Episode 6: The Lazarus Experiment

“My name is Richard Lazarus. I am 76 years old. And I am reborn!”

Lucky he lived up to his name, then.
Professor Richard Lazarus is a true comic book style mad scientist in that his destiny is dictated by his name. Like the biblical Lazarus, he is reborn not once but twice in this entertaining but ultimately inconsequential episode. Just as Spiderman‘s Dr Otto Octavius spent his life working towards becoming an octopus, just as DC’s Dr Jason Woodrue dedicated his life to becoming the plantlike Floronic Man.

While reminiscent of classic comics in tone, the script didn’t shy away from nicking ideas from other sources. Lazarus’ machine and the monster it eventually produced were reminiscent of nothing so much as The Fly, while the cathedral-bound finale was obviously from The Quatermass Experiment. As was, indeed, the title! Still, as was evident from the Philip Hinchcliffe era of Who, plundering the heritage of gothic horror is nothing new for the show, and if done well can have remarkable results.

It didn’t here, though. The Lazarus Experiment passes 45 minutes entertainingly enough, and is a good yarn, but ultimately is no more a classic story than last year’s equally fun but inconsequential Idiot’s Lantern. Mostly, it’s an extended chase with a scary but none too convincing CG monster and a plot identical to Quatermass. What was intriguing was the integration of this year’s ongoing themes and plots. The uncertain future of Martha was resolved as the Doctor decided to take her onboard the TARDIS full time, and we got to see more of her family. I could have lived without this, but they were far less irritating than their initial appearance made them seem. Sister Tish was a strong, interesting character, and even brother Leo was a sympathetic, occasionally comic foil. The character that made the most impression though was Martha’s mum. I’m not sure the show really needs another dragonlike disapproving mother, but the part was played well and given a twist by her acquisition of (presumably distorted) information about the Doctor.

And this was where the previously low-key plot of the mysterious Mr Saxon came into play. The mysterious henchman who whispered indistinct words into the ear of Martha’s mother was a nice touch – if Saxon’s the main villain this year we wouldn’t want him to show his hand so early by appearing in person. We also learned that his full name is Harold Saxon, which presumably is already making the anagram hunters on the internet crazy with possibilities. Can’t say I came up with anything coherent, though, unless you’re meant to work the word “mister” into it as well…

As to the script itself, while there was little of originality in it, the dialogue was superb. Lazarus was given a real personality, with a believable history of a childhood in the Blitz and seeing London change around him. His discussions on the morality and motives of his actions with the Doctor were extremely well-scripted, and I loved the inclusion of various quotes from TS Eliot, one of the moodiest of doom saying poets. Mark Gatiss played the part surprisingly well; given the couple of lines evident in the trailer, I expected him to go for a high-camp League of Gentlemen / Nebulous style performance, but he was actually rather restrained. There was just enough camp relish to make him a memorable bad guy without becoming a cartoon Bond villain. Although he did seem to be channelling early Peter Davison in his blond-wigged younger version! For that matter, his performance as the older Lazarus was very impressive, seeming genuinely doddering with the aid of some surprisingly effective prosthetics. As ageing make-up goes, it’s some of the best I’ve seen, even down to the bulging veins and liver spots on the hands.

But at the other end of the scale, there was that monster. Oh dear. Clearly a lot of thought went into the design; it was a good idea to have Lazarus’ face on its head, and the Blade 2 -like splitting of the lower jaw was an impressively scary concept. But it seemed like the Mill had let their ambition exceed their ability again, and the CGI looked very cartoonish, blending into the live action about as convincingly as Tom and Jerry in On the Town. Added to that, not only did the face look very little like Mark Gatiss, it seemed like a 2-D mask painted onto the front of the creature’s head, oddly like those eerie cardboard masks Vic and Bob used to wear in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. There’s a school of thought which says that the monster was made to look deliberately unconvincing so as to avoid scaring the kiddies too much; personally though, I just thought that the Mill had bitten off more than they could chew again. Points for trying, though.

David Tennant was again excellent, reining in his shouting and moralising for an effective confrontation with Lazarus in the Cathedral. The haunting dialogue about living too long and seeing those you love die was delivered with a sombre, convincing understatement, and was thankfully the only (oblique) reference to Rose this week. The humour was well-handled, too. I loved his enthusiastic reaction to being described as a “science geek”, his comically misunderstood exchange with Martha’s mum (“we didn’t have much time for talking…!”), and especially the Spinal Tap gag as he turned the organ up to 11 with his sonic screwdriver.

