Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Daleks in Manhattan

Story No. 192 Dalek Sec
Production Code Series Three Episode Four
Dates April 21 2007

With David Tennant,
Freema Agyeman
Written by Helen Raynor Directed by James Strong
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: New York, 1930, sees the completion of the Empire State building, the Depression... and Daleks.


A Review by David Weber 4/5/07

This episode rather threw me, as in a season so far confident in old-school approaches as new ideas, this was by far the most old-school episode so far. Which makes it difficult to rate in a way, because not only is it old-school, it's also pure set-up, and a proper slow-burner to boot. So easily watchable, but hard to see how much more.

Radio Times is a past hand in the art of spoiling episodes. So experienced, that it's unwise to give them any help. So I find myself rather annoyed that Russell T Davies, who has himself stressed the importance of keeping the show surprising, and evidently encountered more than his fair share of problems in doing so, should allow such a monstrous spoiler for this story. I understand the need for publicity, but the idea that Davies could only publicise by giving away the cliffhanger, not to mention half the plot, on the front cover, is ludicrous.

Anyway, what am I doing moaning about a useless listings magazine at the start of a review of the hotly anticipated new Dalek two-parter? I'm forgetting (not to mention failing) my priorities again. Daleks in Manhattan is almost certainly the most blatent Dalek story since - well, Dalek. They're there in the title, and thankfully there from the beginning. This is good, because it allows them to get exactly the build-up and exploration they've needed for a while, instead of blithely swooping in when needed and pumping up the action. This is a much more "proper" Dalek outing than Doomsday - partly because in giving them time to breathe the story allows itself to analyse the mindset of the Daleks in much more detail than in a while.

Despite this, there are some quibbles with this approach. The first being, fascinating though the dialogue between the Dalek and Mr. Diablos - sorry, Diagoras - and the disagreement within the cult are, they can't take away completely from the fact that the Daleks do really very little in the way of action in this episode. It's another in the way of being complete set-up, and it detracts slightly from the tension.

However, it matters very little here, mainly due to the superb work done in other areas. I actually like the pig-men a lot, despite the fact that up until the episode aired they looked very likely to be something silly in the vein of the pig from Aliens of London, they actually work brilliantly in a very disturbing, revolting way. Particularly noteworthy is the chlaustrophobic way they are filmed, enhancing their terror. Apart from this, there is the undeniable advantage of the setting of a good amount of the scenes in the sewers, which is always a good idea when you need to enhance the suspense as much as possible while paying off very little. And it suits the Daleks to a tee, with the shots of them gliding around the sewers some of the most atmospheric of the series so far.

Apart from this, Raynor's script also satirises capitalism quite significantly. Whilst this may offend some, and politics in Doctor Who are always fated to be controversial and divisive, it works quite neatly here, considering the fact that it is quite subtle and not overstated, and couples well with the Daleks. There's something about comparing Daleks to capitalism that I really like, and while that may be merely a reflective of my anti-capitalist principles, the parallel runs deeper than that, and the contrasting tales of survival and despair work really well.

The story's main flaw is that for such a slow-burner, it's a little disappointing that Raynor didn't manage to make slightly more of the characters than she did. Despite the story having more time to breathe, none of the guest characters have enough time to really stand out as much as ones in previous episodes have; despite still being quite strong, only Tallulah and Lazlo really have any impact and as it is the story sidelines them for a little too much of the story for my liking. Despite this, the characterisation works very well, it's only less strong than I'd like it.

All of this builds up to a breathtaking climax. Despite the spoiling factor of the Radio Times, and the fact that the cliffhanger monster looks more misplaced than shocking (albeit only in a fashion Doctor Who is famous for, and probably just as terrifying to children as silly to adults, like Doctor Who has always been), the adventure is truly riveting when it gets going. However, if anything, Daleks in Manhattan is probably a little too well-paced, and interests more than it grips in places. Prepare to be pleasantly thrilled, but don't expect to be dazzled.


