Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution Of The Daleks
Series Three, Episodes Four and Five
Wow. I don't even know where to start with this one. Rarely have I seen episodes that so fundamentally Do Not Work.
|Or: When Working Titles Accidentally Make It To Transmission,|
And Everyone's Too Embarrassed To Point It Out.
Well, they've noticed something about humans. No matter what happens, humans keep existing. "Right then," says Dalek Sec, or Caan, or Jast, or Neil (or whatever the fourth one's called), "humans must be doing something right, and Daleks must be doing something wrong." This is actually not a new idea in Doctor Who. Back in the '60s, in a serial called The Evil Of The Daleks (currently missing all bar one episode – sniff!), they tried to figure out "the Human Factor", which enables those pesky humans to keep thwarting them. Bravery, courage, all that jazz. Of course it turned out they were lying, and they just wanted the Human Factor out of the way so they could come up with a Dalek Factor and force that on everybody. Clever! This time, alas, they're not lying. They genuinely believe humans have a magic ingredient, and they want to make babies with it.
This is wrong in several important ways. First off, why do humans always survive? Is it because they're really great? Well, no: they just hang in there after every disaster, and keep breeding in smaller numbers until they're back on top. It's the same strategy the Daleks already use with great success, which is why, y'know, there are still Daleks. It's why the Doctor says, in this very episode, "They always survive." And, oh yeah, elephant in the room: the other reason humans survive is that they've got the Doctor. Which is coincidentally the reason the Dalek population keeps reducing to single figures. Guys? All this arsing about with DNA is completely unnecessary. You just need to kill the Doctor. Quick, there he is!
At least there's an excuse for not just churning out more Daleks. They're stuck in 1930s New York, the technology won't support a new batch of Daleks, so they've got to think outside the box. Okay, that's logical. But it is illogical to think, "Let's trade an impregnable flying tank for a human with some Dalek DNA." A Dalek casing can fly, survive in space, repel firepower, attack, and apparently travel in time. What can a human do? Age, bleed, catch the measles and die. It's certainly a puzzling usage of the word "evolution", given that it's a dramatic step backwards in survivability. Did anybody making this ever take the time to look it up?
|"Is it too late to recall the Radio Times cover?"|
Except, hang on: didn't they pick Mr Diagoras because he's so evil and Dalek-like? If you mix that with an already-evil Dalek, where does the inner Gandhi come from? And great as it is to think the Daleks can start afresh, isn't it a bit cavalier to sign off on a whole new race of them, which needs recycled humans in order to reproduce? Aren't they going to want more of them? What's the next stage of the plan – live peacefully with ordinary humans? How long would that last? And all this on the word of a genetic experiment, who could be lying (like they were last time), and could be exterminated by his peers any minute for going Full Human. Because, oh yeah, big surprise: the other three Daleks aren't keen on the plan.
At least Daleks In Manhattan gets that right. Probably the best bits are when we see Daleks Jast, Neil and Derek (or whatever) chattering mutinously about their boss. It's actually a smart comment on Dalek behaviour, that for all their Cult Of Skaro cleverness they simply can't repress the desire to be Daleks. And it's satisfyingly old-style-Who just to see Daleks being devious. It's amazingly dull to have the Doctor point all this out, however. "You had to start killing, because that's the only thing a Dalek's good for!" Well, duh. What show were you watching?
All things considered, this is not the Doctor at his brightest, or best. He makes repeated attempts to shame or embarrass the Daleks for acting like Daleks, which he ought to know is not going to work. (Just like urging people to do or not do things, which he just won't stop doing even though it never works.) What's the use in pointing out that Daleks have no concept of freedom, or music? It's all very stirring (well, it's obviously meant to be, but it's actually quite embarrassing), but there's nothing remotely surprising about the Daleks responding with a bored-sounding "Exterminate". It didn't work for Solomon – an incredibly cringe-worthy character who urges the Daleks to help him "build a better tomorrow", with hilariously predictable results – and it won't work for the Doctor. He's smarter than this. Well, usually: he's very nearly exterminated at the end, and only survives because Dalek Sec jumps in the way. Did we all see that? How he had no plan and was just going to get shot and die?
|"Kill me, if it'll stop you attacking these people!"|
Er, or they could kill you and attack these people.
But sure, you get yourself killed on the hope that the Daleks
will randomly spare people for the first time ever.
1) DNA isn't going to jump out of his body, through his clothes, into a lightning converter, and then into the genetic makeup of some bodies. Just all kinds of no. Do they even know what DNA is?
2) Er, are we talking about the same Time Lords? Since when did they give two hoots about freedom? Aren't they famously pompous and power-obsessed? That's all very Doctorly stuff, but that's his outlook, not his DNA! Wouldn't human DNA make a bit more sense?
There are a few moments where he doesn't act like a total boob, and seems to have that Doctorly heft. There's his steely you're-on-my-list-mate glare at Mr Diagoras. There's a bit where he chats to one of the Dalek pig-slaves (hold that thought) and, though everyone else recoils, he promises to help. And as above, it's great that he's going to put all his anger behind him and give the Daleks a chance, even if he's going about it so naively that it's doomed to failure. (Announcing "There's no way this lot are gonna let you do it!" in front of the other three Daleks is not going to help, you absolute berk.) But everywhere else, he comes across as poorly characterised, stupid, or just David Tennant on auto-pilot. (Dramatic raised eyebrow, lots of shouting and running, "Allons-y". Yawn.)
And none of those moments go anywhere. Take his promise to the pig-slaves. (And briefly, a word on the pig-slaves: what? Why would the Daleks mix humans with pigs? They're just a random, far less effective version of the Robomen from The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. And oh good, another monster that's a recognisable Earth animal in a uniform. Paging Mr Imagination!) He promises to help, because that's what the Doctor does. Which is lovely, but then what? He successfully makes sure the Daleks won't do this to anyone else, but that's all. The rest of the piggies get roasted or forgotten about or die anyway. His offer is just lip-service – a photocopy of Typical Doctor Behaviour.
He does "help" Laszlo, a guy who mysteriously escaped full conversion and kept his mind, power of speech and hair-do. (The Daleks don't notice this because um.) He uses his Doctorly amazingness to lengthen his lifespan, so hooray! Now he can live on, hiding in slums with his girlfriend who can't show him to anyone! (This is almost as "helpful" as turning Elton's girlfriend into a talking paving slab in Love & Monsters.) A quick trip to a plastic surgeon might solve most of his problems, and yeah, doesn't the Doctor have some sort of time-space-travel-thingie? (I forget what it's it called.) But no, he doesn't think of that. Bad luck, Laszlo, but I'm sure there's a paper bag you can wear.
|A note on the direction. The Doctor says:|
"I don't exactly want to get noticed."
This is him 'hiding'.
I'm at a loss. Nothing here works. The New York setting? A novel backdrop for Daleks, but the action's awkwardly limited to sewers, a theatre, a laboratory and a park in Pontypridd, so big whoop and everything, but it could be anywhere. The accents are ham-tastic ("Top o' the woild!"), and none of the supporting characters seem at all like real people. The dialogue is sodden with clichés. ("If you choose death and destruction, then death and destruction will choose you!" "And from this island, we will conquer the world!") And the plot, oh, the plot. But it's probably best I give up now, before I go completely mad trying to list all the things that don't work. You might as well try counting stars. As for what works? Well, the whole thing has a certain camp, comic value, but I doubt much of it's intended. The human Dalek's face, for instance, is a constant source of hilarity.
Stupid Daleks, stupid Doctor, stupid everything. Chuck the whole thing in the bin and pretend it never happened.