SJA: The Vault of Secrets

This series never fails to take me by surprise. The philosophy behind it seems to be to always go for the most fun option, and it’s presumably in this spirit that someone watched Dreamland and decided that the robotic Men In Black, who played an incredibly tiny role in proceedings, were ripe for a live action comeback. I can’t say I’d have drawn the same conclusion, but that’s why I don’t make Doctor Who spin-offs for a living, as Mr Dread and his gang were a fun and effective secondary villain.

The main villain was also a returnee – Androvax from the Judoon one last series – and much like the Men In Black, it’s an idea that was merely one of many in its original appearance, and is much improved by being fleshed out and made more prominent. Last time round he was a straightforward bad guy that simply needed to be chased down and captured, but here he’s more multi-faceted and his motives more equivocal. It means that while he’s still cunning and untrustworthy – something that Sarah Jane frustratingly falls victim to on slightly too many occasions – you can understand his reasons and sympathise with him to a degree.

Meanwhile, Luke is gone, but much like Maria before him, he’s not forgotten, appearing via webcam towards the start and never being far from the other characters’ thoughts throughtout. Shame the same can’t be said for K-9, but that’s hardly a surprise at this stage. Unlike with Maria, there’s no new character to take Luke’s place, but I guess “the kid over the road” is a lot easier to recast than “the title character’s only child”. It means we now have a gang of three, and it’ll be interesting to see how much this affects the dynamic. For a start, it’s clear that Rani and Clyde are getting closer. There’ll be a snog by the time this series is out, you mark my words.

I thought we were going to see Rani’s parents being brought into the fold, like how Maria’s dad gradually became an honourary member of the team, until Gita’s memory was wiped and she reverted to being the slightly annoying comic relief. I worry that with Luke gone, and Rani never having fully inhabited the audience avatar role that Maria had, we’re starting to lose some of the emotional stakes – this was a fun little story that zipped along nicely, but it ultimately felt inconsequential and lightweight. There’s always a place for that within a set of episodes, but I’m just concerned that Luke’s absence leaves too much of a hole.

Regardless, the main thing I’ll remember from this episode is the truly epic back-reference to Pyramids of Mars towards the start. One of those moments that would still have made sense to the kiddies, but that means so much more to the likes of us. It also explains why scientific developments in the real world are not always consistent with established facts from the Doctor Who universe – Sarah Jane and Mr Smith are there to cover everything up.

RATING: 7

SJA: The Nightmare Man

Aww. I’m slightly sad that I’m already on the last full series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, partly because of the awful reason behind it finishing, but also because I could happily watch more of it. It’s such a lovely show, plus it’s all new to me, and the shorter episodes are often more manageable than a full-length New Who episode if I’ve had a long day.

In retrospect, it feels like this story marks the beginning of the end, with Luke departing for university, despite the fact that he still only looks about fourteen. I had no idea he’d left before the end, and it means that Sarah Jane herself is the only original member of the gang left, aside from the odd alien supercomputer.

At least he had a decent send off, with a story that was structured like a Doctor Who two-parter, with the first half being one long set-up for the second. It spent a long time covering the character stuff before the plot kicked in, and it’s to its credit. After a brief introductory montage with an extremely green Slitheen to keep the kids interested, great care is taken to explore what Luke’s departure means for him and everybody else.

I remember my mum bawling her eyes out when she dropped me off at university, but at least we didn’t have to contend with Julian Bleach haunting our dreams. This is his third different villain across three different shows, and it’s a typically bonkers performance – basically Julian Bleach’s interpretation of The Joker. The nightmares he concocts ring so true to the fears we all face while growing up, and it keeps Luke front and centre by always having the scary bits interwoven with the domestic stuff, with each component of the story informing the other.

Then, much like the last Who story I watched, the first episode ends with one big event (in this case, the Nightmare Man crossing to the real world), before a full second episode devoted to the fall-out. Clyde and Rani are dragged into a dream world that features Sarah Jane as an old biddy, and Doon Mackichan as a newsreader. Obviously I was reminded of Collaterlie Sisters, and equally obviously I noted that the method used to escape the dream – simply imagining a door and walking through it – was also the method used to escape Better Than Life in the Red Dwarf novels.

