Adapt Themselves To The Planet (Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks)
|I am a human Dalek. I am your future. My head is covered|
It’s April 21st, 2007. David Tennant’s joy is over, and not just because of the story we’re talking about today. Timbaland have made it to number one with “Give It To Me.” There are no other significant changes to the charts, but a week later Beyonce and Shakira take number one with “Beautiful Liar,” and Arctic Monkeys, Enemy, Mark Ronson, and Natasha Bedingfield also chart, the latter with the rather impressively titled “I Wanna Have Your Babies.”
In news, the Virginia Tech massacre takes place, about which I find myself wanting to say little more. Boris Yeltsin dies. The first of the 2008 US Presidential debates takes place, which should provide lots of flavor and color in these sections in the days to come. And Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, calls a general election.
While on television it’s Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, a pair of beloved and well-regarded episodes that nobody has a bad word for. One of the things that starts to happen with Season Three, and continues throughout the new series, is that Doctor Who begins to attempt to update various past eras of the show. Having done most of its “the definitive X” ideas in the first two seasons, the series moved on to pilfering the past in a broader way. Gridlock was part and parcel of this – in many ways, it’s just Paradise Towers or The Happiness Patrol for the modern age. Which also clarifies the sorts of stories that this approach is meant to open the door to.
With Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, then, we get a combination of two old types of stories: the Hartnell-style historical, and the Hartnell-style periodic Dalek epic. It’s easy to forget that in Seasons Two through Four of the classic series, the Daleks were given twelve to thirteen episodes a year. Something between 20-30% of every season of Doctor Who in the first four years was consumed by Dalek stories. And so after two seasons in which the Daleks were mostly wheeled on as surprise villains, here we get Daleks treated as something ordinary – an obligatory, annual engagement. This is not bad so much as it’s different – certainly the Daleks have had that role before, and not just in the 1960s (there’s an annual Dalek story in all of Seasons Nine through Twelve).
This results in us having to re-evaluate the Daleks in terms of their basic function. They are no longer the apocalyptic “worst threat imaginable.” They’re a routine but perennial threat. The Doctor even acknowledges this, mocking the Daleks, saying, “time was, four Daleks could have conquered the world, but instead you’re skulking away, hidden in the dark, experimenting.” But this isn’t a devastating change as such. The Daleks become the occasions for celebration – excuses for a big popcorn-munching runaround. This also has to be taken in terms of the at times formulaic structure of the Davies era – the past/present/future trilogy of the first three stories, an action heavy two-parter with prominent monsters “for the kids,” a darker and more horror-focused two-parter, a cheap/Doctor light episode, and finally a big narrative collapse for the season finale. Among these ten of the thirteen episodes in a given season are already accounted for.
And so putting the Daleks in that opening two-parter slot cements their status, in this story at least, as monsters one is meant to say “oh boy!” about. This exists in sharp contrast to two seasons in which it was reiterated again and again that the Daleks were the single scariest thing in existence, but is also an essential part of what the Daleks were, and it’s gratifying to see them move into this classic structure instead of being held back for postmodernist epics in which they stand as the most terrifying concepts imaginable. If we cannot have fun with the Daleks occasionally then it is not entirely clear what they’re for.
On the other side, then, we have the Hartnell historical. It is a fact lost on devotees of the new series that history does not exist entirely so that the Doctor can meet famous character actors in heavy makeup. Celebrity historicals are a charming invention in their own right, but in their original conception history wasn’t just a place to romp through the fun bits of the textbook, it was a place of proper terror. On the one hand, it’s familiar, and on the other, the rules of it are tangibly and dangerously different from our world.
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks embraces this sort of treatment of history. There’s no famous personages here – a first for the new series. (The Idiot’s Lantern was ultimately a celebrity historical in which the celebrity only appears on telly.) Instead we get a slightly awkward infodump about Hoovervilles and some impressively bitter lines about economic injustice. Sure, we’re playing around in the Empire State Building, but it’s not just a New York City landmark, it’s a visceral collision of art-deco opulence with exploitative labor conditions in which the Daleks become the ultimate in capitalist pigs. Even the theater is not allowed to be a Moulin Rouge-style celebration of the jazz age, becoming just another workplace filled with desperate people.
There’s a jarringness to this, as the excited shots of the Statue of Liberty give way to a story that is aggressively uninterested in tarrying for too long in Heritage Theme Park New York. Like Raynor’s previous contribution to the world of Doctor Who, Ghost Machine, this is a story that treats the past as an unresolved anxiety, and is prepared to reflect our nostalgia for it back at an uncomfortable and unnerving angle. It’s not what viewers expect, and certainly not what they expect in what is otherwise set up to be a big Dalek spectacle.
