’s first face off against the Daleks, but more than that, it turned into a relaunch for the Daleks themselves, to setup a new status quo for them in this new era of the show.
The premise for the episode was definitely a strong one. The opening 10 minutes was deliberate homage to Power of the Daleks, with the Daleks back to being sneaky for the first time in ages, posing as robots invented by a human professor to help Churchill win the war. Of course the Doctor knows the truth, but no one believes him.
Those opening scenes were hugely effective, and its been a while since the Daleks were this effective, looking quite freaky as they casually rolled around the background in the war-rooms, always keeping an eye on the Doctor and what he was doing.
If I had a complaint about the episode, it’d probably be that it all felt a bit too quick, and these opening scenes could’ve easily been played out more. I wonder what this story would’ve been like if it had been stretched to two episodes, instead of the hurried reveal of the Daleks’ plan on Earth.
The plan itself was pretty straight-forward. These three Daleks are the sole survivors of Journey’s End, with their ship having managed to escape back in time. However, they also stumbled across the last remaining progenitor. A device from the original Dalek Empire that will recreate those original Daleks and return them to greatness. However, as these Daleks are “impure” the Progenitor won’t work for them, unless they offer it the Doctor’s expert witness as to their identity, hence their ruse on Earth.
As to why these Daleks are impure? Well, we know they’re pureblood Kaled Daleks, as Davros himself created them from his own cells, but I guess he must’ve been tinkering with them again (as seen in Rememberance of the Daleks). The Daleks are, as in that story, big fans of genetic purity, going so far as to have the new Daleks destroy these three survivors as their first act (tactically, surely a bit of a dodgy move given their limited numbers, but that’s Daleks for you).
And so the Daleks are reborn. But not quite as their original selves, with the Progenitor obviously deciding bringing them back as 60s balsa wood wouldn’t be the best idea (especially with the Doctor standing right beside them). The redesign definitely stood out to me as the one duff note about the episode. I’m just not a fan. The bright colours I thought were less effective than the metallic bronze we’ve been used to, but I could live with them fairly happily. However, the physical changes I’m definitely not keen on. Being taller makes them look a lot more imposing, but the midsection with the gun and plunger is a bit too bulky. And that then pales in comparison to the bizarre new hump they’re sporting. The lines of the design don’t flow nearly as well as previous models as a result, and I’m really confused as to why they were changed in this way. I’m hoping there’s going to be a reason for the change revealed at somepoint, be it in the show, or a practical production reason. I dare say the problems will be less obvious when the new models next appear, but for this story, standing next to the previous models did them no real favours.
However, while I wasn’t keen on the revamp at all, some dodgy Dalek props are never enough to derail a whole episode, and so I was still a fan of this episode overall. It had a great setting and once again Matt Smith shone as the Doctor. There were some great set pieces with the Spitfire attack on the Dalek ship as well.
Of course, the most interesting thing about this episode, is that its really just a setup episode. While The Eleventh Hour was about introducing the new Doctor, and The Beast Below allowed Amy to shine, this episode was focused on re-establishing the Doctor’s nemesis. And that leaves me quite excited. No more do we have the Daleks being completely and utterly wiped out only for a couple to have miraculously escaped when a return is needed. The Daleks are properly back, and are out there biding their time and building their forces. I hope this means we’re going to see a different take on the Daleks in the future. More of the cunning they exhibited here, and less of the “throw fleets and fleets of Daleks on screen”.
For me, the Daleks best appearance in the new series remains their first. In Dalek we got a proper showcase for them. That Dalek was intelligent, cunning, lethal and scary as heck. While having hundreds of Daleks onscreen at once does make for a great “oh %$#&” moment, it lingers less in the memory than that one Dalek, slowly working its way through Van Statten’s museum, killing everyone that it comes near. I hope Steven Moffat’s view of the Daleks will bring more of the cunning we saw in the cabinet war rooms to their next appearance as well.