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23 January 2015 @ 07:00 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks  
The key thing I remembered about this story, going in, was that mean comments on the Internet made the author cry. In retrospect I do have to wonder what the back-stage politics were, that meant Russell Davies felt it was appropriate to tell the world that nasty Internet fans made Helen Raynor cry, especially given she was the only woman who had written a Doctor Who story under his stewardship and so maybe he should have been a little careful about not undermining her professionalism. But this was at the start of the first big falling out between the production team and Internet fans (over whether the show's treatment of Martha was racist). I'd like to be able to say the production team handle interactions with Internet fans better now but, to be honest, I'm not sure they do.

Going into this with low expectations probably helped, I wasn't expecting anything revolutionary to happen about the Daleks or the Doctor or their relationship to each other, and since I wasn't expecting it to be a "landmark" story in any particular way, I wasn't disappointed when it wasn't.

There are a number of factors that drag the story down. I don't normally pay much attention to the score in Doctor Who stories, but the odd fleeting refrain from "An American in Paris" and other jazz standards made me wish the production had gone all out with a 1930s jazz and blues themed musical backdrop. Instead, as if Murray Gold didn't really have the courage of his convictions, it falls back on his standard repertoire of slightly overblown choral singing and pounding chords. This was a shame for a story set in 1930s American and featuring a show girl prominently.

Sadly the human-daleks mask is a failure. I'm sure it was considerably more sophisticated than the mask warn by Scaroth of the Jaggaroth in City of Death but it doesn't look any better, and Scaroth of the Jaggorth really only succeeds to the extent he does because he crops up in one the ten best Doctor Who stories ever. The twitching tentacles I suspect were one of the more expensive parts and they look the silliest.

The pig people are also a mistake, in so far as its hard to understand "why pigs?" and their appearance undermines attempts to make them appear menacing and give the story a somewhat bathetic feel. Similarly all the business with the dalekenium on top of the Empire State building doesn't quite work in a mixture of the script failing to quite join the dots, the set failing to quite make it look convincing, and the whole nonsense of the idea that if the Doctor holds the pole during a lightening strike his DNA will somehow magically get transmitted by the electricity.

On the other hand the show was probably overdue a re-examination of the idea of the human factor (or the dalek factor) and what happens when they are combined. A compare and contrast of human and dalek behaviour is potentially as interesting as comparing and contrasting the Daleks and the Doctor. Bits of this work very well and Erec Loren is to be commended for managing to convey emotions from underneath the horrors of the hybrid mask.

Similarly Hooverville is a great setting for Doctor Who. Of course, this was made a year before the 2008 financial crash and since the great depression is an obvious comparison to draw NLSS child and I had a fairly long conversation about the current crisis. Being the child of privilege that she is, she had absolutely no conception that we were living through a new age of austerity even if there are no slums in Central Park this time around. In some ways I suspect the setting is more interesting and relevant now than it was at the time.

I actually also really like the idea of the Cult of Skaro lurking on the sidelines of human history and trying to bring back the Daleks. Three daleks provide quite enough of a threat for your average Doctor Who story, and the fact that these are recurring characters (something I hadn't noticed first time around) represents a pleasant restraint from the temptation to make the daleks bigger, more ambitious and more dangerous with each appearance.

Hugh Quarshie is excellent as Solomon, although very much in the Doctor Who tradition of good leaders who are hopelessly out of their depth. Miranda Raison is equally good as Tallulah.

NLSS Child was very impressed that Frank survived. In fact most of her post episode discussion revolved around how he seemed to have been marked out as a throwaway character and yet made it through to the end of the story. At some point we need to show her original Star Trek and introduce the concept of a red shirt. Interestingly I was under the impression she lacked interest in classic Doctor Who. We made her sit through the first episode of Genesis of the Daleks because Sarah Jane Smith and beyond remarking how young Sarah looked she appeared deeply uninterested. However she tells me now that we are going to watch all NuWho first and then we are going to watch our way through classic Who - I wonder how long this intent will last in the face of the realities of 1960s TV production. Mind you, she watched An Adventure in Time and Space with me and was pretty gripped by the tragedy of William Hartnell (as presented) so maybe I underestimate her.

So, I enjoyed this. I think there are a couple of unwise scripting decisions and there are quite a lot of problems with the production, but there is plenty to like.

... Of course I was watching Time and the Rani in parallel which lends a certain perspective to the concept of bad Doctor Who.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/138967.html.
Greg McElhatton: DND Greggregmce on January 23rd, 2015 07:33 pm (UTC)
Are there any Doctor Who stories which DON'T look better when watched in parallel with Time and the Rani?
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 23rd, 2015 09:45 pm (UTC)
Timelash? maybe Time Flight? I begin to suspect there may be a whole thesis to be written on the inadvisability of titling your Doctor Who story "Time something"
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 24th, 2015 08:05 pm (UTC)
The Time of the Doctor? I wouldn't quite rank it as bad as any of those other "Time" episodes, but it's pretty far down in my opinion. Quite a lot of people, including my husband, would disagree with me.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:31 pm (UTC)
I was surprised how popular Time of the Doctor was, particularly among some people of my acquaintance who dislike modern Dr Who. As you say it wasn't bad in the way some of the other Time stories are bad, but it struck me as very self-indulgent.
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 27th, 2015 09:14 pm (UTC)
In my mind, it tried too hard to tie up all of the Eleventh Doctor's loose ends and include every enemy he ever faced, ending up with a nonsense mess of a plot. The only good part was the regeneration (though I hated defeating the Daleks with it - you wonder why the Time Lords didn't just blast regeneration energy at them during the Time War if it was that easy), but even that seemed a bit forced, trying to be so emotional.
Pollyjane_somebody on February 4th, 2015 09:52 pm (UTC)
My immediate first thought was The Horns of Nimon, but that might be unfair. Mind you, that does in turn make me think of The Time Monster, which I think would support your thesis :-)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on February 5th, 2015 11:26 am (UTC)
I have a soft spot for the Horns of Nimon - it at least manages to be pretty entertaining even if you feel pantomime has no place in Doctor Who.
fredbassettfredbassett on January 23rd, 2015 08:12 pm (UTC)
Just about all I remember about this is that I felt sorry for one of the pig people.