The difficulty in doing these two categories of Hartnell story together, though, is that they’re very, very different stories. Just because they came from the same period of the show’s history does not mean they’re easy bedfellows at all – after all, the Hartnell era, more than any era other than the Davies era, reveled in its ability to say “and next week, a program with nothing whatsoever in common with the one you just watched!” The big Dalek spectaculars of The Chase or The Evil of the Daleks (the second to last Hartnell story) are meant to juxtapose sharply with things like The Crusade and The Highlanders. So attempting to do both at once is tricky.
Inasmuch as it’s possible, most of the progress comes from the progression of historicals from what we’ve described as the Lucarotti style – history as a dark and uncertain place to be gradually understood – and the Spooner style – essentially prototypic versions of the celebrity historical in which history is to be toured for the highlights. The Spooner style, bent as it is towards spectacle, is well-designed for dropping Daleks in – which actually explains bits of The Chase. But Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is going for the Lucarotti style of history, which seems like it ought to resist Daleks.
But Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks ends up clawing out a space in which the two disparate styles can be made to play nicely. The Daleks fit all too well into a setting defined by the stark power imbalance between the people of Hooverville, who can’t meaningfully protest against appalling wages and unsafe working conditions, and people like Mr. Diagoras, who sit above the fray in seats of privileged power. Their status as the self-proclaimed supreme beings of the universe gives them a clear place in this world. So as the world’s uncertain and dangerous contours become clear, the fact that the Daleks are at the apex of it seems the most natural thing in the world. They are, in the end, the exact right metaphor for what this story is trying to do.
The result involves a unification between two moral visions from opposite ends of the classic series. On the one hand the story fits into the late-McCoy tradition of attacks on social Darwinism; things like Survival and Ghost Light that draw links between political power and an ideological view of evolution. On the other, however, its central conflict is clearly nicked from The Evil of the Daleks – good old Human Factors and Dalek Factors. So we have the Andrew Cartmel tradition of brash political statement and the David Whitaker tradition of alchemy and of history as a fundamental force in the universe.
The link to Cartmel is telling, especially after a story that draws from the same comic book roots that Cartmel based much of his era on, and that is also set in New York. This story trades openly on Gridlock, working in the dialogue that got lost for New Earth and having the Daleks talk about the indestructible nature of New York City. In many ways what’s being fought over is the idea of New York City, with the same issues of control, authority, and power that animated Gridlock. Just as that story ultimately suggested that we are saved by each other, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks creates a mythic image of New York that all the characters are wrapped up in and in awe of.
This sense of New York, as the city in which a Broadway star and a pig man can fall in love, is ultimately what gets subbed in for the Human Factor, and is shown to be so powerful that it can overwhelm the Dalek factor. Human nature becomes a sense of some larger purpose or teleology – something that transcends the social order, although the social order seems to be its greatest expression. Its nature is perhaps a bit opaque, lurking underneath a variety of speeches about the glories of human nature, but the sense of it is clear.
And so the Daleks make a lone attempt at a different sort of survival, changing themselves from the unalterable mark that cannot be rewritten into something that will thrive and survive. They go from being absolute to being eternal, such that Whitakerian alchemy becomes the explicit alternative to the neoliberal ruthlessness that Cartmel decries.
But, of course, it can’t be. The Daleks are the one absolute and unalterable aspect of Doctor Who, the show that can change forever. Any effort to change them falters, even Dalek Sec’s well-intentioned plan. (Just like the last time someone tried to change the Daleks this way.) The glorious depravity of them making Dalek Sec crawl, in chains, jumps out here in highlighting just how nasty the Daleks are in practice – the sadistic brutality that they embody. Because the historical situation they find themselves at the apex of may be cruel, but it’s also temporary. History progresses. Things change. They also don’t, of course – this story is, if anything, more apropos in 2013’s austerity Britain than it was in 2007. But equally, all of the economic injustice and gross exploitations that we see in this story will pass.
The Daleks are so much worse than that. Truly undefeatable, guaranteed to survive while the Doctor, over and over again, has to change and reinvent. Unchanging terrors that the series shapes itself around. As ever, one survives, setting up a new adventure – some future configuration in which the world of Doctor Who will bend itself around their implacable singularity. They stand as the exceptions to history – the opposing force to change and to building things. They are undying, yes.
But not eternal. Eternity, in the end, is reserved for New York, and for Doctor Who. For things that can change, and reinvent themselves endlessly, embracing multitudes. Growing so large that plot beats from early 1960s television can be sewn back together and reassembled into something at once new and unmistakably of the past. Is this, perhaps, what material social progress is?
September 9, 2013 @ 12:37 am
Wonderfully put. All true and praiseworthy. It's just a pity that the actual story is such utter bollocks.
