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Doctor Who: Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

By Mark Clapham on 02 May 2007

The 1930s are inescapably associated with a certain kind of straightforward adventure story, escapism from an era trapped between two world wars and blighted by the depression. The boom in Hollywood, especially Universal’s horror movies and the cheaper Saturday morning serials, have had a lasting effect through repeat showings as well as the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies and other tributes.

So, when the Doctor and Martha arrive in New York during that period, it’s unsurprising that’s what we get – some art deco stylings, a touch of Broadway glamour, a laboratory that Colin Clive would feel at home in and a straight down the line action movie plotline.

Astute and/or obsessive viewers will have noted that the first two-parter of a ‘Doctor Who’ season tends to be a high budget romp, low on complexity and high on visual snap, and that’s what you get here. The production values hit a new high here, beating such previous highs as the spaceship demolishing Big Ben and the zeppelin escaping an exploding Battersea Power Station. The recreation of period New York is stunning by TV standards, with indoor and outdoor sets seamlessly integrated with digitally altered backdrops of the city. Design work is consistently excellent, while director James Strong again demonstrates the, er, strengths, he did on last year’s ‘The Impossible Planet’/'The Satan Pit’ two-parter, and he’s especially good at shooting the Daleks in dramatic ways.

Not all of the period trappings are entirely successful. The acting and characterisation often pastiches old Hollywood in a way that drifts into caricature, especially with the character of showgirl Tallulah. None of the characters really impress as being real people, and as such their fates don’t have much impact. Only the regulars make any real impression, with Tennant in particular throwing himself into a Doctor driven to the edge by the constant survival of his arch enemies.

As with the similarly simplistic Cyberman story early last year, this is one of the lighter scripts for the series, and the pacing drags quite a bit in ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ – for an action runaround, the story can be remarkably ponderous with basic character interactions overly laboured and the Daleks largely in the background. Thankfully things pick up in ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, with the Daleks proving suitably, pointlessly vicious, scheming amongst themselves and killing everything in sight, and a number of confrontations leading to an effective action finale.

Unfortunately, there’s one chronic story problem inherent throughout – as Helen Raynor’s scripts follow the Daleks as if they were regular characters, we know the broad outline of what their plan involves from very early in the first episode, but the Doctor and Martha spend the entire story catching up. This leads to long, long scenes where the heroes are trying painstakingly to work out plot points that are old news to the audience. This problem is exacerbated by certain plotlines having to go slowly to allow space for the other plot threads to catch up. For instance, Martha’s journey to the top of the Empire State Building to discover the Dalekanium – which the Daleks ordered to be attached in the previous episode – slows to a crawl to allow time for the Doctor’s plot to catch up to the point where he can rejoin her in time. It’s an annoyingly story problem so basic it’s surprising no one caught it at an early stage in development.

Although somewhat pedestrian in its storytelling, ‘Daleks in Manhattan’/'Evolution of the Daleks’ is an effective adventure story with some cool bits, some funny bits and lavish production values. It’s the dumber end of ‘Doctor Who’, but as straight up action entertainment it works just fine.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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