Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It looks great, and the sight of Daleks in Manhattan is highly striking, given that the series has rarely ventured into America. Manhattan is extremely well realised, and as an affectionate pastiche of the era, the over-the-top Brooklyn accents and showgirls are perfectly acceptable. The Depression backdrop fulfils the series original remit of being vaguely educational, conveying some of the wretchedness of the period very well. The pig-slaves are also visually striking, and don't look anywhere near as silly as they could have done, especially when they are menacingly advancing through the sewers. Even Laszlo doesn't look silly, largely because the actor brings pathos to the role. The only weak point is Dalek Sec, which looks like a nightmarish Muppet after his transformation.

The Daleks, with low numbers and low power, are forced to use cunning, and their plan to transform humans into Daleks harkens back to 'The Evil of the Daleks'. They are at their nastiest here, especially when a Dalek impassively listens to Solomon and lets him finish his speech before exterminating him, and when Dalek Khan kills the Dalek Humans. Sec's sudden development of a conscience is horribly predictable, but refreshingly doesn't go down the route I'd expected, with the other three rebelling against him ("You told us to imagine and we imagined your irrelevance"), chaining him up like a gimp, and finally exterminating him.

Unfortunately, it's largely bollocks. The Dalek plan to use the Empire State building to channel the gamma burst into the humans and turn them into Daleks, whilst pure Silver Age comic book science, makes perfect sense from a Dalek point of view and clearly would have worked, so what exactly is Sec's transformation all about? Or the pig-slaves for that matter? Are the Daleks just bored? After all, the Dalek Humans look human, so all the hybridisation business suddenly seems pointless. Then there is the ghastly contrivance of the Doctor somehow affecting them by channelling the lightening strike through his own body, as though electricity can carry DNA. It's almost like a first draft that hasn't been script-edited, and this is especially annoying given that it could so easily have been, if not spectacular, then a solid enough Dalek story. Predictably, one Dalek escapes at the end, but by now I'm getting fed up of the Daleks scrabbling about for survival.

In addition, we get silly moments such as the two Daleks whispering and peering over their shoulders, and the pig-slave shuffling impatiently in the lift. We also find out that the pig-slaves have a limited lifespan, almost immediately after which Laszlo starts getting hot flushes and falling over, which is horribly contrived. The biggest problem however lies in some of the dialogue. The second episode in particular degenerates into the sort of pompous and contrived morality speeches that Russell T. Davies tends to write in his worst moments, with the Doctor's speech about not a single more person dying feeling almost cringe worthy (although points are awarded for not killing off Laszlo, and thus avoiding the Talluleh sobbing over his corpse scene that I'd predicted. We get speeches from Dalek Sec, Solomon, and the Doctor, all of which are presumably meant to be rousing, but all of which are so unoriginal that it's just dull. Oh and Martha is increasingly gagging for Time Lord cock, which produces a funny line from Talluleh ("he likes musical theatre?") but generally just continues the feeling that the writers are so unimaginative and sex-obsessed that they can't think of anything to do with her apart from walking the same route that they went down with Rose, who gets mentioned yet again.

There is some decent acting on display, especially from Ryan Carnes as Laszlo and Hugh Quarshire as Solomon, and Freema Agyeman continues to impress, especially when Martha again gets to use her brain to think of an imaginative way to kill the pig-slaves. And Helen Raynor remembers that Martha is a medical student, as she tends the denizens of Hooverville. Unfortunately, Eric Loren is rather less impressive as Dalek Sec, giving a stilted, irritating performance throughout. Meanwhile, David Tennant continues to reign in the wackiness, and spends most of the episode emoting as the Daleks bring out the worst in the Doctor again. This works very well at times, especially when he mutters, "They survived. They always survive, whilst I lose everything", but leaves him shouting in a disturbingly hammy fashion during the second episode, something I hoped I wouldn't see him doing again. By the time he's delivering ultimatums to Dalek Khan, his performance is horrendously unconvincing, as is his simultaneous clowning and making a speech as he sets out to save Laszlo. And are we really expected to believe that the Doctor can now shrug off a lightening strike without even getting singed?

'Daleks in Manhattan'/'Evolution of the Daleks' suffers most of all however from one continuing factor that plagues the new series remorselessly: all of the worst scenes are made exponentially worse than they actually are by having Murray Gold's sickening musical tripe smeared all over them, his saccharine orchestral excesses crudely trying to influence the viewer's emotions in the least subtle way possible. Unfortunately, with everyone on the production team waxing lyrical about his perceived talents, this is unlikely to relent any time soon.

Overall, 'Daleks in Manhattan'/'Evolution of the Daleks' is rather odd: neither truly great, nor genuinely bad, it's an odd mishmash of both, with some great moments (Laszlo's abduction at the start is an impressively creepy scene that brings to mind The Phantom of the Opera, and the Daleks look superb when they are glidingly menacingly around the sewers), let down by a nonsensical plot, a couple of duff performances, and some ghastly dialogue. As an attempt to do a Dalek story without it being an overblown, end-of-season epic, it's a worthy experiment, but it could, and should, have been so much better.