TV EYE: New Who, Week 4 – “Daleks in Manhattan”

It’s the fourth episode of the third season of Who, and it seems this time, the DVD of the week is Peter Jackson’s take on King Kong. It might all look great– but is it actually any good? Once again, fear the spoilers…

DOCTOR WHO – S3 E04: ‘Daleks in Manhattan’

If there’s one thing that makes me laugh, it’s when Russell T. Davies talks in interviews about how difficult it is to prevent spoilers from ruining the surprises of upcoming episodes. New Who has actually been appalling at keeping secrets- especially when it concerns the Daleks, with the pepperpots’ appearence in S1 episode Bad Wolf being blown by the teaser, while the advert for Army of Ghosts in S2 tried to be a little more enigmatic, but still managed to include the not-so-subtle clue of someone being hit by the negative extermination effect. Now, Daleks in Manhattan made it obvious they’d be returning from the title- but then, someone in the production team made the hilarious decision to slap the revelation of the new half man, half dalek mutant somewhere it wouldn’t cause too many problems or be too obvious– i.e., on the front cover of a national listings magazines. Might have been forgivable if it didn’t seem to be turning the Daleks into daft, big-brained, Mars Attacks aliens, and somehow made old-school Who villain and famous one-eyed alien Scaroth look like a funky bit of design by comparison.

Anyhow, Who continued its pattern of delivering lively, colourful, yet slightly ‘meh’ episodes that don’t quite excite me enough to get me to really wake up, yet aren’t insulting enough to get my blood boiling. As suspected from last week, we got a wide variety of US accents that varied massively in quality, and a standard of performance that was nowhere near strong enough to support the drama. The central story with the Daleks is actually well thought out, and an interesting progression for the race- even if the end result is a very silly looking bug-eyed alien- but there’s also some monumentally clunky storytelling, from the Daleks’ willingness to introduce their masterplan (I almost wanted the mutant to break into the opening of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Stones), to Martha idiotically trying to creep through a line of showgirls when she could have just nipped around the back of the stage, and- most notably- the ridiculous scene where the brassy showgirl sees a man standing in the shadows who sounds exactly like her vanished fiancee, and spends an eternity saying “Who are you? Do I know you?” The initial setup was good, and nice to see an acknowledgement of the social difficulties of the time, but unlike last week, the episode got slacker as it went along– and it’s not helped by the story dictating that we spend ages waiting for the Doctor to catch up with the plot and find out what we already know- that the Daleks are back. I can’t help feeling that, despite the budget and the increased pace, that the two parters often end up feeling a little over-stretched and empty, and that old-school four parters (at least when they worked) were better at cramming themselves full of story.

There was none of the WTF moments of last week, but we also had unconvincing pig-men, a big dance-number, and more theatrical shennanigans. At the moment, I think I’m only waiting for the Paul Cornell-written two parter and the Steven Moffat episode- the show is delivering plenty of spectacle, but not much that’s truly getting me excited, and I could probably happily miss out a couple of episodes (particularly the one written by Chris Chibnall, the man responsible for the very worst Torchwood episodes) without feeling too guilty. I guess we’ll see….

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