5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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DALEKS IN MANHATTAN/EVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS
“But you have doubts?” “Affirmative.”
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
Yes, they sell lots of toys. But do we have to have massive dollops of Dalek every year?
Trouble is, Daleks are very impressive and all, but there isn’t a lot you can do with them. You can go the relentless purveyors of evil route – and you should – but when not rationed out with exquisite care it does all tend to get a bit samey.
The other option is to mess with the Daleks. Make them kind. Make them thoughtful. Make them… human. You don’t need us to to tell you that’s the bad option, right?
They tried it in Dalek, and they made a right pig’s ear of it there. But that was a mere bagatelle. In Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks, it comes apart like a trolley built by a five year old hitting a diamond wall at two hundred miles an hour.
There’s so much Dalek dreadfulness, it’s hard to know where to start. So why don’t we start at the top? With the ultimate what were they thinking creation, the Dalek/human hybrid. Now it’s not just that it’s funny, although let’s take a moment to contemplate just how funny it is, shall we? We burst out laughing every time those mutant worms start waving. And we particularly love the Shatneresque pauses in delivery, caused by the fact that the poor bastard can’t breathe and talk at the same time (quite a design flaw there, Daleks, you geniuses).
Ahem. We’ve composed ourselves now (not thinking about the mutant worms. NOT thinking about the mutant worms) for a sober look at the brilliant plan the renegade Cult of Skaro came up with (wonder if they studied theology at the Skaro Institute Of Extermination?). The Cult’s this bold new experiment, right? To make Daleks think in revolutionary new ways and thus to perpetuate Dalek mightiness, yea, until the very end of time?
So much for that. The best they could come up with was as follows: Daleks, four. Humans, six billion. Let’s get us some of that humany goodness.
But that just isn’t very smart, is it? The reason the Daleks are four and the humans aren’t isn’t because of the wondrous survival abilities of the humans. It’s because the Doctor doesn’t like Daleks. It’s the Doctor, and Rose at the Doctor’s behest, that have swept the Daleks from history and shut the door on them. So instead of making like mad scientists, they’d have been a lot better off shutting up about exterminating the Doctor and actually getting on with it.
Instead… Remember the days when the Doctor was terrified of a single Dalek? So powerful was it, apparently, that it could reach out and extinguish entire cities with a single squelch of the plunger. (Somehow.) Unfortunately for these scrag-end of Dalek civilisation types, however, world domination’s quite the uphill struggle. First, they have to morph into upwardly-mobile property developers/capitalist running dogs: so where’d the cash come from? Not just for all that lab stuff, including the little niche thing lined with freshly baked scones, but the moolah for the architect and the building materials and the construction workers? Yeah, they were paying them slave wages, but slave wages are still wages, and they have to come from somewhere. Were they selling organs? Running cake stalls? Wait a minute! We know! It was bacon sandwiches!
So having constructed their bacon-based empire and given up on the fake squishy Daleks as a bad job, Step Two was to start putting all those leftover bacon scraps to good use. (Well, can you think of a better reason to pick pigs to start crossing humans with?) That went OK, and the sandwich trade paid for their overalls and stuff, but the hybrids only lived a few weeks. You’d think at this point they’d stop to work the kinks out of the process, but these cult members are nothing if not optimists. Moving right along to Phase Three, without so much as a control group head honcho Sec volunteers himself to be test subject number one. (Getting a feel for why they didn’t do too well yet?) On with ye olde DNA-mingling (which always magically produces a new life form instead of, you know, cancer), and voila, wormhead.
All going according to plan, then? Well, only sort of, because the human part starts getting uppity. Thay’s had a bad enough day as it is, losing some of his bumps (does that mean his brother is an bumpy Dalek, but he is a smooth Dalek?) and this one-eyed eejit is the last straw. A part-human thinking partly like a human was pretty much the point, but when it comes to the crunch, the Daleks just aren’t keen. And who can blame them? This is at least a plot point that’s genuinely Daleky. You know the story of the scorpion who asks the frog to carry him across the river, persuading the frog he won’t sting him, and when the scorpion does sting him, thus dooming them both, the scorpion says “it is my nature”? Swap the scorpion for a metal pepperpot and you’ve got the Daleks to a T. The whole point of the Cult is to get away from traditional Dalek thinking, but in the end there’s no escaping it. Daleks are Daleks, and that’s that. And at least they got that right.
So. Back to Plan B: making pure little Dalek thinkers with human frames. And this is better than making proper Daleks with flying capabilities and big guns because… because… well, even a set-in-its-ways Dalek shouldn’t be this stupid. Maybe they thought it would be a shame to waste all the raw materials they had lolling around in stretchers above their heads, and after all, switching to real Dalek production would take a positive mountain range of bacon sarnies. So it’s (giggle) Dalek.2, then, and it’s not at all like the Cyberepisodes we saw last year SHUT UP SHUT UP.
Wouldn’t you know it, though? It’s that bloody Doctor again, chucking a sonic screwdriver into the works. HeusesgammaraysintheformoflightningtoinfusehisDNAintotheblankedouthumans, thus making them more about the questioning than the obeying. (We thought if we said it quicker it might be more convincing. Ah, well.) And with their ranks thinned down to one, the lone Dalek left gives it all up as a bad job.
