Title: Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Written By: Helen Raynor
Team TARDIS: Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones
Adversary: The Daleks, The Cult of Skaro
Originally Aired: April 21-28, 2007
Number of Episodes: 2
Synopses (from TARDIS Wikia) -
Daleks in Manhattan -
During the building of the Empire State Building in 1930's New York, the Cult of Skaro continues their attempts to destroy humanity and reign supreme.
Evolution of the Daleks -
As a new Dalek Empire rises in 1930s New York, the Doctor must enter an unholy alliance.
This may be my most unpopular-est opinion in the history of unpopular opinions. And it comes purely because I had absolutely zero preconceived notions going into these episodes. Even three years after watching this story, I’m still not seeing all the problems that the perpetually malcontented people do.
I've said before that the first time I saw New Who, I watched it all the way straight through on my own. There was no hand-holding, no veteran Whovian standing over me to tell me what was good and what was bad, no spoilers whatsoever. I just sat down and watched them all the way through (barring a day or so to get over the complete gut-punch of “Doomsday”). It was only after I finished Series 5 (which was as far as the show had gotten when I was catching up), that I went in search of fan opinions and analysis and other kinds of trivia that I started to feel that “stupid noob” backlash - especially when it came to “Daleks in Manhattan” (I’m just going to call this two-parter by that name because it’s easier). Because I thought this was an exceptionally good story - bringing with it all kind of character development, depth of story, additions to the Doctor’s overall story arc, great moments for Martha, and lots of fun side characters.
Instead, I find a bunch of frothing-at-the-mouth fanboys wailing from the gutters of Gallifrey Base about pig slaves and a crappy human-Dalek prosthetic effect.
(That’s the sound of a fangirl still banging her head on the desk, three years on).
I guess some people are just never going to be able to get beyond less-than-stellar effects and I simply have to accept that as their loss. My thoughts on this subject have been made crystal clear. So, I’m just going to focus on what I find so compelling about this story and let the chips fall as they may (and I’ll probably get some entitled fanboy backlash anyway - but how I deal with that is my business).
1 - The Time War. In the previous episode, “Gridlock,” Martha sits the Doctor down and makes him tell her his backstory. She is very no-nonsense, take-no-obstructionist-crap about it (which is awesome in and of itself) and he tells her about it. We-the-audience don’t hear the entire story (seeing as it’s been covered in past episodes before Martha joined the party), but we know the basics - Time War, Daleks were the main antagonists, the events of the war destroyed the Doctor’s home planet, he’s still dealing with the guilt of being the only survivor. When I was very first watching Doctor Who, the idea of the Time War was one of the most compelling storylines woven throughout the entire series. I was never under the impression that I would get to see it, but watching the Doctor deal with the after-effects of the war was enough to tell me that it was horrendous.
2 - The moment where the Doctor is hiding with Tallulah in the sewer and the Dalek goes by and he realizes that at least a few Daleks survived the Battle of Canary Wharf is an absolute gut-punch. Bear in mind that this is not that long after the Series 2 finale, “Doomsday.” And whatever your feelings about the Doctor and Rose (shippy or otherwise) - there is no question that loss hit the Doctor hard. But I got the impression that he could console himself in his loss with the fact that the Daleks had been completely destroyed in the Battle of Canary Wharf. It’s small consolation, but for someone who is still coping with his own survivor’s guilt, he’d take comfort wherever he could get it. But to see that these vile and despicable creatures - creatures that the Doctor blames for all his losses - continue to survive when he has to lose everything totally breaks your heart.
3 - The Cult of Skaro. Even while the Doctor is reeling with the idea of Daleks surviving, in spite of all his efforts - it doesn’t actually mean that the Daleks are thriving. It’s kind of become a standing joke that even when the Daleks and their home planet are obliterated, there are always hoards of them still waiting in some hidden corner of the universe. But this is not so in “Daleks in Manhattan.” There are a grand total of four Daleks still in existence. Four Daleks that comprise the Cult of Skaro - a secret faction established when the Daleks (for all their insistence that the Dalek way of life is best and that anything that isn’t founded on Dalek principle is inferior and must be destroyed) realize that there might be something to these emotions that they have long since eradicated from their race. They even admit that they are impressed by humanity - a comparably young civilization that can still build great cities and continue to survive and thrive, even in the depths of poverty and despair (don’t know if that’s why Helen Raynor chose to set this story in the midst of the Great Depression, but it doesn’t hurt the context). And if the Daleks are doing anything right now, it is most certainly NOT surviving. The Cult of Skaro’s mission is to think the way their enemies think and find ways to use that thinking to benefit the Daleks in any way they can.
What’s their first problem? There are only four Daleks. They don’t have the means to create more. What usable resource is in greatest abundance at the present moment? Humans. Humans can think and strategize and create - and a fair number of them have worldviews and opinions that can be molded around to the Dalek way of thinking. So, why not genetically modify humans and Daleks to create a new race and a new homeworld for the Daleks? If you’re from a race and culture where creativity is all but unknown and you’re suddenly ordered to be creative, what else are you going to do?
(Granted, their cosmetics job on the finished product could use a little work, but Daleks are all about utility - looks don’t mean a thing to them. So, of course the final result is going to look a little... odd).