A Review by Joe Ford 18/5/07

A superb episode and not at all what we are used to with NuWho. Rather than cramming an entire plot into one episode and keeping the piece pacy and exciting, this two parter has the luxury of setting the scene with more detail and concentrating on menace as well as plot. The last time we were treated to an episode with this much historical detail and atmosphere was The Empty Child, another deliberately measured but creepy 45 minutes.

I love stories that teach as well as entertain and this is an episode that takes us into the heart of 1930's New York and highlights the squalor of Hooverville against the grandeur of New York City. It is a terrific setting to the background of the main plot; the hope and dignity of humankind is mirrored by the Daleks and both attempting to survive in any way they can. When we get to walk around Hooverville with the Doctor and Martha it is an education experience, not the shantytown I originally thought but real people mucking together, all races, all creeds. The human spirit shines from Daleks in Manhattan more than any other episode.

Has the show had a budget increase in series three? Every episode so far seems to be told on a grander, more ambitious scale than the last. The recreation of New York looks effortless here (although you only have to watch Confidential to realise how much effort has gone into this), so convincing you would swear they had a time machine available and they actually filmed in the 1930's. The visuals are broader and more colourful than usual, mimicking the style of those grand 1950's films that advertise the style and glamour of the time. There is a musical number two thirds into the episode and it is fabulous in every respect, choreographed with style and glamour and adding bags of atmosphere to the story. Even the scenes in the sewers are shot to maximize their scare factor.

Of course, the biggest draw to this episode is the Daleks and, given that their name is in the title of the episode and they appear very early (within the first ten minutes), it is clear this is not another ratings grabbing exercise but a proper plot for the metal meanies. I have always loved the Daleks when they are devious and intelligent (David Whitaker's two Troughton Dalek stories really highlight the creatures at their best) and Helen Raynor's use of the creatures in this episode is inspired.

The Daleks are trying to survive. After the Doctor defeated them at the close of Doomsday, there are only four of them left in existence. The idea that a Dalek could look out over the city of New York and see its own city and ponder on the destruction of its world is astonishing. Their plan is audacious but will ensure the future of the Dalek race. The sequence where a Dalek objects to the idea of making themselves genetically impure took my breath away; it's not just a bunch of robots standing around screaming but four desperate aliens arguing about the future of their race. When Dalek Sec turns on them and declares: "If we are Supreme, why are we not victorious?" my jaw dropped. This is great writing. Raynor will not rest the episode on the fact that the Daleks simply appear, she has looked into their back story and intelligently reasoned a plot that will re-invent them again, pushing their story forwards with one of the most brave twists in their history. I love it.

There are lots of little kisses to the past that I really liked. The Daleks on the Empire State Building (The Chase), the Pig Men and the Daleks gliding along creepy underground tunnels (Day of the Daleks), messing with genetics (Genesis of the Daleks) and the Doctor finding a mutant (Destiny of the Daleks). These scenes are not direct steals and in this setting feel spanking new but the occasional glance over your shoulder to see where inspiration has come from is suitable.

Both the Pig Men and Tallulah should be hideous creations but somehow they both work beautifully. The Pig Men look nasty and brutal and their bestial squealing makes for some really uncomfortable scenes in the sewer. Tallulah (three l's, one h) is written with humour and pathos and Miranda Raison's performance is so innocent and sweet that she subverts her character spec (ditzy blond showgirl) and makes a fine addition to the story. In particular the sequence where Tallulah is reunited with her beau Lazlo (who has been genetically altered by the Daleks) is beautifully performed and quite touching.

I won't beat about the bush, the cliffhanger is the best yet, shocking and dramatically scored for maximum impact. The Doctor and Martha are trooped into the Dalek laboratory and bear witness to the birth of the new Daleks.

Top dialogue:

Daleks in Manhattan is a fantastic episode, full of little details that give the epic story depth. The evolution of the Daleks is long overdue and Helen Raynor has written a near-perfect script to set them on their new path.