In a story that showcased her family quite effectively, Martha was oddly… ineffective. With the exception of her impressive exchanges with the Doctor at the episode’s beginning and end, she seemed to mostly be in the story to run away and/or be menaced. Ok, so that’s the trad companion role, but I’d hate for her to become the sort of cypher you used to see so often in the original show. I think we’ve already seen that the character has more potential than that.

So, a solid, entertaining episode enlivened by some good dialogue and excellent guest performances, but ultimately rather forgettable. Given its dark tone, it might resonate rather well with nightmare-prone kiddies, but I wonder if they’ll remember it with the same thrill of comfy fear that I remember The Horror of Fang Rock? Somehow I rather doubt it.

And now the show is on an enforced two week break. That’s irritating, and if anything reality tat-fest Any Dream Will Do is more responsible for its shifting around the schedules than the perennial Eurovision Song Contest, which let’s face it hasn’t interfered for the last two seasons. But it provides what looks like a convenient mid-season break as the Martha plotline comes to a conclusion of sorts while the Saxon plotline begins. At the very least, it gave us the chance to see a storming trailer for the remaining half of the season. It looks storming! I know that’s sort of the point of trailers, and it’s all in the editing, but I’ve got to say, I’m excited!

Nuts ‘n Baltars (Warning – many spoilers!)

So, a third season of Battlestar Galactica has wound its way to a conclusion. A conclusion this time much more low key and quasi-mystical than ever before. Leaving us, as usual, with lots of questions, it was also occasionally a little unclear. Was Starbuck dead after all? So where did she appear from and how had she “been to Earth”? Is Earth Heaven, then? Since they’ve yet to reach it, how was it that the newly revealed Cylons were triggered to wake by Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower? Who were the mysterious ships flying over our heroes in the nebula? Didn’t see any Cylons, that’s for sure…

Many friends of mine, and indeed people I don’t know, find Galactica hard to take for various reasons, the most prominent being that they see it as right wing propaganda. To me, this is an indication of not really having paid attention, or taking certain themes, plots and characters out of context. It’s true that the series shows the future to be dominated by an analogue of the US military, but the mistake people seem to make is to assume that soldiers are mere cyphers, extensions of the political philosophy of their government. Galactica deals with the fact that soldiers are people, as flawed and fallible as anyone else. They hold a variety of political views and are as prone to being wrong as anyone else. And in high office, while President Laura Roslin seems like a bit of a liberal, we found out last year about her strongly held views on abortion, which led to a decision that, by both moral and strategic terms, was very wrong and has come back to haunt her.

As for the political philosophy of the show itself, it was a revelation to me to sit in a panel at this year’s Gallifrey One convention and hear left wingers decry the show as right wing propaganda, and right wingers decry it as left wing propaganda. The truth, like the show’s characters themselves, is rather more muddy. The Cylons began as mass murderers in a Dalek style – witness Number Six’s unfeeling murder of a baby in the marketplace in the original miniseries. Yet they’ve been shown to be divided among themselves as to how to treat humanity, some feeling that attempted genocide was the worst mistake they ever made. Conversely, our heroes make no attempt to understand their enemy, which would make sense from both a moral and a military point of view. Whenever they capture a Cylon, instead of trying to figure out what makes it tick, they just shove it out the nearest airlock. The military can be both right and wrong, a fact acknowledged by Ronald D Moore when he ran Star Trek‘s most sophisticated incarnation, Deep Space Nine. Curiously, that realisation served to defuse the very real right wing agenda of Starfleet, an organisation who, as Clive James once put it, would “beam down and impose the Federation’s will in the name of freedom.” Their endlessly disposable red shirted cannon fodder really do show the soldier as merely a weapon rather than a person.

Since it began, Galactica has tackled potentially very controversial subjects, politically analogous to the real world and in particular the Iraq war. On no occasion, it seems to me, has it come down on either side of the political fence, but it has presented arguments for both sides very powerfully. The topic of prisoner abuse was deliberately rubbed in the viewer’s face in season 2’s Pegasus, in which the captured Number Six had been horrifically treated by the crew of the titular Battlestar, ostensibly on the side of humanity. This being indefensible, both right and left wingers can feel vindicated.

