Sunday, April 29, 2007

"But... you have doubts?" "Affirmative."

Science fiction (ooh ooh ooh) double feature (bau bau bau). So Manlek did his... William Shatner... im...personation for a bit, started to turn nice, got the Doctor on side, and then his underlings decided his mission was a failure, his life had got too extreme, and they death-rayed him. In a theatre. With audience partici...pation.

And I assume a sonic transducer was involved as well, because I don't see how else they could have got from the basement of the Empire State Building to the theatre that quickly, with Manlek in chains staggering along with them. A plot device that is capable of breaking down solid matter and projecting it wherever happens to be most dramatic. I mean, why bother to chain him up, bring him to the theatre and then exterminate him? If you don't like him, why not just exterminate him back at the lab? This was but one of a mountain of things that bothered me about this week's Who, but let's start on the positive side.

I give Evolution of the Daleks 5 out of 10 - decidedly average, but just better than The Shakespeare Code. Points were awarded for lookin' good, particularly the nice backdrops of New York (yes, DW Confidential, the very nice backdrops, and by the way thank you for spending two episodes dwelling on how nice they were and telling us naff all about the story). Not the first Who story to reduce a city to just three basic locations (Empire State, Central Park, theatre - well, four if you include the sewers) and to give us no sign of anyone living anywhere else in the city, but it did look very good. Manlek, son of Dalek, still looked nice, and I even quite liked his Shatner impersonation. Some nice film referencing - leaving aside the Rocky Horror overtones of the theatre scene and the twinges of Frankenstein in the lab, I did kind of like the 1930s cross-fading as the human Daleks marched through the sewers. Nice Dalek tommy-guns. Nice scenes of the under-Daleks conspiring - looking over their shoulder and so on. Some nice comedy touches, particularly the pigmen making "Come on, come on" faces in the lift. And David Tennant put in one of his finest performances yet, I thought, apart from the bits I shall shortly whinge about. All things considered, this episode looked great, and better even than last week's.


1. The science was shot to buggery. And if I, a science dunce, can spot the problems on first viewing, it's got to be really screwed. Now see, when Cthulhu Dalek swallows a man whole and somehow merges itself with him to form Manlek, I can accept that. It's not presented as a hard scientific thing, and besides we already know from the 2005 series that Daleks can somehow absorb organic material from other life forms, even through their casings. But solar flares and DNA are real, scientific things that behave in real, scientific ways. And I think that's where Daleks in Manhattan scored over Evolution of the Daleks - it didn't contain any of the "science". The non-science, if you will, although I like to think of it as ab-science. To list out each terrible point:
  • A vast burst of gamma radiation, caused by a solar flare, translates into a big bolt of regular electric lightning hitting the top of the Empire State Building.

  • The Daleks need this energy to turn humans into Daleks by some process of barging the DNA out with their own. (I'm pretty sure genetics doesn't work on an instant basis either, but it's the "zap it with electricity and jolt the new genes in" that got me.)

  • Although the hybrids are now "100% Dalek", they are completely unchanged physically.

  • They are, however, changed mentally, even though DNA doesn't contain any experiential information that might condition their minds.

  • The Daleks plan to use them to convert the rest of New York's population, and then the rest of humanity, although how they plan to do this with one small genetic lab and no more really big solar flares, and a very limited source of Dalek DNA, remains unclear. (Plus, since when did the Daleks become the Cybermen?)

  • Meanwhile the Doctor has somehow disrupted the process by clinging to the mast and getting himself electrocuted. (This I am sure of: DNA is a chemical and is not transmitted electrically.)
They could have gotten away with it, if they'd just said the Daleks needed a massive burst of electricity to overwrite the human brains with Dalek thoughts. SF has been equating the mind with electricity for decades now, the audience would've bought it easily. There were other, lesser scientific issues, but they're kind of dwarfed by the above.

2. Related to point 1, even the ab-science has a yawning chasm at its heart. Why was the Dalekanium strapped to the mast? The Doctor clings to the mast to magically stick his DNA into the human hybrids, and tries for some reason to tear the Dalekanium off, so the obvious inference is that the Dalekanium was there for the same purpose, to introduce Dalek DNA into the process. (It's not too unreasonable (for a given value of "unreasonable", accepting for a moment that we're talking about electrical transfer of DNA) - if Dalek metal could absorb organic material in 2005, maybe it does actually contain genetic material itself. Or then again maybe that, it now turns out, was another example of metal "conducting" DNA?) But Manlek says he's supposed to be the genetic template for the hybrids, so the DNA must have come from him and been introduced in the lab. But then why was the Dalekanium strapped to the mast?
And while we're here, how does Manlek, son of Dalek - formed from the direct merging of two bodies, gestated in and born from a Dalek casing - form the template for hybrid creatures created by a completely different process? (And why don't they share his boyish good looks - but see point 1.)

