THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE TV
AND DIRECTLY PRIOR
TO THE TV EPISODE
"EVOLUTION OF THE
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
1930s NEW YORK, AND
21ST APRIL 2007
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
Amidst all the pre-season hype, It was this Dalek two-parter that interested me
the most. Like most Doctor Who fans, I’m “Dalek mad”, and so when I saw Dalek Sec hone into view in the trailer at the end of The Runaway Bride I allowed myself a sigh of relief – the Daleks would indeed be back in Series 3. As if there was any chance that they wouldn’t have been…
However, Daleks in Manhattan is light years away from the Daleks’ previous appearances in the revived series. The most palpable differences are in the story’s historical setting and tone – whilst this two-parter is clearly a dark tale, it doesn’t feel climactic in the ways that the two season finales or even the stand-alone episode Dalek did. It is much more akin to the pre-Davros Dalek stories on television (and, indeed, many of the Big Finish Dalek audios) as here the Daleks are evil. They’re cunning. They’re lethal. And they’re up to something.
But they‘re not trying to invade the Earth or take over the universe.
“They always survive when I lose everything!”
This story’s scenic setting is inspired, not just in terms of the scope for storytelling, but also commercially. What better to help get Doctor Who over with the American audience than to have your principal villains run amok in one of their biggest cities? What’s more, the setting also allows director James Strong to deliver some beautiful shots of 1930s New York - we see the Statue of Liberty; Central Park; and, of course, the Empire State Building. There’s one of history’s best-kept secrets for you – Daleks built the Empire State Building! Those bumps around the mast? Dalek Thay’s bumps!
What does the production team the most credit though is that they were able to produce a programme that looks like it was actually shot in New York city. The scenes in Central Park particularly impressed me as the blending is seamless; I’d even hazard a guess that most viewers would’ve thought that David Tennant and Freema Agyeman were in fact flown over to New York to shoot this one.
The shanty town of Hooverville is set flawlessly against the backdrop of skyscrapers; just a few establishing shots summing up one of this story’s key messages: people are starving, yet skyscrapers are being built. Something is very wrong here.
Similarly, the scene that introduces the audience to Solomon (Hugh Quarshie) encapsulates his character equally well. One man has stolen bread from another to feed his starving family, and the second man attacks him in retaliation. Solomon steps in, breaks up in the fight, and breaks the bread. Half each.
Quarshie puts in a superb performance. His scenes with Tennant resonate marvellously; the two actors share a wonderful chemistry on screen. Solomon knows that there is far more to the Doctor than meets the eye, but he still trusts him. He knows that the Doctor is the man to help them.
In contrast, Helen Raynor uses the Daleks’ lackey Mr Diagoras (Eric Loren) to show us the flip side of the coin. Whilst those living in Hooverville have fallen into poverty, he has thrived. And he hasn’t done so though having a clear conscience. We see him offering those living
in Hooverville “a dollar a day” to do some work down the sewers – a slave wage even by the standards of the day – and then a little later on, we see him order the construction workers on the Empire State Building to risk their lives working through the night. When they protest, Diagoras simply retorts “I can replace you like that!” And he could.
“Behold your Masters!”
Diagoras also put me in mind of a quisling character simply called ‘the Controller’ from a 1972 Dalek story, Day of the Daleks. This image was only strengthened in my mind when the first Dalek emerged from the lift, flanked by two Pig-slaves. Particularly during Jon Pertwee’s reign as the Doctor, whenever the Daleks appeared on screen they often had brutish, mute henchmen to do their dirty work. In the 1970s it was usually just superfluous Ogrons, but here Raynor cleverly links her Pig-slaves in with the plot: they’re not just some transposable alien mercenaries; they are humans that have been experimented on and genetically corrupted by the Daleks.
And central to the Raynor’s plot is the tragic love story of Laszlo and Tellulah (which I could not spell wrong if I tried). The haunting pre-title sequence showed us the Pig-slaves taking Laszlo away to become one of them, and so when we first meet Tellulah in the main body of the episode she is tormented by his disappearance. If he was going to leave her, then why would he tell her than he wanted her to meet his parents? If he is dead, then who is leaving the flower on her dressing room table each night?