September 9, 2013 @ 12:49 am
Well said. The only noticeable problems with these episodes is that they're boring, the pig slaves and human!sec are excruciatingly ugly and the rebellion of the human Daleks doesn't actually have anything to do with New York or anything. But who cares about that when we have Talullah correcting Martha's assumption that being the 'star' means she has power, or "Your heart might break but the show goes on 'cause if it stops, you starve"? Then there's Martha… apparently transforming gamma radiation into lightning by sheer force of will, and using it to kill the pigslaves then remembering it wasn't their fault, that they were once human. I'm not sure if it's growing me or not, but there's definitely some good stuff in there.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:01 am
I like the notion that this story merely underlines the pointless struggle between order and chaos, by observing that neither of them can "win" because the moment one of them does, the game is over. Obviously, identifying which side is which is an exercise that is left to the reader.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:10 am
Only 25% of the story is bollocks
September 9, 2013 @ 1:18 am
It's certainly the most ambitious of the five double part monster runarounds. Terribly flawed of course: the idea that the daleks need to adapt to survive is one that we know is simply not true. (The only real threat to the daleks is the Terry Nation estate withholding the rights.) Also we need to see either more or less of Diagoras – what we do see isn't enough to base the new Dalek Sec upon but enough to render Sec as new empathic dalek not quite credible.
But there's more to the story that's sound to it than it's given credit for.
September 9, 2013 @ 2:17 am
I've always really liked half of this story. I used to say it was the first half, but now I can say it's the Lucarottian half – thanks for that.
September 9, 2013 @ 2:27 am
It's certainly ambitious, but it's ruined by bad dialogue, atrocious visual design, and too much padding. It's interesting to me that this story marks the closest Tennant's Doctor will come to Pertwee's until the Waters of Mars.
September 9, 2013 @ 2:28 am
This is certainly not a review blog!
September 9, 2013 @ 2:32 am
"While on television it’s Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, a pair of beloved and well-regarded episodes that nobody has a bad word for."
This bit made me laugh out loud at work, thanks for that 😀
September 9, 2013 @ 2:36 am
Also, I think this story could have been a lot more palatable with just a few minor changes – I really like the Hooverville stuff, and a lot of the themes are well considered….
I really just think that the design of Dalek Sec and the unfortunate way they decided to do his voice (which made it very hard for him to properly emote very well) really, really let the story down at its most crucial junctures, almost making it unwatchable.
I don't mind the pig-people that much, but Dalek Sec is very hard to watch in a way he didn't have to be.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:11 am
"Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks embraces this sort of treatment of history. There’s no famous personages here – a first for the new series. (The Idiot’s Lantern was ultimately a celebrity historical in which the celebrity only appears on telly.)"
The Empty Child wants a word with you.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:12 am
I must be missing something – what's this about "The Evil of the Daleks" being the second to last Hartnell story? Was it originally scripted for Hartnell?
September 9, 2013 @ 3:19 am
I love the atmosphere in these episodes. I actually disagree with the view that the design was poor (except perhaps Dalek Sec's head). I loved the Frankenstein inspired Dalek lab and the whole Universal Horror Movie homage throughout the whole story. Infact I sometimes like to think of this as the third Big Screen Dalek movie sans Peter Cushing (if you edit the episodes together and imagine them on the Big Screen!)
Henry R. Kujawa
September 9, 2013 @ 3:22 am
"this story is, if anything, more apropos in 2013’s austerity Britain than it was in 2007. But equally, all of the economic injustice and gross exploitations that we see in this story will pass."
God almighty, I hope so. Otherwise, I think a "French Revolution" kind of thing is gonna be called for… soon.
September 9, 2013 @ 4:05 am
The Cult of Skaro – wasted. They could've been more of a recurring presence, to add variety in to the Daleks. Instead, they're introduced before millions more Daleks are released – then they escape – and then they all die, except one who escapes and goes mad. Boom done. So much waste, with such a cool idea.
This story is a bit pants, but my god it looks so good!
September 9, 2013 @ 4:13 am
In what sense is Tennant's doctor like Pertwee's in this story? (Not a challenge to your comment, just a request for elucidation!)
September 9, 2013 @ 5:22 am
He spends the whole episode either yelling angrily about injustice or dashing about saving the day by doing Science. I just get the impression that Pertwee's is the Doctor Raynor is most familiar with based on this episode.
September 9, 2013 @ 5:39 am
Even when I watched "Evolution" on the night, I knew it wasn't good. The whole thing just didn't work, and yet I couldn't put my finger on what it was. The individual parts of the story all seemed fine, and to be honest they still do. Except even now I just can't rewatch it. I start off with "Manhattan" and all good intentions, and then after the cliffhanger I put on the second episode and it all just turns to mehhhh…
The story did get largely savaged on Gallifrey Base, and much of that was laid at the feet of Helen Raynor, unjustifiably I think. It's like fandom not liking the recent film adaptation of "The Hobbit" and blaming Tolkien.
Even now I'm reading the comments and it's obvious other people don't like it either. But each person seems to blame different things. The story is arse; the direction's arse; the acting's arse; the Dalek Sec hybrid is pants. And each criticism I've seen through the years has been accompanied by "but this bit's fine"…where "this bit" is put forward by someone else as the culprit!
There must be some objective reason why the story doesn't work. I'm pretty certain it's in "Evolution" since I can imagine something good following "Manhattan" and we'd all have praised the two-parter. But I can't see any Part 1 making Part 2 good.
