I've got a lot of time for Mark Gatiss. But then I've got time for anyone who can make me laugh to the point of seizure, as he did in The League of Gentlemen. I've also admired his contributions to Doctor Who: as a writer, delivering chills with a ghoulish gran in The Unquiet Dead; and starring as a deliciously old-school villain in The Lazarus Experiment.
Now he gives us Victory of the Daleks. A story in which the Doctor's archenemies actually win!
Gatiss indulges the cognWhoscenti with references to that 1966 classic, The Power of the Daleks - sometimes shot for shot. Menacing eye-stalk views of the Doctor… "I am your ser-vant!" becoming "I am your sol-dier"… But, as with all the best Dalek stories, there are innovations.
First, Bracewell's Ironsides, conniving in khaki, eavesdropping around the Cabinet War Rooms and dishing out tea - and then, thrusting from a Progenitor, a souped-up super race in five collectable colours. It's Invasion of the Dulux! I spy a shameless merchandising opportunity there.
Certainly, Messrs Red, Blue and Yellow, pinning their political colours on RT's election special covers, were snapped up around this office. And now there's the big guy, Mr White, and Mr Orange, too. An orange Dalek… Whatever next? Will you have all five miniatures by Christmas?
Who fans are often told to get a sense of proportion. Well, we have a keen one regarding Dalek dimensions. It's a bold designer who tampers with a classic and this new breed has very bulbous behinds. Have the actors inside been scoffing all the jammy dodgers?
Also filling the screen is Churchill - a twinkly turn from Ian MacNeice who nails the PM's diction with "Nar-zees" and "KBO - keep buggering on!" Sweet Professor Bracewell again harks back to a deluded scientist in Power, but Gatiss turns him into an emotive robot like Star Trek's Data, and gives Bill Paterson material worthy of his status.
There's so much else to absorb in a packed 45 minutes: history writ large, spitfires in space, the crack in time, Winnie the pickpocket, Amy saving the day again, and that retro "To Victory" Dalek poster. I want one now!
A victory for all.
Mark Gatiss has kindly agreed to answer a few follow-up questions:
How did it feel letting the Daleks win for the first time?
Very exciting! They've sort of wriggled out of defeat before but I think this is the first time they've got it away with it. Steven [Moffat] was very keen that, with the Time War behind us, the Daleks should simply be re-established as the threat they used to be. That plus the chance to "re-invent" them was just wonderful.
What input did you have in the Daleks' redesign?
We talked at the first meeting about making them more like the Daleks from the 60s movies - which I've always loved. The sheer boldness of those colours and the size of them just get to you!
So we discussed the idea of a new "paradigm". A template from which future Daleks would spring. Then we had lots of fun coming up with the classifications: Drone, Scientist, Strategist, Supreme and the Eternal.
Originally I wanted a green Dalek but green just doesn't seem to work somehow. Funny the things you discover. In the script I put "Big buggers. Bigger than they've ever been." And they are!
"KBO!" Rather naughty. Please explain yourself.
"KBO" was a favourite expression of Churchill's and I was delighted to be able to get it in. It's a wonderful maxim and I use it all the time now!
In your RT article (17 April 2010) you say The Power of the Daleks is your favourite Dalek story. But which one Doctor Who story would you take to a desert island?
My desert island Who is a tough one! For sheer entertainment and brilliance, I've always adored The Talons of Weng Chiang. Ticks all my boxes as well as being incredibly clever, mould-breaking and funny.
If it existed, maybe The Web of Fear, but I suppose I'd have to say The Green Death. It means so much to me to this day and not just as nostalgia. An eco-story years before its time. Legendary monster ("the one with the giant maggots"). Witty and perfectly-Pertwee script. And, of course, that ending. It still makes me cry and completely sums up why I've always loved Doctor Who.