"The Time Lord returns next tonight to face his arch enemies! Even more terrifying than ever before, the Daleks are back on BBC1 in the new series of Doctor Who!"
"Terrifying"? Surely he meant to say "hilarious"?
For the first time in the official TV series, Steven Moffat writes a story about the Daleks, and unashamedly goes for comedy. And action. And, unusually for Doctor Who these days, he also sets it in space!
Well, mostly. Yes, this is the first season opener since 1987 not to take place extensively on a planet with 'Earth' in its name. Even before Amy and Rory's kidnap scenes, the episode opens on Skaro, the destroyed planet of the Daleks last glimpsed on TV back in Paul McGann's 1996 outing The Millennium Of Doom. (or 2010's City Of The Daleks computer game, if you played it on your telly - it's even still raining in this)
The evil pepperpots appear to have at long last perfected human Daleks, and use them to kidnap the Doctor, Amy and Rory in turn, accidentally staying the Ponds' divorce.
They wake up in a white room, which since I've just finished watching the first series of K9, I recognised as either VR detention, Gryffen's vidpic of his family, Jorjie's teacher's office, Green Room Entertainment, or somewhere north of London like Canada.
Well, this time it's a cell. Maybe they should have a cell group meeting. Or call River on their cell-phone to compare their respective cells. Or summon the TARDIS to them using said phone's battery cell. Okay I'll stop now.
If you haven't seen The Doctor Who Experience, then the next bit might not make as much sense. The surviving classic Daleks have agreed to a truce with the Power Ranger Daleks over at Dalek parliament, which is a lot like Babylon 5, except that the only races allowed in have to be Daleks. I looked for the movie Daleks. There were none. Given the wild disregard for Dalek continuity already on display, on some level this disappointed me.
The Dalek Prime Minister (no modern allegory there I hope) sends the Doctor and friends on a mission to turn off the forcefield around their asylum planet, where all the mad Daleks are locked up to vegetate. It's a good job that the Daleks haven't heard about the Doctors' death last series. More's the shame that he doesn't appear to remember it himself either.
Quite why the Daleks have grabbed Rory - who they have never met with the Doctor - is anyone's guess. This would have made more sense if he'd been captured by accident together with Amy. I mean they even seem to wait for him to leave before capturing her.
The forcefield around the asylum planet is a classic piece of Dalek double-think. On the one hand, uh plunger, it prevents them from destroying the planet. On the other gun stalk, it allows through a gravity tunnel and the crashing Starship Alaska. When you also factor in that it can only be turned off from inside, the inescapable bottom line is that this is a really rubbish forcefield. So bad in fact, that it's consistent with the similarly pathetic one they attacked in The Parting Of The Ways. Why the Daleks don't send some missiles through the gravity tunnel is a conundrum that the Doctor is unlikely to explain later. Especially if he's been exterminated. It's all a lot like Escape From New York / L.A.
Down on the snowy planet, it all turns out to be even more fun, thanks largely to the sleepiness of the Dalek inmates. Many of them don't have guns, and those who do can barely fire them unless woken up and riled. Let's hope that someone like Rory doesn't go and, oh, I don't know, trip over something loudly. Backwards.
In fact when this happens, it's one of Doctor Who's best sketches ever. Rory accidentally awakens a stuttering Dalek who keeps on demanding "eggs". Despite the high comedy, actor Arthur Darvill plays it for realism as always, culminating in his stampeding for his life away from their drunken firepower, and getting so believably scared that afterwards he even forgets his own name! Brilliant!
There's some other stuff about an airborne nano-virus, more zombies, and a generic lippy Moffat-gal (Oswin Oswald) who turns out to be a Dalek, but none of this seems too consequential.
Well, apart from Amy and Rory getting back together again of course, but that appears to be because Amy finally hits upon the idea of treating the man she married with honesty. Perhaps things might not have got to this stage had she thought of that somewhat earlier.
The really important development of note though is the standard of Dalek audio technology. For while Dalek casings feature distorted voices because of their rubbish low-tech speakers, it turns out that they also contain much higher quality microphones. Oswin's human tones from Dalek wall panels and radios would imply that those devices are similarly better quality too. In fact, I would argue that this was implied by CCTV equipment in both their first story in 1964, and 1975's Genesis Of The Daleks. Whew!
Soon the forcefield is down and the planet duly goes all explodey-wodey, a term the Doctor has previously used in The Doctor Who Prom 2010. The three survivors teleport back to the invisible TARDIS on the Dalek saucer, to realise that Dalek-gal has managed to wipe the Daleks' shared memory of the Doctor (so they don't have individual memories too???), resulting in all the assembled pepperpots politely enquiring of him the question "DOC-TOR WHOOO?"
Well, he likes that. He likes that so much that the episode actually closes on him crowing it in triumph three times in the TARDIS. Not only have the Daleks forgotten his very existence, but he now understands what the oldest question in the universe is, which must be a massive relief. Silence will fall when the question is asked: Erm, who are you?
I personally think he should have gone a lot further with this, turning to camera, declaring "starring me Matt Smith! The new series of Doctor Who continues next Saturday at 7:35 on BBC-1! On the way next tonight: The National Lottery - Secret Fortune!", and then advertising the DVD box set of the series, but that's just me.
This whole episode is wonderfully designed, enthrallingly directed, terrifically written and, I never thought I'd say this, but… it sounds great too!
This is awesome stuff, and starting the series in September again too!
The leap forward in Dalek history is a bit of an ask, and has all the traits of a future episode that is set earlier, but which won't get made because they'll have lost interest by then.
All the same, a great opening, and proof positive that there's life in the old Daleks yet.
Footnote: In addition to the standalone short Pond Life, this morning I learnt that there was an actual prequel for this episode knocking around, in which the Doctor gets summoned to Skaro, somehow forgetting his death yet remembering his wedding. The BBC, in their wisdom, had embargoed this piece of publicity for release on the day after its transmission. For the Americans. Thanks, so-called British Broadcasting Corporation. Your double-think in this matter is worthy of the Daleks.