Eventually, the monster is quite literally defeated by the power of friendship, which is a tad trite and perfunctory, but it kind of had to happen that way in order to resolve Luke’s anxieties, and allow him to leave with a smile on his face. However, I was not prepared for K-9 being packed off with him, which seemed very abrupt. While he featured slightly more than average, he didn’t get anywhere near the amount of focus and attention that Luke got. I know that’s fair enough – K-9’s only been in it for a relatively short time, and the kids are going to care much more about Luke – but me and that dog go back a long way, and I don’t feel we’ve got closure.

Mind you, I live in Ealing, and it’s about an hour away from Oxford by road, or you can even get a train directly from Ealing Broadway. They say they won’t see each other until Christmas, but Luke could come back every weekend if he wanted to. They’re all full of shit – they don’t actually care about each other after all.

RATING: 8

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

* That’s a hell of an opening sequence, bringing together pretty much every major guest character from the series so far. Well, almost – if you were James Cordon or Meera Syal, you’d have to take it personally. It’s a new twist on the way the finale sits with the rest of the series – as well as there being seeds of the finale dotted throughout the preceeding episodes, bits of preceeding episodes are dotted throughout the finale. It makes the whole thing feel like it’s all been one big story – Series 5 is one long and varied chapter in The Doctor’s life, rather than several smaller ones.

* River Song Timeline Watch: The Weeping Angels story hasn’t happened to River yet. Is the implication that we’re following River’s story in exact reverse chronological order? That would be the easiest interpretation to follow, but hold on – she doesn’t seem to know who Rory is, so this can’t take place after any of her Series 6 or 7 stories. Unless she’s just pretending to not know Rory, in order to avoid any spoiler-related faux pas. Oh, I’m only three River stories in and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

* I really like the way the Cybermen are used here, like creatures in a horror flick. There’s the disembodied head scuttling about on spidery tentacles, then the skull falling out of the helmet, then the headless ghost coming to attack. Despite how unusual a Cyberman appearance this is, it’s the most effective they’ve been in the revival so far, and the skull is the closest they’ll come to nailing the body horror until they give up and bring back the Mondasians.

* Rory’s back. Hooray! I couldn’t quite remember all the details of how it happens, and considered the possibility that he’d remain an Auton for the rest of his life. That would have been great – The Doctor having a companion that’s ostensibly human in pretty much all respects, except that his hand can turn into a gun. And he might accidentally kill his wife when stressed.

* Quick status check at the end of the first part: The Doctor has been imprisoned by every monster he’s ever met, Amy has been reunited with Rory only for him to shoot her dead, River is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, and every star in every universe in every reality is going out, one-by-one. Yeah, that’s a pretty high-stakes cliffhanger.

* When things are this extreme, it makes me nervous, as it’s a big challenge to get out of situations like this in a satisfying way. Moffat handles this by once again tinkering with the format of a finale. It’s often the case that the first ep is largely one long set-up for the second ep, but here it feels more like two distinct stories. By not starting The Big Bang in the same time and place as The Pandorica Opens ended, it’s an indication that the answer to “how do they get out of that one?” is going to take the whole episode.

* It’s an answer that involves the return of young Amelia Pond, and she’s up against stone Daleks, which look a hell of a lot better than the New Paradigm bastards elsewhere in this series. We’re also introduced to The Doctor’s penchant for a fez, as part of a timey-wimey jigsaw puzzle of a plot, which sees the show once more channeling Bill & Ted-style time travel humour. This use of time travel as a story-telling device is something that would become a trademark of Moffat’s era, so it’s easy to forget how fresh, unusual and exciting it felt at the time.

* Inevitably, the ultimate conclusion to the story requires a little bit of what people like to refer to as a “reset button”, but there’s so much more it than that, and it avoids all the pitfalls that often make this term a pejorative one. Firstly, the show acknowledges exactly what it is – The Doctor is rebooting the universe, simple as that. Secondly, it’s not without its cost – The Doctor has to sacrifice his existence in order to make it happen, cleverly linking up with the rest of the series once more as he goes.

