There is something special about a Dalek episode of Doctor Who. An extra frisson. It's always been the way. I remember waiting with incredible anticipation for Ressurection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks and particularly Remembrance of the Daleks. It's my opinion that a period setting is somehow even more effective in Dalek stories than a SF one. Throw into the mix a genuine New York location (through the magic of television and well used plate shots) and it was with great excitement that I sat down to bear witness to the return of the Cult of Skaro.
I loved the first episode. Until the final seconds I was probably the happiest I've ever been watching Doctor Who. The period setting was pulled off perfectly, the location footage gave it extra realism, the Daleks complimented the art decco surroundings as if they had been designed with that aim in mind. The direction and the performances eloquently referenced the films of the period with hammy brooklyn accents lifted straight out of Singin' in the Rain or a Busby Berkeley picture (please God no one ever really sounded like that).
Hooverville (or Bute park as I know it) was effective. Some have expressed the opinion that the issue of the Doctor and Martha being a mixed race couple in 1930's New York should have been raised, and also that the white characters interraction with Martha was unrealistic. Whilst I take the historical point on the race issue I feel the answer is that you can't tackle that same problem every time the Tardis lands somewhere before 1990. They acknowledged it the first time it was relevant (The Shakespeare Code) and I imagine they'll leave it at that unless it's incorporated into the plot of an episode. Whilst it's a suspension of disbelief I'd rather suspend than hear some saturday tea-time/family drama racial bigotry every couple of weeks. Enough of this silliness it's Doctor Who not Panorama.
Hugh Quarshie was acting his little socks off, and to think I'd only the previous evening been mocking his turn as Captain Panaka in the first of the Star Wars debacles, I mean prequels. Best guest artist for episode one though must go to Miranda Raison who was captivating. The scene towards the close of the episode where she gets lost in the sewers and starts to cry I thought was brutal and touching.
The pigmen really were Dalek Invasion's Robomen weren't they, right down to the short life span. They were very good, especially the horrific masks. I felt Laszlo failed however. Ryan Carnes really touching performance was undercut by a make up job that just made him look silly instead of half-converted. I felt the whole of part one was very old fashioned and slow placed which worked brilliantly as normally it's all so frantic. Reminiscent of old Who stories in several ways.
The Daleks, in particularly chatty mode, have had enough of clinging to survival. The scene where Diagoras and the Dalek talk whilst looking over the Big Apple was beautiful. The Dalek lab was like something out of a James Whale Universal Horror and the lovely Dalek Sec was in fine form... for a few moments. Then Sec is sacrificed. Is that the first Dalek suicide? The Kaled Sec appears larger and more appendaged than the mutant we saw in series one (Dalek). I'm sure I remember reading that the mutants are specifically bred as grunts, leaders, or whatever. As a Black Dalek (sometimes reffered to as a Dalek Supreme [Dalek Spotters Guide Book, 1984, Spotty & Single]) Sec would have been bred to be more intelligent and... stuff than an ordinary Dalek. That's my explanation for him clearly being ten times the size (& limbiness) of the others. Anyways back in Sec's lab it's time for the Dalek to ingest the human thereby obviously merging their DNA (wha?) and hatching something that looks like The Mighty Boosh do City of Death. If that wasn't harrowing enough Sec has absorbed his bloody accent too.
A couple of questions; firstly why Sec? Why would the leader sacrifice himself? Okay it was his idea and the others couldn't follow his logic but if he'd ordered them to absorb the human they'd have done it. As a super-genius Black Dalek he should have forseen that the rest of the Cult would revolt without him to guide them.
Secondly, how the hell did the Daleks not see the Doctor? They didn't see him, sense him, pick up on his double heartbeat. Nothing. No wonder they're on the brink of extinction as they appear to have gone blind.
Surprisingly the Hybrid was one of the things I liked most about Evolution of the Daleks, his developing conscience and relationship with the Doctor was interesting and well played. The Doctor having to try to help him despite all his better judgement just in case it could make a difference was brilliant too. The Dalek revolt was the best bit (especially the clandestine chat in the sewer where one Dalek checks nobody is looking before he will speak). 'We imagined your irrelevance!' Class.
On the other hand it transpires that the luxuriant pacing of part one was at the expense of episode two. The story plays out pleasingly if too quickly. The guest cast are wasted (literally for Hugh Quarshie - but that's one of the best bits!) and appear to serve little purpose. This is especially tragic for Miranda Raison having been so watchable in part one. The Human-Daleks really are just Robomen apparently incapable of individual thought (although it's worth a mention that the last time the Daleks experimented with the Human Factor (Power of the Daleks, 1966) 'Why?' was the first question they asked then too. Nice reference.) and no more use than the Pigmen. The Daleks get to drag Sec/Hybrid around on a chain (sweet Jaysis are you serious?) which is odd as I would expect them, having decided he is an irrelevant abomination and an evolutionary dead-end, to exterminate the flip out of him. No, apparently they're holding onto him for now so that... ah yes, so that he can be killed accidentally in a clumsy metaphor. Excellent.
The stand out best sequence of Evolution is when the Doctor climbs the mast of the Empire State Building to remove the Dalek panels, loses his screwdriver and desperatley pulls at the dalekanium as if he can rip it off with his bare hands. Seeing that he can't he clutches at the mast, presumably risking his own destruction, to block the power. This is followed by a nice scene of him lying inert, coat flapping in the wind. Is he dead? Nah, course not he's back on his feet in two seconds. Incidentally, how did the Time Lord DNA get into the Dalek-Humans? Through the power system? Wha?
Anyways, back in Sec's lab, or is it Caan's lab? Caan does a runner (he has to really or no more Daleks ever and do I like the Doctors reasoning) while DT has some kind of grinning/winking relapse and prances about the lab like he's on Strictly Dance Fever. He said he couldn't fix Laszlo, how does he do it? Actually, don't worry about it. I'm not bothered.
And as the credits run that's how I feel. Not bothered. Which is a real shame because there is a really good story in there but for me, on first viewing, Evolution of the Daleks doesn't really work. Gutted I was. After an awesome set up they lost the second half completely.
It will be interesting to see what general opinion of this story is after some time has past. I've only watched part two once and must confess I really wasn't sure how I felt about it until I began writing this review. It wasn't bad. It's no Time-Flight. It was a great disapointment to me however; and in that it achieves a first since Doctor Who returned to our screens.