Review: Doctor Who – 3×4 – Daleks in Manhattan

Daleks In Manhattan

There’s something about Helen Raynor’s writing. It’s always nicely put together, doesn’t insult your intelligence too much and has a certain sensibility about it that makes you think she’s trying to write proper drama. But it’s absolutely dull to watch. Witness the third episode of Torchwood for a similar phenomenon.

So it was with Daleks in Manhattan. With a tiny group of Daleks trying to destroy life as we know it with an insidious plan, it evoked memories of classic Who stories, such as Power of the Daleks. It certainly tried to notch up similar amounts of tension and there was the old-school move of making sure all sets, including sewers, had ultra-smooth floors for the Daleks to glide over.

But coupled with a rather spoilerish edition of the Radio Times that removed all traces of surprise from the story, all it managed to do was get yawns out of me. Yawn, yawn, yawn: that was me doing an impression of myself watching the episode.

On the plus side, there weren’t many plot loopholes to snigger at this week, possibly because there wasn’t a huge amount of plot, either. Not many great lines of dialogue either. The Doctor got to be Doctor-y and scientist-like, which was nice, as well as give us all a potted history of New York and President Hoover.

Martha, however, is slowly degenerating. I think we’re going to have to face facts and accept that sweet FA is never going to be the world’s best actress. But to be fair to the poor love, she doesn’t really get much to do. After Rose supposedly destroyed the ‘legacy’ of classic Who in which female companions were just screaming eye candy (ignoring Liz Shaw, maybe Zoe, maybe Barbara, Leela, Ace, et al), now we have a companion who constantly gets split up from the Doctor so she can get captured and instead of characterisation, gets to pine after the Doctor instead.

Instead, we get personality through definition: she’s a medical student so she must be smart, huh? I don’t want to go back to the bad old days of having every story revolve around the companion to the detriment of the Doctor and everything else (cf Rose), but the least we could do is have Martha insist on a pub crawl and steal a few traffic cones, before dressing up a skeleton and taking it on the bus with her. That, at least, would be character. She should be allowed something of a personality, shouldn’t she? But we’re still waiting. Maybe not next week, but the week after next? Maybe?

I do have one question though: what’s with the space pigs again?

After last week’s fears about American accents, there were fortunately only a few duff ones to really run their nails along our internal blackboards (although having worked with someone from Brooklyn, I have to say the Brooklyn accent is always implausible-sounding, whether it’s real or not) and a few obvious bits of British English syntax and vocabulary emerging from American mouths to really raise eyebrows. The sets were nice-ish, although, as with most of the sets this series, starting to look a little bit cheap at times. The CGI was pretty good, but still noticeable when it shouldn’t have been.

But the story itself was still deeply boring. I think I just really needed to care about the people involved: history lecture instead of personality for the supporting cast just didn’t work for me and I’m not really involved enough in Martha to worry about her. Maybe once the Daleks’ insidious plot becomes more threatening, rather than their just playing with test tubes, I’ll become more interested.

I do have one question though: what’s with the space pigs again? We’ve already had one load of GM-ed pigs, back in series one. Now another load. Seriously, the Daleks came to Earth and thought “Human slaves not good enough. Must have pig slaves”? Did they have pigs in their data banks as a great possibility for future employees or were there a lot of free-range pigs roaming the Empire State Building construction site back in 1930? Did the production team simply watch too many episodes of The Muppets growing up? Or were there a load of pig masks lying around, waiting to save the budget?

More delightful reviews can be found here, here and, of course, here.

  • This one’s splitting people to a remarkable extent ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�much more than I thought it would.
    I thought it was OK ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�better than Aliens of London and Rise of the Cybermen (though that would have been better if Trigger hadn’t hammed it up so much), and very much old-Who in feel. But I don’t like drawing conclusions on two-parters half-way through, so I’ll reserve judgement til next week.
    I really don’t understand the Martha-antipathy. Is there a bit of Rose-tinted specs going on? She was always split up from the Doctor so she could be captured, and four episodes in on series 1, we didn’t know much about her other than her dippy boyfriend that she really didn’t give a toss about and her annoying mother. There was more made of the Doctor’s neediness than her character, and she didn’t really get going until Dalek, when she stopped the Doctor from shooting the Dalek (after getting split up from him and captured).