I just can't track it down. There's a steaming turd somewhere in there. I can smell it, but I can't see it.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:26 am
I always thought the problem was that it's about the Daleks building the Empire State building to catch sunspots after dark with a lightning rod.
It also misses the opportunity for Doctor Who to meet Doctor Clark Savage Jr. and have Doc Savage fighting Daleks, which would have been so cool. But that's a minor quibble that can be fixed with fanfic.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:43 am
I was also disappointed that the Cult were disposed of so quickly, but at least they made Caan into a mad seer of some kind.
What really made me sad was that Caan didn't take the Doctor up on his offer of help. What "help" could the Doctor offer to a lone Dalek?
My idea? Strand it on a planetoid a biillion light-years away from any other civilization, and let it lord it over an empire of dust until it runs down. That might be the only way it would ever be happy.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:52 am
I think he meant to say "Daleks' Master Plan" instead of "Evil" and "The Smugglers" instead of "The Highlanders."
September 9, 2013 @ 6:54 am
Yes, but the Daleks don't know it's not true. The very idea that a Dalek would suggest change as a survival strategy is a revolution in their thinking.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:55 am
No, but I for one and very glad to see a redemptive reading of this story!
September 9, 2013 @ 6:58 am
I think that this script was just one RTD polish/rewrite away from being very good indeed, and as we know, he was very ill and unable to perform those duties for a lot of S3.
The design of Sec was always going to be a problem, especially when they realized they couldn't make him as grisly or as CGI heavy as Davy Jones, their obvious inspiration. It would have been great if they could have gotten Nicholas Briggs to play Diagoras, as then he could have given him a properly interesting human/Dalek voice. (But with a fake American accent?)
September 9, 2013 @ 6:59 am
I liked that aspect too, though I wish they'd paid more attention to "Island of Lost Souls."
September 9, 2013 @ 7:01 am
I agree. I love the ideas at work here. And there are some great moments all around. And yet, it doesn't work. There is something at the corner of my eye…
Maybe it's that some of the emotional beats fall hollow? A lot of our characters are fairly programmatic. This isn't a problem as long as the story keeps hitting it's beats and keeps us interested. In a two-parter where other things (like monster design) goes a little wonky, we have more time for focus on things like the fact that Lazlo and Taluhla aren't people so much as stock characters. So when we see anguish over their situation, we know how we're supposed to feel but lack a true investment?
Perhaps it's high expectations? We have all sorts of set pieces that could be absolutely amazing. Daleks! Manhatten! Hoovervilles! Show Girls! Sewer Chases! How could an episode live up to that? It has all these things that should be an absolute treat…but even with those there is no way to deliver a payoff.
Like you said Spacewarp, I just can't see where it all goes wrong…
September 9, 2013 @ 7:06 am
Maybe it's just that it attempts to do too much and fails to juggle everything adequately.
September 9, 2013 @ 7:14 am
Despite this story's obvious flaws, it does deliver the Dalek thrills in a major way, and uses them in a manner not seen in the new series as yet (ie, as fun villains you can hide from just by ducking into an alcove).
Notably, this story downgrades their invulnerability by giving us the second time in 4 stories we see any Daleks get blown up (just as notably, every time we've seen that in the new series it's when they are shot by their own weapons, and no, I'm not counting the self-destruct or Rose's magical fairy dust).
James Strong films the Daleks with great panache, making them seem threatening, powerful, mobile and emotional (all those close-ups of their eyes!). The camera work in the "The Doctor will step away from the controls!" scene is masterful. His only major mis-step was having Sec bounce its eye in time with its dialogue. Anyway I am really sorry he's not been asked back by Moffat; he's a great visual stylist.
And huge, huge kudos to the Dalek operators, who have obviously gotten very comfortable and familiar with their costumes and pull off some amazingly elegant movements here. The bit where one of them enters the elevator and then spins around on the spot is just great. The analog for this episode in the original series is "Daleks' Master Plan" in terms of the operators having become expert at creating interesting and alien movements for the Daleks to perform.
September 9, 2013 @ 7:21 am
The key to this story thread being the excellent scene there the Dalek looks out over New York City and wonders why humans thrive when its own, obviously superior race is on the verge of extinction.
One thing the new series has done a wonderful job with (and we can thank Nicholas Briggs and Rob Shearman for this) is finding a way to make the Daleks deliver dialogue that stays within the parameters of their classic cadences and yet manages to portray them as intelligent creatures with ideas all their own. It's always exciting when Daleks deliver dialogue or express ideas you wouldn't expect them to (like the cutting remark "And the coward survives!" in Dalek).
September 9, 2013 @ 7:39 am
I'm not the forum's resident expert on the Monkees so please could you explain what you mean?
September 9, 2013 @ 8:26 am
I believe he means Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, who himself seems inspired by Cthulhu.
