Friday, July 27, 2007

“Daleks have no concept of worry!”: Doctor Who

‘Daleks in Manhattan’ is the first categorically awful episode of Doctor Who since its revival in 2005. Considering we’re currently in the show’s third season, that’s more of a compliment than it is an attack. After all, I clearly have great affection for Doctor Who, so it pains me to proclaim that ‘Daleks in Manhattan’, despite the geek-tastic promise of its title, is almost excruciating in its awfulness.

One problem that immediately struck me was the irritating and over-the-top American accents put on by the British cast. Of course Brits wouldn’t have been bothered by this, and I get that they are the show’s primary audience. Yet would it really have taken much effort to get a few genuinely American actors in, or if not that, then to tone down the accents a little bit? Personally I found it impossible to enjoy many scenes because the accents were grating on me so much. The representation of American life at this time is unfortunately severely limited by budget restraints. Rarely venturing into the actual city, Helen Raynor’s script is content to never go beyond Hooverville, the sewers and the Daleks’ lab.

Perhaps if the material had been strong enough this wouldn’t have bothered me, but Raynor’s script is insipid and dull. The usually scary Daleks are lumbered with unintentionally comic lines and a lame evil scheme that even Dr Evil would scoff at. While I appreciate that it was Raynor’s intention to reduce the Daleks from their former glory to a rag-tag gang, this leaves the story without any formidable villain. And the interaction between the Doctor and Martha, which the past three episodes have so benefited from, is tossed aside here (except for a couple early scenes which are the best of the episode).

One of the things I’ve always liked about Doctor Who is that it spends time characterizing its guest stars and encourages the viewer to care about them. ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ runs with this idea – it introduces five such supporting players and gives them all plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, Raynor utterly fails in her attempts at making them empathetic. Most of them never go beyond caricatures – Tallulah the streetwise showgirl (couldn’t they have come up with another name?), Solomon the wise leader, Frank his youthful protégée and Laszlo the handsome suitor who, um, becomes a pig. Their depictions are simply lazy – for instance, in Solomon’s introduction he solves a dispute over a piece of bread by splitting it in half. (Again, the reference is a little too obvious.)

I don’t mean to bash Raynor herself too much here – after all, she did serve as script editor throughout the second season, and the second part of her story is a definite improvement over the first. But look at it this way – with every other episode of Doctor Who I have recapped, I’ve looked forward to viewing it a second time. With ‘Daleks in Manhattan’, having to watch it again felt torturous.

Next week: The first human Dalek shakes things up, in the conclusion of this disappointing two-parter.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I don't think this episode is that bad. It's just mediocre. If it didn't involve The Daleks, you'd probably have enjoyed it more... but they come with BIG expectations attached.

The Daleks should have been left to rest after s2's finale, but the BBC's rights run out at the end of s3. They wanted to use them as much as they could, as they may be absent for s4 as negotiations take place (again).

It's not a great episode, but certainly not the worst of the revived series. Part 2 is a bit better, too. Things hot up with ep8 for this series.