Things became rather greyer this year, with the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. Intentionally portrayed as a parallel to the US occupation of Iraq, this plotline even lifted the awful jargon of the US army and news media. “Insurgents” were referred to, and the occupiers formed a police force of the natives that became an instant target for the “terrorists”. But if the show has a right wing agenda, how would it make sense to cast the Cylons in the role of the Americans? For that matter, when it’s our heroes who are the insurgency, and they start strapping on explosives to suicide bomb what they see as collaborators, isn’t that encouraging us even more to see things from the point of view of the people of Iraq? On the other hand, as left-wingers might see it, the plot seems to show the Cylons taking a much softer line, indeed trying, in a cack-handed sort of way, to be a benevolent force for co-operation. Their violence seems to spring from frustration at the humans’ unwillingness to accept this. That, though, seems perilously close to defending the policies of people like Hans Frank, Nazi governor of Poland.

So in my view, the show presents plots about which one can make up one’s own mind. Both Cylons and humans have evolved immensely since the series began, and even then it seemed to be humanity’s treatment of their sentient creations as slaves that led to the enmity. Perhaps there is no right or wrong side; no right or left wing in this galaxy.

Other unfavourable comparisons, though, have been drawn with the original series. The original Battlestar Galactica was an expensive but shallow rip off of Star Wars, which nonetheless had an interesting premise. Its villain was a man named Count Baltar, with whom the newer Gaius Baltar has little but a name in common. Some see the new Baltar as a stereotypical English bad guy, but once again this seems to be a question of not looking hard enough. Gaius Baltar is vain, arrogant, weak-willed and hedonistic, but he’s not a villain. It is his fault that the Cylons were able to penetrate the Colonial defences and wipe out most of mankind, but he had no idea that was going to happen. All he wanted was a shag, with that tall, mysterious blonde woman! The series since has built on his sense of guilt and cowardice, and his fear of getting caught. In many ways, he’s the most realistic character in it; the slimy, “it’s not my fault” worm that perhaps a lot of us would become in such circumstances.

In contrast, the original Baltar was a camp, cackling pantomime villain who made Anthony Ainley’s Master look like a model of depth and complexity. John Colicos plays him with a great over the top relish, but really he’s a paper-thin 2D character who makes no sense. What does he hope to gain by betraying humanity to the Cylons? They want to kill all the humans. He’s a human. Does he expect them to make a distinction? It’s like that bit in Terror of the Autons where the Master suddenly realises that the Nestenes won’t distinguish between him and the people of Earth, and you think “if you’re a genius, how did you miss that rather large flaw in your plan?”. Colicos’ Baltar can’t be after money or power either; what use would they be to the last man in the universe? No, the new Baltar holds up far better in comparison, but for heaven’s sake try to see beyond James Callis’ English accent. At the very least it’s caused the use of words like “butterfingers”!

The other criticism of the show is that it’s unremittingly grim and visually drab. Well, be fair; being the last survivors of a holocaust on the run from a lethal enemy with superior firepower in a hostile environment is hardly the stuff of Terry and June, is it? And yet even given this, the show’s often displayed a fair sense of humour. Baltar’s ghostly sex fantasies of Number Six have led to a number of “whoops, Vicar” moments as other characters discover him pleasuring himself in his lab, and there’s even an outright comedy episode in season one. Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down, directed by stony-faced Edward James Olmos himself, is a Run For Your Wife-style farce of the highest order; or perhaps Abigail’s Party would be a more sophisticated comparison. As for being visually drab, well, the show is set on a bunch of clapped out military spaceships with some very low technology. The military aren’t known for painting things lilac, are they? Well, maybe some of them, but they work on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy. It seems to be an acquired taste, but I think the kinetic, “handheld camera” style of the space battles provides plenty to stimulate the viewer visually. It’s a logical development of the style used in Babylon 5, DS9, and most notably Firefly, whose main ship Serenity can be glimpsed in the Galactica miniseries as a kind of tribute.

One criticism that I initially shared before I saw the show was the concept of the Cylons looking like humans. It seemed like a cost-cutting measure, and it’s true that the early CG centurions in the miniseries looked less than convincing. Besides the “they look like us and they’re already here” plot is one of the oldest in sci fi, stretching from 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers through TV shows The Invaders, The X-Files, and last year’s ill-fated Invasion. But it’s a plot device that works brilliantly, especially with the self-imposed limitation of only twelve Cylon models. And now the Cylon ships are actual Cylons too, from their raiders to their base ships. Fitting for a robot race evolving towards true life form status. Besides, they’ve really improved the CG on the robotic Centurion models; they’re leaner and more vicious looking than the originals, with built in weaponry and a capability to be lethal even when partially dismembered. And they move like lightning! By contrast, the originals, while looking and sounding pretty cool, always looked like they’d fall over when they started moving. With hilarious results, as shown in an episode of Robot Chicken.

