After taking a few early jaunts in the TARDIS to test it out, a new companion is usually brought home by the first two-parter of the season to reconvene with their family and get their bearings (like “Aliens Of London” in Series 1, or “The Sontaran Stratagem” in Series 4). However, for Martha, that custom has been postponed until the next episode, “The Lazarus Experiment“, and we spend this story in 1930’s New York instead, which I am quite happy about. Series 2 really seemed to have an obsession with knocking around contemporary Earth, so I’m all onboard with extending Martha’s early trips away from home. “Daleks In Manhattan”, penned by Helen Raynor, is a very interesting two-parter, filled with good things and bad things. In the negative pile, you have several British actors trying and failing badly to pull off an American accent, like Miranda Raison as Tallulah, or Andrew Garfield as Frank. Dalek Sec is also given a pretty awful design as a squid-human hybrid for such an important character in this story, making his scenes hard to take seriously, despite all the interesting material he’s given.
The Daleks have only been gone for five episodes since “Doomsday“, and they’re already back again for another big, bombastic two-parter, which seems unprecedented. Doctor Who loves to have at least one Dalek adventure per season, especially during the RTD era, and Russell T. Davies decided to position this one early in the series, because he had a different endgame villain in mind for a change for the Series 3 finale, which was a wise choice. Where it’s positioned, “Daleks In Manhattan” functions surprisingly well as a follow-up to the previous episode, “Gridlock“, expanding on many of the themes and ideas from that episode beyond the New York City connection. The Doctor just shared his secret, traumatic past with Martha, and now he’s once again confronted with the aliens who ruined his life. Martha just learned about the Daleks’ existence and the threat they pose to the universe, and now she’s going to get to see for herself just how terrible they are. And something “Gridlock” highlighted is that humanity always finds a way to survive into the far future of the Whoniverse, even in poor living conditions: they have an indomitable spirit that the Daleks take notice of and envy in this two-parter.
“Daleks In Manhattan” turns out to be a pretty significant story for the Tenth Doctor’s (David Tennant) character development, and his overall feud with the Daleks. Initially, the Tenth Doctor is in high spirits, as he and Martha decide to have a fun day out in romantic New York City. But they quickly discover homeless men have gone missing in the area lately from mysterious means, so they set out to investigate. The Doctor is someone who hates injustice, so while he certainly appreciates the scenery of New York, he’s hardly proud of the callous and neglectful way the city’s citizens were treated during the Great Depression, even if there’s nothing he can do to change it. He really appreciates someone with a level head and a good amount of intellect, so he likes and respects Solomon (the glue holding Hooverville together) almost immediately as a kindred spirit.
On top of his usual detective gig, he often takes up the role of a mediator throughout this story, whether it’s sorting out human conflicts or alien ones. For most of the first episode, Ten has his usual cheeky good humor mixed in with a firm resolve to get some answers, until he discovers the Daleks are involved, at which point he grows deathly serious because he knows what’s at stake. With the Daleks around, everyone on Earth is danger, let alone the people in New York, so the Doctor grows very protective of everyone in the area. By now, it’s well established that the Daleks trigger the Doctor’s wartime trauma better than anything else out there, and now he has a brand new reason to despise them. The Doctor clearly blames the Daleks for what happened in “Doomsday” just as much as he blames Torchwood, and the fact that the Cult of Skaro escaped the Doctor and Rose’s last-ditch plan to get rid of them, to do even more damage, means he’s once again lost something dear to him for nothing.
Ten was able to keep a cool, calm composure when he was dealing with the Daleks in Series 2 because his close friends of two years gave him confidence, but here he’s a lot more damaged and jaded, and he regresses into bitter fits of rage against the Daleks like the kind his previous incarnation would have. When the Daleks try to slaughter everyone in Hooverville, something in Ten snaps and he decides to offer himself up in their place. Combined with the emotional break we saw him have in “The Runaway Bride” from overwhelming hopelessness, this decision is concerning. It would be a stretch to say that Ten is suicidal, but he certainly doesn’t seem to value his own life that highly this season. But despite regressing into Nine-like behavior, Ten is ultimately willing to do something Nine would never consider – make a deal with the Daleks to try to help them change.
