Episode 5: Evolution of the Daleks

“Begin the invasion of Manhattan!”

So they just wanted to invade things after all…
After the complex, inventive set-up last week, I have to say this week’s conclusion was something of a disappointment. All the rich period detail and characters were put to one side for a straightforward runaround that seemed based around set piece after set piece, like a Russell T Davies script. To be fair, it did a good job of tying up all the plot strands Helen Raynor established in the first part, it’s just that it somehow didn’t have the epic feel it really should have.

The central thrust of the story, that the Daleks needed to evolve to survive, was explored well, with the partially humanised Dalek Sec becoming a combination of both Frankenstein and his monster. Indeed, the nods to Universal horror classics of the 30s were even more overt this week with that impressive shot of many shrouded bodies on suspended slabs, and the necessity for lightning to animate them. There was some good dialogue too, with the Doctor convincingly deciding to aid Sec in his quest to make the Daleks a “better” race. This at once recalled and inverted the plot of Evil of the Daleks, in which the Human Factor was merely an aid to more efficient conquest, but the Emperor planned to infect humanity with a Dalek Factor when that failed.

The trouble was that while the set pieces were impressive, the narrative seemed merely to exist to link them together. So the chase out of the sewers was there to lead to the Hooverville attack, which led to the Doctor’s alliance with Sec, which led to his betrayal, etc. It’s good plotting, but there was barely room to breathe between them, and the odd reflective moment came across as strangely forced, as though the plot needed to stop and get its breath back. A certain epic feel was provided by the charcters’ battle at the top of the Empire State as the Doctor struggled to dismantle the Dalekanium antennae, but that was followed by a rather anticlimactic showdown in the theatre, when it felt like the struggle on top of New York’s tallest building should have been the episode’s climax.

That’s not to say it was all bad, though. The Daleks’ rebellion against their leader was well done, and perfectly in keeping with their philosophy on racial purity. With the historical knowledge that the Nazis were just around the corner, this had a deal of depth. I loved the way they conspired against Sec in the sewer, one glancing behind him nervously to see if they could be overheard. It also gave Sec the opportunity to say, “You must obey me… I created you!”, which apart from recalling Frankenstein again is virtually a Davros line from Genesis. I must say, though, impressive image though it was, I couldn’t figure out why they took a chained Sec with them to confront the Doctor. For that matter, I was wondering how they planned to untangle the chains from their arms if they needed to move fast!

The cast, so impressive last week, seemed pretty well sidelined in the breakneck pace of the plot. It seemed a shame for Hugh Quarshie’s Solomon to be so peremptorily killed; while the scene of him appealing to the Daleks’ better natures was crucial in establishing that they’re still really, really nasty, it seemed a shame to waste such a strong character like that. Surely the Star Trek style “let’s all be friends” speech could have been delivered by a more minor character. And after unexpectedly reprieving Andrew Garfield’s rather sweet Frank last week, the script this week seemed to have nothing for him to do but stand around behind people. Perhaps it would have had a greater emotional impact if the Daleks had killed him in Part One! The only characters well served by the plot were Tallulah and Lazslo, with their doomed romance continuing its Phantom of the Opera vibe, and serving to impress on us New York’s welcoming of a massively varied community.

Martha had a little more to do at least, her medical background again coming in handy after the Hooverville attack. Freema gave a varying performance, occasionally seeming a little forced at moments of high emotion, though she handled the relationship discussion with Tallulah well. Still, with the season now five episodes old, I do wish we could begin moving on from the Doctor’s moping over Rose. I know that in story terms, it’s only been about a week since Martha joined him, not at all long enough to get over such a relationship, but just this once I wish they’d sacrifice emotional realism and let the story get on with things. An entire season of Martha moping over the Doctor while the Doctor mopes over Rose could get a little much.

David Tennant was again on good form, giving a darker performance to serve the darker tone of the story. His lapses into emotional shouting were impressive, but his repeated challenges to the Daleks to kill him came across as rather reckless really. What if they’d taken him up on that? (The fact that they didn’t seemed to reduce them to Bond villian caricatures, too). Also, his apparent loss of control in the face of the species that had caused him so much trauma was a good idea, but his attempts at intensity palled rather compared to Christopher Eccleston in Dalek. While Tennant’s got a lot better, he still can’t seem to do intense like Eccleston could.

It’s a shame we didn’t get more of a final showdown with Dalek Khan (Khaaaann!!!), but at least the Emergency Temporal Shift means there’s still a Dalek out there. There’s been a bit of speculation as to whether he turns out to be the lone Dalek encountered by Christopher Eccleston, but that doesn’t really work. That Dalek was clearly an unimaginative footsoldier (if it still had the luxury of feet) and nothing like a member of the sneaky Cult of Skaro. Also, if it was Khan, it was curiously uninformed about the outcome of the Time War. No, I’m thinking we’ll see Khan again, but hopefully not in this season’s concluding two-parter…

Overall then, a rather patchy conclusion to a very promising set up. Some nice fan moments (Dalekanium, counting in rels) and great dialogue, but somehow less than the sum of its set pieces. Still streets ahead of last year’s disappointing Cyberman two-parter though, and perhaps one that might work better watched in a single sitting. Expect I’ll try that soon…