I think it’s stronger in concept than in execution, but what this episode cements for me is that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is going to be uniformly quirky and less mainstream. I knew this already from the last two weeks, but even so it’s not until I watch a Dalek invasion episode quite this eccentric, domestic and gleefully retro that I realise how thoroughly the changes have been rung. It’s remarkable how closely Matt Smith’s shambling performance embodies the new spirit of the series: seldom what’s expected, occasionally too odd for its own good, but always interesting, amusing and inventive.
There are plot holes you could fly a Spitfire through, science that would make Russell T Davies blush, and (as with the last two episodes) a general reliance on the sensibility and logic of fantasy rather than science fiction. The Doctor’s choice to make Bill Paterson recognise his humanity knowing that this will stop him from exploding is the epitome of this. It’s the logic of fairy tales, of the Wizard of Oz, i.e. it’s not logic at all — it’s intuition, mythology, allegory.
The Daleks’ plan makes little sense — there was no need to go to the trouble of creating a robotic scientist with a detailed life history just to lure the Doctor out. Also there was no certainty it would achieve its aim. The Daleks’ decision to wipe out the humans by turning on all the lights in London, when they had a perfectly functioning android who would destroy the entire planet, is crazy. It’s all nonsense. Lovely nonsense, of a kind that has one foot in Doctor Who and one foot in an episode of The Avengers. It’s treating a nostalgic, parochial version of Great Britain as a proxy for the entire globe, and an impersonal alien army as b-movie villains with ludicrously overcomplicated plans fixated on the hero.
All of which adds up to an episode that’s off-beat, unevenly paced, and that fails to hit its dramatic notes in anything like the expected way. It’s a breathless babble of ideas and characters. There’s dark, odd comedy throughout, particularly the lovely juxtaposition of the reputation of the Daleks and their initial role as teamakers (somewhat reminiscent of the Ood’s first appearance).
There are problems galore with this episode, and it’s hard to know how many to lay at the door of writer Mark Gatiss and how many are just the expression of a new tone for the series. It’s also hard to complain too much, because everything that doesn’t quite work is something I also really like. If I can’t wholeheartedly enjoy it, and if some aspects feel thrown away, rushed, illogical or unsatisfying, then I’d still take a million of these episodes in favour of a solid romp-by-numbers like ‘The Shakespeare Code’.
Miscellaneous other thoughts:
* Not at all sure about the new Dalek design which is nice in some ways but chunky in all the wrong places. The design seems inspired by the Peter Cushing movie Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD.
* The new colour-coded Daleks appear to have different roles and titles that I’m sure are going to be explored in the future: Strategist, Scientist, Drone, Eternal, Supreme.
* Amy gets interestinger and interestinger. Karen Gillan’s performance is almost as mercurial as Matt Smith’s, and the mystery surrounding her is interesting. And are the cracks in spacetime caused by the Doctor and/or Amy? Or following them? Or something more odd?
* I loved the Doctor’s positively archetypal use of a Jammy Dodger to bluff the Daleks.
* Nice reference to a Type 40 Tardis. Still running it in. Heh.
* I rather like the fact that the Doctor views this as a failure and had to be gently reminded that he’d saved the Earth. It’s not that he lacks compassion, clearly, it’s that his outlook is not quite so human as his immediate predecessors’.
* Another convincing performance from Smith this week. Occasionally lacking in traditional gravitas, but managing to convey a powerful presence nonetheless.