TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.04 – 3.05 “Daleks in Manhattan” & “Evolution of the Daleks”

“[In 1930s New York] The Doctor and Martha confront a host of surviving Daleks from the Canary Wharf battle. What are those creatures in the sewers? And why are the Cult Of Skaro attempting to create a Dalek/Human hybrid…?”

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3.04 Daleks in Manhattan (killcolor) 7

Episodes 3.04 and 5 “Daleks in Manhattan” & “Evolution of the Daleks”
Written By: Helen Raynor
Originally Aired: April 21 and 28, 2007

Synopsis: “[In 1930s New York] The Doctor and Martha confront a host of surviving Daleks from the Canary Wharf battle. What are those creatures in the sewers? And why are the Cult Of Skaro attempting to create a Dalek/Human hybrid…?” (Wikipedia)

Bet you didn’t know that Daleks built the Empire State Building! Yessiree. Perhaps you remember how, during the Battle of Canary Wharf in “Doomsday” (the incredible Series 2 finale), the Cult of Skaro escaped through an “emergency temporal shift.” These four elite Daleks, specially selected to preserve their race by thinking creatively, ended up in Depression-era New York, where they started plotting again. Concepts like this are just pure Doctor Who. The historical ones tend to be my favorites not only because I’m a history buff but also because it’s fun to see how the show works its alien mythology into the details of the real events of the past.In this two-parter we see Depression-era New York recreated with great flair and convincing atmosphere. It’s the exaggerated New York of our imaginations, as shaped by movies and high school American history courses. The almost-completed Empire State Building towers over the gleaming Chrysler Building and the rest of the sprawling megacity, while the fabulously wealthy amuse themselves as they try to ignore the hordes of unemployed homeless that gather in Central Park’s Hooverville. Against this backdrop the Doctor and Martha have a good, pulpy adventure involving an exploitative businessman in over his head, Dalek treachery, and goofy-but-creepy pigmen who stalk the sewers and the backstages of theaters.

It being many months since I watched it, I admit that I had forgotten a lot of this story. For a reason I am not sure of, it gets overshadowed in my memory by the smaller episodes preceding it and the more astounding ones that come later in the season. Yet upon revisiting it (through YouTube!) I found it to be quite entertaining, and a strong, if hardly perfect, example of what Doctor Who is all about.

Humanity is well-represented here. The emotional core is provided by the (somewhat) tragic love story of showgirl Tallulah and her boyfriend Laszlo. They are a genuinely sweet couple, and I liked how their story played out, pig nose and all. They aren’t assured a happy ending, but are given the means and freedom to have one. A victim of the Daleks’ experiments in fusing human DNA with pig DNA, the mutated Laszlo nevertheless retains his sharp mind, his dignity, and all of his considerable virtues, including courage and a romantic heart. The other notable good human is Solomon, the de facto leader of Hooverville, who is struggling to maintain peace and order. In a scene which is not so much symbolism as direct adaptation from the Bible, he settles an argument over a loaf of bread by splitting it in half, one half for each hungry man. His wisdom also extends to his dealings with the Doctor and the Daleks. Recognizing the Doctor’s superior knowledge, he often supports him, but not to the point of setting aside what he knows to be right. When the Daleks attack Hooverville, Solomon attempts to reason with them, even though the Doctor and Martha have told him that they are emotionless killers. But Solomon can’t just accept their word for it—he knows that the right thing to do before using violence is to try to reach peace through other methods, and he must try. He even says that the appearance of these aliens, however terrifying, only causes him to be amazed at the vastness and glory of God’s creation—a sentiment I certainly appreciate! Alas, the idealistic ones rarely live long in modern shows, and good Solomon is incinerated by the Dalek—but not before greatly impressing Dalek Sec.

You know, the pigmen are actually kind of creepy, especially when they're stalking you in the sewers or in the forest at night.

Ah, Dalek Sec: “the cleverest” of all Daleks, the leader of the Cult of Skaro and the Dalek general at the Battle of Canary Wharf. His plan, to ensure the survival of the Daleks, is to splice their DNA with human DNA in the hopes of gaining humanity’s knack for adaptation and invention. I don’t favor the idea of genetic splicing, as it involves the concept of being able to scientifically change someone’s species. This seems to come from a purely naturalistic worldview, and is incompatible with a Christian view of the relationship between body and soul. Yes, this is science fiction, but even in speculative fiction a writer speculates according to his worldview. But anyway, moving past that objection, I do find it interesting how this concept is used to further develop Dalek Sec’s character and, indeed, to show the Daleks in a whole new light.

