Someday I wanna make a list of celebrities who’ve “admitted” to loving Doctor Who. The Brits on the list wouldn’t be quite as impressive, because in a lot of ways, they’re a given. Last week I met Joel McHale of E’s The Soup and I don’t recall how Who came up, but he immediately confessed rabid adoration for the show—especially the classic series (weird, huh?). He gave me permission to spread it out amongst the world, so that’s what I’m doing. A quick look at Joel’s IMDB page reveals that he’s a mere 6 days younger than me. Maybe we went through the same teenage Who experiences? I wonder if some asshole on the school bus ever grabbed his novelization of “The Five Doctors” and waved it around, threatening to throw it out the window (as high school jock dickheads like to do)? This has nothing to do with “Daleks in Manhattan”—but the recap needs some padding since it’s Part One of Two, and it seemed a more interesting intro than rehashing the finer details of those metallic bastards from Skaro.
“Daleks in Manhattan”—what a great title! It holds the distinction of being the first new Who story written by a woman, Helen Raynor, yet there isn’t anything intrinsically feminine about the goings-on (certainly no more than any other episode). It’s a bang-up intro for a two-parter; nicely paced, sufficiently moody and never too busy. All that said, the title could be a killer for certain viewers. Daleks? Come on…haven’t we seen enough of them? My first reaction was, “Yes”.
The Doctor: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. They survive. They always survive, when I lose everything.”
At the close of last season’s “Doomsday”, Dalek Sec disappeared into thin air amongst the madness. Where did he go? 1930 Manhattan it seems, and the other three members of the Cult of Skaro (Caan, Thay & Jast) went with him. The Cult are an ingenious invention as they’re not like other Daleks. They possess the capacity for thought, imagination and reason. It’s a diabolical Dalek development, and perhaps what most excited me about “Manhattan” was the presence of only four phallic symbols; a limited number is dramatically engaging, however a bazillion of ’em seems too easy. The Cult of Skaro is desperate for Dalek survival. They’ve finally glommed onto the notion that humans are far better survivors—and perhaps warriors—than they. (Though what are the human race’s odds without the Doctor’s protection?) I’ve come to be excited by the Daleks through the new series. They’re not like anything you’ll see on any other sci-fi show, which gives them a televisual edge, and this two-parter is their most intriguing outing since “Dalek” back in Season One.
Dalek Sec: “The Cult of Skaro was created by the Emperor for this very purpose: to imagine new ways of survival.”
Dalek Thay: “But we must remain pure!”
Dalek Sec: “No, Dalek Thay. Our purity has brought us to extinction! We must adapt to survive. You have all made sacrifices and now I will sacrifice myself, for the greater cause, for the future of Dalek kind.”
The Daleks’ hatred of humankind manifests itself in the bizarre concept of the Pig Slaves—humans who’ve been genetically manipulated into grotesque animals. It’s easy enough to ask, “But why pigs?” My answer is that it’s one of the most degrading forms the Daleks could foist upon humanity. Again, the Cult possess imagination, and this particularly ugly sidebar of their ultimate scheme demonstrates contempt for the entire operation and an amount of self-loathing at “How far we mighty Daleks have fallen”. They can’t afford to merely exterminate at this point, so they do the next best thing by removing what makes a human a human. Laszlo (Ryan Carnes of “Desperate Housewives”—which just feels weird to type) is the human caught somewhere in between and his and showgirl Tallulah’s (Miranda Raison) storyline is a tragic nod to The Phantom of the Opera. Indeed, the story pulls from numerous sources including The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, and even classic Who’s “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, which is Top Ten material for many a fan. Heck, I’d even argue that a story featuring The Empire State Building owes just a little bit to King Kong.
The production values are mighty fine and the team does an excellent job of recreating a believable 1930s New York on a limited budget and by setting the story in only a handful of locations (most of which are interiors). Central Park’s Hooverville was an inspired choice given that from a location standpoint, it could be recreated in the UK without too much problem—although, believe it or not, there was some filming done in New York for this story.
The characters are strong here, despite the guest cast mostly being drawn in a broad, stereotypical fashion. Eric Loren’s Mr. Diagoras is probably the most over the top, but that’s exactly the sort of guy the Daleks would choose to do their bidding. It’s unfortunate we don’t get to find out a little bit more of his backstory, but then again, he’s written very much in the classic series’ megalomaniac vein—the powerful, rich human who thinks helping the aliens will get him somewhere. As the episode draws to its peculiar close, Diagoras is absorbed by Sec, and the resulting hybrid could very well elicit a few giggles as might his line of dialogue leading to the cliffhanger sting: “I am a human Dalek. I am your future!”
Having reached a point where little more can be said until next week’s conclusion, I’ll go full circle and point out that Joel McHale’s got a cameo in Spider-Man 2. Could the guy be any cooler?
NEXT WEEK: Find out if the weirdest Dalek story ever filmed sinks or swims in “Evolution of the Daleks”.
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: “Spearhead from Space”—a story of firsts: The first story televised in color, the first Jon Pertwee story, the first story of the ’70s, the first appearance of the Autons & the Nestene Consciousness, and the first and only classic Who story shot entirely on film.
Ross Ruediger is a San Antonio-based critic and columnist, a contributor to The House Next Door, and publisher of The Rued Morgue.