Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Friday, April 27, 2007

First, we take Manhattan

Even whilst I was away living it up in Wales, I still managed to persuade my friend to let me watch Dr Who on her TV, last Saturday night. Well I couldn't miss it could I? I mean I did get Gustavo to tape it for me too, so I could watch it when I got home, but that's beside the point. I couldn't possibly wait that long to see it. So good old Mary sat and watched it with me. She's practically a virgin (to Dr Who, that is).

"Daleks in Manhattan" is the first episode in a two parter set in 1930s New York, in which a certain old enemy of the Dr's turns up again with a new and audacious plan to make them victorious. I'm sure you can't possibly guess who the old foe were. (And as the evil Black Dalek leader is known as Sec, I still maintain that "Sec's In The City" would have been a far better story title - lots of other people seem to have picked up on that one too). Anyway...I have to say I felt slightly disappointed with it and I'd rate is as the weakest story of the season so far. It had lots of good bits, mind, but for me somehow it seemed to be less than the sum of its parts.

Okay then, let me get most of my major criticisms out of the way first. You knew they were coming anyhow, didn't you? But what else do you expect from a sad, gay, Whovian who seeks nothing less than perfection from his favourite ever prog?

The CGI New York shots were okay but the story had a bit of an "on the cheap" feel I thought - send the production team to NYC to get some shots and then splice them onto scenes shot in the UK - seemed a bit obvious to me - even if they were quite well done. I couldn't help thinking that that if the production crew could go all that way to film why couldn't they send David Tennant and Freema Agyeman? After all they did it for Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in Paris for "City of Death" and surely the production team have more money to spare these days. (Having said that, since I started writing this my friend Stephen has informed me that apparently it's really difficult to get permission to film in New York, and it would take a lot of work to make 2007 NY look like 1930 NY - probably involving CGI and so forth....so that kind of explains it, I guess).

And the locations - dingy old park, dingy old sewers, dingy old theatre - weren't exactly glamorous or typical of NYC and had a rather tawdry feel I thought. (Once again Stephen has reminded me that this was supposed to be Depression-era NYC so the dinginess kind of fits in - I have to concede his point again, but it just didn't feel that New York-ey enough to me! Christ, I'm an awkward bugger, ain't I??)

I also felt seriously let down by the Pig Men - the human/animal hybrids created by the Daleks as their slaves. They just seemed daft and not very menacing atall. The pre-credits opener was an example of this with one lone Pig fellow shooting past the camera and then attacking young Lazlo and running up to the camera for a close-up, in a rather silly fashion. Were we really meant to think that these creatures possessed superhuman strength? I found it hard to stomach. And after the silly pig hybrid witnessed in "Aliens of London" you would have thought the effects team could have come up with something more convincing and original. Of course it would have been nice if they'd brought back the Ogrons instead, mind you it would have been hard to explain where they'd come from...

And then there was the Dalek Sec-Human hybrid creature, unveiled at the end of the episode. I'd no major complains about the creature per se, I thought it looked good on the whole and suitably disgusting. No, my main objection was WHY OH WHY did the Radio Times chose to blow the gaff by having the Dalek-Human hybrid on the front cover?? It ruined the whole ending and made it so obvious what was going to happen! Okay, major moans over now!

What was good about the story then?

Well, I am glad to see the Daleks back and they're still looking good (the 2000s design is a winner) although - oh no! another criticism sneaks in! - like Jordan's breasts, the evil pepperpots have definitely been over-exposed (okay, that's a slightly suspect analogy, but you get my meaning, I'm sure...) After this story the Daleks definitely need to be laid to rest and another old enemy surely deserves to be resurrected (and not in the same way as the superficial return of the Macra in Gridlock). However I liked the sense of desperation that's been conveyed with the Daleks' return this time round - with only four of them left, they're all too aware that they face extinction and are looking for ways to rejuvenate themselves - fair enough. Hence their decision to merge with....gasp!...mankind! Some critics have already knocked this idea, saying that it's illogical for the Daleks to taint their own genes by merging with human beings and they would never contemplate such a thing. However what was good was that this was actually addressed by the Daleks themselves. When his fellow Daleks questioned his motives, Sec replied that the Daleks now had to "imagine new ways of survival...our purity has brought us to extinction...we must adapt to survive!" Nuff said.

I liked the scenes with the Daleks gliding around the sewers and also the bit when Mr Diagoras and one of the Daleks look out from the Empire State Building across the whole of New York. There was some good Dalek dialogue too: "You shelter from the dark and yet you have made all this...the human race always continues." I also liked the gold Dalek's comment that Mr Diagoras thought like one of them - making him THE number one candidate for conversion! (Mr D, YOU have the Dalek-X Factor).

The earlier scene with the Dalek coming out of the lift was quite well done too, although considering this was their first appearance not quite as shocking as it could have been - mind you it was never going to be a surprise given the story's title. And for some reason I kept thinking of Grace Brothers when we heard the ping of the lift and the doors opened (cue Dalek lift attendant: "Second floor! Dalek weaponry! Suckers! Hardware! Software! Oh - Good morning, Mr Diagoras! Going....down?" (ahem).

What I couldn't help wondering though (yes, another quibble) was exactly how and why the Cult of Skaro had ended up in 1930s New York? In their previous story, "Doomsday", the last we'd seen of Dalek Sec was him dematerialising in mid-air, to stop himself from being sucked into the breach between universes that the Dr had re-opened. At the time it wasn't clear what had happened to the rest of the cult - I'd assumed at the time that they'd been pulled into the breach too! How then had they managed to transport themselves back in time like that? Again the anorak in me is coming out, but it's things like this that need explaining. I hope we get a proper explanation in the next episode.

