‘You told us to imagine, and we imaged your irrelevance.’ This is more like it. It’s incredibly retro, but in quite an engaging way, mashing together bits of The Evil of the Daleks (all the stuff about Human and Dalek Factors), Revelation of the Daleks (the Daleks converting dead people), and even Resurrection of the Daleks (Davros promising the Doctor he can create more compassionate Daleks; the ‘pure’ Daleks turning on Davros when his solutions prove to be unpalatable). Which makes this the most authentic, old school Dalek story of the entire revival. Even the title sounds Classic.
It’s far from perfect. There is an over-reliance on Tennant vamping – never a good sign. It happens at the start when he confronts the evolved Dalek Sec, again at Hooverville as he offers his life for the humans’, and again in the theatre. He comes across as a bit of an idiot, when he quickly assents to the brainwashed humans becoming shells for the Dalek Factor, to set up a new life on a distant planet (what does he expect they’ll do there, beyond plot another Dalek Empire?). Some of the dialogue has that very new series habit of empty melodrama, like the Doctor’s bizarre statement that, ‘Daleks never change their minds’ (surely he’s only alive because they frequently do), or Martha’s provocative and tenuous, ‘Who are you then some sort of Dalek?’ when the Doctor orders her to safety. And why do Daleks Thay and Jast want to parade Sec round like the sub in a bondage party?
But it has more energy than the first episode, and if none of its ideas are much developed at least they’re vividly illustrated. I love the plotting Cult of Skaro members, conversing in hushed (for Daleks) tones in the sewers; looking thoughtfully at Dalek Sec as he elaborates his plans for change, and finally rejecting the future Sec offers for a return to genocide and destruction. The final confrontation between the Doctor and Dalek Caan looks like a return to the encounter in Dalek, with the Dalek wired into a sort of cage, face to face with its arch-enemy.
Motifs of Series Three are starting to emerge: Martha finding the Doctor prone (here, on top of the Empire State Building versus on the floor of the MRI scanner room, the witches house, and – for one mistaken moment – as a skeleton in the New New York Senate). The showdown is on the stage of a theatre only a couple of weeks after The Shakespeare Code. Ideas of hybridisation, changing species, changing what it means to be human or Dalek appeared in Smith and Jones and are going to recur in The Lazarus Experiment and Human Nature.
This is the weakest of the new series’ two-part stories to date, largely because it doesn’t make much of its historical setting, and too many scenes feel slightly redundant in a way that could have been fixed with a bit more time (I’m particularly baffled by the “mystery” about why the Doctor gave Martha the psychic paper when she might as well just have trailed him to the Empire State Building). But I like Tallulah, Frank and Lazslo, it has a nice message of hope, and nicely ominous final dialogue that in any other series would be set-up for the finale. It should have been called The Pig and the Showgirl though.
Next Time: The Lazarus Experiment