But mostly, the crucial part is that by the time everything’s worked itself out, the characters still remember everything that happened. Amy piecing everything together was a thing of joy, and it meant that all the things that the reboot erased were still “real” to her, Rory, River and The Doctor, even if that’s not what the history books will say. As far as they’re concerned, Rory spent the best part of 2,000 years guarding Amy, while she managed to bring both the men in her life back from the dead, and all the character development that goes along with these things will still apply.

So yeah, call it a “reset button” if you like, but it’s not a cheat – it’s our heroes fixing a problem and winning the day like they always do, even if nobody but them will know they did it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31 of 36
  • Stories watched: 212 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 769 of 839

What a fine series that was. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I was rewatching Series 1-4, seeing Eccleston and Tennant was like revisiting old friends, as I had been for Doctors 1-8. But with Smith, despite the fact that I adore Capaldi, I’ve been kind of forgetting that he’s not the current Doctor – he’s still so exciting to watch, and I’ve always thought he could have easily stuck around for longer.

Coming up next, I’m about to go on holiday for a week and a bit, which might rather dent my hopes of finishing this thing before Christmas. However, I’m taking my laptop and my Sarah Jane DVDs with me, just in case it rains…

The Lodger

* Oh shit, it’s James Corden. Not a fan. He was absolutely ubiquitous in the UK when this first aired, so I wasn’t thrilled to see him hog the centre-stage in Doctor Who as well. Nowadays, he’s inexplicably a huge success in the States, with his unique and very special talents of being able to drive pop stars around and also remember the words to their songs. But at least that’s keeping him busy, and it’s easy to ignore, which means I’m now more able to tolerate his presence. Turns out that, for once, he’s not just playing Smithy, and Craig is a much more likeable and toned-down version of his usual persona.

* It’s never really occurred to me before how strange it is that this season has a companion-lite episode, but not a corresponding Doctor-lite episode. Turns out that it was an artistic decision rather than a logistical one, with it being based on a comic strip about The Doctor being separated from the TARDIS and forced to share a flat with someone. In order to do that story, you have to leave the companion behind too.

* Similarly, I’d always assumed that the reason The Doctor plays football in this episode is that Matt Smith was once a promising youth player IRL, but it turns out that this sequence was in the comic strip too, and was included in the script even before Smith was cast. It’s a nice little scene, although Smith seems slightly too ungainly to pass for a footballer. Mind you, so does Peter Crouch. The bit after the game, when The Doctor misinterprets the captain saying he wants to “annihilate” their opponents, is my highlight of the episode.

* There’s a scene later on where Craig and Sophie are chatting in the hallway and WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT PICTURE BEHIND THEM? It’s smack bang in the centre of the frame and it’s staring straight at us. There is no logical reason for it to be there. JUST LOOK AT IT. It will haunt my dreams.

* Headbutting someone in order to share information is a new one. Just think how much better The Three Doctors would have been if Troughton had stuck the nut on Pertwee. Maybe The Doctor really only needs to gently touch someone’s head with his, but he’d just had enough of James Corden.

* The plot is less important than average in this story, as the fish-out-of-water comedy is the main appeal. For the most part, it’s confined to a few isolated incidents that merely serve to punctuate the real story, of The Doctor accidentally ruining Craig’s life by being better at it than he is. Eventually it comes to a head, and Craig saves the world with love. It could easily have been nauseating, but to my surprise I found myself quite liking Craig this time round, and as I already really liked Daisy Haggard, they just about get away with it. I remember being mildly pissed off when a sequel to this story was announced, but now I’m looking forward to re-assessing that too.

* Mind you, the ominous crack in the wall appears just as The Doctor leaves Craig and Sophie alone in the flat… have they been erased from existence now? That would have been brilliant – a big happy ending where Craig gets his life together and finally gets the girl, and then they’re both immediately killed.

RATING: 7

Vincent and the Doctor

* I have mixed feelings about Richard Curtis – I’m not keen on his films but Blackadder is one of humanity’s greatest achievements – but either way it’s a huge coup for the show to have an episode written by someone of such fame and calibre. Also, it means seven out of ten episodes so far this series have been by comedy writers. It’s definitely working.