Ten knows the Daleks intimately well, he knows he can’t trust them, and he knows to expect their betrayal. But he can’t pass up a chance to make the universe a safer place for everyone, and end the feud that’s been going on between him and the evil pepperpots since the classic series when Dalek Sec proposes the idea. His inner optimist wants this slim, remarkable opportunity to be true, and like he expected, he gets swiftly backstabbed. As the two-parter wraps up, the Doctor is disgusted and disappointed as the Daleks sink to new lows, even for them – betraying their leader’s vision and destroying whatever chance at salvation they might have had for their bigotry – and one of the Cult members manages to escape again. It’s made abundantly clear that as much as the Doctor hates the Daleks, he also pities them in a way for being so thoroughly wretched, so beyond redemption. But he tried his best, and he managed to save New York and Tallulah’s boyfriend, so it’s a bittersweet ending for him. By the coda, Ten seems to be in a pretty solemn mood, partly because he’s worried about the future, and partly because he’s secretly made an important decision regarding Martha.
With every passing episode, I grow to like Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) more and more as a sidekick. By now, Martha has fully gotten into the swing of traveling through time in the TARDIS and she’s having a great voyage, so she’s stoked about getting to see old school New York City, though it winds up being more of an educational experience than a tourist trip. Martha is someone who has a great amount of compassion for people in need, hence why she decided to pursue becoming a doctor, so she empathizes a lot with the struggling people they come across and she hits it off surprisingly well with the locals, even more than the Doctor does.
The companions are meant to be the Doctor’s sidekicks and the audience’s point-of-view characters, but they also have their own agency and their own distinct personality traits. So I always enjoying watching them split away from the Doctor and socialize with the locals of whatever time period they’re in, really savor the rare opportunity they’ve been given, and Martha does a lot of that in Series 3 – with Shakespeare in “The Shakespeare Code“, Milo and Cheen in “Gridlock”, Riley in “42“, Jenny in “Human Nature“, and Chantho in “Utopia“. Martha quickly becomes friends with Frank and Tallulah, and by the second episode, they’ve become her own sidekicks in the Doctor’s absence. With Tallulah in particular, it’s clear that she and Martha would have been great girl friends if they didn’t hail from two different time periods, since they support each other and give each other advice about their respective troubles, whether it’s Tallulah’s heartbreak over what the Daleks have done with Laszlo, or Martha’s unrequited crush on the Doctor. Martha has come to terms with those feelings and gotten a handle on them at this point, but she’s also never had anyone to talk to about them before now, and it’s clearly good for her to get them off her chest.
Martha learned about the Daleks and their role in the time war from the Doctor in the last episode, and here she gets to see firsthand just how cruel, terrifying, merciless and monstrous they actually are. Martha has had frightening experiences before over the last couple of episodes, but nothing quite like this. Martha is put on the spot several times in this two-parter, when she and the Doctor are separated, and she really steps up. When the Daleks take him as their prisoner, the Doctor leaves the people of Hooverville in Martha’s care to look after, and he trusts her to handle herself and work on her own agenda without him there to back her up, solving the Daleks’ masterplan. Later, she thinks of a way to defend herself and her friends in a matter of minutes, laying a trap for the pigmen sent to kill them. She isn’t proud of the outcome, but she did what she had to do to survive.
“Evolution Of The Daleks” marks a turning point in Martha’s character arc for the season. Up until now, Martha has been a passenger in the TARDIS having a fun and sometimes scary time sightseeing, but starting with this two-parter, Martha starts to take some more initiative on these adventures. She understands that the Doctor is an incredible miracle worker, but he can’t always be everywhere at once, so his friends have to pick up the slack where he can’t sometimes, which eventually leads to her becoming a heroine in her own right. Martha’s respect for the Doctor’s durability and his technical know-how only grows stronger with each episode, but she does not let him condescend to her or treat her like a child, drawing some clear boundaries she does not back down from. And despite her fear of them, Martha rages at the Daleks for being utter bastards several times, showing quite a backbone. At the end of the day, the Doctor and Martha once again survive a close shave with death, bonding even further as a result.
Setting “Daleks In Manhattan” during the 1930’s era of New York was an inspired choice, since it allows the show to do more than just romanticize the city, but also indulge in some class commentary about that time period, something that is right up the RTD era’s alley, since Russell loved his class commentary. The Great Depression was a terrible time for America, and this two-parter stresses that it really hurt everyone. Even Tallulah, who’s supposed to be living a glamorous and exciting life as a theater showgirl, can’t afford to lose her job or else she’ll wind up on the streets. The ragged homeless men of the city have banded together in a community called Hooverville to try to make ends meet.
