Doctor Who Victory of the Daleks review – what am I, what am I?

Victory of the Daleks. Picture c. The BBC

Victory of the Daleks. Picture c. The BBC

ONE of the central foundations of anyone’s life is their notion of self – of who they are – and of their place in the Universe.

Knowing that is something we take great comfort from in our everyday lives,  but as Victory of the Daleks showed, that knowledge – that certainty – can be an illusory, fragile and even dangerous concept if the ground moves beneath our feet, even slightly, and our perspective changes.

Then one man’s Jammie Dodger becomes another’s self-destruct button.

The idea of ‘what is real’ is a popular one in science fiction, where a protagonist often discovers their world is different to what they believed, often created by powerful forces beyond their control which means they have to confront their own identity.

That concept has already been played with in this series of Who, with the Doctor regenerating and then ‘finding himself’ in the The Eleventh Hour, while transforming from childhood imaginary friend into reality in front of Amy’s eyes.

Then a hidden, sinister reality is revealed at some personal cost to Amy on Spaceship Britain in The Beast Below. (And, I suspect, the sparse Dalek ship in this episode is a result of the changing fiscal reality for the BBC ;-D)

Our own knowledge of Who has also been rendered unreliable by the Moff subtly altering the familiar rules we have come to accept as absolutes, for instance by making the TARDIS‘s behaviour and relation to time more erratic and unreliable.

That unsettling shift is continued here, most obviously with Mark Gatiss cleverly having the Daleks infiltrate themselves into the World War Two setting in order to take advantage of the Doctor’s enmity towards them.

Based on their knowledge of the Doctor, they know he will not accept them as tea serving robo-butlers called Ironsides (which was brilliant by the way) but will be desperate to reveal what they really are.

“I am your enemy and you are mine. I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks,” he screams, with Matt Smith going for them with all guns blazing.

But that certainty is exploited and backfires as his confirmation of their identity allows them to rebuild their race into new, superior Daleks that only look a little bit like Ikea Power Rangers. (And by the way, isn’t it nice to see the Daleks, like other fascist organisations, now admitting members with different colours).

Of far deeper relevance – to me anyway –  is Bracewell, the avuncular scientist who invented the ‘Ironsides’ to help win the war, or so he believed.

When the Daleks’ trap is sprung, one of them blasts off his hand to reveal he is actually a cyborg, created by them and implanted with false memories to better facilitate their scheme.

This sudden revelation prompts a narrowly averted  suicide attempt  as he cries ‘what am I?’ before Amy and Winston Churchill convince him to use his Dalek intelligence to help save London from destruction. (leading to the absolutely awesome space Spitfires scene)

“I don’t give a damn if you are a machine Bracewell, are you a man?” asks Churchill, with that same spark of humanity – implanted though it may be – used again by the Doctor and mainly Amy at the episode’s climax to break the Daleks’ hold on Bracewell and defuse the bomb in his chest. (even if using love to beat the Daleks is a bit shit)

His reward is to be allowed to fully embrace that created humanity, as the Doctor and Amy don’t deactivate him but let him leave. Ironic though that in an episode that felt rushed at several moments, that scene seemed to go on forever.

Wasn’t it funny too that it was Amy who was able to truly connect and identify with Bracewell on both occasions?

Of course, that could just show the humanity that the Doctor seeks out in his companions, like Rose, like Martha, like Donna and now like Amy – coming up with vital solutions the Doctor couldn’t think of on his own. It is just more apparent as Moffat is writing more uncertainty and hesitancy in the 11th Doctor‘s character than the 10th.

But if the same changing reality we have already seen in Who is applied to Amy, her actions can be perceived as something entirely different.

After all, this is someone who the Doctor does not want to have the TARDIS key – taking it off her when she retrieves it from Churchill – and has no knowledge of the Daleks stealing planet Earth, a major world event. (Rich Johnston has a great theory on why that is)

Could she be an unwitting pawn, like Bracewell, caught up by forces beyond her control in a constructed, fragmented, even fairytale reality – one filled with cracks and imperfections –  the Daleks plan writ large by this series’ big bad?

Taking that a step further, could she even be an agent provocateur whose role is to take advantage of the Doctor’s predictibility and so guide him into reaching a key moment in space and time, one where ‘ the Pandorica will open and silence will fall’?

It is still a bit too early to say, but well worth looking out for in the weeks ahead – starting with the return of The Weeping Angels.

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