Mounting a Doctor Who spin-off is no easy task, with the highs (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood series three) coming alongside commensurate lows (Class, Torchwood series four) that show just how tricky it is to recapture the magic of the flagship series.
Now entering the fray – albeit in a more low-key, web-series model – comes Daleks!, a free-to-view offshoot of BBC Studios’ sprawling Time Lord Victorious project following the Doctor’s deadliest foes in their own adventure.
So how does Daleks! stack up? Well, obviously it’s a little unfair to compare 13-minute webisodes created for YouTube with expensive, live-action dramas – but by its own standards, Daleks! is an enjoyable little corner of the Doctor Who universe.
Elevated by a brilliant performance by Nicholas Briggs as every Dalek and some fun design choices, it’s well worth any Whovian’s time – even if it’s more of an appetiser than a proper Whoniverse story in its own right. Certainly you don’t miss the presence of the Doctor, who wouldn’t really fit into the structure of the series anyway.
In the first episode we meet our Daleks – led by a booming Dalek Emperor and a battered classic series model called The Dalek Strategist, who is a definite standout – as they lay waste to a planet called Islos, hoping to gain access to its legendary archive. It’s a big, confident opening sequence that is sure to excite fans… assuming they can get their heads around its shortcomings.
Ahead of its release Daleks! had attracted some criticism for its animation style, which some fans felt was a little basic compared to the standard of other animated storytelling available today, and in the finished product there are definitely moments when the series’ visuals are a little lacklustre.
While the Daleks and their similarly robotic foes (by choice, organic characters have been omitted from the series) look suitably stylised, their surroundings – fairly blank, glassy cityscapes punctuated by oddly flat explosions as the Dalek fleet swoops in – just look underdone, making the action feel slightly weightless and unsatisfying.
Perhaps stemming from animators Studio Liddell’s Virtual Reality background, some of the first episode also feels oddly like a video game cutscene, the camera ready to pan round and place you at the controls of a Dalek at any moment (and if anyone does fancy making that game… you have my attention).
Still, the Daleks themselves look great, and they’re only elevated by Briggs’ performance as the tinpot terrors scheme, strategise and make plans to get their hands on this archive. But it’s no spoiler to note that things don’t go exactly as planned by the end of the first 13-minute instalment.
Going forward we’re presumably set to see these Daleks on the back foot (or whatever Daleks have instead of a foot), and I hope we’ll see new sides of Doctor Who’s iconic villains as they’re put in new and unfamiliar straits. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see what they get up to when the Doctor’s not around.
Daleks! releases on Thursdays from the 12th November onwards. Want something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.