* Bill Nighy! I’ve been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and we didn’t get Bill Nighy showing us round. Nor did all the Dutch people speak with Scottish accents. Tony Curran, who I don’t think I’ve seen in anything else before or since, is absolutely faultless as Van Gogh, absolutely nailing all the sides of his complex personality.

* It’s the return of that old cost-saving favourite: the invisible monster. With The Doctor arming himself with a gadget that’s mostly comprised of a wing mirror, it lends a pleasingly old school feel to the middle of the episode – a little pocket of non-challenging runaround fun, but with a constant air of sinister darkness to spice things up a bit.

* Then Vincent Van Gogh accidentally murders the alien for being blind, and the main plot is over pretty quickly. This allows for a luxurious amount of time spent wrapping up the character stuff, starting with the superb Starry Night sequence. I’m a philistine when it comes to art, but even I love Van Gogh’s work.

* Then suddenly I’m crying, and it’s not because of the unwanted presence of Athlete in my ears. The Doctor is playing fast and loose with the rules of time by taking Vincent to meet Bill Nighy, but it’s so joyous that my reaction was much the same as Vincent’s. Then The Doctor and Amy’s return journey takes your freshly warmed heart and breaks it in to tiny pieces, but it’s making a very important point. It doesn’t flinch from the true horror of depression, which is that it’s completely immune to logic and reason. This is exactly what a show like Doctor Who should be doing for its young audience.

* I was about to say that it was clever to make the consequence of the adventure be the removal of the monster from the church painting, so that the painting ends up looking like it does in real life, but then they revealed that Sunflowers now bears the dedication “for Amy”. That’s now post-impressionism canon.

RATING: 9

The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood

* Alright Chibbers, show me what you can do with my favourite TARDIS team of the revived series so far. Turns out it’s not much. It’s a story that’s constantly on the precipice of being interesting, but never quite manages it. I’m beginning to think that maybe the Silurians should have been left as a one-off – there’s clearly tonnes of potential there, but nobody’s managed to tap in to it since 1970.

* Meera Syal! I’d completely forgotten she was in this, despite it being a fairly beefy role. Meanwhile, her co-worker is a bloke from Game of Thrones who was last seen screaming his head off in Torchwood. There’s also a dyslexic kid knocking about, and him and The Doctor get along beautifully until he goes and spoils it all by doing something stupid like letting him get kidnapped by the Silurians.

* After a couple of episodes where the team travel in threes, they’re separated early on by Rory being given a side mission of investigating a stolen corpse, while Amy is eaten by some evil soil. This means that The Doctor plus Rory is the main pairing for a while, which was something I was intrigued to see, but then Meera Syal demands that she get to be the companion, and The Doctor just goes along with it, leaving Rory behind. What a swizz.

* I see the Silurians have big poisonous licky tongues now. Or rather the Homo Reptilia do, as that seems to be the preferred terminology now. It’s political correctness gone mad. The new incarnations look great; they’re a big departure from the classic ones, but I liked that this was acknowledged, along with a reminder that all of this is at least partially The Brigadier’s fault, after he needlessly slaughtered the entirety of the first incarnation.

* The best thing about the new design is that they don’t all look the same; that’s a rarity for any species in Doctor Who, and having the Silurians appear just as varied as the humans helps reinforce the fact that they’re our cousins. Stephen Moore is the good Silurian – I recognised his voice straight away, but I didn’t realise that both of the main baddies were played by Neve McIntosh, later to become Madame Vastra. I guess it saved a few bob on prosthetic moulds.

* How difficult is it, when you’ve got a monster locked safely in the basement, to leave it alone for a few hours and not just kill it? Plot advancement that relies on characters behaving stupidly is one of my pet hates. The mum is well Brexit and her plan to restart the drill is fucking stupid on every level, not least because they’d all be killed too if they couldn’t escape within fifteen minutes.

* THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 2. The crack appearing out of nowhere like that seemed a bit tacked on; despite the fact that a Silurian was involved, it didn’t feel as interwoven with the rest of the plot as it did with the Angels. Also, despite how much I love and care about the Ponds, the emotional impact is somewhat hampered by the knowledge that he’ll be back in a couple of episodes.