(And while we’re talking about cosmetics - how are pig slaves any weirder than those Robomen slaves with their proto-orthodontic headgear in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”? It’s a thing, it happened, deal with it).
4 - The Doctor agreeing to work with Dalek Sec. Underneath all the PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt is the same old Doctor who sees the beauty in so many strange and wondrous things - even when those strange things are trying to kill him. He’s still the same Doctor who, when he had the chance to touch two wires together and destroy the Daleks before they even got started, hesitated and chose not to go through with it. And when he meets Dalek Sec and they get talking and he realizes that the human-Dalek hybrid isn’t as evil and mean as a pure Dalek - well, maybe there really is some hope for the old maniacal pepper pots. Maybe he doesn’t have to destroy the Daleks to defeat them - maybe all he really has to do is change them. That would get rid of the Dalek threat just as well, wouldn’t it? The Doctor hates killing and destruction, even when it becomes necessary. I think that’s what I love about the Doctor the most. People talk about how he’s a pacifist and all that jazz - which is definitely is, in theory at least. In practice... not so much and not all the time. But for once, he sees an opportunity to help the Daleks become better and he takes it. He comes to regret it later (and maybe we’re all wondering how bone-dead stupid do you have to be to trust a Dalek), but for a few glorious moments - the Daleks were redeemable. And if it wasn’t for those other three subversive little dopes whispering amongst themselves in sewers and plotting against their boss - it probably would have worked.
5 - Martha Jones is a gem of a companion and she gets some fantastic moments here. She’s the first one to discover what time period they’re in. She spots pig!Laszlo and follows him, thereby gaining a key ally in this whole affair. She’s the one who realizes where the Dalekanium is on the Empire State Building - AND that it’s still up there after the solar flare hits the tower (by the way - in defense of the Daleks’ base of operations in the Empire State Building - if you’re going to take over an entire planet, why not do it with a little style?) And there are those little moments when the Doctor is yelling for the Daleks to just kill him that Martha gets this look on her face like “Um, if you die, how am I supposed to get home?” She also forges a great bond with Tallulah and Laszlo and just takes charge, almost by default. That’s the kind of character she was set up to be in “Smith and Jones” and I love that she is just this natural leader-type. While she’s not yet a doctor in Series 3, I contend that she deserves entrance into the Dr. Liz Shaw Chapter of Awesome Female Scientist Companions (and I completely adore Freema Agyeman as a person, so there's that as well).
6 - I stinkin’ love Tallulah. And Laszlo. But Tallulah most of all. She’s just a fun character to watch. Yes, she’s portrayed as a little ditzy, but she’s got depth to her - when she says she’s glad to have a job in the horrible economy and she doesn’t want to end up out in Hooverville and when she’s worried for Laszlo - that he hasn’t been seen or heard from, but there’s still a white rose on her dressing table every night before she performs. Tallulah is a fantastic connection to this time period and helps ground the story in reality (such as reality ever is in Doctor Who) and every story needs those kinds of characters. The other characters from Hooverville and elsewhere do a good job of that as well, but I think Tallulah is my favorite out of all of them.
7 - Last the best of all the game: David Tennant. Dear Sweet Scorby, David Tennant acts his socks off in this one. I've picked out certain moments where I think this story really shines, and most of that is due in no small part to how David Tennant acts the part of the Doctor. You see this throughout his tenure (and you see it in his other roles as well - Broadchurch, oh my poor poor heart...) - he can go from "happy Tigger goofball" to "grimly, grim, and dark," but never in a way that's over the top or corny. He makes that part of his Doctor and a huge part of why Ten still has so many fans (and it has very little to do with that tight little bottom of his - that's just an added bonus). In fact, Ten was my Doctor for the longest time. At least, until Five came in and stole his thunder (I guess they can argue that over family dinners or something), but I still love him to pieces. It's difficult for me to point out specifics because everything about Ten just works so well and it's all interconnected. I guess I can describe it this way: David Tennant's Doctor is like Tom Baker's Doctor - he was the right fit for the right role at the right time. In many ways, he cemented the Doctor back into British consciousness and led the way for Matt Smith's era to become a global phenomenon (even though I hate that word). If the revival Doctor Who hadn't worked at homebase, there's no way it would have caught on the way it has all around the world.
I don’t expect that my “List of Reasons Why ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ is Better Than You Think It Is” will change very many minds. Hell, all the little holes that people have poked in it haven’t changed my mind in the slightest. But I do hope that this gives people something to think about and a few things to consider. And just remember - one fan’s pig-slave is another fan’s tale of lost redemption.
For another person’s take on Dalek Caan specifically (but as it applies to the business at hand, I’m linking to it) click here: Why I Like Dalek Caan (BTW - Their explanation of the pig slaves is as good as any).
My subject line comes from the special Doctor Who episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks where David Tennant is hosting and he's telling some trivia about some-band-or-another that I guess isn't that popular, but he quickly dismisses the haters by saying "Nope, I like this one too. Get over it." It's a quick, funny, throwaway line, but it works for so many things (and the rest of the show is pretty good - Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins are in it too). You can watch the whole episode here.
Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 10.2 - And you thought your landlords were horrible...
Review 9.03 - The Odd Couple