‘Time can be unwritten.’ I don’t think it’s quite as strong as the first episode, but it’s still great, full of vivid, scary moments, and beautiful bits of cleverness. These include treeborgs – cyborg trees that convert starlight to oxygen; Angels illuminated by gunfire as they pursue the survivors through the crashed Byzantium; Amy’s countdown, and the Doctor’s final, triumphant gambit which loops right back to the start of the episode to tie the story up in a neat bow.
‘I tell you now, that woman is not dragging me into anything.’ The first Moffat episode to be produced, this dovetails with the RTD years perfectly, mapping across the most popular new monster, the Weeping Angels, and River Song to emphasise the continuity between showrunners.
‘If Hitler invaded hell, I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.’ The biggest problem with Victory of the Daleks is that it’s an introduction for a New Dalek Paradigm that nearly everybody hated, and is tainted by association. The script makes such a big thing of the new Paradigm, giving them each a unique power and vaunting their superiority over the Time War models (which are summarily exterminated, and wiped from the collective consciousness by the cracks), that it’s hard to see past the failure of the new props. It’s the first crack (if you’ll pardon the pun) in Moffat’s revamp, the first decision rapidly backtracked on.
‘Once every five years, everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.’ At the time, I watched this one, with friends, in polite silence, then we all went to the pub and talked about anything else. Coming off the back of The Eleventh Hour, and with Moffat’s reputation for clever and intricate plotting, this looked shoddy and lacked his trademark wit. No-one was expecting a 21st Century Paradise Towers (with its own slang, ‘vators’ for elevators) made to look like it was set in the post-war age of austerity.
12 years later, it still has problems. If the Smilers are there to protect the state’s secret and gather unproductive citizens to feed the whale, there’s no reason (except it helps Amy reach the answer) for them to keep going after children that the whale spits out. The scorpion tails are hard to square with the views of the whale we get – are they supposed to be growing out of its brain? The Beast Below nursery rhyme is meant to be creepy, but it isn’t because it’s hard to understand the delivery and it’s not repeated, as it would have been in a 1970s kids’ TV show. In a reverse from the weaker stories of the RTD era, this falls down in the details.
But the overall thrust of the story, and the scenes directly concerned with the central mystery, are very good. Amy was almost incidental to The Eleventh Hour, and this necessarily refocuses on her, giving Karen Gillan a chance to do more than be furious or baffled. Although it’s set up for a joke, I really enjoy her contemplating whether she’ll be able to stay detached when there are children in danger – planting the seed for her ultimate realisation of the space whale’s own feelings. Moffat very cleverly seeds a trail through the story, as the Doctor is shown to be unable to practice what he preaches, and will always help a crying child, and later admits to Amy he’s the last of the Time Lords – points we’re later reminded of as Amy reviews her Mind Palace: the Sherlock approach applied to Doctor Who.
So this, and the mysteries of the water glasses and “Liz 10”, are nicely done. The satirical elements (the Scots ‘wanted their own ship’, the people prefer to forget than stare at the shabby trade-offs their leaders must make) are hardly subtle, but they are funny. Importantly, the ending is excellent, telling us something about Amy and the Doctor, and working as well as the equivalent scenes between the ninth Doctor and Rose in the similarly-positioned The End of the World. Its problems are largely aesthetic. I should have watched more generously.
Next Time: Victory of the Daleks
‘Hello, I’m the Doctor, and basically, run.’ The first thing to say about this is Matt Smith is phenomenal. No previous Doctor has had to carry so much of their first episode. Tennant spent most of his asleep. Eccleston kept dropping into Rose’s world. Even McGann got to be introduced through the eyes of Grace and Chang Lee. But here, the Doctor is our viewpoint character: we experience Amy’s strange world of scary cracks and empty duck ponds through him. More widely, this signals that Moffat’s version of the show is going to be increasingly concerned with its eponymous character (a fact sign-posted by his scripts for RTD).
‘I don’t wanna go.’ The theme of avoiding fate continues as Rassilon declares, ‘I will not die!’ and plots to bring about the end of the universe, to escape Time War and be ‘free of time, and cause and effect.’ Essentially, he wants to escape the consequences of his actions (which include causing the Master’s lifelong madness and, indirectly, countless deaths and the destruction of a fair chunk of the universe in Logopolis), the ultimate shirking of responsibility. This is all leading up to the key scene of Tennant’s finale: the Doctor, raging against the unfairness of the destiny he’s now trapped in, ultimately accepting he’s ‘lived too long’ and choosing to save Wilf before taking responsibility for checking in on all of those whose lives he’s affected – saving Mickey, Martha and Luke, giving Donna and Jack some joy, and seeing whether Joan Redfern’s life turned out well.
‘Events that have happened are happening now.’ This is, again, all about trying to avoid destiny, escaping the consequences of your choices, cheating death. No-one, in the end, wants to go. Certainly not Joshua Naismith, who’s written a book called Fighting the Future and gone to great lengths to secure immortality for his daughter. But he’s not the only one fighting the future: since Mars, the Doctor has been shirking his responsibilities, instead going on a grand tour of the universe. The Master has never accepted the consequences of his actions, so it’s hardly surprising he’s turned up again. But the final twist, that everything we’ve seen is just prologue to the Time Lords returning from the grave, is tremendous – an attack on the whole basis of the 21st Century series.
‘What? You mean Area 51? Dreamland? Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there.’ Unlike subsequent “gap years”, 2009 definitely doesn’t feel short of Doctor Who material. This animated episode fills a gap between The Waters of Mars and the Christmas Special. Like the previous animation, The Infinite Quest, it was originally broadcast in segments (this time on various streaming services), but this full-length version made it to TV.
‘There should’ve been another way.’ The cheeky ending mocks the campness of sombre, Saward-era Doctor Who by having Sarah Jane regret resorting to extreme measures to defeat the Blathereen while having just watched them fart themselves to death and dripping with their entrails. It’s the best moment in a script full of fun, which moves on from each element before it wears out its novelty.
‘I’ve had bad experiences with aliens bearing gifts.’ The Sarah Jane Adventures revisits The Claws of Axos with seemingly-friendly aliens offering the solution to world hunger, only for that gift to turn deadly. The good news is this is much (intentionally) funnier than The Claws of Axos, with a script that’s well balanced between the comedy of Sarah Jane entertaining the Blathereen for dinner, or Clyde borrowing K9 to cheat a biology test, with Luke succumbing to the effects of the rakweed spores.