  • Definitely better than Aliens of London and Rise of the Cybermen, but not as interesting. Paradoxical, huh?
    I didn’t really like Rose, myself, although I thought Billie Piper was really good. But I think you overlook the Rose-phone in episode two, her reaction to the TARDIS messing with her brain, her feelings about the end of the Earth, her return to Chez Tyler in Aliens of London. Even if all you got was that she was a bit home-bound really, that was still a character trait. Martha: is a student, has a crap family, fancies the Doctor. Not really getting what she makes of all of the places she’s gone to, whether she misses home and university, how she feels about the deaths of all the people she was working with and treating at that hospital and so on.

  • Once again you are right about everything Rob! (ie I agree!) Martha’s about as three-dimensional as a one-dimensional thing, the sets looked shoddy (marble wallpaper, anyone) and the story was just dull. I’m not going mad after all!

  • It is indeed all true. I have spoken. Or should that be we have spoken?
    Maybe Martha could organise Rag Week in the TARDIS. That would be fun.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    I’m amazed so many people have gone for the surplus pig masks/we’ve had GM-ed pigs before.
    We had one actual pig that had been cybernetically wired up to do unpiggly things. It looked sod all like the ones in Saturday’s episode.
    Why hybridise at all? It seems likely it was part of initial experiments to develop/refine the techniques by which the first Dalek hybrid would be created. Why pigs? Well, when it comes to animals that are easy to train, they’re right up there with dogs; and they’re physiologically more similar to humans in a number of ways.
    One can’t be sure that’s how HR thought of things, but there it is.

  • And the Daleks would know that how? Have they been getting every kind of creature under the sun shipped up to the top of the Empire State Building? And once they’d done their experiments, why carry on getting more humans to turn into pigs if the only plan was for slaves – they have a perfectly good Robo-isation process they could use.
    Personally, I just like to see a little more variety in my exploited animals. I’m sure they could have had fun with some Manatee or a spiny anteater for a change.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    And the Daleks would know that how? Have they been getting every kind of creature under the sun shipped up to the top of the Empire State Building?
    I don’t think they would’ve commenced this work on top of the ESB, given construction only started six months prior to the episode. If they were getting hold of creatures to try this out on, then livestock would’ve been a natural avenue to explore. Then it would be a matter of testing genetic/physiological compatability and observing the competence of the end result.
    In other words, they find this stuff out via experimentation, not through instant knowledge. Which is, after all, how scientists are supposed to work.
    Besides, robotisation ain’t all that — if you recally, people who’ve undergone the process eventually top themselves. Whereas the pig slaves only need muck to keep’em happy.

  • Yes, I think our word on Doctor Who should now be considered law. The proper Whovian and the enthusiastic newbie: no-one can contradict that combination, surely? 😉

  • Daleks scientists already know everything.
    Fair dos though. Pig experimentation hereby declared possible. Not sure about the pig-slaves concept, and it already seems to have a few flaws, but then I could never understand why the Daleks thought the Ogrons were a cracking bunch of recruits.

  • “The proper Whovian and the enthusiastic newbie”
    Sounds a bit like The Avengers, or maybe a Mitchell and Webb sketch. But it all seems like a good plan to me.

  • Haha I’m good for either of those.

  • Absolutely hated every second of it. Excoriating review up on my site now.

  • Another ‘why pigs?’ thought ?��Ǩ��� monkeys/apes are too intelligent, and you come up against the Planet of the Apes thing; and dogs would have been better for the slave concept, but they would have been too cute. The pig make-up was nasty and brutal-looking; nobody wants to grow up to be a pig (they’d rather swing on a star).
    Of course, this is all construction-grade nerd polyfilla.
    If you thought this was bad, just think what Chris Chibnall’s is going to be like. At least we’ve still got Steven Moffat.