3. It was a joke, even in the old series, when the Daleks had a golden opportunity to exterminate the Doctor, and by some contrivance they wouldn't do it. Here it happened at least three times, twice with the Doctor actually standing there inviting them to do it. The Doctor's developed some kind of pointless death wish, apparently (and these, incidentally, are the scenes where I felt David Tennant's performance lapsed from excellent to merely good). Not only this, but the last Dalek - honest guv, the very last one this time, really, until we bring them all back again, chiz chiz - had a clear shot at him at the end and scarpered instead. D minus, detention.

4. And that deserves a sub-header of its own: the Emergency Temporal Cop-Out. Oh, how I long for the day when they actually finally really do kill the Daleks off, because to me they don't just represent lack of imagination, they are lack of imagination. ("What will we do this week?" "Oh, we'd better have another Dalek story. People like the Daleks.") How my heart swelled when two of the bastards bit the dust in the theatre - just one left! Just one left! Go on, do it!! And yet, even if they had killed off the Very Last Dalek Honest Guv, my cynical brain wouldn't believe it. It's been soured by six happy weeks in 2005 after Rob Shearman's fine episode, at the end of which the Daleks all came back again.
The real tragedy here is that Manlek was the most interesting thing to happen to the Daleks in decades, and they killed him off. They had to, I suppose, for a variety of narrative and dramatic reasons, but it's still a shame.

5. A few remaining points of plot illogic. The human hybrids have the same problem as the pigmen - if all you're after is zombie-like footsoldiers, why not just take regular humans and brainwash them? Worked in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Why all this pissing about with genetics, just to end up with manual labour?
If your army of hybrids is so expendable (and if you already know they've been compromised), why not self-destruct them before they blow up the only two other remaining Daleks, instead of after? (I'm not complaining, you understand, but... why?)
Why (just to repeat it) drag Manlek all the way to the theatre in chains, just to parade him for a bit and then kill him? Why leave him alive at all, if you're a ruthless genocidal Dalek and you think he's let the side down?
Why does the Doctor apparently go along with Manlek's plan when a) Manlek is 50% unwilling human, and b) his future race of hybrids is composed entirely of murdered humans? Is it worth that much moral compromise just to egg on the one Dalek who might turn out to be nice?
One missed opportunity: why wasn't something like this included:
"But... why?"
"Da-leks do not ques-tion or-ders!"
"But you did - you deposed your leader and shot him in front of us."
I know, I'm trying to "improve" the script, and am therefore the lowest of the low even by my own standards. But still, might have been a nice point to make.

All of this might give the impression that I hated this episode. I repeat: 5 out of 10, and it was nice to look at. Still, roll on next week's.
One cheeky final thought, and I haven't seen anyone else online mentioning it, which suggests they're all far too lovely, or I'm a complete disgrace. Daleks in Manhattan made it clear that Tallulah Threeellsandanaitch is Jewish. Muttering "Dumb goy" at the Doctor, several "Oy"s, that kind of thing. (Plus you're not going to tell me Threeellsandanaitch isn't a Jewish surname.) Her boyfriend is now half pork. I'm guessing there won't be any more blow jobs, then. At the very least, it should be an interesting relationship.


Ben said...

You naughty, naughty man. Actually I believe the key turning point in the kosher/non-kosher divide is whether the hoof is cloven or not. A suitably liberal rabbi could probably make a case for it being okay if the pig has a foot and five toes instead. (We never saw ...)

My first thought on seeing the footsoldiers taking up their weaponry was: Dalek splurge guns!

John Toon said...

Wily, Mr Jeapes, very wily. I certainly don't recall him having any visible trouble walking. And where better to find a liberal rabbi than in New York?

Still, just shows what a scoundrel I am: you thought of Bugsy Malone, I went straight for the oral sex joke. (Could've been worse, he could've been half paving slab.) I wouldn't have minded if they had been splurge guns, mind you, but where did the Daleks find the parts for laser guns in 1930s New York?

Anonymous said...

Have you seen how the BBC have billed the Daleks in Mahattan on the episode guide bit of the website? 'Sec's in the city'.....

John Toon said...

That is funny, don't get me wrong - but less funny than when people first started saying it a month ago...

Christopher Pittard said...

Nice to see the Daleks doing *Waiting for Godot* at the end, though... albeit *Waiting for Godot during a frenzied laser battle the like of which has not been seen since Revelation of the Daleks in 1985*, as Beckett really wanted to call it. See also *Endgame with Cybermen* and *Krapp's Last Tape because of the Time War and everything*