This was my general response to Victory of the Daleks. I definitely didn't hate it, but it had too many gaping plot holes and quirks to be really great, and as other reviewers have pointed out, it didn't have the emotional connection that made The Beast Below so enjoyable. But that definitely wasn't the biggest problem...
I Will Kick You In The Shins If You Even Think The Word "Iconic"
I make no attempt to hide it: I really, really don't like the Daleks. Being, very definitely, an Nu-Whovian, and having little to no experience or connection with Old Who, the Daleks don't have any nostalgic value for me. I find them shrill, obnoxious, and irritating, from their hideously impractical design to their unimaginative, exterminate-the-universe plans. I believe that in Dalek, Nine said they were geniuses, but given how they are consistently outsmarted by ordinary humans and come up with some of the stupidest schemes, I have my doubts. If they weren't so relentlessly, persistently hateful and nigh-indestructable, they wouldn't be a threat at all. Given the Journey's End fiasco--part genius, part (mostly?) facepalm--I would have been happy to have the Daleks really, truly, forever for the last time actually for reals defeated and gone. But no. Here they are again--in technicolor.
I won't spend time harping on the new color scheme (somewhat laughable and Lego-esque) or the new design, since these things have been discussed by reviewers much more knowledgeable than me. They're still malformed little tanks of festering, shrieking evil, and that's enough for me.
What Do They Want? What Are They After?
Their plan this time apparently involved going to all the trouble to make an android so lifelike as to be indistinguishable from other humans, who would then "invent" them, giving them an excuse to infiltrate the British center of operations in London during the Blitz (haven't we been here before? In a Moffat episode?), hoping, I suppose, that Winston Churchill will be unnerved enough by their presence to phone up the Doctor, whom they will then provoke into a rage so that he will declare what they (and we) already know: they are the Daleks. All this because their own technology refuses to acknowledge them as Dalek, and therefore they need the Doctor's "testimony" to convince the blasted thing to spit out more Daleks.
The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it becomes. Why would the Progenitor take the Doctor's word (when he's regenerated anyway, with a different voice) over the Daleks themselves? Their DNA may be "impure," but the technology is clearly Dalek. And anyway, the new Daleks were just going to destroy the unworthies anyway; how does it in any way matter what their DNA is like? Why would a race dead-set on obliterating all other forms of life be picky about who regenerates them, as long as they get regenerated so they can go on shrieking and rattling threateningly? And furthermore, if they wanted the Doctor's attention, why not, oh, invade London on the German side? That'd bring him fast. Or, for that matter, just blow up the moon or some such, if you really want to piss him off. The get-Churchill-to-call-him-for-us scheme seems to rely far too much on coincidences.
And furthermore, not only are the Daleks stupid enough to be held hostage by a jelly-filled biscuit (cookie!), they don't shoot the Doctor when they have the chance. Once they have the information they need from him, why not just kill him, instead of shouting "EXPLAIN!!!" apoplectically? They could gain nothing--and lose a lot--by letting him live.
As a final griping point (then I'm done, promise!), the "choice" they offer the Doctor was not a choice at all. The dichotomy is to either (a) continue the attack on the Daleks, hoping to destroy them, and sacrifice the Earth to the bomb or (b) call off the attack and save the Earth. The Doctor backs down, calling off the attack--but the Daleks still try to detonate the bomb. So why bother calling off the attack at all? Let the nice man in the gravity-bubble-bomber blow that crap out of the Dalek ship as much as possible while the Doctor goes back to Earth to try to stop that bomb.
Speaking of which...
Don't Mess With Me, Sweetheart
As has come to be standard in the last few weeks, Eleven was the shining point of awesomeness amidst all the kerfuffle. From the moment he stepped out of the TARDIS, I couldn't keep my eyes off him--because although we, the audience, knew the Daleks were coming, he didn't.
But he did not disappoint. From the first meeting on the rooftop, where he stares at the Dalek with a heartrending mixture of disbelief, sorrow, and horror on his face, knowing what will come, to the determined suspicion, to the suicidal, murderous rage with which he attacks the Dalek and shouts it down, he was absolutely brilliant. The depiction was reminiscent of Nine's reaction in Dalek; I got shivers when Eleven urged Churchill to "exterminate them!" Wow. Wherever this darker, more perilous and ruthless side of the Doctor has been hiding, it's certainly back with a vengeance now.