Once Dalek Sec uses himself as the prime test subject and assimilates human DNA, he gains emotions, independent thought, and even some morals. Of course, the other Daleks cannot tolerate this, but it’s interesting to watch the Doctor’s reaction. I think back to Episode 1.06 “Dalek,” in which the Ninth Doctor so vehemently resisted the idea of offering mercy and compassion to the Daleks. But here, the Tenth Doctor realizes that there is a chance for something new and wonderful—a redeemed Dalek, a good Dalek. The influence of Rose is still felt in Ten’s ability for compassion, although Martha has had an effect that way as well. Solomon’s heroic martyrdom also left an impression on the Doctor, as well as on Dalek Sec. And the best thing is that even when Dalek Sec is slain by the other Daleks for treachery, the Doctor doesn’t forget this hope. When he confronts the last remaining Dalek at the end, Dalek Caan, whose DNA is still resolutely pure Dalek, he offers it mercy. He offers it help to change and to start anew in peace. The Doctor makes an effort to love his enemy. He’s not perfect, but he tries, and that’s the right thing to do. Dalek Caan’s response?

EMERGENCY TEMPORAL SHIFT!!!

Darn it! So close. Well, the Dalek race lives on to reappear again. When? We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

Tallulah: Doctor, can’t you do something?
The Doctor: [softly] Oh, Tallulah with 3 L’s and an H… Just you watch me. What do I need, oh I dunno, how about a great big genetic laboratory? Oh look, I’ve got one. [runs around grabbing equipment.] Lazlo, just you hold on! There have been too many deaths today; way too many people have died. Brand new creatures and wise old men and age-old enemies, and I tell you, I tell you right now, I am not having one more death!

Other Reviews: The History of the Doctor
All screencaps from killcolor

Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

7 thoughts on “TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.04 – 3.05 “Daleks in Manhattan” & “Evolution of the Daleks””

  1. don’t favor the idea of genetic splicing, as it involves the concept of being able to scientifically change someone’s species. The family of man only comes in one specie:, Biblically, many familes and nations from the same two ancestors. Do you mean splicing human genetic information with an another species like a horse?

    while the fabulously wealthy amuse themselves When I think Stock Market crash– Depression era New York, I view the fabulous wealthy as Lucky Luciano and Associates. 🙂
    Wonderful to find that others liked this episode, as at the time it aired, Internet reaction from fans inspired RTD to write the “Bast-ds” chapter in his book.

    Helen Rayner was one of my favorite writers when it came to visualizing Martha and the Doctor‘s relationship. Rather than showing Martha as “pining”, Raynor shows Martha as an intellegent woman, being swept off her feet and falling in love with an amazing man.

    I liked the comparison to the Rose Dalek Episode: Faced with battle to the death with Daleks, Nine sent Rose home,(She came back because she had NOTHING at home to keep her there–as in Demon episode, she reasoned, no job, ect– She’s got to save the Doctor)– a testament to the Doctor’s love for Rose.

    Faced with battle to the Death with Daleks in Manhattan, the Doctor orders Martha to do what she does best — care for people, then latter apologizes,– as well he should have, –but orders her to stand and fight. He appears to see Martha as a fellow soldier. Nothing speaks to the kind of relationship Martha and the Doctor have than the Doctor’s mildly surprised: “Hi. You survived then.”

    Ms Raynor touched on Martha’s Hippocratic Oath, after she killed the Pig Men, although I think they dropped it much too casuall. However Laslo giving Martha comfort in that moment, kept well within the spirit of respect for humanity better nature in the episode.

    and a strong, if hardly perfect, example of what Doctor Who is all about.
    Yes here, and again yes!
    This episode had many of the elements of the classic show. Kudos for Tallulah and Martha bonding. Although, while I felt a great deal of respect for Solomon refusing to let the Doctor speak for his community or humanity –I found Solomon’s dialect (as opposed to his accent) unfortunate–then again– so was Tallulah‘s.

    The only disappointment I felt about the episode, was more about the missed opportunity: Martha Jones in New York, the 30s, but no Harlem, no Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway, or young Duke Ellington. It would have been delightful. But again, the bond between Martha, Frank, Lazlo, and Tallulah made up for that lack.

    1. That is indeed why I said “species” instead of “races.” This isn’t the only Doctor Who episode to bring up the idea of changing a member of one species into another, but it’s the first I recall encountering. A Dalek becoming human, humans becoming Dalek/Time Lord…I think there’s a difference between a mutated member of a species, which is still fully that species, and the idea that one species could change into a wholly different one. That’s what bothers me.