As we saw in “Rise of the Cybermen“, desperate, vulnerable, homeless people are easy to prey on, since no one will miss them if they disappear, and no one will step in to help them. In a time when everyone is struggling and everyone is out for themselves, the impoverished members of society are the ones who are being neglected the most by authority figures in a shameful way, so they have to sort out their own affairs. Solomon is the unofficial leader of the Hooverville camp, who holds his position by being a wise, knowledgeable, experienced and level-headed man. During an attack from the pigmen, he cracks under pressure and basically leaves Frank behind to be captured, a personal failure that fills him with shame. Later, it motivates him to try to be brave and take a stand for his people. He tries to appeal to the Daleks’ better nature, when the audience is well aware that they don’t have any, and his naivety gets him killed. Solomon’s right hand man, Frank (played by a scruffy Andrew Garfield) is meant to be a southern everyman character. He’s a brash, noble and naive, charming in a cornfed way, and he’s more of a fighter than a planner. He’s devastated when Solomon is killed, and by the two-parter’s end, it’s implied that he’s taken Solomon’s place as the leader of the camp.
The Brooklyn showgirl Tallulah is a chatty, hot-tempered, hard-working, saucy and gutsy performer with her head in the clouds, who thoroughly loves her job. She’s pretty slow on the uptake, but even if she doesn’t understand what’s going on, she’ll demand to be fully informed and roll with whatever answers she gets. And despite how blunt she can be, Tallulah is shown to be pretty sensitive and forward-thinking in her most earnest moments with Martha. Her primary concern throughout this story is her missing boyfriend, Laszlo, who she has a doomed romance subplot with, in the vein of Beauty and the Beast.
The Daleks have been taking humans to experiment on, splicing their genes with pigs to create pig slaves, and Laszlo was one of the men they nabbed. He escaped before they could complete the process and wipe his mind, and he’s kept his distance from his girlfriend ever since, ashamed of his new permanent appearance and how he no longer has a future among regular humans. He’s depressed and frequently characterized as self-sacrificing, since he doesn’t have long to live as a pig slave, becoming a helpful inside man for the Doctor and Martha. Tallulah is heartbroken that the Daleks ruined his life, but she still loves him dearly with his new rougher edges, remains loyal to him, and is fiercely protective of him. Laszlo was originally meant to die before Russell asked Helen Raynor to change that outcome, because he figured it would make the ending too depressing, and considering all the other characters who dropped dead in this two-parter, that was the right call. Thanks to the Doctor’s intervention, Tallulah and Laszlo get to have their happy ending, even if it won’t necessarily be an easy one. And after how much was destroyed by hateful bigotry in this two-parter, it feels right and sweet that love and acceptance managed to score an unexpected win in the end.
When the Daleks can’t rely on force for a change, when they have to be discreet and infiltrate human society over time, they sometimes like to use gullible, ignorant, local humans as pawns, and that’s certainly the case with Mr. Diagoras, the foreman for the Empire State Building who’s collaborating with their evil scheme. Mr. Diagoras’s subplot in the first episode ties neatly into the class commentary Helen Raynor was aiming for: since “Daleks In Manhattan” really stresses that the Great Depression kept everyone down, it’s only fitting that the villain is someone who takes advantage of that problem. He can verbally abuse his workers and force them to work in terrible conditions, at the risk of being killed if they make one wrong step, by threatening to take away their jobs. Worker’s rights were not the best for anyone in the 1920’s and the 1930’s, let alone construction workers who had the thankless jobs of providing manual labor, and the threat of starving makes for a very good incentive for the men to take insane risks and tolerate abuse from their superior that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
To say nothing of the part where he lures in homeless men to be sacrificed as the Daleks’ new guinea pigs for genetic testing. Mr. Diagoras is a slimy, short-tempered man with delusions of grandeur, not unlike his bosses, and he’s not content with being a typical foreman. He’s your regular musclehead construction worker like the men under him, who’s trying to be a sophisticated visionary. He dreams of rising above his station in life, and he’s gladly willing to throw other men who are worse off than him under the bus to do so. Except, like Solomon, he falls victim to the fact that he doesn’t know the Daleks anywhere near as well as the audience does. They’re easily the most two-faced, untrustworthy villains in this show, and once they get everything they need out of him, they karmically toss him under the bus.
The Daleks were originally created to be sci-fi analogues to the Nazis and their racist, fascist ideology way back in the 1960’s. With this two-parter, Helen Raynor aims to give the Cult of Skaro some more characterization, but at the same time, demonstrate how they can be utterly callous, despicable bastards. The Cult were introduced as a rare novelty, Daleks who were more than mere drones with individual personalities, who were created to think of new ways to preserve the future of the Dalek race. Lately, they’ve taken an interest in humanity. Humans are adaptable and indomitable: even in poor living conditions, they always find a way to survive and thrive in some form or another billions of years into the future (or trillions, as we see in “Utopia”), and the Daleks have grown to envy that. They’ve meant to be supreme beings, above every other living creature, but their strict, stagnant ways are having a much harder time standing the test of time, a paradox that infuriates them.
