For the first time in more than half a dozen episodes, a “Doctor Who” script comes to audiences that doesn’t have the name “Russell T. Davies” or “Steven Moffat” flash up on a screen as one of the principle writers for the story. Mark Gatiss returns to the show with a solid script that leans heavily on the long history of the show in such a way as to pay homage to the obsessive long-time fans like myself while still being accessible to fans who may have only joined the party since the show came back five years ago.
“Victory” takes us back to the days of the Patrick Troughton era where we saw a different kind of Dalek script. The two installments from the Troughton years gave us Daleks that were cunning, manipulative and had an agenda for things beyond just universal domination and exterminating all the lesser races. The first ten or so minutes of “Victory” calls on the two stories from that era with ease as we see the Daleks serving humanity in an attempt to help the British win the second World War. After being summoned by Winston Churchill, the Doctor suspects there is something more to the Daleks than just wanting to help win the war and serve tea, a thread notably highlighted by several scenes with Daleks in the background where they seem to be paying far too much attention to what the Doctor is saying.
However, no one will believe the Doctor that the Daleks aren’t humanity’s new found ally, not even Amy who has no memory of the Daleks. (She should in the universe of new “Who” given the events of “Journey’s End.”)
The Doctor is finally able to push the Daleks into revealing their true agenda and sets their end-game in motion.
If that sounds like a lot is happening in the episode, it is. And that’s all before we reach the 15 minute mark of the story. “Victory” is a story that moves along at a frentic pace, rarely slowing to catch its breath. After a year of extra-long specials and padded out stories, I found myself wishing for a moment we had a bit longer for the Doctor to suspect the Daleks and possibly begin to doubt himself in his questioning of their motives or to have some time for things to sink in. Instead, we get a story that moves from big moment to big moment in the first half hour before settling down with a quiet finale that still left some huge plot threads hanging (and I’m not just talking about the crack in the wall that is following the TARDIS crew).
But even given the high-pace and energy of the show, “Victory of the Daleks” is still the best use of the Doctor’s longest-running enemies since “Dalek” in 2005. The story captures the old-school nuances of the Daleks with the new-school sensibility we’ve seen and makes the Daleks scary and worthy adversaries for the Doctor again. The script shows that there are still new, interesting things that can be done with the Daleks and Gatiss shows that the series can include the pepperpot monsters each year without it feeling like they’ve shoe-horned in an obligatory Dalek episode so the new series won’t have to re-negotiate the rights to use the monsters.
It will make you wish you could see “Power of the Daleks” and “Evil of the Daleks” again just to see the manipulative nature of the Daleks in the old-series. However, both stories are lost to the ravages of time. Until then, I guess we’ll have to make do with re-watching “Victory.”