Perhaps Galactica appeals to a very different kind of sci fi fan than the lighter, frothier reborn Doctor Who; perhaps also one’s enjoyment of it may depend on one’s enjoyment of old war movies, whose conventions it frequently appropriates. But it’s a sophisticated, very human show, with many interesting science fiction concepts and limitations, and one deserving already of the term “classic”.

With all that in mind, now that season three has come to an end, what did I think of it?

It’s been a rather unbalanced season, with the strong opening episodes featuring the occupation of New Caprica and Galactica’s wham-bang rescue mission, but after that it seemed somewhat to go into idle. There were an unusual number of, admittedly very well done, filler episodes, such as the one about Chief Tyrol unionizing the refinery ship, or the one where he and his wife got stuck in an airlock. There were also a few tantalising plot threads left hanging from earlier. In particular, what happened to the mysterious Cylon plague that had decimated one of their ships and appeared to have no effect on humans? A perfect weapon for some of the nasty neo-cons on Galactica, I’d have thought.

Baltar’s enforced absence on a Cylon base ship gave us an ever greater insight into the truly alien world of these hyper-evolved machines, operating out of gigantic, living ships controlled by Minority Report-alike weirdoes wired into the system from tanks of goo. The problem with this was that Baltar’s presence in the Colonial fleet was one of the best dynamics of the show’s drama, and with the unwitting collaborator gone, the conflicts between characters seemed somehow less important.

They pulled it all together with the climactic two-parter, though. Taking the tried-and-tested dramatic format of a trial, it also weaved its increasingly mystical themes through a genuinely gripping exploration of the importance of the law, and how Baltar may not be as guilty as people think. The trial featured some powerful speeches on the rights of the individual, and grizzled old Adama surprised us all by voting Baltar not guilty. Meanwhile Lee Adama discovered that the legal process is no place for an honest man, as he sold his soul by betraying all around him to win the case. Small wonder then that he piled into a Viper at the first opportunity and flew off to almost certain doom.

And now we know the identity of four of the final five Cylon replicants. This might have been more of a surprise if Sky hadn’t said this in their listings, particularly since it became obvious after about ten minutes that only four of the characters could hear the mysterious snatches of music that turned out to be Bob Dylan. Still, the revelation begged yet more questions. Now aware that he’s a Cylon, Colonel Tigh seems intent on carrying on as the man he thought he was. But his ambiguous response to Adama at the close of the show was open to all manner of interpretation, and also made me wonder if there are multiple versions of these models in the fleet. Perhaps the Tigh we saw in the last scene wasn’t the one we’d seen before… Also, none of these four seemed to merit the hushed, humbled apology spoken by D’Anna when she glimpsed one of their faces in her temple-bound vision earlier in the season. Unless, of course, it was Tigh, and she was mortally embarrassed at having gouged his eye out!

Not as spectacular a conclusion as season one’s coup d’etat by Adama or season two’s Cylon invasion of New Caprica, this year’s finale seemed designed to stimulate the brain more than the adrenal glands. But that won’t stop me rushing back next year…

Day of the Animals

I notice Help, I’m As Fat As My Dog has been replaced by the similarly themed Dogs Borstal Unleashed. Clearly the indolence and evil of household pets cannot be underestimated. Personally, I’m waiting for Help, My Budgie’s Joined Al Qaeda.

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…

Episode 4: Daleks in Manhattan

“We must evolve!”

And from that simple idea sprung the seeds for the most imaginative Dalek story in years. Indeed, you could say the Daleks have actually devolved from their initial appearance in 1964, when they were portrayed as individuals with distinct personalities who had conversations with each other. Succeeding stories have increasingly portrayed them as regimented automatons without a trace of individuality, hence the need to invent figureheads like Davros and the Emperor. Russell’s idea of the Cult of Skaro from last year’s Doomsday was a similar idea, but it gave personalities and imagination to the Daleks themselves. So it was with some delight that I welcomed back the wily Dalek Sec, with his guile and cunning schemes.

And what a setting for them. The Daleks have traditionally been portrayed, as is the tendency for sci-fi icons, in a future setting, or at best loitering around on contemporary Earth. Their occasional forays into Earth’s past have had… mixed results, from the dire The Chase to the rather better but still somewhat disjointed Evil of the Daleks. New York in 1930 is an oddly appropriate choice, mixing the Daleks’ struggle for survival in with that of the humans caught up in the Great Depression. Thematically, the story is about adapting to survive, with the Daleks recognising that “there are only four Daleks, but millions of humans”, and setting out to redress that balance. The comparison is further strengthened by the shadow of the Great War that hangs over the characters, echoing the war which led to the creation of the Daleks themselves.

