Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2007 - Reviewed by James Tricker

Daleks in Manhatten and the Evolution of the Daleks present a bizarre mix of the powerful and downright risible. I don't really know where to start. It is perhaps saying a lot when I confess that one of my favourite scenes was the first episode's musical number! We've had musical interludes before of course ? for example the Daisy song in Talons ? but here the song Heaven and Hell was used with a nice twist of dramatic irony as the lyrics " you put the devil in me" is a neat summary of the murky experiments going on beneath the new Empire State Building. It was of course marred by Martha's clumsy intrusion as the hapless Lazlo is spotted for the first time in his post-experimental state (though not recognised as Lazlo yet). No complaints either about the 1930's New York setting amidst the Depression ? the Daleks are operating against a backdrop of human poverty and misery where it seems reasonably plausible that the authorities would turn a blind eye to members of the Hooverville community disappearing rather regularly. More perhaps than any other story of the new era to date, this story would have sat quite nicely in the classic era : like a comfortable pair of slippers, here we have the return of runarounds in the sewers, occasionally dodgy make up, and performances best described as variable, though the American accents, distracting as they were, were not as atrocious as they could have been. Miranda Raison struggles to keep a straight face, and I don't blame her, as Tallulah discovers that her beloved Lazlo has been turned into a quasi pig man, complete with what appears to resemble two cigarette ends sticking up from his mouth. The revelation of Dalek Sec hybrid, kindly brought to us courtesy of the Radio Times before any of us had even viewed the episode, seemed to vaguely resemble the Jagaroth from City of Death ? but that's where the similarity ends as this two parter is certainly not in the same league of quality as its illustrious predecessor. Then there was the convenience of the discarded green embryonic jelly laying quite happily in the sewer passage, waiting patiently to be discovered by the Doctor. The climax to the first part required us to stretch our tolerance levels to unprecedented distances as after much wobbling, smoking and general struggle, Dalek Sec, who had absorbed Diagoras in an effective scene earlier, gives birth to a fully suited and booted hybrid who not only has retained a dodgy American accent but who it is clear, as the second part unfolds, is a damn sight more cuddly than either of his predecessors: let's face it, Dalek Sec was none other than the leader of the Cult of Skaro and as for Diagoras, he is portrayed as a nasty piece of work who bluntly tells his workforce that if they don't work they will be replaced ? end of. No compassion there. This hybrid is an inconsistent step too far and no wonder the remaining Daleks come to imagine his irrelevance ? liked that line. There were good bits other than the sing-song. Diagoras's conversation with the Dalek in the first episode as they look down on NYC; Solomon's execution, showing the Daleks at their ruthless best/worst and the Doctor's utterly horrified response; the nod to Frankenstein as the human/Dalek army awakens and the climatic shootout in the theatre which was a nice homage to the gangster movies of the era. Those Daleks have certainly got it worked out haven't they? No concept of worry and when the going gets tough, go for the old emergency temporal shift option. Works a treat. I used the word "risible" earlier and unfortunately I was distracted throughout with some of the bizarre scenes I encountered. In episode one it's raining cats and dogs ? or should that be pigs ? in Hooverville but no-one's getting wet; the Doctor tells Martha to ask the Dalek what's going on because he doesn't want to be noticed, yet seems to be in full view of the Dalek anyway as it addresses Martha; two Daleks gossip about Sec in the sewers, with one moving its eyestalk around to make sure no one's watching them ? they should have given one of them the great line from Allo Allo : listen very carefully! I shall say this only once! And then one of them nicks K9's "affirmative"! And one of the recently awakened army repeatedly asks the Dalek "why?" which reminded me of my five year old in one of her more mischievous moods. As for Tallulah's schmucks and much of the other dialogue she was given, don't go there. And the Doctor's Tommy Cooper turn: "thank you very much!" he utters quickly in classic Cooper style as he hands Martha the physic paper. As has been said, the new era is often a case of the triumph of style over substance (though I remain, with a few exceptions, broadly supportive of it) but this didn't even seem to have a lot of the former. Are we in a depression? It might break your heart, but the show must go on. Next week looks good anyway ? and Martha seems to be dressed differently. May yet achieve cult status alongside Love and Monsters, and for the good bits, a (very) generous 6/10.