Sunday, April 29, 2007

Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I'm pregnant and I can't climb over the wall...

The next door neighbour locked herself out of the house, with her children (or at least one of them) locked inside. I could hear talking to the child to calm her down and knocking on neighbours doors so I went out to see what the problem was and if I could offer assistance.
'Excuse me,' she was calling from further down the street, she continued without pausing for breath, 'I've locked myself out of the house and my baby is inside can you climb over the fence and open the door for me?'

Feeling a little cheated at not having the opportunity for gallantry and still processing the infodump she had offered I repeated back 'Can I climb over the wall?' More asking myself the same question than implying that she should be more proactive in rectifying her problem. I do have pharyngitis you know, and I'm not as young as I used to be.

'I'm pregnant I can't climb over the wall.' She qualified her position.

'Okay,' I shrugged. So I went into the back garden and looked at the fence. The tall, flimsy fence. I went and got one of the dining chairs and put it in the garden, took a step back and looked at it.

It really didn't look like the ideal aid to overcoming this obstacle so I went and looked in the dining room again. I actually had to stop myself picking up another chair, which would clearly have been useless. Instead I went back into the garden and thought to myself standing here looking at it is never going to give me the belief I can do this. So I did it. Balancing atop the fence like a Christmas Tree fairy I looked into the neighbours garden to see a small child stood looking at me with an expression of absolute horror.

'It's ok,' I said as I tottered, 'don't be scared I just need to open the front door for your Mother.'

'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!' said the child. Then she continued to say 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!' repeatedly whilst running in and out of the house.

Landing in the back garden; in my socks; in a puddle; I quickly went through the house to open the front door. The child meantime was beating at the front door in abject terror trying to get to her mother and preventing me opening the door. Sadly the irony was lost on her.

Anyway I let the Mum in and myself out and now here I am back again. It's as my dear old Nan used to say; 'We don't go far but we see life.'

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I thought Gridlock was visually impressive from the off. A shame all the cars had to be the same (especially after such a variety of designs in New Earth) but the CGI sequences were great I thought. And the lovely grimey feel of the 'undercity' was your classic dystopian future - marvellous stuff.

If you hold your magnifying glass up to the plot you're going to notice the odd flaw, definitely but as far as Saturday night entertainment goes Gridlock was it. Martha is an absolute pleasure, and a breath of fresh air after Pouty Pants Tyler. The dynamic between Rose & Martha is so much more interesting than;

Rose: I love travelling with you.
Doctor: Yeah, we're bloody great aren't we.
Audience: Bleuuurgh! Oh look I've sicked up on my egg and chips.

DT is consistently spot on in all his scenes now. Witness the shouty softly shouty approach to reasoning with Martha's kidnappers. The sad smiles as he tells Marttha about Gallifrey like it's still spinning away in the constellation of Kasterberous. And the lovely ending - but back to that in a second.

Father Brannigan was great fun, I really wasn't looking forward to him being in it (it's his fault for doind that superhero dross for the BBC) so that was a pleasant surprise.The sequence where the Doctor descends through the traffic to get to the Fast Lane was just great. It looked great on screen, it showed the Doctor as your proper dynamic action hero and it let the Who design team recreate great bits of 200AD history, (just a shame Max Normal didn't have his authentic speech pattern!).

The Macra! How cool is that? 'Why?' Scream a thousand crabby Macra fans on Outpost Gallifrey (who knew there were Macra fans?), Why not? Says I. Then I sing to them; 'Whats-a Macra you, eh? Why you look-a so sad?'

The end of that big old Boat Race. Do I get a prize for guessing his message. Yes I do, but not for another few weeks. A bit touched by the passing of the Face, and the idea of Hame stuck there with him for all those years keeping the surviving population alive.

Anyway, it all comes down to two plastic chairs in an alley. There's the pay off. The middle thirty five minutes is quite possibly a bit of candy floss and very enjoyable too. But the episode is bookended with lovely Doctor/Martha scenes that show more depth of character in the old Time Lord than forty years of the old show. The look on his face when Martha asks if the Face meant her; just lovely. Maybe I enjoyed it in spite of it's flaws but I loved this episode.

Series three is raising the bar as far as I can see. I just hope they sustain this level of quality.Some bad ju-ju next week methinks. 'They always survive while I lose everything.' Dalek Sec and his bretheren back again. I hope he manages another emergency temporal shift at the end. I like Dalek Sec.

The best thing about keeping pretty spoiler free is that the series can surprise me this year, and it's doing so. Despite what we know, or think we know, I wonder if there's more to this last of his kind/you are not alone stuff.Here's to another ten weeks.