Saturday, 10 April 2010

Doctor Who: Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

Daleks in Manhattan

“I know some guys are just pigs, but not my Laszlo.”

This story just brilliantly evokes the New York of 1930, from the soundtrack to the show tunes to the men working on girders hundreds of feet up. It’s a fantastic setting, with iconic sights and loads of atmosphere, and the Depression setting is powerful, in fact much more so given the events which have happened in the years since this was broadcast. It’s not just Hooverville, the poverty, and the appalling pay and conditions the desperate need to accept if they want work; Tallulah’s words to Martha on having to soldier on and perform every day, even with a broken heart, just to pay the rent and keep going gives a horrifying sense of the abyss that lies beneath ordinary people.

Oh, and I just adore the Bugs Bunny accents. I have no idea how accurate they are but how could you possibly dislike anyone who talks like that?

The Cult of Skaro is back, of course, and their straitened circumstances have made them somewhat more philosophical than usual. The Dalek’s musings to Diagoras as they look out over the city hint at a slight resentfulness for the human capacity for growth and survival, but this also implies an acceptance of Dalek failures. This is something the story goes on to develop at great length. These Daleks are interesting, already showing signs of dissent against Sec from quite early on.

Solomon’s a great, charismatic, dignified character who manages to earn the Doctor’s respect as few guest characters do, actually getting an apology from the Doctor after being given a glib response. Tallulah’s wonderful, too. I love the line about musical theatre. I’m not sure about the portrayal of the Doctor, though. He says of the Daleks that “They survive. They always survive, while I lose everything.” This kind of self-centred bitterness is one of this otherwise great Doctor’s less appealing qualities.

The cliffhanger should in theory be great, and certainly has potential for exploring some interesting ideas, but visually I’m not sure that a human Dalek quite works.

Evolution of the Daleks

“New York City… If aliens had to come to Earth- oh, no wonder they came here.”

This story’s title suggests a homage to a certain story from the ‘60s I could mention, even to the point of involving the “Human Factor”. I don’t think the parallel quite works, though; the Daleks’ motivation here is desperation rather than power and they’re acting far more reluctantly, and the Doctor’s role is entirely different. It’s sort of exploring the same concepts, though, and concludes in a kind of civil war between Daleks with the “Human Factor” and without.

All this has knock on effects, of course. By far the funniest thing about this episode is the gossiping Daleks sharing their doubts over their leader, one of them even looking around with its eyestalk to make sure it’s not overheard! But these concepts are not always handled well or consistently, and there’s a certain lack of focus about themes and characterisation here.

Solomon’s speech to the Dalek before being exterminated is a powerful scene and the centrepiece of the episode, but the Doctor angrily goading the Daleks to kill him feels awkward and wrong. There’s nothing which suggests to me that the Doctor is in any way bluffing, so I have to conclude that the Doctor does indeed have a momentary death wish here. This is not a good thing, to put it mildly. If for no other reason, what about Martha, potentially trapped in 1930? For the second story in succession the Doctor’s being horribly cavalier about her fate. And Martha even has to prompt the Doctor to ensure the lives of the people of Hooverville are spared. All of this is terribly misjudged.

Oh, and the atom had been split before 1930.

All that aside, though, it’s not a bad episode, albeit lacking in a certain polish. Martha gets some good scenes, doing a bit of Doctoring, flashing the psychic paper and coming up with a clever plan to use lightning against the pig slaves. The humanised Dalek Sec is great, too; his gradual move away from Dalek thinking and the growing rebellion against him are well developed throughout, and his insistence that Davros, in relation to removing certain emotions from the Daleks, “was wrong” is genuinely shocking. Unfortunately, this prompts the other Daleks to go all Nyder on him, but in the meantime it’s fascinating that the Doctor agrees to help. His dialogue to Laszlo indicates he doesn’t really expect any of this to happen but he has to try.

The genocide of the human Daleks would have made for a downbeat ending, so it’s appropriate that we end with the Doctor’s saving of Laszlo.

I was quite impressed with this, although the problems with the Doctor’s characterisation and a certain lack of polish mean it only gets a 3/5. A promising start on Who proper for Helen Raynor, though.

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