Now, this is more like it. After a (reasonably necessary) circling of non-plots for Matt Smith’s two opening stories, we hit the ground running with a genuinely scary, gorgeous looking, very grown up, and fiendishly clever Doctor Who adventure.
It helps that the most iconic of monsters are back, but what’s most important is the way they’ve been resurrected. To coin a phrase, the power of the Daleks in this episode is their duplicitous craftiness, gliding and sliding down corridors with baleful, unblinking unease-making confidence. Set in World War 2, Mark Gatiss has crafted a smart, paranoia-drenched adventure that trademarks one of the more subtle nuances of Matt Smith’s Doctor persona: a somewhat twitchy, almost nervous Time Lord, never entirely as in control as he likes to make out.
There’s only a little humour here and rightly so, as much of the episode as we can possibly stand is spent waiting for the Daleks to show their hand (or, at least their plunger) and screech out that iconic grated command, followed by the familiar shrill blast. But these pepperpots are sly: claiming to be servants of the War effort, and, wonderfully, offering to make tea. Never mind the fetishist Nazi undertones of the classic series – these Daleks are Brit War Machines, quite genuinely in full metal jackets, standing shoulder to shoulder with Churchill, their sole purpose being to ‘win the War’, which is an unhelpfully ambiguous phrase to The Doctor.
In truth, the ambiguity could stay in place a lot longer: this is a beautifully old-fashioned adventure and would have been perfect as the Christmas Day special. With only 42 minutes to cram everything in, it’s also remarkably economical – The Doctor and this week’s guest star Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) are old friends, meaning that we can dispense with all that wasteful mistrust and misunderstandings that can plague some episodes. That said, there are enough ‘cliffhanger’ moments here to stuff into an entire season, plus a quietly shocking line that might mean all of Russell T Davies’ tenure could still have some pretty big loose ends to tie up (which will really give a new meaning to ‘a crack in the plot’).
In short: creepy, geeky, Daleky heaven, ‘Victory Of The Daleks’ is easily the best episode yet of Series 5 – and certainly the best Dalek episode since, well, ‘Dalek’ back in 2005 – bringing a new rainbow look for an old creature that will divide fans as purely as Imperial and Regenade Daleks. Oh, and admit it: the new theme music is growing on you. These Daleks are victorious.
Airs at 6.30pm on Saturday 17th April 2010 on BBC One.