What else? The plot was decent enough, although I did find it slow-moving at times. Mind you this is a two parter which gives room for exposition, setting things up etc, unlike the one episode stories where everything has to be dealt with in fairly speedy fashion. My friend Mary observed that the Dr seemed kind of passive in this story, and that she was expecting more of an "action hero". True, the Doc did seem to be more of an observer of proceedings this time round; again as this was the establishing episode I guess it might take him a bit of time to spring into action. I hope he gets a good face-off with the Daleks in the next installment! David Tennant wasn't without his moments though, intrigued by the alien brain in the sewer (it actually reminded me of a mini Rutan from "Horror of Fang Rock") and on seeing his old adversaries again muttering: "They survive....they always survive, while I lose everything". When your whole planet's been wiped out and those who are responsible are still around, you can kind of understand the Dr's frustration.

The sense of social inequality - contrasting the scenes in Hooverville with the down and out New Yorkers and the high rise of the Empire State Building - was quite well conveyed. I did find some of the American characters slightly cliched though, New Yoooick accents notwithstanding, like something out of "Guys and Dolls". Although a little two-dimensional, Miranda Raison was fun and sympathetic as Tallulah and a nice heroine, and I hope she gets reunited with her beloved Lazlo, rather than exterminated in the next episode! I'm not quite sure how a relationship with a half man/half pig can be negotiated though... I also loved Tallulah's comment to Martha regarding the Dr: "He's into musical theatre! What a waste" which would probably have gone right over the heads of younger viewers, but more experienced ones would have known precisely what she was talking about.

Talking of Martha, she was on form again in this episode, excited at the prospect of being in the real New York (not New New York), supporting Tallulah in her grief and standing up to the Daleks, no less! This girl knows no fear! Her comment: "You can't just experiment on people, it's insane, it's inhuman!" was gusty, if rather screechily delivered!

All in all a watchable enough first part, which felt a bit lightweight in places and, as I said, didn't quite come together for me. So let's see what "Evolution of the Daleks" brings!


  • At 2:48 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    “Doctor Who” is so vast, covers so many different areas, it’s inevitable that different stories are going to strike different resonances within different people. For me, “Daleks in Manhattan” is easily the best episode of the season, thus far, by a long chalk. It’s so completely traditional, harking back to both “The Evil of the Daleks” and “Genesis of the Daleks”, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it straight away! I’ve heard some die-hards complaining it’s wrong that the Daleks would sully themselves by breeding with humans thus diluting their purity. Fans in the Seventies whinged that “Genesis” rewrote Dalek history, as indeed it did, as did “Remembrance of the Daleks” to a degree in the Eighties, and now “Genesis” is regarded as THE “Doctor Who” story. “Manhattan”, in years to come, will be seen as the new series equivalent of that original Davros story, as long as “Evolution” maintains the standard.

    In the “Radio Times”, even RTD admits it’s the first proper Dalek story they’ve done and I know exactly what he means. I actually thought that myself before I read the interview. In fact, the Daleks are even more cunning than usual. The Dalek taking Diagoras to his fateful meeting with Sec didn’t bark “move” impatiently as they exited the lift, as it might once have done, but bided its time, assuredly, in the complete confidence of total control. Now that is scary! I think the story has brought the horror of the Daleks back to “Doctor Who” just as James Strong brought horror itself back to “Who” in last year’s “The Impossible Planet”. Strong’s episodes are the new series equivalent to the Eighties’ episodes of Graeme Harper and I only hope he is rehired next year.

  • At 4:06 am , Blogger matty said...

    Hey, what's R2D2 doing on Dr. Who!?!!?

    color me confused!


  • At 11:26 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I must admit you're right about the pig-men... they looked like the children of Miss Piggy. And not in a good way... HIII-YAAA!

  • At 10:22 pm , Blogger Andrew Glazebrook said...

    I enjoyed part 1 and part 2 but hated that Human/Dalek mask, it was a crummy design and I thought Neil Gorton's team could have done much better, plus I thought the performance of the guy in the mask was awful. Otherwise it was all good fun.

  • At 8:36 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Tim - Yes we obviously share different views on this one - interesting that you really liked it. But now having watched "Evolution" my opinion has changed - the second part was pretty damn magnificent and my overall estimation of the story has vastly risen as a result!

    I didn't mind about the Daleks breeding with humans concept. I mean it's good to take them in a new direction and it made sense logically too. And as we also saw, it didn't sit easily with the original Daleks themselves - they saw the risks that it entailed. And there are always going to be whinging fans (and sometimes I can be one of them!)

    Certainly "Evolution" contained a lot of horror with so many people killed - and highlighting the Daleks' ruthelessness yet again.

    Matty - Oh darling, they're the Daleks! I'm surprised you didn't know about them...or are you just winding me up? Besides which you'll soon know more about the pepperpots when your Dr Who DVDS arrive! Watch the Season One story "Dalek" with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper if you can - it's brilliant.

    Steve - Ha ha. I don't actually think they're the worst monster ever in Dr Who, far from it - there have been some appallingly unconvincing aliens over the years. But the piggies just don't really convince as strong, physically threatening baddies.

    Andrew - I have to disagree a bit there, although the mask was obviously artificial I don't think it looked that bad. Being part human/part Dalek, the guy's performance was never going to be conventional - he probably came across as "odd" as he was torn between his Dalek side and his human Mr Diagoras side and this kind of effected his personality...oh I'm being generous aren't I?

  • At 8:48 am , Blogger Minge said...

    I can't argue with anything you've said. But I would like to add:

    Mr Diagoras was HOT!


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