Daleks In Manhattan
Originally transmitted 21st April 2007

An episode from former script editor Helen Raynor and she gives us a dark love letter to the classic series and the Daleks. The 'ashes and diamonds' tone of the story with its sinister pig-men, Daleks gliding through sewers, musical numbers and Gothic romance immediately take us back to 'Evil Of The Daleks', 'Day Of The Daleks' and 'Talons Of Weng Chiang' for starters. For me there was also the ghostly presence of 'Once Upon A Time In America' and 'The Godfather' (Murray Gold also paying homage at least with a score that bounced between Franz Waxman and Nino Rota) within the detailed 1930s New York setting.

And the Daleks were back to their diabolical best, scheming and planning and exploiting the weaknesses in those around them. We haven't seen Daleks plotting away and conversing like this for a very long time and it reminded me of the similar way they were treated in 'Evil Of The Daleks'.

Their appearance also, and very cleverly I think, echoed and reflected the decoration and architecture of the period. Thematically, as Dalek Sec sought to ensure the survival of the race by reconfiguring his appearance, we see the elite of New York building skyscrapers whilst people starve and die. What's the betting that the rest of the Cult Of Skaro don't like the new improved Sec? The betterment of the species above all else fits in perfectly with the times when fascist groups were already prevalent in the US and the UK and Hitler's rise to power was only just around the corner. Also note the references to war in the script with both Sec and Solomon referring to the wars they have respectively participated in. This again reflects the post-war narrative subtexts that the original series often contained up until the mid-1970s.

The Daleks obsession with their genes and racial purity also reflects the debates on Eugenics that many leading figures were engaging in at the time. It was also an academic discipline that was funded by the Rockefellers in the States. As well as nods to Aldous Huxley we also get a big slice of Wells' 'Island of Doctor Moreau' with the Daleks transforming humans into animals to do their bidding. Not only that but we also get a merging of Dalek and human as the climax of a series of transformations wherein animalistic impulses are grafted onto the cold, controlling nature of the child psyche of the Daleks. A final image is of rebirth as Diagoras is devoured by the womb of Sec and then reborn as a Proteus like figure, the conscious being emerging from the dark, unconscious Dalek mind.

Will the other Daleks reject this figure? Can they conceivably have any reason not to? They can't behave like Tallulah who upon seeing the transformed Laszlo does not reject the man she once knew. She embraces the changed man because she can still recognise him beneath the bestial appearance. The episode plays subtly with the animal and human condition, with bestial mindlessness and human reason, with constructed bodies and natural forms. It echoes well the Gothic romance of 'Phantom Of The Opera' and the fairy-tale psychology of 'Beauty And The Beast'. All this benefits from some lovely performances from Miranda Raison and Ryan Carnes as the seemingly doomed lovers.

James Strong's direction is assured, with great pacing, and gets the maximum from the exemplary production design, whether it's the low shots of Daleks gliding through sewers or the sweep through the Dalek's Frankenstein-like lab. The episode exudes tension with a distinct undercurrent of oddness pervading some scenes such as the clever juxtaposition of hordes of pig-men chasing their victims through the sewers with the 'Bugsy Malone' musical number with its 'you put the devil in me' lyrics. The realisation of Hooverville is also very good and Hugh Quarshie puts in some sterling work as Solomon. The realisation of the supporting characters as well as the evocative atmosphere is certainly a great strength to the episode.

Tennant is again on form and has now been consistent over four episodes. His bitter 'they always survive, while I lose everything' neatly reminding us of just how badly most encounters with the Daleks tend to end. He's very in control of his performance now and he's making this series work so much the better for it. Freema continues to build on her fleshing out of Martha and we often see how the character now deals with similar situations that Rose has dealt with in the past. The fact that she has a different take on things is refreshing. Her chat with Tallulah about her relationship with the Doctor tells us volumes with her facial expressions alone without recourse to masses of exposition.

The slight downside is perhaps that there is slightly too much exposition early on between Martha and the Doctor and it's a bit clunky. Some of the effects were variable with some great plate shots of New York setting the scene apart from one of the Doctor and Martha looking at the skyline which wasn't as accomplished. The prosthetics are great for the pigs, particularly the work on Carnes and the pig-man found in the sewer but I wasn't entirely happy with the Sec/Diagoras hybrid. It wasn't realistic enough to be convincing. The digital effects of Sec opening its casing were great as was the CGI Dalek inside and the merging with Diagoras. Maybe they should have gone with a CGI hybrid?

But these are only minor problems. The episode is a terrifyingly dark piece of 'Doctor Who', atmospheric, scary and with well realised supporting characters. New York of the 1930s is beautifully captured and seemed a strangely natural home for our Dalek friends to conduct their bizarre experiments. Let's hope the conclusion is as rewarding.

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