Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x04: "Daleks In Manhattan"

Written by Helen Raynor
Directed by James Strong

Diagoras: “Accidents happen.”
The Doctor: “What do you mean? What sort of accidents?”

Well seeing as we got New New York for the second time in last week’s episode, this week we actually get to see the real New York and the glitz and glamour as our opener really pays homage to the New York many of us have seen idolised in plenty of old movies.

Every episode needs someone unknown to root for and this week, the poor soul who garners sympathy is stage Laszlo (played by Desperate Housewives’ actor Ryan Carnes) who not only shows his commitment to showgirl girlfriend Tallulah (Spooks actress Miranda Raison) by giving her a rose every time she performs but he also wants her to meet his mother too, something which takes the seemingly cynical girl by surprise.

With that nice bit of happiness and Tallulah off to earn her next meal, Laszlo’s moment of joy is well and truly shoved down the sewer when he finds himself kidnapped by a Pig Man and therefore, we get our great lead into the opening credits. Hey, it was better than the way “Gridlock” opened up.

Not shortly after Laszlo’s disappearance, The Doctor and Martha also arrive in New York and snippy comments aside from the latter, there’s much to in a city where the Statue Of Liberty shines high and the Empire State Building is awaiting completion and it doesn’t take much for anyone to realise that Martha won’t be sight seeing in the conventional manner so to speak.

Nope instead while she manages to impress The Doctor by figuring out the exact date that they are in, The Doctor uses the same newspaper to realise that they are people missing and a purpose to their visit. Yeah, I think Martha is going to quickly realise that even in New York danger awaits her.

However the danger is a lot better than the squalor these two discover when they pay a visit into Hoover Ville, the very same where many people who suffered from the Wall Street Crash are now forced to live among each other and desperately fight for the own survival, which includes fighting each other at times over a loaf of bread.

Being versed enough in this particular era known as the Depression, the depiction of this place is greatly brought to life and even among the poor, there is a leader and they don’t come more charming or endearing than former World War 1 veteran Soloman, who is greatly brought to life by Holby City actor Hugh Quarshie.

Soloman is not only quick to break a fight between two people in Hoover Ville but is also pretty welcoming of The Doctor and Martha and within minutes more or less confirms the news of people going missing. The question is though, who is taking these people and why?

Because the title is so obvious, the perpetrator responsible in a way is sleazy power player Mr Diagoras who is not only forcing his workers to work faster on the construction of the Empire State Building but when one of the workers tries to revolt on him, Diagoras’ bosses are all too keen to deal with him in their own way and we know that they are a lot worse than an ass like Diagoras.

Diagoras’ bosses are of course The Cult Of Skaro, who survived the events of “Doomsday” by teleporting themselves out of there as the remainder of the Daleks along with the Cybermen got sucked in the void but instead of Dalek Fey wanting to exterminate the defiant worker, it seems that having him turned to a Pig Man is a more viable option.

Helen Raynor certainly wasn’t telling porkies when she mentioned that this two-parter would show us a very different side to the Daleks because to an extent it really does. Okay it’s not the strangest thing in the world that they have devised a slave race to help them with their nefarious plan but rarely do they also use the manipulation of a human being to do it as well.

Like a lot of egomaniacs, Diagoras is both dangerous and stupid enough to endanger other people in order to become a power player within New York. Unlike Soloman, this former soldier has managed to retain a power and wealth that in reverse situations could easily be lost and despite his lack of curiosity and fear over both the The Cult Of Skaro and the Pig Men, he’s very willing to help them all out for his own benefit.

The slimy bastard was more than likely responsible for Laszlo’s transformation and he’s more than happy to put The Doctor, Martha, Soloman and naïve Frank in danger by offering them a job in the sewers for slave wages. It’s no surprise that The Doctor accepted the job as Diagoras instantly roused his suspicions but Martha taking her time to realise what The Doctor was up was a little jarring.

Still though there’s a great conversation between her and Frank before the Pig Men came and manage to snare the good natured kid as The Doctor easily fell into the trap and things took an amusing turn when the gang became acquainted with Tallulah who won brownie points for her amusing way of using a stage prop in order to get some answers.

Forwarding the opening scene on a bit, Tallulah soon realises that the people missing in the sewers might also include Laszlo and while Miranda Raison’s American dialect is a tad too tacked on for listening pleasure, I have to admit that Tallulah does stand out as a guest star.

The girl will never be famed for tact and demeanour but with an audacity similar to the Dead Like Me character Daisy Adair, her priceless comments make her a lot of fun to watch and she certainly develops an interesting rapport with The Doctor and Martha, although it’s really the conversation with the latter that holds most substance and intrigue.

While The Doctor is able to get Soloman to open about his fear and watch as the man goes to warn his people about the Pig Men, it’s Tallulah who takes the plunge of asking Martha about her relationship with The Doctor and just like her interaction with Cheen on the same matter, Martha is still unsure of where she stands with The Doctor. In some ways it’s nice that the establishment between Doctor and Newbie is still finding its way but you do wonder how much longer Martha’s unrequited crush as such will last. It’s not necessarily annoying but if constantly reneged on it could affect her characterisation just a little.