Perhaps taking a cue from the excellent 1930s New York of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the production team have gone all out to make this one look visually sumptuous, albeit with almost no filming in the Big Apple itself. Yet again, this ambitious approach has had somewhat mixed results. A beautiful shot of workmen at the top of the Empire State with the sun setting behind them was rather spoiled by the curiously immobile waves on the river behind them, for example, and some of the compositing that placed tall buildings above the treeline in Central Park seemed a little unconvincingly matched. For the most part though, the CG was rather good, doing an artistic depiction of a city whose skyline has changed immeasurably since 1930.

Inhabiting this recreated metropolis was a well-rounded, if rather small cast of main characters. Eric Loren was superb as Diagoras, the epitome of the Depression era ruthless capitalist determined to prosper by exploiting the desperate unemployed, while Hugh Quarshie’s Solomon provided a more humanistic counterpoint. A nice touch was having his character live up to his name in his first scene by tearing in half a contested loaf of bread! Quarshie does “imposing” terribly well, and is looking more and more distinguished with age. Also in Hooverville, Andrew Garfield was believably waiflike as teenage runaway Frank, a character who seemed to have strayed in from a John Steinbeck novel.

Perhaps more contentiously, Miranda Raison’s Tallulah was something of a love-her-or-hate-her character, a cliche from all those nostalgic showgirls pictures of the 30s. Obviously this was the point, but her perilously close to parody version of a Brooklyn accent was occasionally rather grating. Desperate Housewives hunk Ryan Carnes was rather better as Laszlo, giving a surprisingly earnest performance from under a mountain of prosthetics. It’s a lovely idea to cast an actor who’s usually judged on his looks and then cover up most of his face! Still, it’s telling that he was nonetheless quite an attractive pig-man…

The best characters though had to be the Daleks themselves. It’s hard to imagine the Daleks we saw return in 2005 having a reflective chat with their human lackey while gazing almost wistfully at the skyline of Manhattan, but here we get that and more. Not to mention them arguing among themselves as Sec initiates the hybridisation procedure. Nick Briggs has done some sterling voice work giving them distinct characters, as well as conveying Sec’s pain as he undergoes the process. Presumably the Sec/Diagoras hybrid that emerged at the end is now voiced by Eric Loren, but I still sense Nick’s larynx under that too.

With all this local colour, the Doctor and Martha actually didn’t make much of an impact this week. I did groan at one point as David Tennant fell back on his irritating and trite “I’m sorry” catchphrase, but by and large he was rather subdued. Not even his usual manic outbursts of comedy were in evidence, though it has to be said that the story’s tone was more serious than any yet this year. Martha too got little to do; there was a nice character moment with Tallulah as she discussed her unrequited feelings for the Doctor, but generally she seemed to be there to scream, run away and get captured in an unusually retrograde style.

I don’t usually comment on the scoring of the show, but I was mightily impressed with Murray Gold this week. As a composer he seems to have matured no end since the awful Queer as Folk-like music for Rose, and this episode he produced a score eerily reminiscent of the 1930s Universal horror classics that superbly fitted in with the story’s setting. Fitting, as the Cult of Skaro’s laboratory seemed to have been deliberately designed to resemble Frankenstein’s workshop! There was also a new choral theme for the emergence of the Sec/Diagoras hybrid, in which I’m pretty sure the chorus were just repeating “Dalek Sec, Dalek Sec…” Sounded pretty good though.

Scoring aside, this is, I think, the first Who story since Talons of Weng-Chiang to feature a musical number! Kudos to the guys for not using an overly familiar song. The Busby Berkeley style choreography (which actually only works if viewed from above!) and the red feathered chorus girls were as reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as any 30s era musical, but in my view that’s no bad thing. It was almost a shame Martha had to interrupt it!

So, Helen Raynor’s first script for the series proper is as good as I would have expected from her standout Torchwood episode. There’s a fine grasp of history with its depiction of the Depression and its repercussions, and the whole thing has the feel of a more polished take on the (in my view) rather disjointed Evil of the Daleks. Of course, this being the first of a two-parter, the plot doesn’t move much; it’s all about getting the elements in place. The Daleks want to evolve, they’re building the Empire State building and grafting bits of themselves to the radio mast. Why? Hopefully next week’s episode will live up to the promise of this one and conclude this imaginative story in some style…