With a reverse-Davros cliffhanger (that’s half-man half-Dalek, but the other way around) and a super New York Depression-era setting, Daleks in Manhattan promised to be the fantastic first part of a fantastic two parter. So did Evolution of the Daleks deliver?
Kids up and down the country were thrilled (or filled with fear) by the immortal words "I am the first Human Dalek!" in an almost Zygon-like voice as Dalek Sec crawled from his old Dalekanium travel machine, and I was certainly thrilled by Daleks in Manhattan. I can’t help feeling that Evolution of the Daleks missed the boat somehow, however.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some great moments – the Daleks attack on Hooverville, for instance, and the reaction of Sec to the death of Solomon (more on that later). While top marks must go however to Miranda Raison as Tallulah who pushed all the right buttons this episode and painted a character that was definitely archetypal (while sailing very close to the wind of stereotypical), my favourite moment in the episode was the conversation between the two Daleks in the sewers, and the thread that this sewed in the overall narrative (one which we older fans saw coming from ooh, the moment we saw the Radio Times cover).
It did make me wonder what else the Daleks chat about, and whether their previous conspiracies to over-rule Davros occurred in such circumstances. And it was Davros, mentioned for the third time in the review already who very nearly got a name check as the Doctor challenged the Daleks over their plans, referring to him as "your creator". Which was pretty warming, and perhaps we’ll even get to see him back one day (bearing in mind he was lost in 1963), restoring the Daleks to their former glory one more time.
Hugh Quarshie – best known as Holby City’s Ric Griffin – played a blinder in Daleks in Manhattan as the compelling Solomon. Yet somehow he was dead within minutes of Evolution starting, sacrificed to the long list of heroes who died alongside the Doctor. Conversely, the grotesque Laszlo (Ryan Carnes, that guy from Desperate Housewives was equally compelling and deserved a brave death – instead he was (cruelly?) kept alive by the Doctor. Bearing in mind that the spectre of fascism was hanging over the entire world and the terrible treatment German and Japanese expatriates would receive during World War Two this seems a strange choice for the Doctor to make, paving slabs notwithstanding.
One of the reviews or comments I saw of Evolution of the Daleks paid attention to the Daleks AutoCAD skills to demonstrate their plan to use the Empire State Building as a giant lightning conductor. I’m loathe to imagine the two sewer-dwelling chatterbox Daleks taking a trip to the local nickelodeon to watch Frankenstein then nip back and let Dalek Sec think that he thought of it, but it is a nice picture. Sec was of course the brains of the outfit, and made the ultimate sacrifice for any Dalek – yet this was of course to be his downfall. His reaction at the death of Solomon was a massive giveaway to has hate-filled Cult of Skaro comrades that the experiment was not what they in the end were all about, and in many ways it’s a shame Sec didn’t somehow escape, set to roam eternity shunned by everyone he encountered much as DWM’s Kroton the Cyberman did.
So what did go wrong with Evolution of the Daleks? Not much really, in the end it was quite watchable, Eric Loren was superb as Dalek Sec’s On Legs, it made sense (more or less) and featured the almost death of the bloody Sonic Screwdriver. I guarantee that Sarah Jane Smith was less sick of it in Hand of Fear than I am now. The sight of it tumbling out of the Doctor’s hand atop the Empire State Building cheered me up no end after the death of Solomon, as did the sight of Tallulah, Marthat, pig-boy and the guy with the Interesting Accent (Professor Higgins would have had a field day with him) cobbling together a scaffold-based lightning conductor to have an ad hoc barbeque.
With Dalek Sec’s plan to convert lots of blank slate humans into Nice Daleks demanding a great deal of energy, it was obvious that the energy was going to come in the form of lightning. So how come the Doctor – a genius, according to Sec – didn’t cotton on? Perhaps he a psychological block on RKO horror picture plots following a previous near-death experience a couple of bodies back?
Aye, there are holes in Evolution of the Daleks, but Helen Raynor’s script on the whole did the job, furthering the theme of the meaning of humanity and giving us a suitably absurd conclusion.
Last season’s Age of Steel collapsed under the weight of it’s finale, the Doctor versus the new Cyber Controller, and if there is anything wrong with Evolution of the Daleks it is a similar face off between the Doctor and the two Daleks in the theatre. Tennant obviously wins hands-down, and his toned-down performance this series continues into this episode, even though he is dragged over the top in his demands to be shot by the Dalek Humans. Possibly just a bit too contrived, signposting from Central Park the imminent sacrifice of Dalek Sec.
If I were Steve Preston or Gareth Kavanagh I would be awarding 3 Toms with a bonus for no mention in 90 minutes of Doctor Who of Rose Tyler (spoilt it now, haven’t I?), but as I’m not, it’s not getting a score. Helen Raynor should be given another chance next series, however, and it would be good to have a return to 1930s New York in later series…