September 9, 2013 @ 8:37 am
You knew going into this before you ever saw it … "Muppets Take Manhattan" "Muppets Take Manhattan" "Muppets Take Manhattan"… that the title alone was a setup for failure. To NOT acknowledge it as a weakness is just wrong.
If this story made sense (did it?) it still would have been bad because of the pour direction. Tensions in the climactic scenes throughout seemed glazed over … which is what my eyes and brain started doing.
The historical aspects were interesting in the early part of the episode, but its more like one episode of "The Chase" … getting stuck with Peter Purves from Alabama … ugh.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:28 am
Whew.. I was wondering if I had been completely mad thinking that Evil was a Troughton story.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:37 am
Much as with the Sontaran two-parter, I didn't find these episodes too objectionable. Other than the fact that Dalek Sec was going to succumb to the Human Factor was wayyyyyyy too predictable. But predictability is hardly something one can hold against episodic television.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:46 am
I'm not sure he doesn't mean that Evil and Highlanders fit the Hartnell paradigm (and yet don't work as such because they don't star Hartnell) more than the yet-to-be-formed Troughton paradigm.
(By the same definition Terror of the Zygons is the last Pertwee story, a year after Baker took the role.)
September 9, 2013 @ 9:55 am
Evil and Enemy of the World, but yes – I was suggesting that those two stories belong to an earlier style of writing and narrative, as opposed to the endless parade of bases under siege and, subsequently, reactions to bases under siege that marked the Troughton era.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:56 am
That's certainly what I thought at first. But while that explanation works for The Highlanders, surely Evil of the Daleks is just about the most Troughton-y Troughton serial of the entire Troughton era. Troughton.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:58 am
In many ways it is. But it's also the second of two obligatory Dalek runarounds in the season, which is a structure inherited from Hartnell.
September 9, 2013 @ 10:42 am
Narrative collapse for the season finale.. that made me chuckle, that did.
September 9, 2013 @ 10:53 am
Change as a survival strategy is a revolution in dalek thinking, but it's a bit of a pointless revolution.
There's a strong tragic plot lurking in the background. It goes, visionary leader realises that his or her people need to change, but the conservative faction bring him or her down, thereby condemning their people to extinction. That's quite a strong premise. However, it's not nearly as strong if the conservative faction bring the leader down, thereby condemning their people to show up again as the epic villains of the next series finale.
September 9, 2013 @ 11:03 am
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September 9, 2013 @ 11:03 am
I'm not sure I follow all of your arguments in your essay (e.g. the distinction between "absolute" and "eternal" is one I'm going to have to chew on a bit more, rather than just taste briefly along with lunch) but I think it's lovely, and I'm not at all surprised or disappointed to find you sidestepping the question of whether the execution itself is any good, as compared to the idea.
I loathed this when I first saw it and for a long time I was sure it was the worst of the new series, bar none. But I watched it again recently and I really didn't hate it. I'd now place the Sontaran two-parter below it at the very least, because while this story explores thoroughly some ideas I find uninteresting, that one is making stone soup and has tossed in the tops of its carrots and added some stuff that isn't even food, like boots and oily washers.
Uninteresting idea: a Dalek trying to become human. A Dalek becoming human is interesting, but we've seen it (or, in my case, heard it) in "Evil," and there — correct me if I'm wrong — wasn't the plan really to make Daleks less human, not more? Here they ought to have known better. Between the "Evil" fiasco and the nonsense starting with "Destiny" where apparently Daleks think like machines and are increasingly reliant on inferior beings to do their military planning for them, I'm kind of over the idea that Daleks have anything to gain by trying for any sort of humanity.
"Humans are as monstrous as Daleks, perhaps more"…"humans are unpredictable and can help us beat our machine enemies"…"humans are individuals with independent thoughts and ambitions"…ho-hum. I'm interested in what happens when Daleks are as Dalek as they can be, in the alienness of being relentlessly xenophobic and cruel and relishing extermination. That's not humanity's polar opposite — we manifest such specimens with disturbing regularity — but it's a mirror image (or, arguably, just an extreme), where socio-/psychopathy is the norm for the species. If you just take it simplistically you get a plot where the Daleks try to destroy everything in the entire universe, which is of course boring in a completely different way and results in a season finale I should really watch again before I slam it too viciously (considering what happened with this), but really, come on. If the Daleks are interesting at all, it's in exploring their nature, not in melding it with ours. Any monster can do that.
Anyway, even that is forgivable. What's not is Diagoras Dalek's accent. Even if it were fully authentic, it's inescapably farcical, at least to American ears. I seriously think reevaluating that production choice could have bumped this story up many notches in fan opinion. And maybe also the choice about the penises.
September 9, 2013 @ 11:09 am
Oh: I should clarify that I don't mean to suggest no one should find this idea interesting. I'm just saying I don't, particularly, and I find that it's a major factor in my inability to take the Daleks as seriously as I'd like to.