Interesting review, thank you. I like reading these even if I barely contribute anything to the discussion.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 23rd, 2015 09:46 pm (UTC)
There is a sympathetic half pig person called Lazlo, who is also Tallulah's beau. It is, again, a plot thread that would have probably worked better if he hadn't been a pig.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 24th, 2015 01:20 am (UTC)
Russell definitely has an issue with writers and directors who try to engage with online fan critics, because he publicly rebukes them when there is no need to. Two of the names I think of happen to be women, which may be significant, though one was a man.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:35 pm (UTC)
If RTD were more plugged into online fan networks I would suspect he was buying into some of the issues some online fans have with female-associated forms of online fandom (squee, porn etc) but since he isn't it may be the gender here is irrelevant. I do feel something very odd was going on with the whole "made Helen cry" thing though, because it almost never ends well when creators publicly reveal that they didn't like the reception of their work and, I think, most creators are well aware of that. "You may me cry" is also a particularly dangerous line for a woman to take in a professional context and even if Helen Raynor wanted to reveal that the reception of her work was upsetting, I doubt she'd have wanted to frame it like that.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 28th, 2015 04:03 pm (UTC)
I suspect it's RTD's person-management-by-public-revelation technique which is in question rather than a decision by Helen Raynor herself to express herself that way.
John E: crichtardisjohn_amend_all on January 24th, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC)
I think one reason why the human-Dalek hybrid doesn't come off is that a lot of what makes a Dalek special is the voice. I don't recall the hybrid having any noticeable voice treatment, so instead of a sinister alien battle machine we're left with a man in a rubber mask.

One thing I remember amusing me: the Daleks are so down on their resources that one had to give up its rear armour plates to make the antenna. In other words, it's so poor it has the arse out of its trousers.

The other thing that doesn't work too well for me is the scene in the theatre, where Caan lets the converted humans blow Thay and Jast to bits, despite having the ability to terminate them whenever he likes.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:38 pm (UTC)
I think the human-Dalek hybrid is something that almost works, but it looks far to much like a man with a dalek stuck on his head and the twitching tentacles are merely distracting.

I like the down on their resources daleks. Doctor Who needs to rein the daleks in regularly so that the threat is "how do we stop the daleks building more of themselves" or similar, otherwise you just end up with the endless upping of stakes from "the world is at stake" to "the universe is at stake" to "all of time and space is at stake" which rapidly becomes both boring and silly.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 24th, 2015 07:43 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten that controversy; the one I remember is the human Dalek being 'spoilered' on the cover of the Radio Times. I deduced most of the plot from that (we don't even get Radio Times, I saw it in Sainsburys). Davies was typically combative in defence of the decision!

I also remember it for the tenth Doctor being called something very rude in Yiddish (one of my favourite moments of the season) and utterly lousy science and not much else.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:41 pm (UTC)
The science in this is, well, at least mostly thematically plausible in universe with one or two weak links (doctor as DNA conductor, why pigs?). Admitedly, as I mention above, I was watching in parallel with Time and the Rani where the science is beyond lousy and into some kind of word based random plot generator land - but more on that in another post.

I wish they'd been a little more wholeheartedly into their setting, it has nice touches, like the Yiddish but at some level it feels like they lacked the courage of their convictions.
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 24th, 2015 08:04 pm (UTC)
I remember liking the episode enough on first watch (I'm a newcomer, so I saw it first in 2013), and then being surprised at reading it had been so hated. I've seen it a couple of times since, including once within the last 3 months, and I still like it. The pigs and the hybrid didn't bother me at all, so maybe that's a big part of it.

Mostly, I was very taken with the Cult of Skaro and the concept that some of the Daleks were trying to think not like Daleks. The development and ultimate failure of Sec was fascinating. And then, of course, the Doctor, in the one modern incarnation who doesn't hate the Daleks on first sight, begins to have hope that he can save and help his ancient enemies, only to have it dashed yet again. I also really loved Talullah's story.

It wasn't an outstanding episode, but I certainly liked it.

louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:44 pm (UTC)
I liked the Cult of Skaro too, though when I first saw it I don't think I realised these were the same daleks we'd seen in Doomsday. I really wish the show had done more with the cult because I think they made a nice vehicle for telling dalek stories which weren't about grandiose plans to destroy the universe. Dalek Sec, as you say, was particularly well done. I think if more of the story could have risen to that level it would be much more highly regarded.
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on January 27th, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC)
some kind of snark faeryshyfoxling on January 27th, 2015 12:07 am (UTC)
Sec's mask is rather goofy looking, but the pigs, just, why pigs? I know Doctor Who often has that silly element that harks to kids'-show roots, but it was just bizarre here. If there was some kind of sly reference going on with the fact that they are specifically pigs, I didn't get it. I think that would have worked better if they were just some kind of generic monster/alien thing invented for the purpose.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 27th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
NLSS Child thought it was a reference to the fake pig alien in Aliens of London though I don't think she's right about that. It is an odd choice though, something like a modern take on the Robomen from Dalek Invasion of Earth would have made a great deal more sense.