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Apr 25, 2007

People Of The Daleks

Dalek Sec arrives
Thirty years too early to
Destroy Morton Dill.

Daleks In Manhattan

After the F***ING KITTENS moment (whch sounds perilously close to F***ING KITCHENS, I'd claim royalties if I were you Neil) in last week's Underworld-for-the-21st-century, I figured I could handle anything in this episode with a straight face - an iron resolve that lasted until "HEEEANDS IN THE EEEAR!" in the trailer. I'd have liked to have seen what the Daleks would have made of that, since they have neither hands nor ears. But then they went and knackered the joke on me, the SODS. Part Dalek, part Jimmy Hoffa corrupt teamster. Calling Doc Tracy. Calling Doc Tracy. Be on the lookout for new villain Skaroface. "I yam a Hyooman Dworlek. We're gonna destroy da univoise, see, but foist I fancy a bakin' sammich. We gots da unions on our side, one woid from us and dey'll be downin' tools from here ta Gallifrey and yew will ALL BE EXTOIMINADED." Quick, pass the concrete.

Indeed, it's all very silly and it takes a fannish level of devotion to explain away some of the holes in the plot. I don't remember JN-T congratulating himself at giving his authors a 'bonkers' Five Doctors jumble sale like this to write, and if I were Helen Raynor I'd have pulled a Folgers Crystals with the brief. We replaced Russell's pig slaves with improved Robomen, let's see if he notices. It was also a notably cheaper production with a matte-painted New York skyline, a Central Park footie pitch and almost no CGI to speak of (quite right too). And I know Daleks have no aesthetic sense, but would it really have killed them to make Sec's laboratory look like something created by Fritz Lang out of a couple of valves and a crystal set? It would have suited the period perfectly while showcasing the 'will this do' essence of a grand plan born out of desperation,  and given the props people a big boner in constructing a couple of Jacob's Ladders to dot around the set. I wanted sparking Frankenstein generators, dammit!

"Calling Doc Tracy. Calling Doc Tracy. Be on the lookout for new villain Skaroface"

Daleks In Manhattan is still a much better slice of human drama than Gridlock was and, I found, a great deal easier to forgive for its sins. It's not actually about plot surprises as it turned out, and so the Radio Times spoiler cover didn't make a whole lot of difference; anyway, I was far too busy being impressed by the background and support characters that made the episode feel much more alive than the Robert Holmes-esque romanticised caricature of the Depression era I'd been led to expect. If this made it too talky for you then either you've never watched The Ghost Machine or you should thank heaven for small mercies. It also feels closer to proper Terry Nation WE-WILL-SURVIVE Daleks than any other story has managed so far (though suddenly they can't spot a time traveller the moment they see or analyse one like they could in Doomsday); Daleks are always going to be more impressive when the show emphasizes what a single schemy cunning bastard one can do rather than an army of mindless marauding space bullies, even though the only thing that was hopefully exterminated for good is the Goofy Tennant facade that crumbles pathetically in the face of anyone who's not going to stand for it. Hell, the story even had old-fashioned corridor running in the sewers. Bonus.

Aaaaaaaand.... hmm. I'm a bit strapped for fresh things to say this week and everything I can think of has been commented on already, but there is one point Dalek_Sex raised that nobody here seems to have picked up on yet. After the Doomsday escape, Sec could have materialised at any place and at any point in the Earth's timeline, and yet the Doctor just happens to turn up on his doorstep the very night he executes his masterplan. There's a dozen ways the script could expain it in ten seconds if it could be bothered, so why not? That actually brings up one particular thing about the new series; that the TARDIS is given all these loving scenes about how it's such a fantastic machine - but very seldom that it's more than just a 'machine', like the old series used to suggest all the time. The TARDIS is semi-sentient and goes where it wants; there's the symbiotic link between it and the Doctor, and so forth. None of that in the new series - if this was a Big Finish production, there would be a six-part time-paradox story arc devoted to it before we even get to Manhattan. Written by Nick Briggs.

Next week: Toy/pram consolidation issues erupt between Sec and the rest of the pureblood Cult, while Lazlo swears vengeance on Harry Hill's chief scientist Finsbury Park. Will you the pork, or will you the ham?

The Bumper Book Of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about Daleks In Manhattan: the stage adaptation of the Depression-era comic strip 'Little Orphan Theta' premiered on Broadway to thunderous acclaim in the fall of 1931.

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