In this two-parter, the Daleks’ arrogance, hubris and self-certainty is challenged for the first time in a pretty interesting way. Their leader, Dalek Sec, is an ambitious, amoral visionary for the Dalek race, and he’s willing to try out a radical attempt at splicing his DNA with human genes so the Daleks can evolve. Like “Dalek” in Series 1, this two-parter seems to suggest that humanity’s greatest superpower is our ability to grow and evolve. With new human emotions beyond anger, hatred and fear, Dalek Sec’s personality begins to change rapidly. With new possibilities open to him, he wants to change the Daleks’ entire way of life, their very purpose, and take them away from their self-destructive warpath – he even spares the Doctor to recruit his help to do so. He changes into something entirely new, and by the last act, he’s barely even a Dalek anymore, which leads to a lot of infighting in the Cult.
Of course, Dalek Sec’s plan was doomed to fail from the start. Not only it was far too large of a change from the status quo in this franchise to actually last, but the Daleks are notoriously rigid and treacherous villains, who will only ever want one thing – ethnic cleansing. Their obsessive hatred and bigotry towards every other non-Dalek race is simply ingrained too deeply. In another throwback to Series 1’s “Dalek”, they would rather die or stab each other in the back than relinquish their self-professed purity. The other members of the Cult conspire against Sec for his growing blasphemy and mutiny against him: he’s put in chains as their pet and eventually killed by his brothers. It’s an ending that both karmic for Sec, considering how many people had to die for the Daleks to get to this point, and tragic, considering the potential future that died with him.
The Cult use the Doctor to create an army of Dalek-hybrid slaves to wipe out everyone on Earth, but he thwarts their plan by giving the slaves free will, so they decide to put them all down. The Daleks flip a kill switch and wipe out another new race of creatures out of spite and disgust, without a second thought, because that’s what they do. At the end of the day, despite the Doctor and Sec and Solomon’s best efforts, level heads did not prevail in this two-parter. Dalek hatred won the day, but it also lost at the same time. The Cult of Skaro were given every opportunity to turn back, to grow and improve their situation, but they chose not to in favor of their tired old obsession. By the coda, Dalek Caan is all alone with nothing but his supremacy to keep him company, he’s much worse off than he was when he started, and he still has no regrets. “Evolution Of The Daleks” may be a heavy-handed episode at times, but it does not shy away from how ugly, toxic and destructive bitter bigotry really is, for everyone involved.
“Evolution Of The Daleks” is directed by James Strong, who’s work really shines during the multiple chase scenes in the Manhattan sewers, as well as the climatic sequence where the Doctor climbs the Empire State Building to beat a lightning strike. Despite being set in Manhattan, the crew of Doctor Who only filmed some establishing shots of famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Statue of Liberty in the Big Apple, with most of the two-parter being filmed in the UK like always. The cast and crew of Doctor Who wouldn’t fly overseas to film principal photography in the US until “The Impossible Astronaut” in Series 6, so the Mill uses a mixture of green screen and matte paintings to try to create the illusion that the Doctor and Martha have visited 1930’s New York, and the end results work for the most part.
The costume department is usually reliably creative with their designs, but they really missed the mark with Dalek Sec. I get the impression that Dalek Sec was meant to be creepy and unsettling, but instead he looks really goofy as a man with one eye, a comically exposed brain, and little flapping squid tentacles growing out of his head. It makes it more than a bit difficult to take his scenes seriously. Murray Gold turns in one of his best scores for the season with this two-parter. He mashes up the action theme “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” with the trademark ominous Dalek choir to create “Evolution Of The Daleks“, a strident, pompous and persistent piece that’s given quite a different presentation on the album. He also pens the saucy number “My Angel Put The Devil In Me“. Murray has written original songs for the show before like “Song For Ten” and “Love Don’t Roam”, but this is the first diegetic one that Tallulah sings to a crowd, and it is quite a performance.
“Daleks In Manhattan” serves as a climax for Ten and Martha’s early adventures in Series 3 as we move into mid-season territory, and it’s certainly a memorable two-parter for what it does with the Tenth Doctor’s feud with the Daleks, showing a tragic example of how the Daleks’ racism will seemingly always hold them back and ruin them.
