"...Inside that shell there is a creature born to hate.
Whose only thought is to destroy
everyone and everything that isn't a Dalek..."
It's Thirties New York and, in the midst of the Depression, people are disappearing off the streets. Pigman hide in the sewers and, at the very top of the Empire State Building , the Doctor's greatest enemies are at work, preparing their most audacious plan yet.
After traipsing through the TARDIS-like IKEA furniture & lifestyle store for several hours, gorging on donut & coffee, and queued - like good little obedient Daleks pending disembarkation - for another hour, you only find out after unpacking it at home that the brand new bookcase you've bought is missing an alum key.
Without it is impossible to construct the much needed storage device - all the bits that make-up the whole lying across the living room floor, redundant and looking uninspiring.
A single alum key. Not even a screwdriver - sonic or not - will help.
That sums up DALEKS IN MANHATTAN .
All the "DNA bits and bobs" that creates a classic DOCTOR WHO episode were, I am sure, there but something was missing. Or, perhaps, there was too much. To many concepts and ideas that have clouded what could have been an epic.
Helen Raynor's script, it seems to have been touch not by Midas' touch but by a lengthy "shopping list" from the Executive Producers (in a salutatory nod to the apron-string pulling John Nathan-Turner). New York. Historical. The Cult of Skaro Daleks. Dalek hybrid with a human factor. A musical number. Dalek "henchmen". A battle with flying Daleks. Sewers and chase sequences.
Perhaps, DALEKS IN MANHATTAN was never expected to be anything other than a "romp". A stylish and richly observed (courtesy of Director, James Strong) "romp" but a "romp" nonetheless.
In a fashion, this was CLASSIC SERIES storytelling within the NEW SERIES format, and as time as marched bravely on the story content had nothing new to say or comment on.
Was this a re-make of the 1967 story, THE EVIL OF THE DALEKS (Daleks infused with a "human factor" and vice versa) and the 1985 story, REVELATION OF THE DALEKS (humans held in suspended animation for Dalek conversion)?
Not sure. But it failed to set the telly alight. Perhaps, it should have been. Literally.
However, whilst it lack the wit, original spark and spunk of Robert Shearman's definitive episode, DALEK (SERIES 1 - 2005), it was visually stunning. In fact, to use Americanism, "Awesome!" Every cent was clear on-screen, with the location filming adding a reality (in a digitally enhanced world) that substantially worked more effectively than those seen in THE SHAKESPEARE CODE (but less so than seen in THE EMPTY CHILD / THE DOCTOR DANCES in SERIES 1 - 2005). Fans and (real) critics has commented that it is with Russell T Davies that the success of the NEW SERIES should be attributed to, however, I think that is with the "visually creative team" that the merit must be hoisted upon. Not only the original "conceptual artist", Bryan Hitch (where has he gone?) and "that charming man", Edward Thomas (is he being spread too thin with TORCHWOOD and THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES?) but with the immense talent of The MillTV (under the eagle-eyed guidance of Will Cohen and Dave Houghton).
Visualise the implausible and impossible, and The MillTV will realise it.
(Isn't it about time that during DOCTOR WHO's "autumn/winter off-air vacation that serious & mature hour-long DOCTOR WHO CONFIDENTIAL could focus on the making of DOCTOR WHO - NEW SERIES (an hour to focus on their work, from concept to couriering the final "master tape" to BBC WALES Editor)?
Prime example of their astute contribution is seen during this episode's (much publicised and largely ridiculed RADIO TIMES farrago) climax. The seamless skill in opening the (Black) Dalek Sec casing to reveal the Kaled mutant inside demonstrates how much The MillTV understand (care & love?) the concepts of DOCTOR WHO that have been written over forty years, whilst adding a their 21 st twist. The MillTV's professionalism is truly inspiring, and enhances even the most turgid dialogue and poorest of convoluted plots. Like magicians, the quickness of the hand tricks the eye in to thinking something exciting is happening.
Murray Gold's contribution does the same thing. It seems that for the first time, the music score was heavy handed and, like a Sunday lunch of roast beef & all the trimmings followed by a traditional bread & butter pudding, made you feel that you've had too much too quickly. There was incidental music in scenes where quiet and reservation could have been adopted (perhaps, the music was "hiding" atmospheric noise affecting the warehouse complex within which the programme was recorded).
Too much of the good (read: excellent) thing, or was Gold on holiday with someone reaching toward the shelf for his "greatest hits scores" to add to the episode?
It just didn't gel, unfortunately. And I am a big fan of Gold's esteemed music with the SERIES 1 and SERIES 2 soundtrack being a permanent fixture on the iPod.
And now the only "visually creative" contribution to DALEKS IN MANHATTAN that failed to match the quality provided by The MillTV's digital effects.
The Dalek Sec Human Hybrid animatronic creation.
I can only hope that once she has moved on to pastures new (away from BBC WALES) that Helen Raynor (a stunning Script Editor for SERIES 1) will reveal that the Hybrid manifestation was the idea of Russell T Davies whilst "off-his-head" on something or other. In a mistake that is equal to allowing General Montgomery to mastermind the ill-fated World War II offensive, "Operation Market Garden".
Whilst the TIME-FLIGHT Plasmatons (read: giant "turd"-like creatures) were replaced in 1985 by THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD Vervoids (read: penis-headed organic creatures) in being the most derisive "monster" in DOCTOR WHO. However, the Sec Human Hybrid succeeds in topping the list for being ridiculous and even more penis-headed. I am sure the kiddie-winks loved saying to their bemused parents, "Mummy, that looks like a willy".
And the condom-like wiggly tentacles hardly helped to make the alien threatening, or, on the other hand, pitiful. Not one of the highlights of the NEW SERIES.
Whilst the Sec Human Hybrid failed to impress, the Pigmen slaves were strikingly created (by Millennium FX) down to the very hair sprouting from their porcine ears.
A genius idea and equally genius in their realisation. However, it would have been interesting to witness the conversion process (and how it actually fits in with the "final experiment"). And where exactly were "live" pigs abducted? Surely, in a starving America pigs would be prized and coveted.
Let's see more of them.
The Cult of Skaro - let's see less of them.
In fact, ignore them (read: it, singular).
The NEW SERIES has created a Dalek-styled rod for its own back that has, seemingly, backed them into a storytelling cul-de-sac (of should that be "cul-de-Sec"?). SERIES 1 resurrected the last Dalek fleet (and Emperor) only to destroy it (seemingly.), and now the errant Cult of Skaro has been decimated (along with thousands of imprisoned Daleks - so what is next?
The CLASSIC SERIES allowed the Dalek race to perpetuated itself, and whilst only the later stories (RESSURRECTION OF THE DALEKS onwards) failed to contribute logical rationale to this all-conquering force. They cropped up everywhere but now there is a "time-line history" that is/has contracted the ability of Terry Nation's creation to do what do best. To infiltrate and murder. To move the Dalek race forward the NEW SERIES should tone-down the Dalek sub-plots and re-establish what it means to be "Dalek".
Has the Dalek factor - the ability to guarantee a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story - diminished? Is the NEW SERIES slowly but inexorably sliding into the naval-gazing continuity mess that affected the CLASSIC SERIES in the 1990s?
I hope not.
Overall, DALEKS IN MANHATTAN was, unlike the Dalek laboratory in the Empire State Building's basement, sterile & clinical in its message, in its heart and its comfort-zone.