Victory of the Angels, failure of the BBC

So, last week’s Dalek blip was just clearing the pipes for this week’s Angel winfest. They’re back. River is back (if, in the logic of timey-wimey wibbly wobbly, she ever went away). Moffat is back. All is good. “Time of the Angels” bears the same relationship to “Blink” as Alien did to Aliens: not just more of the same but a larger-scale, different approach to the same enemy that makes it a separate entity to be enjoyed in its own right.

Especial points to note. The Church Militant of the fiftieth century, bizarrely armed with P90s as modelled by SG1. The traditional, old-school assistant gets into peril scene, with the modern sensibility of the assistant also solving the problem. Moffat’s cheerfully logical, thought-through attitude to the whole nonsense of time travel thing. Possibly the first ever mention on-screen of the TARDIS noise, done in a way that was hilariously funny (I have often wondered why a machine that is designed to blend into the background inconspicuously also makes enough noise to wake the dead whilst doing so.) And, for the first time in a Moffat script, people dying.

But please can the BBC identify and shoot the moron who thought it was a good idea to put an animated Graham Norton cartoon on screen during the last 30 seconds as the episode builds to a climax, to advertise the ghastly reality-TV-showbiz-whatever load of twaddle he perpetrates with Lloyd Webber. For reasons I will come to this didn’t affect me as badly as it might, but I’m outraged on principle and I’m not the first to be irritated.

It’s worrying that there are people working at the world’s greatest public service broadcaster who fail to grasp the fundamental difference in the natures of Dr Whoand Who Wants to be a Friend of Dorothy or whatever it’s called. The latter is mindless froth designed to be dipped in and out of at ease. The former is a carefully constructed drama with a beginning, middle and end that people want to watch as an uninterrupted whole. As it is, the Beeb’s scheduling people regard it all as homogenised televisual product to be stuffed into the available Saturday evening slots, with as much discretion and acuity as Microsoft’s unlamented paperclip: “it looks like you’re watching TV on a Saturday evening. You will want to watch this too.” These clods cannot comprehend that I would watch Dr Who whenever it was shown, or on catch-up if unable to make the original broadcast, whereas I would pay good money not to have to watch Graham Norton ever. (Actually with one exception: he was very funny as Father Noel.)

The reason it didn’t affect me directly was because of subtitles … I don’t know if it’s old age or what, but my ears or my brain or both sometimes just cannot process rapid, quick-fire dialogue like they used to. Sometimes I have to put the subtitles on. Sad but true. However, the subtitles did blot out all but either end of the Graham Norton animation. My outrage still stands.

If no one looks at Graham Norton, perhaps he’ll go away.

Keep calm and ex-term-in-ate!

We have a crisis in the time-space continuum. Daleks just aren’t scary any more, and apparently not even the Moffat Magic can make them so.

Or maybe it can, it just chooses not to. Whatever the facts, Moffat Daleks have inherited the biggest flaw of RTD Daleks, which is that they only exterminate the unimportant people, for no other reason than Plot.

In days of yore, the Daleks were frightening in part because all the actors acted as if they were frightening. Especially the Doctor, because he had seen their bad side once or twice before. We the viewers knew they were touchy inferiority-complex ridden psychopaths with hair-trigger death rays and we held our breath whenever it looked like one of them might get more than slightly grumpy, because we knew someone was going to get it.

Almost always, the Doctor sidled into their foul schemes undetected: they had invaded or annexed somewhere for their own nefarious purposes, often making an alliance of convenience with the worst examples of humanity which would all end in over-exposed negative-effect tears, that being the best effect the Beeb had in those days for death rays. Somewhere along the way there would be a slightly potty scientist who begrudgingly, reluctantly came over to the Doc’s side and probably paid for it with his life.

Of all the New Who adventures to date, Victory of the Daleks really was the one that would have benefited most from the old school 4-part, 25 mins each treatment. It bore a strong resemblance in places to Power of the Daleks, an adventure sadly lost to the video archives but still available in audio format (which is how I first heard it), and could have learned from it. In that one the Daleks also ingratiate themselves into human affairs, aided by the worst examples of humanity for the latter’s political reasons, and of course it all ends in over-exposed negative-effect tears. With Victory of the Daleks in old-school format, the Doc would take at least two episodes to establish his good guy credentials, with even (or perhaps especially) a highly sceptical W. Churchill ranged against him while all around him strange things were happening that the powers that be just didn’t get. He would have been incarcerated at least twice. Those two eps would also have been used to establish the spin-off Dalek tech also in use by the British during WW2. And there would be extermination, left, right and centre. It would start slowly, mysterious death by mysterious death, with victims gradually increasing in importance.

Maybe the cliffhanger at the end of part 2 would have been the veil of niceness being withdrawnand the pepperpots revealing their true colours, about to zap the Doctor. Though to be honest it could have been spun out to the end of part 3. Instead of zapping two extras, as shown, the Daleks would turn their guns on the entire British high command, Churchill included, and it’s in saving them that the Doctor proves his point.

Part 4 could go pretty well as the rest of last night went, except that if the Doctor simply had to have a long talk with them, he could do so from within the safety of the TARDIS forcefield.

And the potty scientist would have paid for it all with his life.
Let’s not do it down entirely. There were some good lines and an especially good portrayal of old Winston. The new Daleks look funky and hopefully will revert from now on to suitably Dalek-like behaviour. Indeed, the whole concept of WW2 Daleks in olive green, offering cups of tea, was wonderful. It’s shame it was dispensed with in the first ten minutes.
It’s also a shame we never got to see the answer to the biggest question of all, which is how exactly does a Dalek take stuff out of the webbing pockets around its waist? The most logical solution is that they pair up and take stuff out of each other’s pockets, which is a bit too like a party game to be all that serious.
  • Update: see here for unkind but funny speculation about the nu-Daleks.

Brits in spa-a-a-ce …

After due consideration following my earlier post on the topic, I’ve decided I’m not going to sue Steven Moffat.

I’m going to let George Lucas do that instead, for pinching not one but two of the iconic Star Wars scenes and combining them. His lawyers are much more high powered and it will be far more entertaining.

But while it lasts, this guy is good. “The Beast Below” could have been so unbearably silly: in fact it was just enjoyably silly, and moving at the same time. The scene where the Doctor talks about not forgetting, in a gentle, kind, wise voice that politely chides Amy while also making it clear she has done a very silly thing – that could have come from any Patrick Troughton episode. Any other Doctor bar 2 and 11 would have just lectured, over-acted, postulated or otherwise just not done it so well.

Yep, this guy is good. And he’ll have to be even better to stop me yawning when guess-who glides back onto our screens next week … Which he probably will.