I enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. I still quite enjoy it now, but, with the benefit of time and distance, I can’t ignore the very real faults of this episode which compromise what potentially could have been a good story. For one, I was never entirely convinced of the premise. Daleks in wartime London fighting under Winston Churchill for the British war effort. It just seems more than a bit corny to me. As far as ideas go, it’s an eye-roller. It feels like a product of the excesses of an overactive fanboy imagination, as though Mark Gatiss pitched the idea to Moffat with the words “Wouldn’t this be freaking awesome?” and Moffat, the eternal fanboy, nodded his fervent enthusiasm and, before they knew it, they were making a story about Daleks fighting Nazis. I mean, I get that World War II is a very symbolically fitting setting for a Dalek story, given that the Daleks were inspired by the Nazis, but that doesn’t prevent this idea from being cringe-inducingly corny.
That said, the mystery of why the Daleks were working for Churchill was interesting and made for an intriguing plot. However, I think the answer to this mystery could have been revealed better. In truth, it was actually only upon this rewatch that I understood what the point of it all was, i.e. that the Daleks needed the Doctor’s “testimony” to convince their Progenator device to recognise them as real Daleks (I’m not surprised; the thick pepper pots can’t even spell “progenitor” correctly). It was a slightly convoluted explanation that merited more than the brief attention it got; it was very much a “blink and you miss it” explanation. Then, with much fanfare, we were introduced to the “New Dalek Paradigm”. I think it’s fair to say that time has not been friendly to these redesigned multi-coloured Daleks. Reading contemporary reviews, the reception seemed to have been generally positive at the time, but fan opinion of the new Daleks now tends to be invariably negative; and the producers seem to have got the message: the New Dalek Paradigm haven’t been seen since. When I first saw the redesigned Daleks, I thought they were awesome. But that was when I was fifteen and thought everything Doctor Who did was awesome. I’m less starry-eyed now. Admittedly, the redesigned Daleks do have an enhanced menace due to their intimidating size and their deeper, more guttural tones, but the colours and the softer contours have the opposite effect of making them look comical. They’re Power Ranger Daleks. The old Daleks, with their stark, metallic quality, were action figure Daleks; these are plush toys. They didn’t work, as I think everyone now agrees.
Matt Smith continues to shine in his early days as the Eleventh Doctor. I’ve said this before, but already it feels like Matt wears the role with visible ease and control. He exudes authority and age, and has captured the character of his Doctor masterfully. It generally takes a while for a new actor to establish themselves in the eyes of the audience as the Doctor rather than just an actor trying to play the Doctor—I’ll admit it took me a while to accept Capaldi as the Doctor—but Matt Smith has remarkably quickly made the role entirely his own and entrenched himself as the Doctor. It’s hard to imagine anyone else as the Doctor even after only three episodes. We’re learning more about Matt’s Doctor with every episode. In the last episode we learnt that Eleven is mercurial and moody. Here we see that again in his startling, ferocious outburst against one of the Daleks. We see that Eleven is a man of passion, passion that can very easily get the better of him. We know that Eleven, while most of the time unassuming and placid, is emphatically not a Time Lord you’d want to get on the wrong side of. It’s also very telling that, in trying to convince Bracewell of his humanity, he attempts to summon up Bracewell’s feelings about the death of his loved ones, while Amy knew better to evoke Bracewell’s memories and feelings of love. Although he’ll never let on, the Doctor is a man constantly, inescapably haunted by the spectre of death.
I thought that resolution, by the way, of Amy’s evoking Bracewell’s feelings of love to deactivate the bomb, was very touching and the most satisfying thing about this episode. Amy’s dialogue at that moment was powerful, and very deftly and movingly conveyed by Karen Gillan. It was one of the redeeming aspects of this episode, which, on the whole, was a decent and enjoyable effort despite the very visible faults.