So why is all this a bad idea, you ask? (Well, not you. Our readers are smarter than that.) Simple: it’s because it makes the Daleks look like morons. It was bad enough in Doomsday when they were cracking jokes like stand-ups at a comedy festival, but this is worse. Stupid plans carried out stupidly makes an enemy that elicits not a shiver but a snigger. And that’s really, really sad. The Daleks deserve better.
So much for the Daleks. What about the Doctor?
In Daleks In Manhattan, with one glaring exception he’s very good indeed. The humour’s charmingly Doctorly without tipping into mania; his rage at seeing the Dalek is tamped right down: overall, it’s an enjoyably throttled-back performance, and is so much stronger for it. The exception: “They always survive, while I lose everything”. No, no, no. Self-pity only worked for the Sixth Doctor, and then only because it was funny. We don’t want to hear this Doctor whining, and we don’t want to see his hearts on his sleeve to quite this extent either. Let’s get back to the mystery, shall we?
Alas, the Doctor in Evolution Of The Daleks is another Doctor altogether. Gone is the control: it’s full shouty mode. Not only is this dull and ineffective, it also makes the Doctor look like he’s caught a dose of the Daleks’ stupidity virus. Why is he yelping about how the Daleks just had to start killing? They’re Daleks. Why is he surprised they killed the human Daleks? THEY’RE DALEKS!
The dumbness doesn’t stop there. Why in God’s name does the Doctor go along with Sec’s nutty plan to produce the hybrids? Yes, it’s all very Doctorly to allow even his deadliest enemies a chance at redemption, but to plunge into this, taking Sec’s word that the humans can’t reclaim their humanity and that they’ll be a force for peace and love and light (or whatever) without even taking a second to think about the implications is mad. Not only is it moronic: after all the Doctor’s been through to eradicate the Daleks it’s utterly unbelievable. Redirect the Daleks down a new evolutionary path: sure. Do it on the spur of the moment taking a Dalek’s word for it that it’s for the best: are you kidding?
And that’s not the worst of it. In one of the least Doctorly scenes ever, the Doctor begs the Daleks to kill him if it will spare the others. Granted, the Doctor’s a little bit overwrought due to his past history with the Daleks, but that’s absolutely no excuse. First of all, giving up and leaving everyone else to face the Daleks once he’d been offed is about as probable for the Doctor as proposing to one of his companions. And second, the Doctor isn’t remotely daft enough to entertain even for a nanosecond the notion that sacrificing himself would make the Daleks spare as much as a sausage. This seriously tries our patience.
And the rest? Well, if you’ve read our other stuff you know how much we love historicals. It looks expensive, but the overdone Noo Yawk accents are grating, and the theatre stuff as is tired as a narcoleptic after a late night. Particularly maddening is the inclusion of a Busby Berkeley-stylee sequence: it’s lazy shorthand for Thirties Broadway Show that makes nil sense in a live performance unless they were selling seats in the flies. Tallulah is is generic as they come: we couldn’t summon up any interest in her as a character at all.
As for Laszlo, argh. First of all, stop opening shows with somebody being attacked, willya? It’s getting incredibly boring. We’re not thrilled by the Phantom of the Opera ripoff either (or the Frankenstein one at the end, come to that): as far as we’re concerned, “homage” means “couldn’t be bothered thinking up our own plot”. Why was there a sewer entrance backstage in a theatre, anyway? And the ending, dooming Laszlo to skulk around in a park with a bag over his head, is actively cruel. Hardly one of the Doctor’s best moments.
Hooverville is all very worthy, but we were drowning in the sucking bog of saccharine swamping the Noble Poor. Soloman is particularly horrific: can you believe he actually says “We can make a better tomorrow”? We were yelling “Exterminate him! If you don’t, I will!”: any story that makes us side with the Daleks has gone way off the rails. Frank is adequate. That’s about all we can say. Overall, we just didn’t care all that much about any of them except Martha.
But at least Martha’s a bright spot. Excellent as ever, she has a particularly great scene here when she has to confront the fact that she’s taken the pig slaves’ lives. For a doctor in training, that’s a big deal, and her soberness after her initial jubilation at defeating the pig slaves is brilliant.
It’s well-executed, without a doubt. But great execution can’t save a dumb premise, dumb Daleks, dull characters and a shouty and out-of-character Doctor. The little Dalek that Caan got away, so we know the Daleks will be back. Let’s make ‘em a bit scarier next time, yeah? It’s the least they deserve.
MORAL: Keep your bumps to yourself.
DON’T SPRAIN YOUR ANKLE
All very sweet, the rosebud and all, but dancers never wear fresh flowers onstage as a dropped petal can be lethal. And where’s Laszlo getting them from after he’s pigified, anyway?
MOVING RIGHT ALONG
We love the way it segues from the horror of Frank being dragged away by the pig people to, for all we know, a horrific fate, into the comedy routine with Tallulah and the gun. Niiice judgment there, guys.
PROTECT AND SERVE
They’re just bums, he’s just a stagehand – what does it take it get the police interested in investigating crime in this town?
SPONSORED BY THE NRA
So the poor are so poor they’re stealing bread from each other to survive, yes? So where did all those nice shiny new rifles come from?
SOMETHING ABOUT THE VOICE
“Who are you?”? It takes Tallulah forever to cotton on that it’s her boyfriend lurking in the shadows. How blonde can you get?
What a relief that the invisible choir managed to make it into the emergency temporal shift.
“If you choose death and destruction, death and destruction will choose you.” Thanks, Yoda.
DOCTOR X HAS BUILT A CREATURE
Too many transmitters. Stop it.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK