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Doctor Who 3.4: Daleks in Manhattan

April 22nd, 2007 (02:22 pm)

Last night's Doctor Who Confidential revealed how far Daleks in Manhattan benefited from being written from within the production team. Where Gareth Roberts, an experienced auxiliary who wrote Attack of the Graske for Christmas 2005 and all the TARDISodes last year, went for lavish locations and piled in hundredweights of literary allusions, Helen Raynor, one of the script editors of the new Doctor Who since work on the first series started three years ago, was more economical. Her research was evident but, with Russell T Davies's involvement, she was more selective about what was included in the episode. November 1930 seems to be around the earliest time a Hooverville was set up in Central Park, from what this New York Times article states; and this letter, written to the paper in response, suggests that the civility of Solomon is credible, however unsubtle the painting of the scene establishing his wisdom and his leadership of the Hooverville. (In reply to wellinghall, I think the colour-blindness of the Hoovervilles is attested, though I would have expected Frank from Tennessee to have brought the subject up.) The inclusion of the Empire State Building helps cement the link between last year's Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and this story.

The execution of this episode seemed more effective than Army of Ghosts last year, somehow; I'm not sure why but it was something to do with the sight of the pig-man in the pre-credits sequence and the atmosphere of fatalism this established from the beginning. Even without the Radio Times having revealed most of the developments in this episode, viewers would have a good idea already about Laszlo's fate. A pity that more wasn't made of the oddity of Martha joining the labour gang - it would have accentuated the sense of period if someone had tried to stop her, and then Mr Diagoras had insisted that she come along - perhaps the Daleks have had a shortage of women subjects.

Another thing that made me like this episode more than, say The Shakespeare Code was the level of conviction in the performances, which was that much higher. I definitely think that Charles Palmer (director of the first two episodes) lets performances drift towards a higher level of camp than is appropriate. Here we are shown people who seem rounded despite the fact that we have little to go on. There's enough in the script, and in Miranda Raison's portrayal, to show that Tallulah is more than a dizzy dame - this is a persona that helps her get by and get on, but she knows her way around. Diagoras is not a cardboard villain but someone with ambitious qualities that win praise and rewards from his fellow humans, never mind the Daleks. His brutality is part of his frailty and it makes one care about his fate. His speech to Sec succinctly described how the Daleks had seduced him with ideas that appealed to his imagination, and these were ideas of technological progress as well as personal advancement. We are brought to care about someone who is cruel, and we care when the seduction turns into a surprisingly graphic physical relationship.

Daleks are people too, of course, here, if not human people, as they assert to Martha. The score was tremendous, echoing Gershwin and also 1930s and 1940s film music. In short, I believed in this episode and I liked it very much indeed - I hope that next week isn't a disappointment.


Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)

I liked the slower pace and the more exposition. From what I can gather, the pace of next week's episode is going to take off like a rocket.

I do feel that Martha was a little bit too sidelined by the 'NPCs', but never mind. :) I could have enjoyed a bit more interaction between her and the Doctor, and it would have been nice to have had something at the start to explain why she was being taken on a detour. But you can't have everything.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)

I think after the end of last week's episode we are meant to make up or own minds as to what exactly the Doctor thinks of her, and why he might want to hang on to her (without changing his mind too obviously - hence the detour)...


Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 06:18 pm (UTC)

Another 'detour' speech was probably thought superfluous; and after the emotional outpouring of the close of Gridlock I could envisage the Doctor making a further voyage to restore some sort of balance.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)

I agree that we didn't see much of Martha; although the Doctor did ask her to use her medical experience at one point, that could be viewed as tin dog syndrome, with Tallulah and Laszlo becoming the Doctor's touchstones for the latter part of the episode.

I forgot to mention that the only weakness that really stood out was the failure of the Doctor to hide more effectively at the climax - these Daleks have met the Doctor before and would have recognised him among a crowd, I would have thought.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 23rd, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)

Hiding in full view is a tried and tested method, and the Doctor has made it clear that he is aware of the risk he is taking.
I am sure the Daleks will recognise him as soon as they look at him, but just quietly being there might be the best way to ensure they won't look...


Posted by: Disparate Housewife (wryelle)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)

Great review! I liked it a lot too. I thought visually it worked very well too.

Once again I found myself feeling sorry for the Daleks!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)

The speech where the Dalek and Diagoras looked out over New York and the Dalek pondered the success of humanity was strangely touching; it was the lack of anything consoling from Diagoras that pointed towards his own Dalek-ness.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)

Even I liked it (except for the pigpeople, who are embarrassingly awful, though somewhat redeemed by Pigman of the Opera), so you know it has to be good :-)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)

I like the pig-people, who combine matteroffactness with a disturbing fairytale grotesqueness. Laszlo is a good use of an old twist - the theatre used for the exterior shot is the one in New York where Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is currently running, probably a deliberate choice.

Posted by: malaheed (malaheed)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 09:37 pm (UTC)

From what I saw of this episode it felt like a cross between Doctor Who and the X-Factor. I kept expecting Simon Cowell to pop up to tell one of the darleks that it had been vote off for not being scarey enough. And I'm still waiting for the massed ranks of darleks doing a Bush Berkley musical number

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 22nd, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)

I liked the theatre setting, and thought the Daleks more frightening for having personalities. I don't think it's like The X Factor despite the fact that they are chasing the same Saturday audience!