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.
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!