Doctor Who – “Daleks in Manhattan”

Doctor Hooverville. Ba-dum tish.

This is easily the best of the season to date. There seems to be a lot of negativity about it on my LJ right now and I don’t understand why. The worst I can say about it is that it feels like a pastiche of Classic Who, not least because the story has room to breathe for once and to invest the supporting characters with a modicum of personality. From the historical setting to the theatre (reminding me of Talons of Weng Chiang) to the running away from monsters in the sewer, to the Daleks strutting around rooms and ordering humans about, to the Ogron-like slaves, it all feels oh-so familiar. But in a good way.

I think what I particularly like about the episode is that it’s just good, solid Doctor Who. No bells, no whistles, no ridiculous stunt casting–just a clear premise, decent characters, good performances and an atmospheric setting. (It doesn’t hurt that I have a great fondness for the imagery of New York in the 1930s). The Doctor does what the Doctor does, spotting something amiss and charging in, siding with the underdogs and quickly being accepted by all around him as the leader. Martha wanders along doing her usual flit between fear and bravery. (Her attempt to cross the stage was a bit silly, and only saved by the execution which refused to play it as slapstick). The supporting characters are painted with a broad-brush but they have their quirks and histories, and even Mr Diagoras is a believable individual. In fact Soloman and Diagoras, two nice historical names, parallel each other nicely, even if Solomon’s schtick with the bread is a little bit eye-rolling (although of course nothing says he isn’t consciously apeing his namesake.)

My main complaint would be the Dalek-Human hybrid, which disconcertingly reminds me of the aliens from Gerry Anderson’s execrable Space Precinct. It’s not in the least bit scary, despite sharing the Cyber Leader’s lack of decorum in the brains department. (The pig people, strangely, are well-realised and fine in an Island of Doctor Moreau kind of way.) I have to say that although the Daleks are supposed to be thinking outside the box, someone in the Cult of Skaro needed to exert a bit more control with the flip-chart as this scheme is clearly a bit bonkers. However, I’ve never found over-elaborate supervillain plans to be a problem with Doctor Who monsters. If the whole plot feels like a vague retread of the Cyberman two-parter from last year then I’m okay with that too, since I hated that two-parter whereas I’m finding this one (so far) to be chock full of the richness of setting and character that I felt the earlier story was lacking.

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