      Now when I think of 1930s New York, I think primarily of The Thin Man movies. +)

      Good points about Martha. This makes me think again about the differences in my reactions to Martha and Rose. Martha is far the stronger woman, the more intelligent, the wiser, the kinder, the more competent–all things I love. But if the Doctor had never come into her life, she would still have turned out just fine. If the Doctor had never met Rose, though, Rose’s life would have at the least been weak, boring, and probably very unfulfilling. More was at stake with Rose. That’s not a criticism of Martha as a character at all, just an observation.

      Oo, you’re right there: lots of great things missed in this episode. I’d have loved to see some Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington. There’s really such a wealth of famous people they could have met, places they could have gone, and cultural developments they could have been part of! Of course they can’t do them all in one story, though. Perhaps they’ll return to 1930s America in the future, eh? Meanwhile, I get my dose of 1930s mythical Americana through Lackadaisy.

      All this talk of possibilities makes me really want to check out all the Doctor Who books and audio specials for other stories.

  2. “Darn it! So close.” Those four words sum up my general feelings about this story. I don’t like it. I feel like I *should* like it, given that it’s one of the few new series stories that comes closest to the feel of the classic episodes. But I just don’t. Here’s how it works out on balance:

    Things I liked –
    * Martha. I always liked Martha, but here she helps the Doctor face down his oldest, most dangerous enemies, and she earns his true respect for perhaps the first time. Their relationship was developed very well throughout this season, and this is a great story for it.
    * The storyline characters. Who has a long history of great one-off parts, and I did love what this story did with Tallulah and Laszlo. Solomon was effective; his death was not entirely unexpected, but it still packed a punch.
    * The krazy, konvoluted Dalek plan. The Daleks always have a ridiculously elaborate long game going on, and this one was a doozy. It was the first time I got the impression that the writer was trying to do a “classic” Daleks story. “Bad Wolf” and “Doomsday” were apocalyptic, but they weren’t really too far out. This one posits a secret underground Dalek mutant lab under New York policed by pig men. Now *that’s* what I’m talking about!
    * The setting. 1930s Manhattan? Night clubs, Hooverville, in-construction Empire State Building? Heck yeah, son!

    Things I didn’t like –

    * The setting. I agree that they didn’t do nearly enough with it. Budget constraints being what they are, I should be satisfied with what I got, but they were in America, for goodness’ sake! Explore a bit, guys!
    * Diagoras/Dalek Sek. I loved him as the obligatory human collaborator. But his ruthlessness as a human totally torpedoed the evolution of Sek. Why would a Dalek (of all things) all of a sudden get a conscience? That’s a stretch, even from bonding with someone like Rose, but after bonding with a guy who turned dozens of fellow humans into deteriorating pig-men? Someone who wanted to rule the world after the Daleks took it over in a vast extermination campaign? This just doesn’t track on a basic level. It might have been made to work if Sek had been given more of an arc post-bonding, or if Diagoras had been depicted as having something resembling a conscience earlier on, but just as in a lot of other RTD-era episodes, “humanity” is taken for granted as a Goodness tonic. Lazy and sloppy character development.
    * The Doctor. I love that the Doctor tries to show mercy whenever possible. In almost every case, it’s admirable and endearing. But the Daleks are a special case. It makes absolutely no sense that, after they’ve destroyed all their human-Dalek hybrids, he would still give them a chance. It’s purely idiotic. This episode, for me, was a turning point. I ended up having a bit of a problem with Ten’s characterization, and most of it traces back to this story. I could sort of understand helping Sek, when there was a real chance of redeeming the Daleks. But after Sek’s murder and the murder of all the slaves… The Daleks are incapable of learning or moving beyond what they are, because their ideology simply doesn’t permit it. Of all people, the Doctor should know this, but, well, there he is, offering them another chance. None of the previous nine would have been that stupid. So close, indeed.

    Things I find intriguing –

    * The embryonic stem cell subtext. Who rarely interrogates its topical themes with a ton of depth, but then, it mostly deals with more generalized issues of ethics and power. Here, however, the hundreds of human bodies are clearly intended to be a stand-in for unused embryonic stem cells, and the Doctor’s snap decision to turn them all into Daleks was a bit discomfiting. I don’t dislike the story’s stance on this, but I don’t like it, either. As with a lot of other things about this particular story, I just wish it would have been handled better. The Doctor goes out of his way to show the Daleks mercy, but he takes them at their word that these humans can’t be saved? I call shenanigans.
    * The impending Dalek invasion as metaphor for Nazis. I liked that the show returned the Daleks to their roots as Nazi stand-ins. The time period and the idea of taking over the world and the internal tension about racial purity — all of this should work in this story’s favor, but again, the Doctor functioning as collaborator throws the moral perspective out of whack. It’s not entirely inconsistent with the Doctor’s character that he would so something shady or ethically questionable, but the show doesn’t stop to question it. It just goes along with it for the sake of advancing the plot. A massive waste of an opportunity, even if the idea is touched on.