* Can we talk about how Laszlo emotes more as a pigman than a regular human? I can tell his actor is trying, but he’s very wooden in these early scenes.
* Funnily enough, when I think of pigmen in New York, the first thing I think of is “Seinfeld“.
* “Is that? Oh, my God. That’s the Statue of Liberty!” “Gateway to the New World. Give me you tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free”.
* “I will say this about Hooverville. We are a truly equal society. Black, white, all the same. All starving”.
* “Doctor, you’re a man of learning, right? Explain this to me. That there’s going to be the tallest building in the world. How come they can do that, when we got people starving in the heart of Manhattan?” Solomon asking the hard questions.
* “Enough with the questions” “Oh, no, I’m volunteering. I’ll go” “Doctor, I’ll kill you for this”.
* I stand by what I said about Andrew Garfield mangling a southern accent in this story. But despite that, he still turns in a better performance in this two-parter than he did in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”.
* I love the icy stare-off the Doctor and Diagoras have, where the former clearly knows the latter is lying, and the latter silently challenges him to say something about it. If Martha wasn’t there, one gets the impression that Ten could have stared into his soul for hours.
* “This day is ending. Humankind is weak. You shelter from the dark. And yet, you have built all this” “That’s progress. You got to move with the times or you get left behind” “My planet is gone, destroyed in a great war, yet versions of this city stand throughout history. The human race always continues”.
* “But they’d listen to you. You’re one of the stars” “Oh, honey, I got one song in a back street revue and that’s only because Heidi Chicane broke her ankle. Which had nothing to do with me whatever anybody says”.
* “It’s the Depression, sweetie. Your heart might break, but the show goes on. Because if it stops, you starve”.
* “Come on, honey, take a look. Ever been on stage before?” “Oh, a little bit. You know, Shakespeare” I told you Martha would savor those memories.
* “NO, GET OFF, LET ME GO!” Another example of Martha’s lungpower.
* “Reading brain waves. Low intelligence” “You calling me stupid?” “Silence!” Savage, random Dalek.
* “They’re divided into two groups. High intelligence and low intelligence. The low intelligence are taken to become pig slaves like me” “Well, that’s not fair. You’re the smartest guy I ever dated”.
* “You can’t just experiment on people. It’s insane! It’s inhuman!” “We are not human”.
* Can I just say, I really like what the set designers did with the Daleks’ evil, underground lair? It looks pretty imposing, and it gives off some major “Frankenstein” vibes that were almost certainly intentional.
* “You will bear witness to the dawn of a new age. We are the only four Daleks in existence, so the species must evolve – a life outside the shell. The Children of Skaro must walk again”.
* “I am a human Dalek! I am your future!” Well, that’s an ugly looking future.
* “What is the purpose of that device?” “Well, exactly. It plays music. What’s the point of that? Oh, but with music, you can dance to it, sing with it, fall in love to it. Unless you’re a Dalek of course. Then it’s all just noise! RUN!”
* The lyrics to “Evolution Of The Daleks” are apparently supposed to be in Hebrew, but it sounds exactly like a choir chanting ‘this is the dawn of the Daleks’ over and over again (not that I’m complaining).
* “Daleks are bad enough at anytime, but right now they’re vulnerable. That makes them more dangerous than ever”.
* “New York City. If aliens had to come to Earth, oh, no wonder they came here”.
* “Do you trust him?” “I know that one man can change the course of history. Right idea in the right place at the right time, that’s all it takes. I’ve got to believe it’s possible”.
* “Oh. Listen, sweetheart. You want to get all sad? You want to have a contest with me and Laszlo?” “Yeah, no”.
* “The Doctor will step away from the controls” “Stop! You will not fire!” “He is an enemy of the Daleks, and so are you!” Top ten anime betrayals.
* “You have betrayed me!” “You told us to imagine, so we imagined your irrelevance” Hot damn, the Daleks are bitchy, and I love it.
* “One man down and the fight’s not even started yet” I feel ya, Frank.
* “Doctor! Doctor? Look what we found halfway down. You’re getting careless!” “Oh my head” “Hiya” “Hi. You survived, then”.
* “Ugh, there’s nothing creepier than a theater in the dark”.
* “Right now you’re facing the only man in the universe who might show you some compassion. Because I’ve just seen one genocide. I won’t cause another. Caan, let me help you. What do you say?” “Emergency temporal shift!” “GAH!” You should have seen that one coming, Doctor.