“If I don’t make this month’s rent I’m in Hooverville. It’s the depression, sweetie.
Your heart might break but the show goes on, ‘cos if it stops you starve.”
Her reunion with Laszlo is touching, and also surprising in many ways. When she sees what the Daleks have done to him she is obviously upset, but not revolted. If anything, from that little smile she gives it’s evident that, more than anything, she’s just glad that he’s alive.
Miranda Raison imbues Tellulah with a lot of gumption, but also a lot of heart. We see her threatening the Doctor with a fake gun in one scene, and then crying on Martha’s shoulder
in the next. She has a lot about her too – for example, she can instantly see that Martha has feelings for the Doctor but that he doesn’t reciprocate, although she does get the wrong end of the stick somewhat, thinking that the Doctor isn’t interested because he’s gay, injecting just a little bit of humour into an otherwise grim episode.
And, of course, Tellulah also brings with her the music. It’s rare that we get chance to have
a musical number in Doctor Who, but in this story it works delightfully as it really helps the viewer get a feel for the period. The fact that she is dressed very much ‘for the Dads’ helps too, obviously.
“Humankind is weak. You shelter from the dark and yet you have built all this…
My planet is gone; destroyed in a great war. Yet versions of this city stand throughout history.”
However it is the Daleks that are the main draw here, and disappoint they do not. The more relaxed pace of this episode allows Skaro’s finest to wallow in their own malevolence a little bit more; even their grated, mechanical voices feel that little bit more chilling in the absence of a domineering score. Nicholas Briggs’ vocal talent is, of course, peerless, but so are the mechanical sounds that accompany it. Here, each twitch of the eyestalk and every flex of the sucker-arm is emphasised, and loudly. It makes the Daleks come across as being just that little bit more inhuman.
And when you hear a Dalek talk like a human, things go off the page in terms of creepiness. One of my favourite scenes in the episode is where Diagoras and Caan are looking out over all the splendour of New York, having an almost casual conversation about war and attrition. Diagoras doesn’t seem phased by Caan at all; it may be that he has worked with the Daleks for a long time, but even so the way that he seems almost at ease with them is fundamentally disturbing. It is this that unwittingly leads to his downfall – Caan is impressed with his “rare ambition” and thus selects him as the principal subject for the Daleks’ ominous “final experiment”…
“There are millions of humans and only four of us. If we are supreme, why are we not victorious?
Although it is only hinted at gently, I get the distinct impression that there is dissent amongst the Cult of Skaro. Sec may be convinced that the Daleks have to evolve to survive, but the other three don’t seem quite so sure. What makes Sec so terrifying here is that he’s right, and he’s not letting his genetic brainwashing cloud his judgement. The Cult of Skaro was created by the Emperor for his very purpose – to imagine new ways of survival. In Dalek terms, he’s a blasphemer, but because he’s free of his conditioning, this time the Daleks really could win!
“Our purity has brought us to extinction! We must adapt to survive!”
The scene where Sec assimilates Diagoras into his mutant form is a
wonderful bit of CGI for a television budget, not to mention a bona fide
behind the sofa moment for the kids. And Sec’s emergence is one of
the best cliffhangers that the new series has spawned. The inescapable
Radio Times cover completely ruined the surprise for everybody of
course, but even so I don’t blame Russell T Davies for allowing it – he
has to guarantee ratings at the end of the day to make sure that the
series’ success endures.
“We must evolve! Evolve! EVOLVE!”
The hybrid is absolutely horrific. Visually,
it’s somewhere between the Emperor
Dalek that we saw in The Parting of the
Ways, Davros, and the Jagoroth from
City of Death. Even Thay, Caan and Jast back away from it in fear. Cue the howl-out…
“A life outside the shell. The children of Skaro must walk again.”
To sum up then, as the first woman to write a Doctor Who television episode since Scots playwright Rona Munro penned Survival, Helen Raynor has really done herself proud with this spectacular script. And after a Torchwood episode as good as her Ghost Machine
was, I expected nothing else really. I sincerely hope that she’s given a chance to write for
the series again next year.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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