September 9, 2013 @ 11:22 am
Steven Moffat was originally slated for this script, but he was too busy with "Jekyll" and wrote Blink instead. It's a really interesting "what if," especially as Blink is probably the most popular Who episode of all time.
September 9, 2013 @ 11:55 am
I agree. There's so much that can be done with the basic concept of the Daleks, that nobody seems interested in doing. I see it as sort of relational – in a Monster of the Week context with no real consequences they're boring, so you have to try doing new things with them, but do that too often and the basic concept gets muddied. But have your characters forced to work AROUND the Daleks doing what they do best, unable to stop them, and things can get interesting without compromising the Daleks themselves. What happens when the Daleks kill or maim a companion, or a member of their family? What does that do to the Doctor, to his willingness to take on future companions? How does a companion cope with being left behind in a ruined, post-Dalek invasion world? Would the Daleks ever back a human political candidate? Who? Have the Daleks and the Sontarans ever come into conflict? Can the genocidal impulse ever be put to GOOD use? What sort of monster would someone have to be for that to be justified? Etc etc…
September 9, 2013 @ 12:16 pm
In my opinion, the Daleks' ability to terrify is inversely related to the number of times they appear, especially in cases where neither the Doctor or the companion is threatened. I mean, sure, there are times the Daleks kill off characters with emotional impact (Harriet Jones, former prime minister), but because you know the protagonists have contractual immunity, they lose the threat.
In contrast, the Angels (whom I'd list as top monsters) have not only creepiness on their side, but they 'killed' Kathy in their first appearance. And following the midseason finale of season seven, they are the only monsters to eliminate a companion in the revived series. (Rose's disappearance was a side effect, not a direct result, of the Cybermen/Dalek conflict)
September 9, 2013 @ 12:35 pm
You know, one of the commonest points for discussion among disgruntled fans is how "this" series of Doctor Who (read: "current series of Doctor Who that I don't like") isn't "proper" Doctor Who. In other words, it's not done as Doctor Who "should be" done. If this blog has told us anything, it's that there has never been a default Doctor Who, or an era when everything was perfect, quintessential Who.
We notice the same thing with the Cybermen. Every new Cyberman story seems to promise the Cybermen as they "should be" done. The latest of course was "Nightmare in Silver" where the Cybermen were given a whole new polish and some serious tuning under the hood by Gaiman, and yet fandom still came away shaking its head at the missed opportunity.
I think the same thing is true of the Daleks. We kind of have a view of the perfect Dalek story, showing us the absolute best thing that can be done with the Daleks. But as each new Dalek story appears we don't get what we expect. We get a new take on the metal monsters, but because it isn't what we expect (and why should it be, it's a new take!) we grumble that it's a missed opportunity and wasn't as good as the Daleks should be.
The fact that "when the Daleks and the Cybermen were good" varies with the age of each fan should tell us that what we really miss is how scary they were when we were young enough to be scared by them. I'm sure there are 18 year olds around now for whom "Manhattan/Evolution" was a terrifying and satisfying peak that "Victory" and "Asylum" have never quite equalled.
September 9, 2013 @ 12:49 pm
I know what Dr Phil is getting at- there are so many way in which Evil of the Daleks is a Hartnell story. Not quite in the same way that Silence in the Library is an Eleventh Doctor story that's fallen through a crack in time: but it's rooted in content and themes that are pure First Doctor. Firstly, its setting is that very busy day in 1966 when Wotan’s War Machines managed to entirely miss the fact that a load of Faceless Ones were trying to take over the world as well (not to mention there was a Dalek in an antique shop round the corner). Perhaps Heathrow Airport wasn’t on the Post Office Tower network.
And its stepping-off point is saying goodbye to the two Hartnell companions that The War Machines introduced- the ones that aren't obscure enough to be intriguing (who isn't fascinated by those blank slates, Katarina and Dodo?), well-acted enough to be charming (Steven and Vicki- both light up the screen, especially Maureen O'Brien!) or the seed-corn characters, the real human heroes that started the whole thing off. Once Ben and Polly and their memories of the man with long white hair are gone, the Second Doctor is just the Doctor again.
Then there's the way the Doctor is alienated- in one sense, he's distanced from the "action" sequences and forced to use Jamie as a physical surrogate, in the same way that Ian was written as the physical hero. But he's also alienated in a more punning sense; the deception where the Doctor pretends to be affected by the Dalek Factor brings us back to those Season One days when we really didn't know who this dangerous, potentially murderous kidnapping alien was. Alright, it doesn't last, because the Second Doctor is such a fundamentally reassuring presence, even when he's improvising mournful tunes on his recorder; but it was a marvellous move for David Whitaker to give us a little frisson of a dangerous, unnerving Doctor again.
And lastly the story concludes with an attempt to recapture the feeling of the very first Dalek story- not just the whole city, Skaro, wastelands setting, but the idea that the Doctor could actually defeat the Daleks forever. That "final end" moment only happened once before at the end of Serial B, and never again- and a good thing too…
September 9, 2013 @ 12:53 pm
"time was, four Daleks could have conquered the world"
This story doesn't make much sense when the story Dalek is considered.
