Aired 21 April 2007
At its core, Doctor Who is a family programme that doesn’t always ask viewers to take its stories too seriously, unafraid to play with formats and even poke fun at itself along the way. The exception to this rule so far in the revived programme has been the Daleks, the iconic foe that so much care and effort was put into to restore them to their former glory. And so even though they just made a surprising appearance at the end of last series, anticipation was high that the first mid-series two-parter featuring the Daleks would impress and dazzle.
These early two-parters haven’t exactly been the standout successes of their respective series, ‘Aliens of London’/’World War Three’ and ‘Rise of the Cybermen’/’The Age of Steel’ being serviceable but hardly classic adventures. Unfortunately, as the opening part of this tale, ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ falls squarely into that category as well, channeling a sort of B-movie vibe as it puts on display truly atrocious New York accents and questionable aliens and schemes. Whereas the Daleks have been portrayed as truly galactic conquerors that need to be feared in their first appearances, it’s inherently underwhelming to see them hiding in Depression-era New York sewers creating pig hybrids.
Still, this approach does fit very much in line with several stories from the classic series, and the plot in this story does fairly well in setting up the second half although many answers and payoffs are necessarily withheld. The story begins as the showgirl Tellulah’s boyfriend Laszlo is taken by bipedal pig-like beings in boiler suits, Laszlo becoming the most recent in a string of disappearances. The Doctor, continuing to stretch out his one trip promise to Martha, soon involves himself in the irresistible mystery, coming upon a collection of green ooze at a nearby sewer that confirms the presence of the beings from Skaro.
Meanwhile, the four Cult of Skaro Daleks themselves have taken up residence in the Empire State Building, channelling ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ where they attempted to find the Human Factor to increase their battle efficiency, this time looking to physically blend human and Dalek DNA together to create a more advanced Dalek form. Mr Diagoras, a ruthless and self-made man who is only concerned about being on the winning side, becomes the unwitting test subject here in a rather gruesome and effective scene where he physically gets engulfed and pulled into Dalek Sec’s casing.
It’s interesting that the Daleks use two such disparate battlegrounds for their plans, the glitz of the Empire State Building contrasting almost perfectly to the ramshackle Hooverville and its homeless denizens. Still, the main supporting character in each segment, Eric Loren’s Diagora and Hugh Quarshie’s Soloman, is quite effective, and fortunately these two characters’ accents are rather good. Soloman, despite his tough breaks in life, retains a fierce inquisitiveness and determination to fight the wrongs of the world, and it’s no wonder that the Doctor takes such a liking to him.
Fundamentally, ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ is a decent opening to the two-part story, harkening back to the story types of old. Still, seeing the Daleks on such a smaller scale is a bit disappointing given how bombastic and threatening they have been in their recent outings. Of course, it’s up to the concluding act to follow through on the pieces presented here, a fully bipedal Dalek-human hybrid now in the mix. Despite the limitations that not actually filming in New York naturally creates, the camera and production crew does their best to give a sense of authenticity to rather good results, a bold step for a fledgling programme still experimenting with what it is able to do.