* Did they ever do a bit where Amy, and possibly Rory, go back and wave at their past selves from across the hill? I can’t remember; it felt like something that was going to be resolved at the end of the story, but it wasn’t, particularly.

RATING: 6

Amy’s Choice

* It turns out that people who wrote 90s sitcoms about differing male and female attitudes towards sex are brilliant at writing format-breaking episodes of Doctor Who. Maybe there’s something about the intricacies of sitcom plotting that translates well to twisty-turny sci-fi stories – both require careful timing of when certain details are revealed to the audience, and both are at their best when they tell us something about the characters and their relationships.

* For example, Amy’s ultimate nightmare is being married to a man with a ponytail. The two potential realities here couldn’t have been more different, so there was a danger of it being too obvious that Upper Leadworth – the place we’ve never seen before, with characters that are suddenly five years older – would be the fake. But the impossible icy sun in “our” reality casts just enough doubt to keep you guessing; I’d forgotten the exact answer in the intervening years, and so the eventual reveal managed to surprise me all over again.

* The Dream Lord is of course brilliant, as you’d expect from Toby Jones, delivering a performance every bit as creepy and unsettling as his recent turn as a Savile-a-like in Sherlock. The clues to his identity are there all along, his costume mirroring The Doctor’s throughout. It’s a shame he never came back – there’s so much potential for him to have been a recurring villain, like The Doctor’s own very-much-personal version of Sarah Jane’s Trickster.

* Wasn’t I just talking about how Amy is in a position of power over the two men? As reflected in the episode title, this is what the whole dilemma ultimately boils down to – it’s clear which reality The Doctor and Rory each want to believe, so it’s her responsibility to make the decision. They can’t survive without her.

* Ladies and gentlemen, introducing…

THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 1

* This first death means that Amy’s choice isn’t actually about what type of life she wants, it’s about whether or not she wants any type of life without Rory. His powderisation essentially exonerates her from having to make a decision – she can have her cake and eat it by bringing Rory back to life and waking up on the TARDIS. It would perhaps have made for a bigger gesture of her loyalty if Rory had have pegged it in the TARDIS instead – would she have abandoned her life with The Doctor in order to be with Rory in a world so painfully dull?

* The fact that this was all The Doctor’s dream(s) obviously reveals a lot about the darker side of his personality, but consider this too: if the entire ordeal was the product of his subconscious, then the fact that Amy and Rory are now closer than ever was The Doctor’s act of kindness. Deep down, he manufactured the situation in order to make her realise how much she loved him, and to settle any lingering doubts as to where her loyalties lie, once and for all. Even when he’s trapped in the darkest pits of paranoia and self-loathing, The Doctor is fixing people.

RATING: 10

The Vampires of Venice

Meanwhile in the TARDIS: More sexy shenanigans from Amy, but the scene develops into an examination of what the purpose of the Doctor’s companion actually is, if it’s not to be a live-in lover. This scene definitely feels like it’s aimed at older fans – not just for Amy’s risqué dialogue, but mainly the fan-servicing sequence where the TARDIS runs through all her previous young female inhabitants. You’d expect Rose to be the one our attention is drawn towards, but instead it’s Leela. It’s either an early example of Moffat being keener to revisit the classic series than RTD was, or just an excuse to reminisce about the leather bikini.

* I like a busy TARDIS, and I like Rory, so this is where the Eleventh Doctor’s era really kicks off for me, establishing a status quo that would last for all but half a series of his time on the show. Amy and Rory both seem slightly grumpy about the other one being there at first, which makes you think it’s going to go the same way as Rose and Mickey, and would have raised some worrying questions about The Doctor making the unilateral decision that this independent young woman needs her fiance around to keep her in check.

* However, thankfully, these initial worries are steered well clear of, and by the end of the episode everyone’s happy with the new set-up, and it feels like the final piece of the jigsaw is now in place. Rory knows what The Doctor is about, and is not afraid to call him out on his bullshit where necessary, but at the same time they’re not going to be competing in masculinity-offs for Amy’s attention, as neither of them are that type of guy. Crucially, it’s Amy who’s the alpha of the group – The Doctor is obviously still going to be in charge of fighting the aliens and whatnot, but on a day-to-day basis, she’s damned if either of those men will tell her what she can and can’t do.