So these Daleks have self-doubt, okay, it makes a sort of sense.
"good old Human Factors and Dalek Factors"
This story doesn't make much sense when the story The Evil of the Daleks is considered.
This element actually makes no sense at all.
A Hartnell-style daft story?
September 9, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
@encyclops: I am quite sure that you empirically stated that no one should find this interesting.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:11 pm
Spacewarp: with respect (really) I don't think that's where I'm coming from.
I can't really remember ever being scared by the Daleks. I'm fortunate enough to have grown up in a time and place where tanks were toys, not roving instruments of death to my friends and family, and so for them to be miniaturized and zipping around with funny voices didn't really add anything for me. I grew up with Pertwee and Baker, mostly, so mainly we're talking "Day" (not scary), "Death" (give me a break), and "Genesis" (upstaged by Davros — more in a minute). And "Destiny" (again, give me a break). Okay, "Planet" and "Frontier in Space" (upstaged by invisible natives and Draconians and Delgado).
Never scary. That's what I'm craving here. Because the problem is that lots of monsters in lots of shows kill people. The monsters that got to me either did it in frightening ways (e.g. Alien, the Wirrrn (same thing)) or did it for frightening reasons, which is where Davros comes in. Davros is a person, but he's monstrous of visage (thanks, Robert Holmes) and monstrous of spirit. The Daleks are engines of hate? Let's see a bit more of that and a bit less of the "conquering not-really-a-robot-but-how-could-you-tell." On the occasions when the Daleks actually seem cruel, vindictive, malicious, it's usually Davros doing that ("Revelation," for example). But he's just one guy in a state-of-the-art wheelchair. For me, the Daleks need to be a race of Davroses. At their best — "Power," "Dalek" — they verge on that kind of deviousness and viciousness. And I don't think it's a coincidence that those stories start with few of them, because an army just looks like an army, but a few outnumbered death machines look like serial killers. That to ME is frightening in a compelling way.
To me, you don't make a Dalek scary by giving it a name and a conscience. At best you make it cute (Omega, huh?).
I don't think what's frightening to ME is more important than what's frightening to anyone else. But I never really saw a scary Dalek story growing up, so I don't think it's my memory cheating here.
As for the Cybermen: I really dug "Nightmare in Silver," though it's one of those times I think the "you are BEAUTIFUL" was ill-advised. I actually WAS scared by the Cybermen as a kid, or more accurately I was scared of the Cybermats. Little things that scuttle around and hide in cupboards and poison you always scared me way more than big things that shoot you — again, probably the first-world childhood, but also once you're shot by a Cyberman you're out of the game, not writhing in agony and dying slowly. The Cybermites are clever, but they're also cute, and they make the Doctor into a cutely evil version of himself, and so the only scary thing we're left with is…an emotionless army advancing on you. Not bad, though.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:24 pm
But at the same time, the alchemical elements of Evil are very Troughton. You wouldn't see a Hartnell serial approach it from that angle, with Maxtible's mirrors and all that — Hartnell's alchemy is entirely different.
I guess there's a sense in which, like Terror of the Zygons for the Pertwee era, there's a sense of "Let's bring back the previous era for a second, but we'll do it so that we can demonstrate how That Isn't What This Show Is Any More" (In some ways, the reverse of The Tenth Planet, which is essentially The Moonbase pulled back in time)
September 9, 2013 @ 1:25 pm
In all seriousness, I was intrigued by the notion of the Daleks embracing the Human Factor. Because, as we are all too aware, being "human" does not prevent one from being warlike, xenophobic and/or a bubbling lump of hate. I thought that it might be interesting to see the Daleks choose a new, less predictable course for awhile.
I felt much the same about the Cybermen in "The Next Doctor." I hoped Mercy Hartigan would indeed give them a new purpose, as they–particularly the Cybus variety–no longer seemed to stand for anything.
Unfortunately, all "Nemesis in Silver" accomplished was to turn them into the Borg, rather than the other way 'round.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:31 pm
The problem with the Angels for me is that half the time they "kill" you by putting you in a time where the toilets aren't as sophisticated and you could theoretically make yourself insanely rich by betting on sports or stocks. And the other quarter of the time they just snap your neck. The business of being stuck in the Winter Quay "farm" is kind of creepy, though, I'll grant you.
September 9, 2013 @ 1:32 pm
September 9, 2013 @ 2:24 pm
To be fair, Daleks have hit the Doctor twice in the series now (Series 4 and Series 5). But the fact he's survived those… for me, it makes them seem even weaker in one respect. I always held the view that the Daleks should never hit the Doctor – bullseye – because it'd strike him dead in seconds. I always believed that threat. Turns out you can just regenerate or conveniently hold it off (admittedly the Pandorica is a unique thing – and a luckily convenient thing – as it helps restore the Doctor, though that said it's also convenient that Dalek Fred only hits the Doctor's shoulder innit!).
