TARDIS File 03-04: Daleks In Manhattan

TARDIS File 03-04: Daleks In Manhattan

The Big Idea: In the first of a splashy two-part story, the Doctor takes Martha to 1930’s New York, where the Daleks are up to no good involving the Empire State Building, pig slaves, genetic experimentation, and dancing girls.

What’s So Great…

  • A brilliant teaser sets the scene with an evocatively lit cityscape, period music, and colourful, stagy dialogue; one is genuinely creeped-out as something stalks Lazlo backstage. The brilliant classic series writer Robert Holmes would have approved.
  • A Dalek emerging from an art deco elevator flanked by two pig slaves like some sort of Jimmy Cagney-inspired mob boss.
  • Martha and the Doctor looking up at the Statue of Liberty with “Rhapsody in Blue” in the background; CGI is allowing for some wonderfully iconic moments that wouldn’t have been possible in earlier years (CGI stitched together location filming on Ellis Island with footage of the leads in Cardiff).
  • Pig prosthetics have come along way since Aliens in London; could it be long before we’re treated to Conquest of the Planet of the Pigs?

Quick Bits of Trivia: Ryan Carnes, who plays Lazlo, had a recurring role on Desperate Housewives as Justin, the love interest of that series’ Andrew Van De Kamp. When Martha realizes she’s in New York, George Gerswhin’s “Rhapsody In Blue”— used to great effect to underscore the New York City skyline in the 1979 film Manhattan— is briefly heard in what must be the first reference to a Woody Allen film in Doctor Who. The Empire State Building first appeared in Doctor Who briefly back in 1965 in the serial The Chase. Incidentally, the Daleks showed up on the structure during that story too.

Things to Geek Out About…

  • The Cult of Skaro, last seen in Doomsday, is back scheming for the future of the Dalek race
  • The Daleks refer to their armour as Dalekanium. The term was first used in 1964 in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
  • Doctor Who returns to the sewers! Yes, I know it’s an odd thing to celebrate, but back in the day they made a creepy alternative to all the corridors.
  • Dalek Caan mentions that his planet was destroyed in a great war picking up the continuity of the Time War, while offering a nice little echo of similar revelations the Doctor has made about his own home world (and possibly refers back to the original-series story Remembrance of the Daleks).

Not to Complain But… American accents have always been a bit sketchy in Doctor Who, but here they range from authentic (Ryan Carnes as Lazlo) to unevenly stylized (Tallulah) to just plain distractedly bad (Mr. Diagoras). And the wonderful Freema Agyeman isn’t given a lot to do as Martha, after some wonderful material last week.

All Things Considered… Daleks in Manhattan works at a leisurely pace to establish mood and character; to give us a wikipedia-researched, old-movie feel of 1930’s New York—and nothing more authentic than that. While Doctor Who has a healthy production budget, we were probably never going to see our characters wandering around the streets of the city, and to that length, the device of Hooverville offers a nice, if historically inaccurate, creative solution. Overall the art direction is fantastic with a kind of soft focus, mythical quality to the city itself.

Tallulah is fun, dotty and full of pithy advice like all showgirls in the genre, while Solomon offers high ideals and the gritty determination that highlights the best in humanity. Lazlo rounds out the proceedings as the tragic romantic figure. Curiously, the Daleks themselves, while fascinating in their machinations as always, seem almost to have settled down into a nine-to-five kind of routine. One can almost imagine them arguing over where the elevators should go.

The story also lacks a certain urgency; the Doctor and Martha never seem to be in lot of danger. Novelty seems to push the narrative forward. What are the Daleks up to? Why are they grafting bits of themselves onto the top of the Empire State Building? What happened to Lazlo? And what’s with the pig slaves? Bottom line: we’ll have to wait until next week to see how all of this shapes up. There are intriguing hints of dissent in the Dalek ranks. And if Lazlo brings Tallulah home to meet mom, will there be pork roast?

Line of the Week: “I should have realized—he’s into musical theatre.”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Scot Clarke

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