* Helen McRory! Thankfully not doing the dreadful Brummie accent that makes me twitch every time I watch Peaky Blinders. She’s great as a very traditional vampire matriarch, which reminded me a little of State of Decay, for obvious reasons. This being Doctor Who, the vampires are in fact space piranhas with perception filters, and there’s a scientific explanation for all their characteristics. These ones aren’t susceptible to crucifixes, but they can be halted by “your mum” jokes.

* Hartnell on a library card. (I have nothing to add to this note I wrote during the episode, other than perhaps “I know, I know it’s serious”.)

* The Silence are mentioned for the first time, in conjunction with the cracks. As I’ve only watched most of these episodes once before, I can’t quite remember whether they’re referring to The Silence or just some actual silence. Rosanna says something about having seen the (S/s)ilence through the crack, so you’d think that if she’d seen The Silence, she wouldn’t have remembered it.

* Soon after this, The Doctor decides to fight the vampires because Rosanna couldn’t remember the name of one of her victims. This is another trait of the Eleventh Doctor’s that’s emerged: he’s as compassionate and open-minded as any other Doctor, but once you’ve offended his sense of right and wrong, he will have no compunction whatsoever about fucking you up.

* Any plot that climaxes with The Doctor having to climb a tall structure is to be distrusted. It’s a quick and unimaginative way of creating tension, which this episode certainly seems to lack – the character stuff is great, but the story itself is a little by-the-numbers, and completely unremarkable.

RATING: 7

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

* Bloody hell, it’s Mike Skinner. That has to rank as one of the most incongruous pieces of guest casting of all time. I seem to remember his star was already waning somewhat in 2010, but he was still a very recognisable face to choose for a part that lasts all of ten seconds. Later in the episode, Father Octavian is your man from Game of Thrones – I don’t even watch Game of Thrones properly, but his voice is always so distinctive in the few bits I’ve seen.

* So, does River know Amy’s her mum at this point? I’m genuinely not sure – I always assumed even though the whole River Song story was confusing while it was playing out, it would make sense to me by the time it was finished. But even now, I feel like I need a diagram, so I’m going to do my best to piece it all together properly on this rewatch. Thus far, her time-twisting, Bill & Ted-esque escape from the Byzantium is the first major example we’ve seen of why The Doctor will eventually come to love her.

* Doing a sequel to Blink is a tough job, so Moffat went down the route of taking the original monster and adding shitloads of them, a la Aliens. They also have a whole raft of new abilities – the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, they can use the voices of the dead to communicate, and they can even turn you into an Angel if you look them in the eye. Sally Sparrow’s lucky none of this shit happened to her.

* The speech about what not to put in a trap is a big moment for Smith, and he does it well. We’re starting to get a real grip of his persona now; he’s child-like and over-excitable to some extent – which is a trait that I recall was toned down over time – but he still commands enormous respect, and when he wants you to take him seriously, you totally do. Also, that scene is so much more dramatic on DVD, without an animated Graham Norton dancing all over it.

* After a more action-heavy first half, it becomes more like a horror movie again in the second, which must be partially due to the fact that the soldiers/priests are getting killed off so fast that it’s no longer a fair fight. The moment you realise that Amy is involuntarily counting down to zero is when the tension starts to ramp up, and by the time she’s walking through a crowd of angels with her eyes closed, because if she opens them for more than a second she’ll die… well, you daren’t blink.

* The fabled crack in time turns up in all its glory after only five episodes. Things seem to be moving a lot quicker these days, but it’s more that the series arc is becoming a bigger part of each episode – this isn’t an early culmination, it’s just that they’re taking the time to flesh the idea out more along the way to the actual culmination. If anything, it’s a bit of a shame that the Angels took a backseat when the crack starting eating people, scary and fun though that was. People forgetting other people existed mid-conversation will always make me think of Red Dwarf‘s Out of Time.

* This time round, I totally noticed that The Doctor suddenly had his jacket on when he came back to talk to Amy… but then I was looking out for it. Totally passed me by originally.

