Monday, June 29, 2015

This Is Where They Lose Me On The Daleks: “Daleks In Manhattan!”

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Packed with irrelevant and distracting guest characters, Ridiculous plot, Mediocre special effects.
The Basics: The Daleks surface in 1930 New York City where they are experimenting with humans and building the Empire State Building.

At this point, I will watch pretty much anything with Andrew Garfield in it. Garfield is, easily, one of the best actors of the day and while Benedict Cumberbatch gets a lot of attention and is taking a slew of roles, Garfield could go toe to toe with him dramatically in virtually anything. As it turns out, Andrew Garfield was in a two-part episode of Doctor Who before he started getting big movie roles. Unfortunately for me as a fan of Doctor Who and Andrew Garfield, the episodes Garfield was in were some of the most problematic.

The essence of my problem with “Daleks In Manhattan” is that the formidable adversary that has been the Daleks are further weakened by the way they are presented in the episode. The Daleks seem to escape through time and space as much as The Doctor does and while Russell T. Davies made some intriguing arcs with them, when Helen Raynor took the reins for writing “Daleks In Manhattan,” she created a preposterous story and one of the weirdest allies to the Daleks ever. Amid the story of Daleks living in Earth’s past are a new race of human/pig hybrids and the idea that humans at the technological level they were at in the 1930s could adequately combat the Daleks is a pretty ridiculous notion.

After Laszlo, a pretty regular guy in 1930, who is involved with the dancer, Tallulah, disappears, The Doctor and Martha Jones arrive in New York City on November 1, 1930. Martha is excited because she has always wanted to go to New York City and she sees that they have arrived at an intriguing time; the Empire State Building is not yet complete. The Doctor sees on a newspaper headline that people are disappearing from Hooverville and the pair begins to investigate. Checking out Hooverville, The Doctor meets Solomon, a community organizer among the impoverished living in Central Park. When Mr. Diagoras visits Hooverville after the Daleks insist he finish the Empire State Building that very night, The Doctor, Martha, Frank, and Solomon take some work going into the sewer. While they are running into weird biological matter in the sewers, Diagoras is enforcing the will of the Daleks with completing the spire on the Empire State Building.

Diagoras is brought before Dalek Sec, the leader of the Cult Of Skarro, the surviving Dalek from the future. Sec is experimenting upon humans, creating human/pig hybrids with the citizens of Hooverville. In the sewers, The Doctor and his team encounter one of the people abducted, who has been altered by the Daleks. In escaping, Frank is abducted by the pig men and the group meets up with Tallulah. Solomon suspects The Doctor is not what he seems when The Doctor tries to analyze a jellyfish-like creature they found in the sewers. While Dalek Sec makes a move on Diagoras, The Doctor realizes just who he is fighting!

In “Doomsday” (reviewed here!), the survival of the Daleks was virtually assured when one made a temporal leap to escape the trap The Doctor and Rose set. So, the idea that Dalek Sec survived is not actually surprising. Near the climax of the episode, Sec gives a decent monologue which explains his concept of evolving the Daleks. The idea of Daleks willing to use human DNA undermines the whole idea of what the Daleks are. After all, if the Daleks are the last remaining creatures from the planet Skarro, the idea of going to Earth to try to resurrect the race is a ridiculous one. Moreover, the writers do not seem to actually understand what DNA is; if DNA is a blueprint, a chain of amino acids in a specific order, one can pretty easily replicate alien DNA from any building blocks once they have the full blueprint. In other words, Daleks that had the full record of Skarran DNA in their database could simply reconstruct pure Skarran DNA from any genetic material, i.e. frogs, with vastly less risk than they take on in “Daleks In Manhattan.”

So, the idea of Daleks experimenting on humans and creating a race of human/pig hybrids is absurd and the episode “Daleks In Manhattan” does not justify its concept well-enough to be convincing.

Similarly unfortunately, “Daleks In Manhattan” is crowded with guest characters who fail to resonate. Laszlo and Tallulah are hardly compelling and their arc and reuniting feels like filler. Laszlo serves mostly to provide exposition late in the episode and Frank is not developed enough to truly be vital. Similarly, Solomon is a good idea, but more of an archetype than an actual character.

Martha Jones stands out in the episode. Jones is defined as having superior intelligence in “Daleks In Manhattan” by the Daleks and the episode marks the first time that Martha explicitly declares that she has romantic feelings for The Doctor. Jones is smart and resourceful as ever in “Daleks In Manhattan” and Freema Agyeman plays her well, as always. David Tennant is given shockingly little to do in “Daleks In Manhattan,” especially with the cluttered guest cast.

Perhaps that is why “Daleks In Manhattan” fails; it’s so much set-up and the set-up is more silly than compelling to the characters viewers love and respect.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with resurrected villains, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“Dark Frontier, Part 1” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Tempus Fugit” - The X-Files
“The Only Light In The Darkness” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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