  • I’m *so* looking forward to the Moffat episode/s. They *can’t* be bad, surely?!!

  • There’s only one, and it’s the ‘Doc-lite’ episode, and I’d be very suprised if it was bad!
    We’ve also got a two-parter by the bloke who wrote ‘Father’s Day’ in the first series, which should be good.
    By the way, Time Out says that this week’s episode is ‘a vast improvement’ on last week’s.

  • It had better be, or Words Will Be Had.

  • espedair

    It was a pretty good ep. I thought overall pretty good. . special effects looked nice. Pig people frightening for the kids!
    As for the Rose Maratha debate well Rose was amazing and I won’t really hear any other opinion. I thought the show would be seriously weak after she left. However Martha is pretty good, not annoying and gets enough good lines to be liked. She seems pretty convinving too. At least we didn’t get another Ace or Turlough

  • “We’ve also got a two-parter by the bloke who wrote ‘Father’s Day’ in the first series, which should be good.”
    It’s. Paul. Cornell. Take that back.
    “At least we didn’t get another Ace or Turlough”
    Take that back, too. Turlough was great for a story and a half.

  • Ace was my first memorable Companion and turned up for my school fair at primary school and I was too scared to talk to her. I won’t hear a word against her even now. I am 31 years old. Oh dear.

  • You shouldn’t say anything nasty about Ace. She might blow you up.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    What is it with you and Cornell?

  • Everything I’ve seen or read that he’s written and everything I’ve heard about him makes me think, “What a tosser.”
    Take this, from “The New Audio Adventures: The Inside Story”:

    ‘Some weeks later, Big Finish held the meeting in London of
    potential Doctor Who audio writers. “It was there that Gary
    announced to all assembled that the reason I’d been
    commissioned was that he needed the script fast,” laments
    Briggs, “and that he wanted to keep the information under wraps,
    so he had thought the best solution was to commission someone
    he knew and could trust. There was a murmured groan around
    the room. No one was pleased for me. If any of them were, they kept it very secret. I was really taken aback and disappointed by
    that lack of generosity. Paul Cornell in particular seemed to be
    flabbergasted. Perhaps he thought he should have been asked. I
    recall him saying that the writer of the first story should be a
    ‘special’ writer. ‘And,’ he said turning to look at me, ‘frankly,
    darling, that ain’t you.’ It was very unpleasant for me.”‘

    How, having heard that story, can you not want to beat him with a stick? Even if you don’t own a stick, doesn’t it make you want to get down on the pavement, cap in hand, sacrificing all dignity, just so you can beg for enough money to buy a stick to beat Paul Cornell with?
    He may, of course, be a perfectly nice man and everyone’s lying about him. Personally, I’m just happy to have a Paul Cornell?������ totem to hate, whether it’s in any way representative of him or not, thus getting all the associated negative emotions out of my system and away from every other aspect of my life, leaving me a lovely human being in its wake.

  • espedair

    Rob, sorry man but Turlouigh was less cool that Adric. Nuff said.
    And jsut for you Marie I’ll take it back about Ace. Esp having heard her on the WHO podcast… she’s a trooper .
    Human Daleks… whatever next!

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    I concede that Cornell has had more than his fair share of tossy moments (cf. his old column in SFX, a notable spat with David McIntee on Usenet, and some rather insightful commentary on PC’s character from the otherwise madder than Jack McMadd Lawrence Miles). And he does have an irritating need to demonstrate a politically correct viewpoint on practically any topic you’d care to mention. But in the few dealings I’ve had with him, he’s been friendly and helpful; and of the (precisely) two scripts of his I’ve seen produced, I’ve liked both. So, it’s difficult for me to have a problem with him.
    Oh, and Espedair — you’re incredibly wrong about the relative wrongnesses of the both really quite wrong Adric and Turlough. There’s wrong and then there’s Adric wrong; despite Frontios, Turlough escapes the latter category.

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