September 9, 2013 @ 2:51 pm
Well, that might be the means whereby it passes.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:00 pm
A line from Our Host that belongs here somewhere: "a story that’s about hardline racial purists and that is otherwise unusually fascinated with the material conditions of its time period inexplicably decides that the Great Depression was a multiracial celebration of diversity."
September 9, 2013 @ 3:03 pm
Yeah. I consciously moved that line to a different post specifically to fulfill my self-assigned task of not actually commenting at all about this story's quality.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:16 pm
not actually commenting at all about this story's quality
Except in the picture caption.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:17 pm
Picture captions, like Paul McGann, don't count.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:17 pm
And anyway, I didn't say whether being covered in penises was good or bad.
September 9, 2013 @ 3:59 pm
Nor, however, did you say whether inexplicably deciding that the Great Depression was a multiracial celebration of diversity was good or bad.
September 9, 2013 @ 4:05 pm
@encyclops: To be fair, they also hand you a book in which you learn that you did not make yourself insanely rich, and therefore you can't.
The thing that bugs me about the Angels is that their methods, powers and behavior vary wildly each time they reappear.
September 9, 2013 @ 4:58 pm
@David: Indeed, one of the things I really liked was that when Dalek Sec reflects on humanity, he gives this little dark mirror of what some people call a "Picard Speech", where rather than giving some big inspiring speech about humanity's art and science, he praises humanity for their genius at war.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:51 pm
And, I, for one, welcome our new penis-head overlords! 😛
September 9, 2013 @ 6:55 pm
The newer visual stylists of the Moffat era really seem to've upped their game in a way I don't think any previous era of the show could match. I don't quite understand how it looks so good, now… but it does. 😀
September 9, 2013 @ 6:56 pm
Something tells me, though, that he might've written something closer to "Asylum", at least where the non-companion-centric ideas are concerned, than what Helen Raynor handed in to be shot.
September 9, 2013 @ 6:59 pm
No. Just a full-on Helen Raynor daft story. Same goes for Stephen Greenhorn, who we'll be getting to on Wednesday.
September 9, 2013 @ 9:08 pm
What?! Okay, I take it all back. The Angels are dicks.
September 11, 2013 @ 1:57 am
The tragedy of The Daleks In Manhattan and especially Evolution of the Daleks is that, despite some lovely Doctor Who kinks, it's just so predictable.
The Doctor Who touches are lovely: the contrast between the lowest of the low with those that think they are literally above it all and the former are there to be exploited; Dalek Sec continuing to wear a three piece suit after his transformation (very Jack Kirby); Balek Sec in chains; the whole pulp atmosphere of Art Deco robots teaming up with gangsters out to take over the world from their secret base at the top of the Empire State Building and the only thing standing in their way is a mysterious superhuman in a trench coat and his trusty assistants (including a showgirl and a pig like companion); a love affair between a showgirl and a man disfigured to resemble a pig; the theatre a tribute to Talons of Weng Chiang which at least attempts to redress the terrible racism and sexism of that story; the Pigmen in the lift, shuffling in anticipation of the uber violence thhat is the only thing left for them to live for; the conversation about surviving a war between Diagoras and Dalek Caan(?); and finally the classic Star Trek "why can't we all just get along speech" running into a Dalek shaped wall that really does delineate the major difference between Star Trek and Doctor Who (the former is about maintaining the status quo, the later about revolution).
But the story line that connects these wonderful ideas is bland in the extreme: from the moment Dalek Sec appears the story is utterly predictable, and more and more the Doctor Who kinks are extinguished in a mad panic to tie everything up. Some of the problems seem to have explanations: I seem to recall an article in Doctor Who Magazine in the run up to series two where Helen Naylor admitted that she'd reached a dead end in one of her drafts for episode two that would only be solved by rewriting everything; and Davies was unavailable for his customary ground upward rewrites because of illness. I also seem to recall that the original climax took place outside in the New York streets as opposed to a badly lit theatre. But still, this is possibly the only new series story that I rewrite in my head and even my meagre talents improve it: we have the tantalisingly new idea of the Doctor working with the Daleks to achieve their goals, which is dealt with on screen in seconds.
Would the story have been better if Evolution of the Daleks had shown the Daleks and the Doctor working together for much of the episode while outside the Empire State Building Martha, oblivious to what is going on inside other than what she was told about the Daleks in Gridlock, works to undermine their collaboration. This leads to the Daleks believing the Doctor was responsible and justifying their hatred for him before the conclusion we watch on screen? Which would then give a far better reason for the Doctor to drop Martha off home at the beginning of the Lazarus Experiment (he worries that he is turning her into warrior and not a doctor).
Still, for all it's faults, still a watchable story and one that, had it appeared anywhere between seasons 18 and 23 would have stood out as a beacon of quality. And Naylor would learn to structure a story better in series four, and further her fascination with (and undermining of) soldiers.