The Daleks finally have their own spin-off series! As you may know, their creator Terry Nation was trying to make this happen in the late 1960s – so much so that he actually restricted the BBC’s use of the Doctor Who monsters as he tried to negotiate a big-time deal with the Americans.
But now, some 50 years later, his vision has finally been realised, in animated form. But does it cut the mustard?
First, bear in mind that Doctor Who has never been known for its stellar animations. There’s often a “just good enough” quality to its cartoons, dating back to 2003’s ‘Scream of the Shalka,’ and even in bigger budget productions like ‘Dreamland’ in 2009.
And, in my opinion, the new Daleks! series continues this trend. It’s good enough. Just.
On the one hand, this is understandable. We must make some concessions – like, Doctor Who is never going to have a Pixar-like budget, particularly when it’s giving content away for free (Daleks! is available for all on YouTube.) That being said, I don’t think this can always be used as an excuse. Certain things can be addressed with minimal effort, such as the obvious rigidity in the pre-programmed camera. It lends a PS2-like quality to some of the scenes, which in my opinion makes some moments look cheap.
On the other hand, the art direction of Daleks! is simply gorgeous. The incandescent colour palette really bursts out of the screen, and you could pretty much take any frame from this first episode – ‘The Archive of Islos’ – and set it as your desktop background. Moreover, the producers of Daleks! aren’t aiming for Star Wars-esque realism. This series has a highly stylized, comic book appearance that simply looks lovely, and I’m glad that the animators chose this approach. Honestly, ‘The Archive of Islos’ looks like it’s been lifted straight out of a ’60s Doctor Who annual, which is not a bad thing.
Story-wise, writer James Goss has done an okay job at breathing life into what are essentially barking tanks, and he’s festooned some of the more prominent Dalek characters with subtle layers of personality. This prevents the episode from becoming a simple extermination fest, even if – when all’s said and done – not an awful lot happens in this 13 minute story.
In all honesty, I did find myself zoning out after a few minutes of Daleks! and I began to wonder if these metal mutants were truly capable of carrying their own series. And the jury is still out for me. I found ‘The Archive of Islos’ very acceptable in narrative terms, and I’m curious to see where it goes next. Was I enthralled and teetering on the edge of my seat? No. But let’s be fair – this is the opening chapter of a much longer story. I’m prepared to give it time.
I did, however, really enjoy the Archivists, and their interplay with the Daleks was genuinely entertaining. I was unsure about them, at first; these aren’t ‘characters,’ as such, but talking monoliths that turn on the spot with synchronised lights (not unlike the Daleks themselves!) So immediately I thought, “Oh, that’s another money saver right there! Talking pillars aren’t going to break the animation budget.” And whilst this may be true, I saw past this restriction quite quickly, and actually grew to like the Archivists. I think that’s a testament to the power of James Goss’ dialogue.
Overall, I’m really glad the BBC has run with this idea for Time Lord Victorious. A comic book-style spin-off series for the Doctor’s most dangerous enemies? Shut up and take my ad revenue. The fact that Daleks! is available for free, as well, is another plus, particularly as many of us continue to be stuck at home with COVID paralysis. And whilst ‘The Archive of Islos’ may not have blown me into another universe, it was an enjoyable way to pass a few rels, and I look forward to seeing what else it has to offer.
But what did you think of the new Daleks! series? Let me know in the comments below.
Read our review of episode two ‘The Sentinel of the Fifth Galaxy’ here.
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