One thing that should be credited to Martha however is the fact her perceptiveness is rapidly speeding up in a way similar to Rose and completely opposite to Gwen in Torchwood. When she spots a Pig Man during Tallulah’s breathtaking performance of “Heaven And Hell”, she automatically realises that the spectator is Laszlo.

However Martha made the grave error of following Laszlo and getting herself captured as a direct but thanks to the way she ruined Tallulah’s performance and The Doctor’s analysis of an alien blob confirming The Cult Of Skaro’s presence, it’s not like it took much for The Doctor to find his new girl Friday.

Now onto The Cult Of Skaro, seeing as their great plan to open the Genesis Ark more or less failed them, you have to wonder what the hell are they doing in New York, why are Diagoras’ workers using the same metal as them on the Empire State Building and what the hell are they doing with turning men in swine’s and enslaving them?

It seems that between the events of “Doomsday” and “Daleks In Manhattan”, Dalek Sec has had time to evaluate and while he’s still more than convinced that the Daleks are a superior race, even he can’t deny despite their best efforts, the Daleks always seem to defeated in one way or another.

It’s fantastic that he actually comes out with the very argument that most of us viewers have thought from time to time and his ideas of evolving to a further stage in the Dalek race does not sit well with Dalek Thay and because Diagoras is more or less dead inside, the Pig Men are instructed to restrain him while Sec does the final stages of his experiment.

Sadly none of them include shutting the slimy Diagoras but you just know that despite his brazen arrogance Diagoras wasn’t going to survive the Daleks plan. People like Diagoras want to be big players but in the end become pawns. If there’s a cautionary tale for how you treat or underestimate others, then Diagoras’ fate might be that when Dalek Sec snacks upon him. Now even I didn’t think a whole human could fit into a Dalek like the way Diagoras did but that’s only the tip of the slime balls’ fate.

With Martha captured and reunited with Frank, Dalek Thay quickly arrived to scan for intelligence and the sods that are deemed dumb become pigs and the ones who are smart are used for the Daleks’ latest experiment. In other ways, whether she’s deemed with low or high intelligence, Martha is well and truly screwed if she doesn’t put her thinking cap on or gets rescued.

Tallulah’s reaction when she finds Laszlo and realises he was turned into a Pig Man because he was considered dumb is nicely played but it’s Laszlo’s determination to protect his girlfriend and aid The Doctor makes him even more likeable. At least we have one more episode with this guy and Tallulah’s moment to either help or flee is also nicely affecting.

Jumping in with the crowd mightn’t be The Doctor’s usual way of doing things but it’s interesting how he is quick to get Martha to ask the Daleks what they are up as they argue over the experiments on Dalek Sec working. Watching the Daleks argue with each other is definitely one of the episode’s strong points.

I actually liked Martha’s reaction when she realised she was dealing with the Daleks in the sewers, especially as it tied in wonderfully with The Doctor telling Tallulah how this race destroy everything in it’s path. The loss of Rose is still there but it’s also contradicted the realisation from Dalek Sec that his race are always getting their butts kicked no matter how many lives they end in the process.

One of the most interesting things is the idea of a Dalek/Human hybrid and when Dalek Sec opens up and spits a mutated form of Diagoras, it ends the first part of this saga on a jaw dropping end. Dalek/Human hybrids have been done in “The Parting Of The Ways” but there’s something about seeing the actual results in one sitting that’s quite stunning.

Also in “Daleks In Manhattan”

Brief fact: Only locations shots of New York were filmed. It turns out none of the actors actually went there as even Ryan Carnes admits to being in Cardiff for this two-parter.

Laszlo: “Now promise, Sunday you’ll come.”
Tallulah: “I promise.”

Why is it that once again police don’t seem to care when poor people go missing? Even someone like Tallulah couldn’t use her limited clout to get the cops interested in looking for Laszlo.

Worker: “These new bosses, what are their names?”
Diagoras: “You can say they’re from out of town.”

Diagoras: “It’ll get done, don’t worry.”
Dalek Thay: “Daleks have no concept of worry.”
Diagoras: “Yeah, well lucky you.”

We learn that while Soloman is WW1 vet, Frank is from Tennessee and had to leave because he was the oldest in his family. He seemed to have a thing for Martha.

Martha (re Pig Men): “They’re following you.”
The Doctor: “Yeah, I’ve noticed that, thanks.”

Tallulah (to Martha): “It’s the Depression sweetie, your heart might break but the show goes on or you starve.”

Isn’t what The Cult Of Skaro doing with their experiments similar to what Lumic was doing with Cybermen? They’re picking people they consider inferior for enslavement and intelligence for a new species/source of causing destruction.

The Doctor: “You’re not safe down here.”
Tallulah: “Then that’s my problem.”

Laszlo (re Daleks): “They’ll kill you.”
The Doctor: “If I don’t stop them, they’ll kill everyone.”

Chronology: November 1st 1930. First time we got an exact date to the very day, though Raynor was specific that this episode would be based in 1930.

Martha: “I’m so glad to see you.”
The Doctor: “Yeah well you can kiss me later. You too Frank if you want.”

Standout music: Miranda Raison’s singing was better than expected. ETA: It was actually Yamit Mamo.

Easily one of the most unconventional plots for the Daleks in this series so far, the self-explanatory “Daleks In Manhattan” is a triumph for former script editor Helen Raynor and with a flurry of brilliant guest stars and that tempting hook, how on earth could we not want more?

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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