    Overall, I give this one big points for ambition, but the execution was a bit of a muddle. For my money, the new series has yet to do a Dalek story on the level of “Genesis” or “Remembrance.” The series four finale gave it a real shot. But I guess you’ll get to that later. 🙂

    1. You have an excellent point about Diagoras/Sec. Of all the humans to consume, Diagoras wasn’t the one I’d expect to give Sec a strong conscience. And Sec’s “conversion,” if you will, while interesting, was far too sudden. Perhaps that was an arc that could have continued through to the finale (though to squeeze Dalek Sec into the plot with the Master would likely have been too much, and we already just had two season finales focusing on the Daleks).

      In most cases I’d totally agree with you that the Daleks should never be shown mercy. But here, I think the Doctor was justified in offering it, at least out of principle. He had seen how much Dalek Sec changed. There was still the possibility that the fusion with humanity had really just brought out a long-hardened, long-brutalized conscience that was native to the Daleks before they transformed themselves into killing machines. However, I do think he was a bit too confident in his ability to help the Daleks start anew as a peaceful race. Helping a hardened individual reform is difficult and uncertain enough, but thinking he could change an entire species? Sometimes the Doctor does begin to think that he is a god.

      There are many weaknesses, philosophical and plot-wise, in this storyline. I think I let some of these slide more than others because of the pulpy nature of the story, but they are still there.

      Once I catch up to the current series, I do plan to start in on some of the classic Who. Since, I understand, many of the early episodes are lost, where would you suggest is a good place (or Doctor) for me to start?

      1. The Doctor’s overconfidence is one of his key character traits. But he also has a long memory. I suppose that I’m just bringing the baggage of the classic series into this story, which is why I am so harsh on the Doctor extending mercy to the Daleks. Part of it is also just personal bias. I love that the Doctor gives even his most bitter enemies a chance to make good, but I don’t like how the show (read: RTD) endorses his foolhardiness. It’s a bit of a dodge to have the companions or other characters make the choice that the Doctor won’t — even though it is obviously necessary in a material, life-or-death way — then upbraid them for it. Your point about him jumping right on board with trying to change the Dalek race and his god complex is spot on. As I said, though, I mostly dislike this story as a harbinger of how the Tenth Doctor evolved over the course of his run.

        Re: Where to start on the classic series… Oy. For everyone, it’s different, and there are dozens of fan-scribed guides out there already. It depends a bit on how serious you are about getting more into Doctor Who. I’m not gonna lie: some of those old stories are a real slog. And the rhythm of the classic series is totally different from the new series, primarily because of production scheduling and budget constraints. But it’s still Doctor Who. I believe the first full story I watched was “City of Death,” a Fourth Doctor story written by Douglas Adams. It’s a lot of fun. Not one of the very best, but it got me intrigued. If you want to go for context (and system shock), you might try starting with the very first episode, then skip from that to the first Dalek story (which was only the second story in the series). It’ll give you a sense of how far the series has come while also establishing a lot of the dynamics that have remained in the show for fifty years. If you want more recommendations, I can make them, but I’ll hold off a while until you’re caught up with the new series.

        And for the record, I really, really liked season six. The second half wasn’t quite as strong as the first half, but it is still, in my opinion, the single best season of Who that I’ve seen.

        1. I share your frustration with how the show, through Davies’ influence, seems to endorse the Doctor’s foolhardy pacifism, especially while criticizing his heroism. There was even an io9 article to that effect, arguing that the Doctor should never apologize for fighting evil (I didn’t read all of the short article, because it has references Matt Smith episodes I have not seen, but the end of it references the cringeworthy example from the Series 4 finale where the villain apparently shames the Doctor).

          Series 6 seems to be somewhat divisive, from what I hear. Some people love it, some people hate the direction it has taken. Others disliked the beginning but loved the finale, while you thought the first half was stronger. Guess I’ll just have to see for myself when I get there!

  3. I’m so glad to see your DW reviews continuing at last! THoughtful and thought-provoking.

    You pick fabulous quotes! This one made me miss Ten something terrible. Eleven is wonderful, of course, but I get nostalgic.

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