This new darkness also hindered the Doctor, though, as well as helped him. It made him play right into the center of the Daleks' plans, and it kept him from making the human connection necessary with Bracewell to keep him from exploding. For that, once again, we needed Amy.
Come On, Pond!
Unfortunately, poor Amy didn't have much to do this episode except stop the aforementioned Explosion O' Doom and get shut down repeatedly by the Doctor. That was a shame, because being separated from the Doctor for a good portion of the episode meant that the relationship between them that's made Season 5 such a joy so far was conspicuously absent. For the second time, though, Amy swooped in and saved the day when the Doctor, caught up in grief and death, couldn't quite make it work.
Let's for now ignore the overlong and positively narmy sequence of Amy and the Doctor (although mostly Amy) convincing a super-robot not to explode and destroy the world because being a human and lovesick would be so much more fun. Instead, let's skip to the part where Amy mentions fancying someone you know you shouldn't, accompanied by a very unsubtle glance at the Doctor. It's like no one was paying attention through season 3, and they're going to do the whole agonizing Martha Jones unrequited-and-unreciprocated-love thing all over again. Although I really hope not, on the other hand, there's a bit more to it this time, given Amy's past with the Doctor, and all the years she's had to idealize and idolize him. So on the one hand, I can hardly blame her. On the other hand...just no.
Also, the Doctor wasn't very nice to Amy in this episode. He shushes her impatiently at the beginning, leaves her behind to go face the Daleks, and simply tells her she's not helping when she suggests cutting a wire to defuse the bomb. Granted, in each case he has a good reason to push her away (ie she really is wrong about the Daleks, he wouldn't put her in that much danger, and she really wasn't helping) but he is surprisingly tactless about it, like going back to Ten's "Was that rude?" phase. But this isn't a phase; this seems to be a part of his personality: arrogant, somewhat curmudgeonly and brisk as well as playful and wondering. Between that and Amy's blissful ignorance about the Daleks, their relationship seemed a little distant and strained. Which, actually, might turn out to be very interesting.
Oi, Churchill! Give Back The TARDIS Key!
As for the rest of the episode's setting, it's difficult for me to comment. Other sources say that the depiction of Churchill is caricatured and silly, but I don't know much about Churchill to begin with, so I found him rather interesting. Since I'm not British, I don't have the same connection to the man. I imagine the Doctor would have to meet Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln to get that effect.
The thing that struck me most about this setting was the missed opportunities. In The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, there's a palpable sense of fear and desperation that overshadows the city, embodied by a gas-masked boy following a group of frightened children. In this episode, the bombs boom in the distance and the walls shake, but there's no palpable threat of imminent peril, no hint of the very human grief and desperation and determination. The only attempt at this was the young woman whose husband is shot down over the Channel, but this is quickly dismissed and has no impact on the story. It's a shame, because there was a lot of potential for the darkness of the setting to mirror and enhance the darkness of the Daleks' return. Instead, all the lights are on.
So, the Daleks jump into hyperspace, surely to return to plague us all again soon. Yes, they did "win", if by "win" you mean "escape and survive." But their enemy, the Doctor, still lives, and the Earth is still whole, so was it really anyone's victory at all?
Premonitions and Predictions
One of the best, most spine-chilling moments of this episode was the revelation that Amy doesn't know or remember the Daleks. Not that she was scuba diving or something when the Earth was dragged across the universe--she simply doesn't remember it happening. The Dalek invasion of Earth in Journey's End has been key in several ways (i.e. Waters of Mars's Adelaide's life), and the fact that Amy doesn't know this is very creepy.
It has been mentioned that Rory's hospital ID has an issue date in 1990, which, assuming it was issued when he was about 25 at the youngest, would make him, what, 45? Yet he's clearly not 45, and the people in The Eleventh Hour are using modern cell phones, so the Doctor wasn't in the past. Could he have fallen through into a parallel world when the TARDIS exploded--a world where the Dalek invasion never happened? Could that crack that we've seen four times now be one that he caused, maybe even the same one that he came through?
Also, adding up Amy's reluctance to get married or even think about her abandoned fiancee and this week's over-meaningful discussion of unrequited love, we may be gearing up for another Doctor + Companion romance, one-sided or no. Either way, when Amy finally does tell the Doctor she's engaged (where's her ring, anyway?), it won't be pretty.
Next week: Moffat's back, along with a still-too-knowledgeable Dr. River Song, archaeologist, and the Lonely Assassins!