Doctor Who #757: The Daleks in Manhattan

"It's the Depression, sweetie. Your heart might break, but the show goes on."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.21 2007.

IN THIS ONE... New York during the Depression. The Cult of Skaro is in charge of getting the Empire State Building finished (no reference to The Chase or Morton Dill, alas).

REVIEW: When I say Helen Raynor's name on the writing credit, I thought she was Jacqueline Raynor for a minute, who wrote various Doctor Who novels and audios, not all of them good, but most of them clever and fun. Her work included the worst ever New Who novel I've ever read (and I admit to reading quite a few), which explains my confusion, and why this mistake on my part didn't necessarily fill me with anticipation. HELEN Raynor is someone else entirely, of course, a producer on the show who was handed a two-parter, likely because she could write to the production's needs. The result is a hodgepodge of the good and the bad, the thematically flimsy and the occasional plot hole. I don't dislike the first part of this, but I don't like it much either.

The good comes from history. I find it fascinating that there was a shanty town built in Central Park during the Depression, and bit of obvious Biblical referencing aside (Solomon splitting bread in half), the sequences achieve a certain poignancy. Even Tallulah, who was not a favorite when the show first aired, is a melancholy comic foil, hit by hard times, despite what may seem like glamorous trappings. She's a sweet bouncing board for Martha and gets a fun musical number that adds some color to the setting (much as the music hall numbers had in The Talons of Weng-Chiang). The American accents, through caricatured, are generally better than what the show usually offers. It helps, because a problematic script certainly doesn't need distractions. Speaking of distractions, check out young Andrew Garfield as Frank the homeless boy from Tennessee! Spider-Man was in Doctor Who, folks! And though I'm not going to list the Daleks as a plus, the Doctor's bitterness and outrage at their survival IS. Tennant is pretty intense throughout the episode, but I also like Martha speaking the Daleks' language ("Report!") to get answers.

The bad is either about plotting or theme. The Doctor has no real incentive to investigate the Hoovertown mystery. Tallulah, confronted by pigged-up Laszlo in shadow doesn't know who he is despite his voice being the same, and only recognizes him when she sees him in the light, when he's NOT looking like Laszlo. The Daleks haul their captives into a room just to "witness" Sec's transformation into a human/Dalek hybrid (I mean, why??). And for that matter, WHY must they "walk again"? Their motivation just doesn't make sense, no matter how much they seem to respect human accomplishment or Diogenes' ambition. And what's with all the pigs? Are they readily available in the Big City that they would be chosen to genetically cross humans with? Why not rats if they're going to run around the sewers? What does the pig symbolize here anyway? And why is the production team obsessed with alien bacon (see also Aliens of London). I have only a little more respect for the angel/devil motif in the musical number, because Sec's more or less going to become good when he gains humanity (despite Diogenes being a very bad man), but that's really the reverse of the song. Maybe it's just supposed to be more Biblical referencing to prepare our Time Lord for full Jesussing by the finale (groan). Nice number, like I said, but it's hurt by the silly slapstick sequence with Martha trying to cross the stage in the most disruptive way possible. As you can see, it's not all Raynor's fault, there's a lot going wrong with James Strong's direction as well. I'm leaving discussion of the new hybrid Dalek for the next review, which is just as well.

SECOND OPINIONS: As the title of my original review, Where's the Racism?, indicates, I spent most of my word count on a theory as to why the New Whoniverse seems a more accepting place for minorities, but there are some notes on the episode as well.

VERSIONS: The deleted scenes on the DVD include a long TARDIS console opening in which the Doctor justifies one more trip, and extended scenes make Solomon a bit more wary of the well-fed TARDIS crew, and Tallulah refer to the Doctor's musical theater leanings in his presence.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - An interesting historical setting and good moments for the regulars hampered by a rocky script.


Anonymous said...

A tiny bit more on the Central Park Hooverville:

There were Hoovervilles in all kinds of major cities. Cleveland had more than one, and if you've ever heard of Cleveland's "Torso" killer, you'll also be interested to hear that Cleveland's public safety director, Elliot Ness (yes that one), burned down one of the Hoovervilles in hopes that it would cut off the killer's supply of victims. Brian Michael Bendis didn't just make that up in his "Torso" graphic novel. (Not recommended reading, unfortunately -- he tries to jazz up real events and characters but the result is something too fictional to be good history, and not interesting enough to be good fiction.)

Siskoid said...

That's some awesome background! Thanks for that.


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