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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Daleks in Manhattan”

(intro to my Who blogging / previous: Episode 3: “Gridlock”)

Well, it was bound to happen, and the longer this new Doctor Who went on, the more likely it became: Here we have the first not-very-good episode of the new incarnation of the show.

Okay, it’s bad. There, I said it. And I was so looking forward to this one. The BBC’s Doctor Who Web site had the episode titles listed long before they’d even aired in Britain, and when I saw “Daleks in Manhattan” there, I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna be great!” There are some awesome Doctor Who stories you could tell in New York (and again, this new show has me thinking that I have got to write some new fanfic, write one or two of those great New York Doctor Who stories). This is not one of them.
I’ve convinced myself that Russell Davies, with this episode, is saying, “Remember how cheesy and implausible — even grading on the Doctor Who curve — so many of those old stories were? No? Well, here’s a reminder, just to make absolutely everything else we do here looks good.” That must have been the plan, right?

I mean: pig slaves? What’s up with that? Why pigs? Why not rats? At least rats live in the sewer. Hilarious, but ridiculous, the Daleks arguing with one another. And getting sucked into a Dalek? Gross! “Join with me”? Eww. God, at least buy the poor guy a drink first, maybe take him to dinner or something. Sheesh.

“I am a human Dalek.” Makes me think of Jim Carrey coming out of the machine in Earth Girls Are Easy, all shaved and not furry, saying, “We are human now.” And gee, what could it be about that human Dalek that makes me think he’s a real dickhead?

Why does Martha run out onto the stage while Tallulah is doing her number? Martha’s way too smart to do something that stupid. Why didn’t she just run around behind the rear curtain?

It bothers me, too, that Tallulah would automatically jump to the conclusion that the Daleks must be from “outer space.” I just don’t think such concepts were in the general culture in 1930, not enough so that a showgirl would be familiar with them. But maybe I’m wrong: turns out I was wrong about the George Washington Bridge, which appears in the deep background in the establishing shot over Central Park (up in the top left corner of the screen). I thought the bridge hadn’t been built yet in 1930, but it turns out ground was broken on the bridge in 1927 and opened to traffic just a year after the events of this episode.

Oh, all the terrible New York accents! Tallulah sounds like the actress in Singin’ in the Rain — “I can’t stand it!” (Still, I have to admit that were the situation reversed, and a show or movie shooting in New York needed to round up actors who could pull off Welsh accents, they’d have a lot harder time doing that than a show shot in Wales did rounding up actors who could do even moderately passable New York accents.)

It’s not all bad. I’m not saying I haven’t watching the episode half a dozen times already. Just because the overall story is pretty laughable doesn’t mean there aren’t nice touches throughout the episode. Tallulah turned out to be a lot tougher than she looks, following the Doctor into the sewer and not being freaked out by her pig boyfriend and stuff. I like how the Doctor continues to not be able to fob off people’s questions about who he is and where he’s from, like he used to. (“I’m not a fool, Doctor,” Solomon tells him when the Doctor tries the ol’ “oh, I’m from here and there” routine.)

David Tennant continues to be fantastic. His disgust with the Dalek — “No no no no no. They survive. They always survive, while I lose everything.” — was potent. And his moment with the pig thing huddling in the corner of the sewer was nice.

Random thoughts on “Daleks in Manhattan”:

• “Nearly 80 years ago. Funny, cuz you see those old newsreels all in black and white like it’s so far away, but here we are. It’s real — it’s now!” Yep, Martha definitely deserves to be traveling with the Doctor.

• “Versions of this city stand throughout history,” say a Dalek — well, duh, little tinpot machine. It’s Noo fuckin’ Yawk.

(next: Episode 5: “Evolution of the Daleks”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • I agree; this episode was just so silly. Pigs? And what’s with the Daleks in R2-D2 drag? It almost felt like a SciFi Channel original movie, which is a bad thing. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but they could have done a lot more with this concept.

  • You are entering the sad lull of the season. I thought these Dalek episodes were passable, but it keeps sinking for another two episodes and then it becomes glorious in a way the Tennant episodes have never been before.

    On the good side, these episodes mark the last time where he does that gritty-teeth shouty junk that’s so embarrassing.

  • Joanne

    On the Doctor Who: Confidential for this episode RTD admitted he had a thing about pigs – remember the little pig-spaceman from Aliens in London way back in the Eccelstone season?

    I like the bits in Hooverville and the sewers much more than the Empire State bits in this episode (and the next).

  • MaryAnn

    You are entering the sad lull of the season. I thought these Dalek episodes were passable, but it keeps sinking for another two episodes and then it becomes glorious in a way the Tennant episodes have never been before.

    I know. It all gets better. But it’s sad to see any of these new episodes suck this hard.

  • Katie

    I had the exact same thought about Martha running across the stage. Way to make it obvious Martha. And for someone whose supposedly so smart it was a ridiculous thing to do. And the pigs…you’re right, why not rats? Or even alligators to play on the whole giant alligator in the NY sewer myth? And the accents were incredibly painful.

    It’s sad because the concept – what happens when certain members of a species realize they must evolve or die – was interesting. Sadly the execution was severely lacking.

    But as always, David Tennant makes pretty much anything watchable.

  • Poly

    The Daleks two part story is my least favourite of the recent Doctor Who series, but it still has some nice stuff, and one of my favourite scenes, the one where the photograph above has been taken. It’s not a big scene, but I always love scenes when the Doctor (especially this Doctor) works things out. Without being spectacular, it’s totally engrossing.

  • PaulW

    One side note: anyone notice how the Doctor waves that sonic screwdriver around like a wand? I keep expecting him to shout “Accio Firewhiskey!”

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