* Oh I say, I’d forgotten how racy that final scene is. I have very conflicting feelings about seeing Amy Pond acting in that way. Moffat said recently that he regrets the way that scene ended up, and on balance he’s right to do so, although it’s nearly all worth it for The Doctor offering to sort Amy right out.

RATING: 9

Victory of the Daleks

Right, format breaker time, because this is a very strange episode indeed. It contains the best stuff Gatiss has ever written for the show, the two leads remain on stunning form and there are a couple of outstanding guest performances. But there’s one big problem.

OH MY GOD THE NEW DALEKS ARE TERRIBLE.

For starters, they’re simply too big and bulky. It changes their basic shape too much, and for some reason I find them a lot more menacing when they’re not towering over everyone – they were hardly diminutive before, but the point is they’re so dangerous that they don’t need to be quite so imposing. They’ve got fat shoulders, big arses and stupid long necks, which makes their heads look too small in proportion. I can take or leave the bright and varied colours, but that’s about as close as I can get to a compliment. The voice is all wrong too. It’s just not quite a Dalek, like it’s a slightly shoddily made knock-off.

I am a lot less angry now than I was seven years ago, considering they’ve been quietly shelved in favour of the proper ones since, but I’m still baffled by the decision to change them in the first place. It’s one of the single most iconic designs in television history; even if the new design was brilliant, it would be hard for people to accept the change. But it’s not brilliant. Having a new batch of Daleks out there who aren’t in any way connected to RTD’s Time War makes sense from a story perspective. Redesigning them only makes sense from a toy-selling perspective.

So I wanted to get all of that out the way, because rewatching this story has made me realise it’s such a shame that the New Paradigm bastards completely overshadow the rest of the episode. Everything was going so well up until the big reveal, and it’s only now that I’ve calmed down enough to appreciate all that came before and after it. So let’s ignore the elephant-sized Daleks in the room, expunge that part of the episode from the record and start again…

Victory of the Daleks

* Why are half the people in the Cabinet War Rooms cosplaying as Captain Jack? This is World War II, not a Torchwood convention.

* Bill Paterson! A man who, thanks to a childhood obsession with Roald Dahl adaptations, I will forever associate with cock-a-leekie soup. Now there’s a guest actor who’s playing a part worthy of his status. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the notion that you can persuade a bomb not to go off by telling it that it’s human, he’s one of those actors who’s so captivating that you’re willing to go along with it.

* There is one Dalek redesign that I am on board with: what I like to call the Dad’s Army Dalek, complete with black out curtains over the lights. It’s rare that the Daleks are played for laughs, but in the right circumstances it can work. There are obvious echoes of Power of the Daleks, so much so that I kept on expecting them to say “we are your servants” instead of “we are you soldiers”. However, there are few Dalek moments in history so amusing as one responding to being hit on the head with a spanner by asking “you do not require tea?”.

* So Amy doesn’t recognise the Daleks, and therefore doesn’t remember their recent invasions. The inconsistency as to how people have responded to these events is something I’ve been complaining about for a while, so I suppose this works as a retrospective fix. Basically Moffat can use the crack in time to undo any bits of continuity hanging over from Russell’s era, thus giving him a blank canvas.

* I love the fact that The Doctor and Winston Churchill are old friends, and that we just accept this. The character is of course a rather romanticised version of the real person, but then you wouldn’t expect them to explore the whole anti-Semitism thing of a Saturday teatime. The “Keep Buggering On” persona is certainly in keeping with what the real Churchill represents, culturally speaking, and it’s a fine performance from Ian McNeice, a good balance between characterisation and impersonation.

* There’s a character that we see a handful of times throughout the episode – a woman serving in the War Rooms, whose boyfriend/husband is an RAF pilot, and we learn towards the end that he’s been shot down and killed. It’s clearly there to illustrate the horrors of war, but it’s so weird that neither The Doctor or Amy interact with her at all. You’d expect her and Amy to get chatting at some point, so that her story is fleshed out and we care more about her later loss, but no – we don’t get to know her at all, so her fella is just another statistic instead of a human story.

RATING: 7